A 25-year love affair with Australia
By Eve Jeffery
Harry Manx has been one of the most successful international touring musicians ever to grace stages in Australia – this deeply original multi-instrumentalist has entertained audiences with more than 11 extensive tours since 2001 – Manx loves Australia, and the feeling is mutual!
I have never met a Canadian I didn’t like and speaking to Harry Manx proves the point – we caught up last week from his home on Salt Spring Island as the Canadian winter began to spread its icy wings.
Is the weather getting cold? Is there snow?
Not here, but I just came back from Quebec the other day and it was snowing there, so, we’re getting there.
Harry, you’ve been to Australia lots of times. I’m just curious what you love about it?
There isn’t anything I don’t like about it, except, maybe the venomous snakes – the rest is all good for me.
Have you ever met one of our snakes?
Yes! I was out down Margaret River on the west coast there. And I saw a king brown right outside my door.
You know I’ve been having a 25-year love affair with Australia and I’m always happy to come back. I’ve been coming there for 23 or 24 years and I don’t know if I chose the place or the place chose me really. I keep getting invited back. And you know, the crowds keep coming out to the shows. So I’m glad. I feel like Australia has embraced me. And that’s really great.
How many times have you done Bluesfest?
I think this is probably my eighth. Once I was there (2012) and I was on the stage alone. Meanwhile, Earth Wind and Fire were on stage on one side of me and Crosby, Stills and Nash were on the stage on the other side of me. I was feeling a bit lonely, but, kept my head down and did my best.
Have you got some new music to bring us in 2024?
Yes, I’m back in the swing of writing. I took a break during the pandemic but I’m back at it now. I just released an album Way Out East. But it’s mostly just the songs that I’ve recorded over the years based on Indian melodies. And it’s the kind of record you want to have at home when you’re chilling. You know, songs that are not meant for live performance. But I’ve got some new songs for the live set that are working out pretty good.
What personnel will you be bringing – will you be on the stage by yourself with big acts on either side, or have you got company?
I have my longtime buddy there from Sydney, Mr Clayton Doley. He’s also on the on the bill with his big band, his Bayou Billabong band. Clayton and I have been touring around Australia together many times and he’s a wonderful keyboard player and great musical arranger.
You’ve definitely got an affinity with Indian music, do feel like you’re reincarnated or something, or that you’re channelling something?
You know, I went to India on the hippie trail – as they used to call it – in the ‘70s from Europe. I was pulled there. I don’t know what was pulling me, but I just had to go there and I fell in love with the place. I went back in the mid-’80s and stayed for 12 years. Yeah, you might say I’ve had a past life experience there because I felt so at home there. And not just the place, but the music and the people – I lived in an ashram there for about eight years. I couldn’t get enough of it. But at some point, I decided I should go back to the west and see if I couldn’t get a life together. And so I came back here in 2000. And, you know, for the first time I got myself a car, and a house and a refrigerator, and all that, all the goodies. But basically, I’d been choosing adventure over comfort for a long time. And that was part of the Indian experience.
Do you ever go back?
I went back in 2017. And the city where I was living, had gone from 4 million to 16 million people. It was shocking and the level of pollution and the amount of cars was pretty mind-boggling. I decided that it wasn’t the India that I left so maybe I’d had enough. You know, I got the message, so I hung up the phone.
You’re a dad? Tell me about your lad
Yeah, I’ve got a son. He’s 21. He’s been working with me for the last couple of years. He was on the last tour of Australia with me. And we’ve been over in Europe and across Canada many times. He’s my roadie now. And he’s getting a good experience of the world. He also has a great passion for Australia. He came over there the first time when he was eight months old and every couple of years I’ve been bringing him over and he feels quite at home there.
Is there anything different about in particular the Bluesfest audiences?
You know, they’re in a great setting. The environment is so beautiful around there, maybe it puts the people in good spirits – I have always encountered that. Folks, are in a good spirit there and just having a good old time.
I would say the average age is a bit younger at Bluesfest than many festivals I’ve been to – folk festivals tend to be like more seniors, they’ve got their fixed seating. They don’t get up much. But Byron, you know, they’re all on the feet and they’re ready to rock and roll. It’s definitely a younger crowd.
Have you had a chance to look at the bill yet?
Yeah I did a little bit. And you know what I’m most excited about is Tom Jones. Oh man, he just kills it now. I’m very excited to see Tom Jones.
I’ve seen some of the greatest big acts at Byron, you know. Usually when I’m at a festival, I don’t catch a lot, I do my thing and I go back to the hotel or whatever. But in Byron, I tend to want to see acts and I’ve seen and met some great, great acts backstage. You often share the area with some of your heroes. And I’ve gone around and shook hands with many great acts that I’ve only dreamed of meeting. So that’s a real bonus.
I’m often curious to know whether artists feel that they have an obligation as a person with a profile to stand up for the causes they believe in – what do you think?
That’s very good. You know, I think everybody should have their heads in the right place when it comes to the environment and social activism and all that. I think it’s very important. Maybe you won’t say much about it, but you should live it at least. My focus has always been more of the awakening of the individual and that people should take responsibility for themselves, and live in a way that reflects the highest values possible. So yeah, I’m down with that and I like it when I see people who are socially active like John Butler is and Xavier Rudd. I’m not out on the front of the train like those guys but I try to spread the love in the show just by my songs and my presence – I hope that makes the world just a tiny, tiny, tiny little bit better than it was before I got there.
Harry, what in life inspires you?
Well, I’m a person that is very deeply into the spirituality of India, meditation, and moving forward in the world of consciousness, so that’s what drives my life, and it informs my music and my lyrics.
Are you having enough fun?
Fun? Mate, I’m having heaps. I feel like I won the lottery to be a musician who actually gets to earn his living at it, you know, because so few musicians can actually survive. So I’ve been blessed and it has to do with the audience and the people who’ve received me. I feel very blessed about that.
You can see Harry Manx on Easter Sunday and Monday at Bluesfest 2024. Tickets: www.bluesfest.com.au.