Emily Barker Reminiscences On Her "Disturbing" Intro To Life As A Gigging Musician

9 October 2017 | 2:50 pm | Emily Barker

"It taught us what we didn’t want."

Home for me is by the Blackwood River in Bridgetown, Western Australia. My parents still live there as well as one of my brothers and his kids, and after touring the east coast, I got to enjoy spending a few days seeing my family in my hometown - affectionately known as “Fridgetown” due to it being the coldest place on the map in WA - and it didn’t fail to live up to its name during my stay.

Despite the cold, we cooked wood-fired pizzas in the outdoor kitchen with blankets wrapped around us, I played games and read books with my five nephews and one niece, we went for coffee at the best local cafe, and I took a midnight walk with my brother, his partner and children through the streets of our sleepy town on a night the moon was almost full.

It was a brief but beautiful time and always a place where I can exhale after dizzying myself from touring.

I had two WA shows to do and the first was in Bunbury, an hour’s drive from Bridgetown. When I was 17 years old, I was in an all-female, four-piece vocal group and we cut our teeth on the covers scene, often doing four-hour shows in pubs - there wasn’t any other scene to be a part of if you wanted to play music in the south west. We did start inserting original songs into our set list, but for the most part, people just wanted to get very drunk, shout at each other, and dance or sing along to songs they knew. We were booked regularly at a pub called The Burlington when the sailors came into town.

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

We would play to two-hundred horny sailors who’d just arrived in town, whilst the skimpy barmaids served shots to their insatiable customers and the bouncers kept a close eye over the chaos. We were hit on constantly - even when we were onstage and halfway through a song! Often a fight would break out right in front of us and we’d have to call out to security over the microphone. In-between our sets, we’d rush off stage and run across the road to a café to drink milkshakes and digest the drama of the evening. Despite this rather disturbing introduction to the life of a gigging musician, I’m proud to say that we continued our path as musicians. It taught us what we didn’t want. We knew we didn’t want to be trapped in the covers circuit playing to rooms full of crowds who couldn’t care less. So, it's hugely exciting for me to discover that fifteen years later, a young woman, Keslie Miller, has been busy seeking out the people in Bunbury who do give a shit about good music and who want to listen.

I did my first show for ‘Always Good Nights’ last year in a pop-up shop on the high street and this time I returned to Bunbury to play in a bigger venue, a warehouse out the back of a surf shop. A crowd of around eighty rolled up at 7pm with their blankets, beanbags, camp chairs, chips and dips, and bottles of plonk to sit and listen and see an evening of live music. Helen Shanahan played first. What a gorgeous voice! And beautiful songs as well as soul – I highly recommend you have a listen.

When I played it started to rain and I was accompanied by the sound of rain on the tin roof above which worked particularly well in my song, Anywhere Away”I watch the clouds change, the skies are wild with rain, I would leave you here if only you would stay…”

It was a very warm-hearted evening and I even had some old high school mates rock up who I hadn’t seen in over a decade. Time is strange. I’m not sure how much people change. We all certainly seemed like our same selves in that moment.

Coffee in town in a packed café the following morning, (Bunbury is no longer the bogansville it was!) and then up to Perth to play The Bird in Northbridge. I had the pleasure of having my other brother, Joel Barker, open the evening playing songs from his stunning new EP, Unchartered. Lots of his songs are set in Fremantle; the water, the cranes, the harbour repeating through the lyrics. They’re beautiful and I’ve been singing along to this EP in my car and in backstages of venues whilst applying makeup, so it was wonderful to hear them live.

I really enjoyed my set that evening, with a great PA system and a great crowd, it was a wonderful note to end my Australia tour on.

I’m going to be back for Christmas and then another run of dates. I’ll be announcing those soon alongside the option to book me to come play in your house thanks to the awesome people at Parlour Tours. So stay connected and thanks for reading!