Monday, October 31, 2016

Memoir of a Hasn't Been Part 2: I Have A Confession!

I have a confession. I didn't really put the 'Write a plan to write "A Memoir of a Hasn't Been" item' on my to do list. I do plan to do it. But, it just hasn't happened yet!

I got a bit overwhelmed after I wrote my last blog.

It's what often happens when I get all excited about a new idea, commit it to a blog and then share it on social media and 160 people read it, some of whome write encouraging posts back about the idea. In so doing, an obligation is created. I try and avoid obligations.

Anyway, it got me thinking that perhaps, before I tackle the memoir, I need to create a new list. It will be called my "things that I have avoided to do" list. First thing I'll put on that list is Chrissy Amphlett.

She was at Southbank finishing up a photoshoot. I remember she was wearing a striking purple and white striped suit and I was struck by how tiny she was. You know how famous people look familiar but you can't quite place them for a moment. I was about 5 feet away from her before I realised it was CHRISSIE AMPHLETT!

Panic set in immediately. I DID NOT KNOW what to do. Should I get her autograph? Should I cry and stammer out an "I love you, Chrissie"? Should I go and tell her that I sometimes perform her song, "Boys in Town" and offer to sing her a rendition?  Should I genuflect? Should I act cool and greet her like an old friend? What? What? What?

Well, I did the only thing that any panicked fangirl would do, I turned around and walked the other way. Quickly. But, when I turned to check that I was well out of her orbit, there was Chrissie following behind me.

Quick. I dashed up some stairs to safety.




I did the same thing today. I walked right past American Blues guitar player, Chris Cain, who I saw at the Sydney Blues and Roots Festival yesterday rocking the main stage. He was also small and wearing stripes. This afternoon, he was walking down Market Street West in Richmond, NSW, in the opposite direction to me. I'm sure he would have liked a "nice set, yesterday" as we passed each other. Then, perhaps, we could have stopped to talk and maybe organised a guitar lesson this afternoon. After that, we could have gone to dinner and discussed the memoir I was writing called, "Memoir of a Hasn't Been." He could have had a chapter.

Instead,  like Chrissie, I'll be adding him to my "things that I have avoided to do" list.

Along with: buy a set of windscreen wipers, fill in a lodgement of protest form for a toll road fine that I don't believe I should have to pay, write back to a new friend who sent me a photo 6 weeks ago of me picking guitar on The Canning Stock Route, send back music festival administration information and email some students information about a couple of gigs I have booked for them.

It's actually fortunate I didn't buy a set of windscreen wipers as mine were easily fixed so avoiding that "to do" item saved me a few bucks. The bucks I saved paid for a new usb cable which I lost while I was working through my "things that I have avoided to do" list and the pricey organic vegan food I had for lunch.

Today, rather than fulfil my obligations, I went to the library and finished the first draft to the first act of a musical play I've been avoiding writing for months.

Here's a Canning Stock Route sunset:

Friday, October 14, 2016

'A Memoir of a Hasn't Been.'

I've been thinking about writing a memoir called "A Memoir of a Hasn't Been." The idea is simple. It would be a witty look at my past musical collisions with people who went onto become successful artists while I didn't. Don't worry, I wouldn't allow it to sink into maudlin examinations of "Why me?',  I just think it would be interesting.

So how should I present the memoir? I've entertained the thought of producing it as a podcast. But, I'd have to go and do a course and I don't really have time because I'm so busy working two jobs, talking about being a singer/songwriter, checking facebook, watching catch up TV, playing house, socialising with family, friends and my boyfriend, oh, and practicing guitar and ukulele.

Perhaps I could just get someone to produce it. But, that would cost money and then I would have to write a script. I'm still trying to write a script for another project I'm working on which I've been avoiding for quite some time now.  What if no one from my musical past gives me permission to write about them? Hang on, I have to get permission. Bloody hell!

Ok, so maybe a blog. A 500 word memory uploaded each week for a year.  The "write one blog entry a week" item has appeared on my weekly to do list for months now. There's also the question of how to attract subscribers to follow the weekly blog entries. To be honest,  I'm very uncomfortable asking people to follow me. I'm a bit shy (ok, very), not that interesting and therefore not particularly deserving of attention.
Ok, perhaps it would be better as a book. My healthy overblown, imaginative ego thinks it's a great idea and is convinced it will be signed by an urban publishing house endorsed by the left wing intelligentsia of Melbourne. I've already plotted the entire memoir in my head.  I've imagined the accompanying show which will include me sharing the stage with some of the amazing musicians I write about. In my mind, the show is a terrific success and the book becomes a bestseller. The accompanying youtube channel with 52 duets of me and each musician has gone viral and my ego is loving the irony of a success that means it's no longer a "hasn't been".

All of these ideas were thought out while I walked to my day job between the office in North Melbourne and the activities program in Elizabeth Street. I work three days a week to pay rent and bills before I go to my three evenings a week job where I teach music for a few hours. The other four days a week, I imagine what I could do if I didn't have to work three days a week. That leads me to imaginary touring and youtube channels again.

Ok. So what if I actually did it? What if I actually wrote a memoir with accompanying show and youtube channel?  I've read enough time management self help books to know that the best way to fulfil your goals is to make them measurable and achievable and there's a few other things that they have to be which I can't recall right now.  I also know that it's important to make a plan. Create a timeline for the plan.  Write a list of tasks for each section of the timeline to achieve the plan. OK.

Here's the first task which I have added to my weekly "to do" list:

Write a plan to produce "A Memoir of a Hasn't Been" with accompanying show and youtube channel and record the journey on a weekly blog.


Here's a song: 
West Brunswick

Here's a picture to look at while you listen to the song:


Thursday, May 30, 2013

On The Road Again.....

As a song writer mate said to me on the weekend, "Sometimes life gets in the way/" In my case, this has meant packing up a house, a couple gigs falling through and a second job.

I once read that when you finally decide to change tack and walk a path that seems truer to your inclinations, a test appears that beckons distraction and u-turns. I guess, if you believe that stuff, road blocks and detours do seem to appear. But, I reckon that we create them ourselves because most of the time we're just shit scared of what's up ahead. And, the rest of the time, we're sitting on the side of the road having a little rest and a play. Maybe we stop at the local cafe or pub for a drink and we make some new friends who tell us about a job that we should take and then suggest we move in next door and before you know it, time has marched on and the road becomes less travelled.

Last Saturday night, I took a new road to a party at a friend's house. I had to drive out to Woodend and then take back roads through giant forests and rolling hills to end up in a place called Spring Hill. This friend of mine is a song writer of some note. She has a radiant smile and sings of hopefulness and light. I didn't know who would be at the party and almost didn't go because I secretly (not anymore) suffer from social anxiety. So, walking into a room full of strangers by myself is enough to send me diving for a paper bag to stop from hyperventilating. But, being an experienced social-phobe, I also know the antidote is to show up without expectation and have an exit plan if things go awry.

So, I arrived in the dark, parked in the paddock and made my way to the front door. First person I saw was a song writing mate who maybe one of the best folk writers in the country, sitting at the food laden table. Then I shook hands with a fiddle player who suggested we go and play some songs, immediately. I said hello to some well known Malmsbury musos(I know I'm giving hints and no names but I didn't ask them if I could write about them so you'll just have to guess who they are) on the way through to the music room, who was speaking with my mate Luke, who plays on the "West Brunswick" album.  When I learned Luke's partner Cass was there as well, I knew this was going to be a great night. Then I turned around and another lovely song writer appeared and another and another. The whole place was wall to wall song writers and musicians, and I knew most of them.

Well bloody hallelujah I said to myself. Guess that dirty old road has brought me home. The night was spent passing round new songs and old favourites, sharing stories, exchanging ideas, and talking about that silly old road out there and where it might take us next.

My experience of the party confirmed that although "life" can get in the way when we put down the guitar and stop off for a piss that turns into a picnic which turns into a camping holiday which turns into a sort of stop gap life, you can still see the road from your makeshift house. Sometimes, it just takes an invitation to a party to get you on the musical track again.

My only suggestion is that when you leave the party at 2.30 in the morning, you drive like a grandma so that when you hit the kangaroo that hops out in front of you without warning, you only hit it at about 5km's an hour. In which case, no harm will befall either you or the 'roo.

Oh, and here's some fine song writers for you to listen to on the road:






Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A March through Moreland.

There's an added poignancy to presenting suburban songs in their suburb of origin. You know that the people sitting in a lounge room in North Coburg or gathered around a breakfast bar in the living room of a West Brunswick house or sitting amongst the books at a Coburg library are going to understand the song about The Road to Sydney or West Brunswick Star more so than other audiences. They're going to understand the images in the song called West Brunswick and know the Number 55 tram ride intimately. They're going to understand exactly what it's like on Moonee Valley race nights and they'll get the eccentricity of trying to navigate a clipper along the Moonee Ponds Creek.

March brought me into the houses of Richard and Rachel in North Coburg, Andrea and Glen in West Brunswick and the Coburg library. Singing about home in the local lounge rooms of these newest "patrons of the arts" as Rachel observed, accompanied by the sweetest harmonies from my best mate Emily Hayes, and my gorgeous daughter, Ella Sidal, was just a bit special. The girls surprised and delighted everyone, including me, with their harmonic entries while they remain seated amongst the audience. Their inspired idea of singing from their seats created a warm, we're-all-in-this-together, atmosphere. 

During the performances, I quipped that I looked forward to seeing some of the members of the audience down the street at the shops. Last week, I ran into someone from the Coburg library gig in the local supermarket and laughed at the coincidence. It's nice to be meeting new neighbours. I have promised a Big West Brunswick Neighbourhood Gig at the end of this concert series so that everyone can meet everyone and we can all singalong together.

March also brought my marching orders. I got the "you have 60 days to vacate" notice in the mail. For now, I give up. I'm tired of been moved on every time a landlord sells or their circumstances change. So, I'm taking a rest from the rental market and have chosen to house sit for a while and open myself to the generosity of friends and strangers who need their homes looked after and sung to while they're away.  

Ironically, I will be technically homeless as I sing about home. Perversely, I kinda like that idea. There is a poeticism to it that may bring new songs and ideas for the next album. 

I'm looking forward to April. It brings with it more house concerts in Moreland, including the extra special one in the West Brunswick street where it was recorded, designed and written and that I lived happily with my extraordinary neighbours for 6 years. My mates Allie and Adrian are the hosts for this concert. They even have a song written about them on the album. I'm really looking forward to singing it to them and their mates and the neighbours in their backyard. I hope the neighbour who plays steel drum turns up. 

April also takes me to Fawkner, a little gem of a suburb that nobody much visits. But, it houses my mates Amanda and Matt who have dubbed their lovely home and garden, "The Fawkner Farm House". It has fruit trees, vegetables, sheds and chooks. I'm looking forward to singing in their kitchen accompanied by the delicious smells of whatever Amanda has been whipping up. The kitchen is my favourite room of the house!

Then Canberra beckons and the backyard of Lainey and Steve. Fine musicians in their own right. I hope to play some tunes with them, which reminds me, I better send them a CD and some chord charts. And the talented young thing, who plays brilliant guitar and writes great songs, Hayley Shone, is going to play as well. I hope that my Viking Warrior can come and play his harmonica with me as well.

Autumn leaves, music making, and that aching sunshine for "When love came to Yarrabin street, an April sun shone......."beckons in the new month.

Moreland Leader 1st April 2013

Homage to her home suburb
Suzanne Robson
Moreland Leader
1 Apr 2013

A STROLL through her ‘‘unpretentious’’ neighbourhood inspired Helen Begley to write an entire album about Brunswick West. That initial ‘‘haiku walk’’ resulted in the first song on her album and prompted her to delve deeper into the place she more...

© News Community Media

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Fear and Loving in Wangaratta

Last Saturday night, the second night in March, I played my first house concert of "The West Brunswick Suburban Dream" Tour in the Wangaratta Lounge Room of Luke R Davies and his partner, writer and photographer, Cassie. Luke is a notable blues musician, leader and instrument maker for The Recycled String Band and my mate.

Luke and Cassie are amazing hosts. They fed and watered me. They put me up for the night. Luke fixed my crap banjo and made it sound as good as it's gonna get. They even organised Shannon Noll (you know, he came second in the first Australian Idol) as a support. As Shannon insisted on bringing his band, who were so loud, Luke and Cassie had to get them to play down at the local footy ground. So, at the half time mark of the Essendon versus Richmond footy match, Shannon's music was at the perfect wafting level for Luke and Cassie's backyard, where 25 of the best of Victoria's North East (and a couple of South east NSWailer's) gathered for a beer and some spectacular vegan treats lovingly prepared by Cassie, before the show.

At the end of Shannon's set, everyone drifted into the perfectly sized lounge room to take their seats.

And there they were. And there I was. Scared! I wonder if they were scared as well. I always have this moment just before a show. It's the moment I must make a decision. The decision is a choice between running screaming from the room, never to be seen or heard of again, or, to walk onto the stage, or, in this case, stand in front of the mantle piece, and play the songs that I have to offer to people I have never met before and who might not like what I do and might not like me and well, I could go on and list the rest of the fears, like:

They might not like what I look like they definitely won't like what I'm wearing, they'll hate my voice
and what about my unruly hair , not to mention the ordinary stories I was going to tell but have forgotten, and I'm not really a very good musician and I bet there's some really good guitarist in the room who'll be pulling my technique to shreds, do I have a technique?And I'm not that special because I was born in the Melbourne suburbs and not even the tough western suburbs of the 70's or the outer suburbs but not in the inner suburbs either just in the ordinary suburbs and I'm not working class and I'm a not a poor little rich girl and I'm notnotnotnotnot.............................

While I'm being distracted by these fears, I get introduced by Luke, and the next thing I'm thanking him and singing the first song and some woman starts crying in the second row, and I let her cry. Everyone seems to be listening and they look pretty friendly. So I try another song on them and they let me sing again. Then I start talking to them as if we're well, sitting in someone's lounge room and they talk back and, then I sing them some more songs and Luke gets up and plays harmonica and I pick up the tin can banjo and pick away at The Boilermaker's Wife (song from The Bride album) then the fireworks get let off (Really! Luke and Cass had everything covered) and before you know it, an hour has passed and the first set is over.

But will they stick around for the second set? I excuse myself to save my voice for set number two and when I return, they all come back too and take their seats. Bloody hell, I think, and launch into the West Brunswick set.

By now, we're getting pretty close, so I tell them about my birthing story and about Adrian and Allie's wedding in Yarrabin Street and my long distance relationship with James and what it's like to have had Betty as a neighbour and I sing them the songs that go with the stories. Then, Rohan gets up and plays a valve tuba with me and then I tell about how I've enjoyed hanging out with Luke and Cassie so much I might move in.

And, then I give them some CD's to take home in the hope they might remember that Saturday night we spent in Luke and Cassie's lounge room in Wangaratta where I sang them some songs and told them some stories and ended up loving the time spent with these friends, initially disguised as fearsome strangers.

Here's a love song for those lovely Wangaratta folk from the "West Brunswick" Album:

"When Love Came to Yarrabin Street"
(Lead Vocals, Uke and Guitar: Helen Begley, Backing Vocals: Emily Hayes and Ella Sidal, Double Bass: Greg Craske)

Sunset in West Brunswick by Adrian Wood

Monday, December 10, 2012


There is a recording studio in the heart of West Brunswick that sits in the backyard of a man called Lachlan Wooden. It looks, for all intents and purposes, like a single vehicle garage; a clever suburban ruse that hides the treasures that are revealed when you walk through the door.

Lachlan, owner and engineer, has lovingly lined this garage with wood and cloth, built a sound proof booth with salvaged glass and doors from a defunct major recording studio and made and hung purpose built wooden sculptures that make sure everything recorded there sounds kind to the performer.

He has a sophisticated set up of preamps housed in shelves he's made from recycled timber, an old Yamaha mixing desk, and old a tape deck he bought online that warms everything that runs through the leads and preamps to the protools set up on his computer.

He gets hold of good microphones to record the sounds, he makes everyone feel welcome and he's on board from the word go as if he were a committed member of the band or team. He also brews a mean beer that he offers from the taps of his homemade bar. He's also a family man with a gorgeous brood of girls including his warm, friendly wife, Ange. They're currently cooking another kid due in March.

I used to live next door to Lachlan and Ange.

It's been great hanging out in West Brunswick these last three days. It always feels a little bit like visiting a mate's cubby house when I hang out with Lach in his studio. My friends Greg Craske(Double Bass) and Emily Hayes(Backing Vocals) and my daughter, Ella (Backing Vocals) joined Lach and I this weekend just gone to track what is turning out to be a pretty gorgeous album which I can't wait for you to hear.

We've recorded all the ukulele tracks, all of the guitars, all the double bass tracks, and the lead and backing vocals. Only got some overdubbing to do including a few more voices on the chorus of "The West Brunswick Boat" song, a couple of harmonica tracks, some clarinet, my "legitimate" main classical instrument all through high school, glockenspiel, piano and we're thinking about bunging a hammond organ on a track or two as well. Probably another day and a half's worth of recording work.

Then mixing, mastering and printing. I reckon it'll be ready for you at the end of February.

In the meantime, have a sneak listen to a rough mix of the title track, "West Brunswick" and enjoy some pics from our studio sessions on the weekend (I realise I'm not in any of them. Next lot, eh?!) Not the best quality of the photos - not sure why!