An Australian country music icon retraces his journey from Tamworth to Victoria – and revels in his senior audiences
The January day this year that James Blundell was inducted into the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame began like any other. The 54-year-old troubadour woke at 5am in Tamworth, where he’d played until 11 pm the night before; flew to Sydney and then Brisbane, played another gig; then jumped back onto a plane to Tamworth to receive country music’s highest honour.
‘I arrived 20 minutes before I had to go on stage,’ he recalls. ‘The award’s a closely guarded secret, so I think my schedule caused a bit of a fuss. When they heard I was playing in Brisbane, they ordered me a charter plane to make sure I got there on time – it turned into quite a mission!’
When James takes to the stages of regional Victoria this October as part of the Victorian Seniors Festival, he’ll be moving at a much more sedate pace. He’ll be accompanied by his 20-year-old son, Briar, who’s an accomplished guitarist in his own right. ‘Briar loves the seniors runs,’ says James, ‘because the audiences are always so appreciative.’
Older and wiser
This will be James Blundell’s third outing at the Victorian Seniors Festival, and he says he’ll keep coming back as long as we keep inviting him. The legendary crooner – whose anthems like ‘This Road’ and ‘Way Out West’ are carved into our country lore – says senior Australians are not only easier audiences; they’re his audiences.
‘Older people come from a time when we just had music and movies, so they’re much more receptive and less demanding than younger audiences. Plus we get to play in the middle of the day
– which is so much more enjoyable than playing ’til midnight!
‘I really love these audiences, and I’m not just saying that. This festival is one of the highlights of my year.’
Home on the farm
These days, James’ years are mighty full. When he’s not touring the country or recording in the studio, he’s got his hands full at the livestock farm he runs near Stanthorpe, three-and-a-half hours southwest of Brisbane. Although he’s travelled the world, James takes great pride in the fact that he ‘always comes back’ to this little corner of Queensland.
‘I went to boarding schools in Toowoomba and the Gold Coast, and I was sure my life would be all about cattle and livestock,’ he says. ‘But when I was 21, I got run over by a bull in PNG, and while I was recuperating in hospital in Sydney my guitar saved me.’
James recalls a conversation with a Sydney bar owner, who told him if his patrons liked his music he could come back the next day. ‘I played to three drunks and a dog,’ he says. ‘But one guy staying in the pub heard me playing a couple of my own songs, and he gave me an ad from the paper for the Star Maker Quest.’
That was in 1987, when James famously went on to win the Tamworth talent show. The next year, he followed up with the first of 10 Golden Guitar Awards.
Country’s highest honour
It was something of a homecoming in January this year, when he stepped onto the Tamworth stage to receive Australia’s highest country music honour.
‘Of all the awards, this was the one that made me realise just how much has happened over the past 32 years – and how fortunate I’ve been to have worked with some of the best musicians in the world. When I got my first contract from EMI for three albums, I thought: how am I possibly going to write that much? But now here I am working on my 14th album.
‘As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans”!’
James Blundell at the 2019 Victorian Seniors Festival
(check your printed Program for details or click below to find out more)
St Arnaud: Tuesday 8 October
Horsham: Wednesday 9 October
Castlemaine: Friday 11 October
Colac: Monday 14 October
Camperdown: Tuesday 15 October
Casterton: Wednesday 16 October