This page gives you some info on the various formats & bands i have worked in over the years,.. not including of course the ones i still work in!,.. a bit of Nostalgia for you all!
I started singing at home with my family when I was very young. My parents recognised I could sing and whilst encouraging me, never pushed me. I think my dad dreamed of me as some big singing star,.. he was a photographer by trade and even took me out to do my first photo shoot when I was about 10?!! (don’t worry, these piccies never saw the light of day!,… – until now!
I was still singing in my bedroom when I was asked by a talent quest compere to perform in his talent quest, and no, I never auditioned – I just happened to be at this particular quest with a girlfriend who was entered,.. jointly they decided I should go in it too!. I soon got caught up on the talent quest circuit singing country songs, but winning all the while,… and learning all the more. I had even started doing some solo gigs so it was about this time I need my first real promotional shots,…and (Cringe!!) here is one of them!
I then searched out, joined and started to sing with the local Country Music Association and appear on their charity shows and it was through them that I made my first trip to Tamworth (Australia’s largest Country Music Festival). My first appearance in the very prestigious semi-professional ‘CCMA’ Talent Quest gave me my first big win (Female Vocal Section) and this lead to a couple of opportunities for me.
Firstly I met a guy, Peter Salata – who was the winner of the Male Vocal section and he asked me to record a duet with him on his album – it was my first experience in a real studio!. It was actually put out as a single on vinyl! (remember that!!!).
Secondly it gave me my first article and photo in the local paper!!
… and thirdly it got me a spot in my first local band, “Impulse” where I had a lot of fun and learnt a lot but it didn’t last long. From there I tried a family band called “Homefolk”, but at the time my brother’s and sisters were a bit too young. I then formed a trio “Shades of grey” which was my first real working band.
Impulse were a 3 piece local Wollongong band – they played hits ‘n’ classics from the 50’s to the 70’s and some Country & Country Rock music around the club circuit but I must confess I had never heard of them until the drummer Denis Heffernan (after hearing that I’d just won a vocal award at the Tamworth Country Music Festival) rang me one night and asked if I was interested in joining the band for a little while as they wanted to try a female singer. At the time I was very young and only singing as a soloist in the local Country Music Association, but I was about 17, feeling famous having just achieved my first real triumph – the “Female Vocal” in the CCMA Semi Professional Awards at Tamworth. Now, complete with trophy, a very nice spread in the local paper and 30 seconds of fame on the local TV station I thought I might like being in “a band” for a while – besides it paid real money…..
We had a lot of fun in that band and I thank them for the opportunity and for “giving me the bug” (It also helped me manage my incredible nervousness, although I still get it!). The line-up included Denis on drums, Alex Sreckovic on guitar and Alan Oyston on Bass. I just had to look girly and sing real sweet!,.. and let’s face it, when you are 17 that’s not so difficult. However the money they made couldn’t really support an extra singer that didn’t add musically and they decided they wanted to get their old keyboard player back. I felt discarded and quite devastated. It was a hard lesson learnt, but one that spurred my stubborn Aries pride to reach for greater heights … which I was determined to do!
Being from a big musical family I guess it was expected that at some point we’d try the “family band” thing. As most of the family would go to the Country Music Association family ‘get together’ days it became normal for us to do a few items on the walk up stage. I played guitar and sang, my brother Rob played bass and sang and two of my sisters – Shirley and Elisabeth sang and played banjo and mandolin respectively. It also included my friend Quentin Fraser – who lived with us most of the time – and was always considered part of the ‘Frencham family’. Whilst we Frenchams could all could sing and hamonize, none of us were really strong players and I was starting to become aware of the commitment and discipline required to do music professionally, but the others were just a little young. We did however do a few gigs as a family through the South Coast Country Music Association – family bands were quite a novelty at that time!,… and we had a lot of fun being stars in our own kitchen!,… but I needed to stand on my own two feet.
SHADE OF GREY (Mark 1-6)
“Shades of Grey” began as a trio. I was singing as a soloist and with my family band in my local Country Music Association and occasionally performing with a local club band. As a soloist I found my repertoire was limited in the Association to the “old favourites” that the Association backing band could play. Following a short stint in a local band ‘Impulse’ – where I could pick the songs I wanted to sing and the band would actually learn them,..I had got the bug …. and it was time I had a real band of my own. The original line-up was a trio consisting of myself, a great singer who I remember as only “Michael”, and my very good friend & instrumentalist Quentin Fraser. We had a real folky sound but only 2 instruments and voices – as Michael didn’t play,… and Quentin didn’t sing. We did a few talent quests – but soon learned that Michael suffered from stage fright, Quentin wouldn’t smile,… and our songs were too ‘deep and meaningful’ to become a commercial venture so I decided a re-think was in order.
Shades Of Grey – mark II, enlisted the services of my brother Rob who’s Bluegrass band had just disbanded and once again Quentin, who was still a great player and let’s face it may as well have been my brother as he was at our house just as much as my other brothers!. Rob played electric bass and Quentin played guitar, dobro and even some banjo!. I sang and Rob was willing to try a few harmonies – even Quentin sang a couple of songs!. Pretty soon – with the aid of a drum machine we hit the local club lounge circuit. Our repertoire was vast, we’d just about give anything a try – be it country, folk, Bluegrass and even some light 50’s/60’s pop music. However, soon the drum machine was limiting us and Quentin was getting itchy feet, he wanted to do different things. He hated having to actually ‘learn’ anything and at the time, lacked the discipline required to keep the momentum going … we were very young. Rob & myself however decided to stick together and met Steve Benko and Bruce Tulloch through a newspaper advert and it wasn’t long before Shades of Grey (Mark III) became a ‘hip & happening’ 4 piece band!
This was a great line-up and after doing the club & party scene for a while we picked up a residency in the Jamberoo Valley Lodge. It was a Restaurant/Resort audience and we got to play all our country and folk ballads and some dance music, we became part of the furniture and generally had a ball. However, nothing lasts forever and 2 years later the Restaurant went broke and we were back out on the club scene again. In that time however, the scene had changed somewhat and the competition had grown quite fierce. Bands needed to be able to do a lot more dance music and required a strong Rhythm section, we needed much more grunt. Steve wasn’t a Rock’ n Roll drummer and didn’t want to be one, he had just started his family and so hard choices had to be made. We had all become good friends and it was a difficult time. Soon after, Rock ‘n Roll Drummer Ron Bryant was recruited and Shades of Grey (Mark IV) went from strength to strength and soon we were working all over town & beyond.
Our repertoire had grown enormously and we found we could cater for just about any crowd all the while often singing some country music as a normal part of our repertoire. Our yearly trip to Tamworth was generally just for fun – however one year we were fortunate (?) enough to win a few awards and the Booking Agents/Venues became a little confused. Quite out of the blue we had become Wollongong’s Award winning ‘Country’ band and suddenly they weren’t sure whether they wanted us, or why! The confusion continued, Ron was having personal problems and eventually left the band and we spent a short time trying some other drummers such as Mick Shirlaw in the line-up, but the winds of change were blowing,.. and blowing,.. It was around this time I had a car accident. I was fairly lucky but the result was a neck injury that made guitar playing incredibly painful so Trevor Carpenter joined us temporarily on rhythm guitar for “Shades Of Grey (Mark V). Motivation was still badly lacking however and our drummer was by then only ‘temporary’. It was difficult,… I knew we had come SO far, but also knew we had a long way to go,..
How we (Rob, Bruce & Bruce) met Phil Sharp, I don’t remember, but I do remember there was something really warm & friendly about him – and that he was the best drummer I’d ever worked with – and he could sing! So we invited him to a rehearsal to see what happened,… he also mentioned he had a friend – Joe Quennell, who ‘played a little guitar’ & might come along too,… he did, and boy could he sing! I don’t know quite what happened that night but me, Bruce & Rob loved it! – and they must have liked what they heard as much as we did and that very evening STEP FORWARD was born. It was a new lineup and needed a new name and identity. We had agreed to keep the Country Music repertoire current as we had a big following as a country band and were able to still play ‘Country Music’ gigs as “Shades of Grey” (Mark VI). This left our new identity ‘Step Forward’, to do solely what it did best, great Hits, classic Rock’n’Roll and pop ballads
This was a truly great line-up and we were soon working many gigs up and down the south coast. We could play just about everything and were a particularly great band for ‘functions’ as we could sing light dinner music and heavy Rock ‘n Roll all in the one gig,.. Everyone went home happy! With five great singers in the line-up we could sing every type of pop or rock song,.. And most other things as well. It wasn’t long before myself and Joe were alternating on keyboard for those signature songs such as ‘khe Sanh’ etc – which really added another dimension to the sound. It was a terrific time and we had many a great pizza and many fun times together travelling and doing really wonderful & interesting gigs. Suddenly we had 5 great voices, outstanding male & female lead vocalists and the best musical lineup I had ever experienced. It was obviously meant to be and lasted nearly 8 wonderful years,… but time moves on – as it does. Bruce was relocating, Joe had just become a dad, I was getting married and trying to promote my new album as a solo artist as well, and finally following my heart! and all that was so sure,… was now not so sure, time to call it a day I guess.
Acoustigrass has been a great little ‘put together’ Bluegrass band that I was involved with over the years. I’ve always loved Bluegrass but never had the opportunity to sing it as I never knew enough real players, until of course I met my husband Martin, bluegrass banjo player extraordinaire! The line-up started as a simple grouping of family and friends, myself singing with Marty on banjo, Quentin on guitar and my sister Liz on Bass,.. The line-up changed a little over the years and the repertoire was never strictly Bluegrass, but was always very acoustic in arrangement with a more contemporary bluegrass flavour. It was a lot of fun and filled the gap before my later entry into the Australian Bluegrass scene with Sydney band “Acoustic Shock”.
BLUE MOUNTAIN RAIN
After working with Sydney bluegrass band “Acoustic Shock” for a few years there were line-up changes due to members wanting ‘breaks’ and other problems and the line-up got to a point where it wasn’t really “Acoustic Shock” after all, so we changed the name and repertoire a bit and took on another identity. This line-up was myself on vocals, Martin Louis on Banjo, Liz Frencham on Double Bass, Quentin Fraser on guitar & Nigel Lever on mandolin. We also made the line-up a six piece by adding a fiddle player when funds allowed and these players have included Peter Denahy, Kat Mear, Mike Kerin, Donal Baylor & Wen-Tjen Lim – depending on availability. It was a great time and it sounded great!,.. we even took on the world in a seven week tour of UK & Europe,.. and had the best time! Even when Quentin left us to work in Kalgoorie, we seem to bounce back with the addition of up and coming guitarist Daniel Watkins and I’ve got to say we had some of our best gigs during that time.
Soon the winds of change were blowing again,.. Liz was getting married and informed me that she didn’t want to be involved with the Bluegrass format anymore. Her long-time band Jig Zag was breaking up and she was taking the opportunity to ‘re-invent’ herself,.. Out with the old and in with the new! It wouldn’t have been so bad but her ‘re-invention’ meant I was unable to use her name, photo or our band Demo (with her on it) any more. So at the close of an email, I suddenly had no usable band bios, photos, demos etc to apply for gig with. Suddenly all I had worked hard for was gone! I effectively now had no format to Sell – and no where to go. As a professional artist trying to make a living at the time, I took quite a ‘hit’. I was indeed a little sad and hurt at the time,… but once again the Phoenix rises from the ashes!,.. (although I did take a little longer healing from that one,.. i guess i’m getting older & it does get harder!)