2 April 2023

Life on the road is tough for a music gypsy - or is it?

| Chris Johnson
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Bill the Gypsy (AKA Bill Quinn) traipsing the country in search of good music. Photo: Region.

There are certainly far worse things to do than roam the country in search of good music, but that’s exactly what Canberran Bill Quinn is doing on his 36-day odyssey crossing the nation.

In fact, it’s actually an ongoing 10-week adventure that began in January this year with the aim of attending seven music festivals across five states.

But it’s the past month that is the intense leg of the solo tour, which started in the southwest of WA at the Nannup Music Festival, dashed over to the Port Fairy Folk Festival in Victoria, then closer to home at the Majors Creek Festival near Braidwood before shooting back to Victoria then Perth.

But then, the word ‘home’ is an interesting one for Mr Quinn, also affectionately known as ‘Bill the Gypsy’.

Born in Canberra Royal Hospital and raised mostly here in the capital, Quinn was somewhat of a local celebrity a decade and more ago.

A radio announcer on ArtSoundFM, lively MC at the National Folk Festival, columnist for music magazines, and promoter of emerging talent from around the region, Quinn seemed to be everywhere.

He even did (and still does) a spot of singing and gives spoken word performances.

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He left Canberra in March 2013 to housesit in Sydney. That somehow turned into years of extended stays all across the country – with the occasional drop-in to his hometown.

He rates ArtSoundFM for giving him a start in radio announcing, which he has kept up by seeking out community radio stations from Sydney to Darwin to Fremantle, securing gigs to talk about and play music across the airwaves.

Passing through Canberra this time and checking out live music and comedy events in town the whole time, Quinn marks up his hired campervan with the concerts and festivals he’s visited of late or is heading towards.

“Don’t worry, it wipes right off,” he assures.

“I’m all about discovering new music and also, as a public service, supporting music.” Bill donates substantial sums to selected music events raising money for good charitable causes.

“I’ve been based in Western Australia since April 2022 but travel everywhere.

“Back in 2005, when I started going to festivals in a big way, I used to run around with my program circled, dashing to each gig hoping not to miss anything.

“Eighteen years later, I take more time out. More time for myself and more time to really soak up an act.

“And I find the travel is taking it out of me much more these days. But it’s something I love to do.”

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Quinn runs Overheard Productions, his own business with its music-themed blog promoting new music, old music and all-around good music – all the while recounting his travelling adventures.

And in his quest to discover new music, does he really come across something new? Something that stands out from everything else he has been absorbing these past two decades?

“That’s a very good question,” he says.

“Because there was a time earlier on when it was a case of ‘time for the Kikatinalong Folk Festival, so we’re going to see the Kikka Kat Stranglers, the Whealabarrabac Misty Mountain Old Time Fun Band, Mabel’s Autoharp And Knitting Workshop’ (all made up names), and you could sometimes recite that year’s program with your eyes shut before it even came out.

“Not so anymore, which is why I so completely enjoyed the Nannup Music Festival and bought so much music.

“Don’t get me wrong, though, it’s also great to see old friends and favourites, and going back to Majors Creek Festival was sublime.

“But as much as I enjoyed music by artists I’ve been seeing in the region for 17 years, the joy of the new acts was of equal, only different, measure.

“More and more, when I’m toodling down the highways and when I’m not bellowing along with my fave artists (or practising for my own performances), I’m discovering some new jewel in my personal musical firmament.”

Bill the Gypsy has to be back in Perth by 11 June and the Born to Sing 1000 Voice Choir and 250-piece Ukulele Orchestra concert his Overheard Productions is sponsoring to raise money for the Fiona Stanley Hospital Clinical Cancer Trials Fund.

Follow Bill’s adventures on Facebook.

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Many thanks to Chris Johnson for putting this piece together.

Great to see The Riotact still going strong all these years later. I probably still have a couple of my articles in the dusty old archives. 🙂

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