BluesTone Part 1 of 2

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“Those Things We Value”

The first time I met, filmed and heard Geoff Achison perform was at “The Bank” in Warragul in 2014. The pub is called The Bank because it was the bank in Warragul and has a beautiful 19th century façade. Geoff had written a song “Crazy Horse” and his introduction to this fabulous song resonated with me. Geoff’s anecdote talked of “a guy called Crazy Horse and Red Cloud, it’s about real people and based on events that they might have been involved with.” But the song for me resonated because it seemed to be expressing the very things those people valued – family and love 

Unfortunately, I hadn’t geared up to get great sound so I can’t use the footage but here is Geoff’s official version:   

It’s Monday night at The Windsor Castle. Geoff walks to the bar buys a beer and sits down at a table close enough to absorb Dutch Tilders’ phenomenal finger-picking guitar style. He doesn’t drink the beer because he doesn’t drink alcohol … well didn’t back then. Geoff is in awe of Dutch’s magnificence. From the moment Geoff first saw Dutch play he retracted into his shell. He’d never seen a bona-fide bluesman up close before

Dutch made him realise it wasn’t simply all about playing those hot riffs on the guitar. The blues has such a deep heart felt and important story to tell and Dutch was a master of the art. Dutch was a very rare thing to find outside of Mississippi … and Geoff knew that, being in his presence was the way forward. In some ways, the fact that Dutch asked Geoff to play with Dutch Tilders and The Blues Club, sometime later, was something he never quite believed

Geoff Achison grew up in a little town in central Victoria on the Calder Highway, Malmsbury and according to “Bruno’s Blues” as a child he fell asleep in a cupboard waking up to find a guitar and started to play …

“My earliest memory of being moved by anything resembling blues music was […] when I was around the age of 10. I heard Joe Cocker’s live version of ’The Letter’ followed by ‘Delta Lady’. These two tracks are from his ‘Mad Dogs & Englishmen’ album. Unusual for radio 3UZ to play two long live tracks in a row but they did and I was mesmerized. Joe has a gritty, soulful and powerfully emotive singing voice. The band backed him up with just amazing energy and it sounded like they were having the party of the century. That made me want to be a musician. Much later when I heard Eric Clapton’s guitar with John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers I think I rediscovered that energy. It led me to Freddie King and any number of other great blues, soul and jazz artists. It just sounded like real people and they sounded more alive than I felt in my sleepy, small town environment.”

MALMSBURY AND BLUESTONE

Geoff’s dad worked at the Malmsbury railway station on the Melbourne to Bendigo railway line. But the thing Malmsbury area is known for is its deposits of bluestone. Victorian Bluestone which is a kind of basalt. Basalt is an igneous rock made up primarily of feldspar and is usually grey to black and fine-grained owing to rapid cooling of lava at the surface of a planet

The most famous bluestones are the prehistoric British cultural icon, Stonehenge. Preseli Spotted Dolerite, found in the Preseli Hills of Wales and Dolerite is of a similar composition to basalt. The term ‘bluestone’ in relation to Stonehenge encompasses around twenty different rock types, including rhyolites, dolerites and ‘calcereous ashes.’ And because bluestone is not found in the area it is debated whether humans carried the stones or whether they were glacial deposits

It’s suggested that the stones were raised from 2400 – 2200BC. Compared to the earliest pyramid of Egypt constructed approx. some 200 years before from 2630BC – 2611BC. From analysis of teeth and bone found at the Stonehenge site, it is estimated that 4,000 people attended mid-winter and mid-summer festivals

Culturally the rituals performed at Stonehenge are believed to be religious and spiritual. A folktale, relates the origin of the Friar’s Heel reference;

“The Devil bought the stones from a woman in Ireland, wrapped them up, and brought them to Salisbury plain. One of the stones fell into the Avon, the rest were carried to the plain.

The Devil then cried out, “no-one will ever find out how these stones came here!”

A friar replied, “That’s what you think!”, whereupon the Devil threw one of the stones at him and struck him on the heel. The stone stuck in the ground and is still there” 

For some, Stonehenge maybe the site of “just another set of rocks”, however it has a cultural heritage value to groups like the Druids. Druids are a people who are a high-ranking professional class in ancient Celtic cultures. The first Neo-Druidic group to make use of the megalithic monument was the Ancient Order of Druids who performed a mass initiation ceremony in August 1905 in which they admitted 259 new members into their organisation

Between 1972 and 1984, the Stonehenge Free Festival was held and the number of midsummer visitors had risen to around 30,000. From 1985, the English Heritage and National Trust closed the site to festival goers. This caused a violent confrontation between the police and New Age Travellers and became known as the Battle of the Beanfield

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Photo courtesy Geoff Achison: Just Blues

Geoff had a strained school life and dropped out of high school. He then went on to get a regular job but looking back he wished, and had a little regret, that there had been somebody there that had been able to take the reins and fix things up for him. But the difficulties in school were unbearable so he left and nobody stopped him

Geoff’s secret to a happy life is that if you can find anything that you are good at, even if it’s just one thing, make that your pursuit. The only thing he had was music and with whatever other jobs he tried he just felt like he was the shit kicker. No matter what he did because he felt he had no other talent in life but music. When he picked the guitar up that was something he could do. When he picked the guitar up, people would say “wow you’re really good at that” but if he’d do anything else … he was the shit kicker. All he heard was “O give Geoff the broom to sweep the floor”

“Cos I didn’t take drugs I remember it. It’s never been that kind of scene, everyone that I’ve known that has been into the Blues like we’ve gotten into it, is because of the music. It’s the music that has motivated us. So it’s not been, you know, a desire to be a “star” you know it’s a desire to be a musician to really master how to play this stuff for people”

Dutch Tilders and the Blues Club – “Baby Please Don’t Go”


Chucking his job in, he arrived in Melbourne with his electric guitar and $40 and a burning determination to get a job as a musician and have a future in music

The thing that drew Geoff to Melbourne was a group called Blues on the Boil.
He used to go down to Melbourne maybe once a month save up a bunch of money, probably about $100 bucks – in the mid-1980s that was a fair wad of cash. He’d go to Gaslight Records and buy a stack of Blues records. One time he found this record called Blues on the Boil, it looked pretty good. Reading the liner notes he discovered that the LP was recorded in Melbourne

Geoff was ignorant of the Blues scene in Melbourne. What he had discovered about Blues came from the United States and you’re talking about Chicago, you’re talking about Mississippi, you’re talking about New Orleans and he got most of his information from reading the liner notes on the back of the LPs

“Wow these guys are in Melbourne and it had been recorded like that same year”

Blues on the Boil
 had a residency in town. This was a group led by a guy called Bob Sedergreen, an amazing jazz cat and piano player. Geoff had a jazz background so he really dug where Bob was coming from, the whole band was like all jazz cats but playing Blues. Getting back to the roots and really twisting it and bending it and Geoff loved it. He became such a regular there that he struck up a conversation with the guys in the break

When he found out that Geoff had a guitar, Gordon Pendleton, the drummer said “Man, you play man? …. you got to bring your axe … bring your axe next time and we’ll get you up and play”

That was the spirit of the blues scene. Biting his nails all the week before, he took his guitar along and they let him play. From then on it became a regular thing

That turned into the Just Blues band. Steve Ceprow on harmonica would get up and jam with Blues on the Boil. The amazing bass player called Travis Clarke, who was about 16 years old at the time and Mark Grundin, from Mallacoota, was the drummer of Just Blues. He was another country boy and still plays around the scene

Just Blues played for maybe 18 months or a couple of years around the scene. They used to do a residency at the Swan Hotel it was a $5 cover charge. Geoff used to make about $80 maybe $90 that’s what they’d get each gig. He was living in a big house in Eltham with about eight people all artists … you know singers, musicians and the rent was maybe twenty bucks each

Geoff was doing OK – it wasn’t looking like an actual career but he was calling it that – everyone was telling him, every time they’d do a gig;

“you really need to go and see Dutch Tilders if you’re into the Blues … you play OK but you really need to go and see Dutch Tilders … and to my eternal shame I had never heard of him … I didn’t know who he was”

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Photo courtesy Johanna Tilders: Dutch aged 16

“Tilly Bar” in Bloemerstraat 15, Nijemegen Holland was owned by Dutch Tilders’ father. Dutch was fourteen when he, his father, mother, four brothers and one sister – Johanna, immigrated to Australia. Nijemegen is where Dutch Tilders grew up. His parents sent him to music school where he learned to play the harmonica. Then he went into the Catholic Brotherhood and it was here that he would play a range of instruments. Johanna remembers Dutch using the wooden finger picks to keep rhythm and he was extremely good at drawing. Dutch Tilders may have been about to catch that Blues music wave in early 1950s Holland when his family decided to immigrate

In Holland he’d learned to read and write music. According to his sister Johanna “it came naturally to him.” His father was a tenor, like Mario Lanzo and mother a soprano. His parents both sung in Frankston choir Catholic church. Dutch was twenty when his father was tragically killed in a head-on collision on the Moorooduc Highway aged 48. The Freezer truck was on the wrong side of the road. From then on whenever Dutch performed “Nobody Knows You When You Are Down and Out” it was his personal tribute to his father

cont. BluesTone Part 2:  The Station Hotel, Prahran