The Tablelands Drifters. Photo: Tennant Creek Times
The Tableland Drifters. Photo: Tennant & District Times

NOTE: This piece is from a Press Release sent out earlier today by the good folks at the Alice Desert Festival.

I’ll be down at The Pod to see the Bush Bands Bash later today so will post some pix from there later today or tomorrow.

Well, not quite the cover of the Rolling Stone.

But for a band from the windy open plains of the Northern Territory’s Barkly Tablelands to make it into the pages of Australian Rolling Stone magazine is a big deal…even if it was way back on page 76.

It was almost a year ago that Barry Divola of Rolling Stone caught up with the Tableland Drifters after their gig at Darwin’s hottest contemporary music venue, Happy Yess, following the band’s induction into the Northern Territory Indigenous Music Hall of Fame at the 2009 Indigenous Music Awards in Darwin.

And Alice Springs-based fans of the Tableland Drifters can see and hear the band play this weekend at the Bush Bands Bash, a signature event of the 10th anniversary Alice Desert Festival.

The Tableland Drifters will be joined on stage by the best of central Australia’s young bush bands, including Yuendumu’s Desert Mulga, the Tjupi Band from Papunya, Ernabella’s Young Pukatja Band, the Sunlight Band from Pipalaytjara & Kalka, Wingellina’s Alunytjuru Band and the Iwantja Band all the way from the APY lands in northern South Australia.

Rolling Stone’s Barry Divola was most impressed by the Tableland Drifter’s teenage guitar sensation, Angus Pearson, who he said had a touch of the Mark Knopfler’s about him.

“Unlike Guitar George in The Sultans of Swing, he does want to make it cry and sing, and proceeds to do so with bright, rippling runs and sighing, bending passage drawn out with skilful use of the volume knob of his cream Strat.”

Rare and well-deserved praise for an emerging young talent, and due recognition for the Tableland Drifters, who this year will celebrate 25 years of making music for their many fans across the NT.

For many people in the Northern Territory their first exposure to the Drifters’ unique brand of contemporary country – with a traditional twist – was hearing their first album, blasting from a well-worn cassette tape out of the speakers of an old car while driving down a long dusty Territory backroad.

And it is the hundreds of hours driving those dusty backroads that kicked the band off in 1985.

Back then the band members all worked as stockmen at Brunette Downs, the sprawling cattle station in the heart of the Barkly Tablelands that covers a large part of the band members’ traditional country.

In the early days the band played cover versions and later decided to write their own songs to better express their love of country, the history of the region and the important role that Aboriginal people have played, and continue to play, in that history.

Over the years the Tableland Drifters have toured to all corners of the NT and have been regular guests at community festivals and just about anywhere else that would cough up for fuel and food money.

Jump forward twenty or so years and while members have come and gone the core of the band – lead singer Joe Davey and drummer Lex Holt – remain.

Now based in the regional centre of Tennant Creek Lex and Joe were instrumental in the establishment and continuing development of the Winanjjikari Music Centre that has grown to become one of Australia’s leading Indigenous music studios in the country.

And it is from that studio that the latest Tableland Drifters, “Land Down Under” album has come.

Released to critical acclaim in early 2010 the new album reprises the special mix of country rock with traditional Aboriginal that the band has made its hallmark.

The album features several tracks – notably Tribal Voice and Freedom Road – that highlight the band’s qualities as a hard rocking act with well-honed dynamics.

On the melancholy Rain Dancer Joe Davey’s haunting vocals tell a moving tale of despair following the loss of a senior traditional elder and law-maker. Davey’s vocals are movingly reinforced by brilliant guitar work by Angus Pearson, who literally makes his guitar weep.

If you are looking for the freshest new music from the NT – music rooted in the long roads and big skies of the vast plains of the Barkly Tablands – then you cannot go past this new release.

* The Tableland Drifters play at the Bush Bands Bash on Saturday 11 September on the Main Stage at The Pod with the Desert Mulga, Tjupi Band, Young Pukatja Band, Sunlight Band. Alunytjuru Band and the Iwantja Band. Gates open at 6pm.

* The Tableland Drifter’s new album, Land Down Under, is available from the Winanjjikari Music Centre at Barkly Regional Arts. Ph: (08) 8962 2799 or email them on [email protected]