Steve Towson 2015

Steve Towson – An Exercise In Preservation

Steve Towson is a musician from Brisbane who I have been lucky enough to see play on more than one occasion. He is quite an enigmatic character, never appearing to be quite the same, both in appearance and performance. He has a hypnotizing yet slightly abrasive style of acoustic folk, that reminds me of other acoustic greats such as Billy Bragg and Frank Turner. If you are lucky enough to corner him for a conversation, you will realise quite quickly, that Steve is an incredibly wise and selfless gentleman. These personal qualities translate directly to his song writing.

However, when I spoke to Steve recently, the spotlight was shifted off of his personal, musical endeavors and onto something with, if possible, a little more…. culture.

You see, Steve has had an integral role in setting up the Australian Cultural Library in Toowoomba and is opening a new Library in Townsville. He also plays Resonate at The Grand Hotel next Thursday.

Wil: So Steve, how does one go about setting up a library and how does a cultural library differ from what we would consider a conventional library?

Steve: The library is completely volunteer run and donation based only and the idea is to collect and preserve as much as we can get our hands on.  Stuff that has been made by someone that has either been born here or migrated here. Something that is, or pays tribute to Australian culture.

Wil: What inspired you to take on such a big task?

Steve: Having toured a lot and seen how much is produced in Australia and how we treat the our artists in comparison to overseas. Seeing how much is constantly being withdrawn or destroyed

It will be run similar the Towoomba one, where it will all be based on donations. Everyone just volunteers their time. It’s kind of a test to see how it will work, so if it works well, we’ll keep it going and it might also help towards starting to set libraries up in other towns.

Most of the bands we know, most of the bands from Cairns, they put a lot of love and passion into music but will never be recognized nationally. In regards to preservation, I think that these are the kind of acts we need to prioritize because a lot of people don’t know that they exist. Quite often because the name isn’t known around the place, this stuff can have zero economic value. At the same time for someone in Cairns who is into something specific like the blues, this stuff can hold a really high cultural value. But if things don’t have a high enough economic value, places like book stores and other libraries simply wont stock those CD’s or books or records. It just gets ignored and forgotten about and we end up in a situation where, as a society, we’ll look back and go, “Well why didn’t we preserve it all?” Then we’ll say, “Well apparently the internet was supposed to do that”

Wil: Is it just Australia that has lost the drive for cultural preservation or is this happening in the world in general?

Steve: One of the reasons that I started with the library, is having gone overseas to Indonesia and Malaysia and seen how much emphasis our neighbors put into performing and promoting and preserving their culture. Traditional culture particularly. I was wanting to look at Australian traditional culture and then saw how little of that is available at local council libraries or universities even. Then I started collecting any of this stuff that I could get my hands on. I saw how hard it was and how long it took to get access to, even to try and buy.

Wil: Has exploring Australian musical history changed the way you view things? Has it effected your song writing?

Steve: I mean everything you do effects how you view the world. It affects it, yeah. For example, my view on women in culture has changed dramatically. Right now I’m cleaning sheet music and I’m cleaning a piece by an Australian woman called Miriam Hyde from the early 1900’s. We’re told  that back then women weren’t allowed to write music or put out music but at the same time I’ve found all these physical examples of women actually doing this stuff. I have two pieces of music in front of me from 1935 that were written and even produced by two different women.

Wil: What has Steve Towson the musician been up to lately?

Steve: A bit of everything. Recording, writing, playing. I’ve got the show in Cairns coming up, which should be really good. It’s just a solo show. I’m only in Cairns for one day and then I’m back to Townsville to set up the library. The music and the work with the library intertwine quite strongly. Some people I’ve spoken to in Cairns are quite excited because Townsville isn’t that far to drive and access this material whereas before people would have had to fly to Brisbane. Its certainly going to be an interesting experiment.

Wil Carroll

Steve Towson plays one show only at the Grand Hotel Resonate gig this Thursday the 23rd July. Also on the bill is Drewboy and Rebecca Langtree. Entry is free and Steve hits the stage at 9.30.

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