Each year, Bluesfest Byron Bay brings together an incredible selection of classic and contemporary blues and roots performers for a week of discoveries and astronomic, guitar-driven comas. Behind every event is director of the festival, Peter Noble.
Noble is a self-made man, a music aficionado, ex-bassist, fierce rambler, and an all-round music industry legend. We caught up with him for Happy Mag issue # 2 to discuss the moments, musicians, and choices that led him to the ‘dream’ life, that triple J remark, listening to records with Clive Shakespeare and the questionability of life in Sydney’s Western Suburbs.
We caught up with Bluesfest director Peter Noble for Happy Mag issue # 2 to discuss living the dream life, triple J’s support of Bluesfest and growing up in the 60s.
HAPPY: Let’s get right into it. Were you exposed to music from an early age? When did you realise you wanted to do what you do and was it a conscious decision?
PETER: Well, I grew up in a household where a lot of music was played and I was the younger brother so I got to hear other members of my family’s taste, and that was everything from New Orleans music to Bing Crosby.
When the Beatles and The Rolling Stones came about in the mid-sixties, I don’t think there was a kid in Sydney that didn’t want to pick up a guitar and get into a band. That was the biggest thing that ever happened to music, I don’t know about before, but there’s never been anything bigger since. So, on the weekends we’d all get together and say “I’ll be the bass player, you be the drummer, you play guitar” and we started practicing. I was fortunate enough to be asked to join a band that was very popular in Sydney at the time.
But that led me to realising there was a lot more to life then growing up in Croydon Park and playing shows around Burwood, or playing shows in the Northern Beaches, I thought “What am I doing living in the Western Suburbs?” So that led me to deciding to try my luck and go to America, and getting with a band that was there and in Canada, and that was throughout the 70s.
Then I went into the other side of the pits by becoming an agent, a room booker and a promoter. And so with everything I learnt there when I came back to Australia I was able to bring with me, which in the early 80s meant I had more contacts, I had more experience working in the field than most people in Australia so I began touring artists here, and that led a few years later into the East Coast Blues Festival.
So, I didn’t necessarily get my start quickly, but really everything you do leads to the next step, and as far as I’m concerned, yes, I wanted to be in this business. I waited on tables and did whatever I needed to do before the next opportunity came along – it’s been a while since I’ve done that.
In the late eighties I decided to start a record label, to run the label in the daytime, then Bluesfest took over. I bought all my partners out in 2008, and took over the festival by myself, so it’s only been 8 years and as Bluesfest took over, the record label has been left to die which is a shame because it’s a great record label but you can only do so much. So was it conscious? Yes, there’s a lot of planning but there are also a lot of lucky breaks in this business. If it’s in your blood, it’s in your blood.
HAPPY: In a recent interview with Rolling Stone you mentioned that triple J refuse to present Bluesfest due to its inclusion of older musicians. Do you feel that stations like triple J, are conditioning this generation to believe in some way that because they don’t play older music, rarely mention it, or ask current musicians about it, that it’s seen as irrelevant or ‘uncool’?
PETER: I’ve been misquoted on that statement a lot, but what I said is that the festivals in Australia that have been specialising, particularly one day events, like Big Day Out, Soundwave, and Future Music, have fallen apart, they’ve pretty much disappeared. So what I meant is that the festivals need wider programming, because we need to get as many different players involved.
There is a very large contention of contemporary artists coming to Bluesfest and if we took half the blues and roots out, we would easily qualify for a presence on Triple J but because we also have the legendary artists, and the blues artists they go “Oh well, you don’t fit” and in our industry at this time, with festivals not doing as well as they had been 10 years ago, programme directors like Richard Kingsmill at triple J should think about supporting our industry on a wider basis.
I mean, don’t tell me triple J isn’t playing Kendrick Lamar, Cold War Kids, or Modest Mouse. All I’m asking is that maybe they could consider getting behind the festival a little bit, at a time when festivals are not doing as well as they could be.
Read the full interview with Peter Noble in Happy Mag issue # 2 which features DMA’s on the cover, interviews with SPOD and Last Dinosaurs’ Sean Caskey, plus features on music and drugs, Jason Galea and heaps more.