Charlie Powling Interview

Charlie Powling Interview

Following the positive response to Fifteen Of Fame and When My Ship Comes In, Charlie Powling releases another spell-binding folk-rock track.

King Canute is Charlie's poignant protest against the futility of war and the deceit used to fuel it. The song paints a vivid picture of a man, helplessly watching explosions from his bedroom, embracing his wife in a futile attempt to shield her from the imminent devastation. This scene parallels the legend of King Canute, underscoring the character's inability to stop the impending disaster. The song reflects on a hopeful vision once held by Charlie's father – a future where ordinary people recognize the falsehoods behind wars declared by the affluent and powerful and choose not to partake in them. Yet, this remains a distant dream. Charlie has been a staple in the Darwin music scene for over a decade. Debuting with a self-titled CD in 2018, he masterfully fuses rock, folk, and country, echoing influences from Mahalia Jackson to The Beatles. With standout tracks like the first single release from the Charlie & The Black Pepper Band album Drive the Highway, the band has seen triumphs and faced tragedies. Their recent works, inspired by legends from John Schumann to Bruce Springsteen and produced by talents like Lindsay Masters and Garry (Jacko) Jackson, continue to establish them as powerhouses in narrative-driven music.

King Canute is at radio today and available to download now


How would you describe your music?

I've always had issues classifying my music into a genre, as I try to bring diversity to each song on our albums by changing the storyline or using different keys and chord progressions or melodies.

However, because my songs have a strong storyline, often incorporating social commentary, the music tends to be labelled as Folk, but when performing live we tend to be very much an electric guitar driven Rock band. So I think we can be classified as a Folk Rock band.

Can you tell us about (your new song/upcoming gig/video), what was the inspiration?

King Canute, along with Soldiers Lullaby off our first album, is my cry in the wilderness against the misery, waste and stupidity of war, and the lies told to manipulate people into fighting them. Basically, it's me getting on my soapbox.

The song is about someone sitting in his upstairs bedroom watching explosions in the distance as soldiers return from the front, he climbs in bed and holds his wife tight and weeps, knowing he is powerless to save her from the destruction that is about to overwhelm them. Like King Canute, he cannot hold back the tide.

I was always very influenced by Left Wing musicians like Paul Robson, the people's poet, as a proud Afro/American at the height of the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacist movements in American, he spoke about an inclusive society, about ordinary people working together and not be divided by skin colour, religion, culture, language, we all have the same desires and fears and just want to raise our children with dignity.

If we are ignorant of other cultures, we are easily manipulated into fighting and killing one another. To take a line from my Soldiers' Lullaby song off our first album, "We march to war with flags and lies."

I think the lyric of this song is even more descriptive, "The truth he said, it turned out a lie". Historical facts revealed the lies told to justify the Vietnam war and 30 years later the same sort of lies were told to justify the Iraq invasion. War changes the course of history, and never for the better.

But for Iraq, it's unlikely ISIS would have emerged as such a significant force, nor would Syria have collapsed into civil war, I don't believe Putin would have been so emboldened as to invade Ukraine, and the Israel / Palestine conflict would not have become so galvanised. Remember the Israelis were forcibly removing settlers from contested land in the years prior to the Iraq invasion, progress was being made towards a two-state solution spearheaded by the Clinton administration.

And would the developed world simply be allowing the ethnic cleansing and horror currently happening in Sudan and throughout that region? The Sudan conflict is an unfolding human tragedy that has the potential to bring about the most extreme human suffering.

And, of course, our ability to combat the greatest of threats, the very survival of our species, climate change, is compromised by these conflicts.

Most of my songs are about personal relationships, love and loss, hardship and life's struggles, the sort of things people can relate to. But I try and wrap that around the bigger picture of what's happening in the world.

What are you musical influences?

I grew up listening to early Australian folk music with its origins in the Irish rebellion against English tyranny, and Gospel artists like Mahalia Jackson and Paul Robeson, as well as outspoken American civil rights campaigner Harry Belafonte. I came to understand and support the fight for social justice for Afro/Americans and First Nations Australians and other minorities through music.

My musical influences were further widened with my very first record, the live recording of Pete Seeker's We Shall Overcome concert at the historic Carnegie Hall in 1963. It introduced me to songwriters like Woody Guthrie and Huddie Ledbetter (Lead Belly) and the newly emerging Bob Dylan.

I was then greatly influenced by albums like the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Waters, both full of brilliantly descriptive 'pop' songs. I then went on to discover singer/songwriters like John Schumann, Paul Kelly, Rodriguez, Kev Carmody, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen and many more that instilled in me a love of story-telling within music, which I've always tried to emulate within my own music, so far not very successfully, but I'll keep trying.

Do you prefer performing live or recording?

I find recording tedious, having to get everything so precise, whereas live performance is my lifeblood, my natural high, despite often being rough around the edges. We perform 5 or 6 times a week and that's when I feel most alive.

What should we expect from your upcoming tour?

Unfortunately, being based in Darwin, which is a long way from anywhere, touring is currently not financially viable, so we just play around town. But we're open to offers if a production company wants to take us on!!

How did the band come together?

The band evolved around an Open Mic night run by Garry Jackson and Danny Thomas, which my partner-in-crime Melanie and I started to attend road testing
my original songs, and I think they started to understand what I was trying to do with just originals and refusing to do covers.

So when I started getting commercial gigs with Melanie as back up vocalist, they became our support band. Jacko played lead guitar, Danny on drums, and we had a few bass players help out until Wayne Wright started attending that Open Mic, and he and I just got along so well that I roped him in, and so solid that I nicknamed him the Rock.

James (Gravy) Brown had also been doing the Open Mic with his fantastic original acoustic guitar instrumentals and one night jumped up and did a cameo on lead guitar for our Fifteen of Fame song. Well, as Melanie recalls "It was electric, I think we in the band all had goosebumps, and the crowd roared, everyone knew something special had just occurred". From then on Gravy started to become our specialist gun lead guitarist on several songs.

Unfortunately, we lost Danny Thomas to cancer in September 2020, so Gravy moved onto the drums full time, sharing lead guitar duties with Jacko.

What motivates you most when writing music?

It's the story that dominates, wanting to describe
the heartache and tragedy of life, trying to illustrate what it's like to walk in another person's shoes who may be less well off, to create empathy and understanding for those who are different or come from a minority background and maybe subject to prejudice, or who live in poverty. I want to sing about the right of people to raise their children with dignity and reject those who say you're too fat or too thin, you're the wrong colour, culture or religion, the wrong sex or sexual orientation. And help people feel better about themselves by highlighting there's always others worse off.

But how to raise such issues in a musical form that people will find pleasant to listen to and, therefore, want to listen again. This is my challenge and one I'm struggling with.

Which music/artists are you currently listening to?

I've been delving into Kev Carmody's very extensive playlist, beautifully written songs that often bring a tear to my eye.

What or who was your inspiration to go into the music industry?

I came to music late and by accident. I'd always played a few guitar chords and sang at parties and around campfires, that was my idea of having a good time, and it was at a party 12 or 13 years ago that one of my sons and I were playing guitars, and I was singing, and another mate was playing some lead guitar.

After a few drinks, he reckoned we were pretty good and invited us to drop around his place for some free guitar lessons. Well, at the time I'd been wanting to encourage my son to pursue music further, so I instantly took advantage of his inebriated state and asked What Night?

It grew from there, he taught us about music scales and chord progressions, how minor and major chords fit together, and basically it gave me the skills to put words to music, and I've been writing and performing my own songs ever since.

If you could collaborate with another artist, who would it be?

Ahh, Paul Kelly is a giant on the world music scene and an incredible inspiration. I'm nowhere near his league but, wow, I can dream! What is the biggest challenge you have faced in the music industry? I love performing and there's so many great cover songs I love to sing, so to not compromise and remain true to a playlist of only original music has been my biggest challenge. However, it's starting to pay off as my songs become more popular and that's inspiring me to continue to view songwriting is an artform that I want to pursue to its highest level, and not just be a cheap copier of someone else's art.

What's next, for you?

I'm working on our fourth album which I hope to complete and release by the middle of next year.

Can you share your socials?

My Facebook page is Charlie Powling Music and my webpage is where
there's backstories on all three albums, song lyrics and YouTube videos.



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