Stephen Pigram, a musical man from Broome WA, loves singing and playing his musical instruments including acoustic guitar, requinto, vahlia, ukulele dulcimer and harmonica. He plays in the country folk/rock band The Pigram Brothers, was the musical director for the original production of the first Aboriginal musical, Bran Nue Dae AND now he is just of the many talented musicians enhancing the magical ambiance of The Reef, premiering this Thursday 5th July, 2012. GRIND was lucky enough to chat to Steve about his music and his experience with The Reef so far.
How long have you been playing?
Stated off playing guitar, uke has always been around since I was a young fella growing up. As time went on I started picking up different stringed instruments as we travelled a bit. I actually started playing in bands and in hotels when I was 16 so I’ve been playing music for 30 something years now! (laughs).
I started playing pretty early but I was a bit more electric back in the day. I’ve always liked acoustic instruments because they were always around when we were growing up. In a place like Broome its very small but there were so many different influences from people and instruments that came from all over the world for the pearling industry. So they bought all these interesting instruments like ukuleles and mandolins.
Where did you learn?
I’m sort of self taught, I’ve always been inspired by my uncles and when we were growing up in school we had lots of Irish nuns as teachers who would always teach us Irish songs. There were also lots of musicians around at the time so it was a natural thing for me to start to play music. Yeah, so I’ve just learned through that and by ear, and my ears fairly good.
How is your experience with the Reef, and how is it significant to you?
Playing with classical musicians, on The Reef, is really exciting because I interact with a song in a completely different way. Working with an orchestra has taken my playing to another level, classical instruments change the way you play. I only really got back at the residency a couple of weeks ago and I actually met up with the guys, and the composer Iain Grandage, and that was great! In the evening we would just sit around the campfire and sort of jam you know, keep it really lose, and they’d pick it up really quick. They’re great players. Yeah, it will be exciting I think when the whole thing comes together with the images and just the fact that they’re a great orchestra and they’re trying something different you know. I worked with one of the producers, producing The Reef mainly because this is a WA based kind of project and its good to have some local WA musical input. I’ll get to play 2-3 of my songs through the program. It’s the overall idea of the projects to show the beauty and spiritual nature of the reef you know, and surfing. I guess I’m connected to it, I’ve grown up on the reef, not for surfing but for fishing (laughs). Up here we get really big tides and the reef gets exposed every full moon and new moon and we always go out and use the reef as a place to fish, so there’s the cultural significance for me. When I got to meet the surfing mob there, they were all really into surfing, and I sort of realised after talking to them for a few nights they approach the reef and the act of surfing in a similarly spiritual way anyway. Its respect you know, like a respect for that part of country.
I think it will be an experience like being somewhere. You see where images fit abstractly with music and so it’s different and challenging. That’s something that people will get out of it I think. These days more and more people have to present music in different ways, and this is just one of those ways. I think Darwin people will have a great affinity with the show because they are people close to the water. I’m sure they connect with the water in a similar way and will appreciate the sound and the feel of the whole show.
Do you have some advice for young aspiring musicians?
Yeah look, when I was young I loved the acoustic then I got into the rock music for a little, then I started writing my own songs. I treat music as a very broad thing, not just one style, at the same time I try to find my own voice. I think you gotta keep your mind open all the time because it just seems to take you places that you might not have got to if you just listen to one genre or style of music. That’s my advice to the young people.
What is one thing you know now you wish you knew when you were young?
I don’t have any regrets but I’ve never really moved from this area and I’m fairly isolated in terms of mainstream music kind of thing. I probably might have, in hindsight, gone out and exposed myself to the mainstream music industry instead of just sitting at home fishing and playing music. But then, on the other hand, that’s probably why I’m still going and am still enjoying it!
What’s your favourite genre of music?
Favourite kind of sound is that old country blues from Mississippi, Delta area, finger picking on the guitar. I latched onto it when I was young and it made me want to play the guitar in that way. And also the more island type music, the Hawaiian sounding sounds. They have been ingrained and infused in me and that’s sort of what comes out when I am playing a song. Almost like a blues mixed with hula (laughs).