Blues and broadcasts- his passion | Sunday Observer

Blues and broadcasts- his passion

It is not always that you have the opportunity to meet up with musicians and colleagues who are domiciled in foreign countries. When they decide to pay a visit to their homeland Sri Lanka it is a surprise and a pleasure to meet them and talk about what they are now involved in and how they have progressed. So when Grahame Davidson stood in front of me and said ‘Hi’ I was taken aback. After all these years I was happy to see him and I decided we should talk about what’s been happening since we said Bye, some 30 years ago.

Q. Having known you as a teenager, where did the interest in broadcasting come in? Was it a desire deep down in you?

A. My interest in broadcasting came at an early age. My father Godfrey Davidson was a jazz musician during the Colonial days of Ceylon and my mother was involved in the Radio Ceylon Nestle talent quests. My parents had a large cohort of musicians and broadcasters who were in and out of our home. Names that come to mind are Livy Wijemanne, Chris Greet, the late Tommy Perera and Vijaya Corea etc. They were all larger than life characters who left an indelible impression on me as a youngster. My parents used to talk about the musical fraternity and broadcasting a lot. In fact back in the day radio was the most influential media in Sri Lanka and around the globe for that matter.

We used to sit around the wireless at home listening to our favourite programs. After I completed schooling it was inevitable that I joined the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) as a relief announcer.

During my early days at SLBC I had the privilege to sit in with the likes of Eric Fernando, the late Ravi John, Arun Dias Bandaranaike, and Nihal Bhareti.

As a young lad these guys taught me a lot about radio. I then went on to host my own weekend show at SLBC. My interest in radio continued from there.

Q. In Sydney tell us the name of the station, how many days you work and whether you have any special programs that you present. Do you handle request programmes?

A. The radio station I work for is Alive 90.5 FM. And we broadcast across Western Sydney. My show is called the Soul Train (https://www.alive905.com.au/shows/soul-train/). Because this is a side project my program runs once a week on Tuesday at 8 pm (AEST). I have been on air for seven years. My radio show is centered around music with a “groove”. So I lean towards the genres of gospel, jazz, blues, R&B, funk and mixed genres of jazz blues, country blues, jazz rock etc. It is quite eclectic and varied. I am a huge fan of the “Mississippi Delta sound” of the US such as music from New Orleans, Memphis and Mississippi. I also particularly like the Creole and Zydeco music New Orleans is famous for. I only take requests if it fits with my music format. So I have regular listeners who call in because they listen to the same music that I present.

Q. What about the language? Do you pronounce the words like most Australians do - like die for day etc.?

A. Funny you asked that. I don’t have a full-on Aussie accent. I am quite happy to maintain my Sri Lankan accent with a bit of Aussie lingo thrown in. In fact because the station caters to a large diversity of listeners we are encouraged to sound ‘natural’ on air.

This adds to the variety and quality of broadcasting. We have presenters from Australia, South Africa, Canada, the Pacific Islands, and some Asian backgrounds.

Australia has an array of colloquial jargon (‘fair dinkum’, ‘inki di’, ‘arvo’,’bludger’etc) and it helps to throw some of this into the everyday conversation.

Q. How do you find talking to fit a minute, maybe a few seconds? Did you practice that before you sat in front of the mike?

A. I had a good grounding at SLBC around “fillers” and how to talk on air. Two things I still practice from those days are to watch the studio clock and the mixer volume levels. Because my show is based on a “music format” it is not too hard to ad-lib around the music, artistes, etc.

I prefer back announcing as my preferred technique. This is because it gives the listener and the presenter more time to absorb the information shared and relate it straight back to the tune that was played. I do like to talk over the intro of the first tune in a bracket (of 3) and release the song vocals “on cue”. In Australia the most common song bracket segment is three tunes to a bracket. Which means three songs for every bracket and then back announce.

Q. You are a blues harmonica man what are the music programs you present?

A. As mentioned I present the Soul Train. My programme streams worldwide on (https://www.alive905.com.au/). I have the facility to podcast but haven’t got down to that yet. My radio show also contributes to the Australian Blues and Roots airplay charts (http://www.abarac.com.au/). The show also has media accreditation for one of the largest blues and roots festival in the world, the Byron Bay Blues Fest in Australia. As part of my association with this event, I promote the event and also interview artistes. Some of the artistes I have interviewed on my show include Charles Neville (from the Neville Brothers), Grammy winning blues-men Bobby Rush and Joe Louise Walker, and Seth Lakeman.

I took to blues harmonica late in life. My first instrument was guitar. My harmonica influence came from some of the great musicians I support on my show such as Adam Gussow, James Cotton, Sonny Boy Williamson, Charlie Musselwhite, Micky Raphael, Jimmy Reed etc. In Sydney I do find the time to play at regular jam nights.

The harmonica is a fascinating instrument which takes center stage in blues and roots music. Even in Jazz you see the influence of harmonica through the likes of Toot Thielemans, Stevie Wonder etc.

For me the blues harmonica journey is much like any other instrument, a lifelong lesson. We can never master the instrument. It is always a work in progress. Blues harmonica has many nuances to it such as playing straight harp (1st position), cross harp (2nd position), bending, drawing, tongue slapping etc. Also worth mentioning that there two most used types of harmonicas are Diatonic which is used for blues and Chromatic used for jazz.

Q. Can you clue me in as to what the bands were that your Dad played with in Sri Lanka?

A. My dad Godfrey Davidson was a drummer and early pioneer during the post Colonial Jazz era. From what I know he influenced and mentored many drummers who followed that era.

He was the drummer for the likes of Gerry Crake Combo, the Gazzali Amit Trio, Harold Seneviratne Combo, the Menzies among others. He also played on early Decca and Phillips label recordings in Ceylon.

I also understand he has sat in for the Blue Diamonds and Duke Ellington concerts in Ceylon, but I don’t have any record of this. For some reason (better left to the God’s) I didn’t take up drumming after my dad but played guitar and harmonica instead.

So here’s wishing you all the best for the future!

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