James James Morrison Morrison...


Earlier this year, I heard the new Queensland Music Festival Artistic Director James Morrison’s “brave idea” for the 2013 festival which kicks off next weekend. Morrison was speaking at the Brisbane Institute's excellent monthly lunch series where leaders from all sectors are given three minutes each to share their brave idea. The other ideas that day were good but Morrison’s, to stage the world’s largest orchestra at this, his first festival, was spectacular in the truest sense. And, I thought when I first heard it, a bit loopy.

Loopy yes, but still, Morrison’s passion for music is so infectious I found myself believing him when he said we’re all musical and gave that winning smile. By the time his three minutes were done, I’d forgotten loopy entirely frankly, relegated along with the nun in Year 8 with her chop-across-your-knuckles ruler for those mistakes on the ivories. I was hooked, totally ready to sign up online for the orchestra. I was a musician!

The orchestra is symbolic of Morrison’s vision for a festival that belongs to everyone. At 12 noon next Saturday, the largest ever trumpet ensemble will promenade from King George Square through the Queen Street Mall, before joining the orchestra at Suncorp Stadium at 3pm. Although I haven’t been advised formally, I’m pretty sure I’m a shoo-in as the tambourine soloist, something to watch out for on the day.

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The idea that a musician of Morrison’s standing would ask us to join his band is preposterous, a bit like Patrick White running a huge creative writing class and then telling the attendees they’re all writers. How can you be so accomplished and yet so enthusiastic and inclusive? Morrison is one of our greatest musicians but he hasn’t lost the ability to have fun and perhaps this helps. His 2011 album Snappy Too features a 17-piece band in which he plays 16 of the pieces. In the video you can watch the 16 Morrisons, on trombone, sax, piano, guitar, bass and, of course, trumpet. When he does the solo, himself as second trumpeter sits there grooving along to himself as lead. Although I’m not sure he’ll count as 16 members of the orchestra, you get the impression he’s brought at least 16 selves to his AD’s role at QMF, encouraging and enthusing as he leads us piper style back to music where, in his view, we all belong.

Take How Deep is Your Love on the Riverstage on 19 and 20 July. We love homegrown success stories and few musicians anywhere have become as successful as those three brothers who spent a good bit of their childhood kicking around Redcliffe after emigrating from England. They sang from the back of a truck at the local speedway and from there, they took the world. By the time they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, only a handful of musicians led by Elvis and the Beatles had outsold them. The Bee Gees are a real life Queensland rags-to-riches story. Their songs have been covered by artists as far apart on the music spectrum as Donny Osmond and Ozzy Osbourne. And what’s not to love about great Australian singers like Christine Anu and Darren Percival singing those songs on the river on a Brisbane winter evening? Heaven will be!

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There are many more events planned for this year’s festival which runs 12 to 28 July, but when it comes to real participation, the greatest achievement may be far north in Yarrabah near Cairns, where community musician Greg Fourmile has been working with Morrison’s brother John, also a musician, over the last year on “getting the band back together.” Fourmile’s grandfather was a member of the Yarrabah brass band, one of many Indigenous bands that grew from Aboriginal missions and played all over Australia until the 1970s. The resurrected band will be joined by primary school bands from Yarrabah, Aurukun, Coen and Hope Vale – which John Morrison has also been mentoring – who’ll come together for the week leading up to a concert on 22 July at Bishop Malcolm Park.  

“Being a musician is a privilege,” James Morrison writes in his introduction to this year’s program, “and I’m very focused on having everybody share the experience.” What a wonderful way to bring people together. 

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Based on the column published in The Courier-Mail Qweekend  on 6 July 2013. I write mainly about writing, education, birth, health and the thrill of parenting. You can Get in touch,  tick the box to receive emails, Like Writer Mary-Rose MacColl on Facebook or follow MaryRoseMacColl on Twitter. Have a great day!