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From Spanish Fly to The Rolling Stones: Life on the festival trail with Jamie Uren

From Spanish Fly to The Rolling Stones:

Drummer, father, festival site manager- Jamie Uren

While growing up in coastal southern Sydney, and jamming with your brother Zharn, what musicians were filling your head with inspiration at the time?

Everything I could get my hands on from Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, Pink Floyd and Midnight Oil to Dead Kennedy’s, Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies, Soundgarden, Pantera, Slayer and Dead Can Dance. I’m not going to name them all, there’s too many.

In the early 90’s you were part of a large social group which included you and your friends playing in as many as eight indie-bands within the live scene around Sydney. What were the social benefits and musical esteems gained from this period?

I don’t think we had a great deal of social benefits, apart from the odd rider or two and free tickets to other gigs. We all just Loved music and were happy to be jamming, rehearsing and playing gigs together. It definitely was a great social scene and everyone really enjoyed being a part of it, both bands and punters alike.

Musical esteems gained were a few of the bands touring interstate quite a bit and always being in Drum and OTS mags at the time. Some bands were playing with International acts and a couple of the bands found their way onto some compilations. A band I was playing with at the time, ‘Crane No.6’ got onto a Triple J compilation called “Thirteen”, and it was a double album with other bands like Tool, Pantera and Sepultura.

Did the 90’s change the way you saw yourself within music? What did you do in the years post Giraffe’s Casino?

I don’t think the 90’s changed the way I saw myself within music, but it certainly inspired the shit out of me. There were so many great bands around, both Australian and Internationals. You could virtually see a band any weekend or during the week for that matter, and not be disappointed. This literally happened for the entire decade of the 90’s.

After ‘Giraffe’s Casino’- (top three worse band names of all time by the way!)- I just kept playing in bands. Zharn, Pete, Rev, Jay Schellhorn and I formed ‘Crane No.6’ in 1995 because we Loved heavy and world music. I was also managing a rehearsal studio at the time where all these great bands would come and rehearse, life was great, and still is, I’m still playing in bands 25 years on and so are half the people who used to do it back then.

If you had the choice to drum for any outfit, who would you choose? Who inspires you most nowadays?

Too late now, but I’d have to say Led Zeppelin. John Bonham could play any style of music from Blues to Funk to Rock to whatever the hell he wanted. He played both fast and slow, heavy or quiet, his dynamics were second to none. He really had such a versatile feel and I Love that style of drumming as it keeps things interesting and allows for long flowing jams. I think his style of drumming has influenced me the most. Rob Hurst from Midnight Oil also had a unique drumming style I like. Then there’s of course, Dave Lombardo from Slayer (next level shit).

It’s hard to say these days who inspires me musically. I think I’ve turned into that old bastard who still likes the stuff he listened to 20 years ago. Having said this, I don’t mind a bit of ‘Glitch’. It’s really different musically than anything I’ve heard before. Especially artists like ‘Spoonbill’ and ‘Opiuo’. There’s also a band from Newcastle- Australia, called ‘Mojo JuJu and the Snakeoil Merchants’. Unfortunately, they split up a while ago but they played a gypsy, cabaret type thing which I really like too. On the heavier side of things I don’t mind ‘Them Crooked Vultures’ and ‘Mastodon’ are great.

You are taking time out from drumming at present. Can you describe the sound of your most recent band ‘Jamhog’.

I haven’t played as much over the last couple of years because I work away from home a lot and when I get back I just want to hang out with my wife and two kids. I have, however, been playing in a band called ‘Jamhog’ since 2010. It was originally a three-piece with elements of Blues and hard rock. We did it for fun, entered a band comp and won it. We won $3000, so we bought some good speakers and a great mixing desk and recorded our first album in 2012. We have since picked up another guitarist, and with our second album on the way, we are sounding a lot more prog-rock / metal these days. Because I am away working about 8 months during each year, the band has stopped playing regular gigs and the other members are in other bands as well now. We do still play the occasional gig here and there, but nowhere near as many as we used to. The last time we played was at Byron Bay at “Splendour in the Grass” Music Festival in an Amish Barn. We dressed up as Amish people and cranked the shit out of the P.A. It went down very well, people liked us and the concept.

What is the live scene like nowadays in comparison to the 90’s? What do audiences expect from a live act?

I think the live scene died in the arse after the 90’s. Whether it was poker machines being introduced into all the venues, the internet keeping people at home, the insurgence of the DJ or the festival scene becoming more and more popular, less and less people are going to see local live music. It’s just how it is these days all around Australia. Melbourne still seems to be flying the flag more than any other city; they always have though when it comes to live music and venues.

Describe the work you do in the festival scene, and where/how did you start out in this area of employment? Name some of the festivals you have been a part of.

I work in the ‘site management department’ within the music festival industry. I mainly work at outdoor events, except the occasional gig like the Aria’s or a corporate gig here and there. The work is quite similar to being like a drummer actually, in the sense that we are the first to arrive and the last to leave. We arrive on site, mark out the venue: Stage, band rooms, bars, toilets, food vendors and any other infrastructure required. We then liaise with all sub-contractors to meet deadlines and to get the show up and running on time. We also work closely with production, the artist’s crew and the promoters to get the outcomes they’re all looking for. Once the show is up and running, we’re on call for any unforeseen circumstances that may arise. As soon as the show finishes, we begin the bump out. Because a lot of these festival bands are often on a national tour, production is the main priority as they have to get all bands’ equipment, audio and lighting gear off the stage and onto the trucks to drive overnight to the next show usually. We then pull everything down, which can take anywhere from a day to 2 weeks depending on the event. We pretty much then get back on a plane, fly to the next venue and do it all again. It’s pretty funny because I’ve been doing this for about 17 years now, I still run into friends who ask if “I’m still being a Roadie”. The funny bit is I’ve never actually been a Roadie. It’s just easier to nod and laugh because it takes too long to explain what I actually do.

I first got into this line of work during the height of the Big Day Out’s. They pioneered the music festival in Australia in my eyes. They certainly got their ideas from the American festival scene, but they really gave it that Australian edge.

I got into this work by, “It’s not what you know it’s who you know”. A really good mate at the time, Bob Bitunjak, tried to scale the fence with his climbing gear at The Hordan Pavilion in Sydney for the first ever Big Day Out when Nirvana played in Australia for the first time in 1993. He actually got caught the night before by the promoter who then said to Bob that if he wanted to come to the event he would have to work or buy a ticket. Bob decided to work and the promoter was so impressed by him that he offered Bob a job as Site Manager. Bob went on to work for 10 years with the Big Day Out. He offered me a job and that’s where it all started for me working in this industry as a site crew member. I’ve been doing this job ever since and have worked at other festivals such as Splendour in the Grass, Blues Festival, A Day on the Green, Groovin the Moo, Soundwave, Future Music Festival, Parklife, Summer Field Days, Garma Festival in Arnhem Land and the Powderchair Australian Tour to name a few.

I’ve also worked with some of the big internationals such as The Rolling Stones, U2, Sting and Fleetwood Mac.

You have worked for the likes of Rolling Stones in Australia. As a fan, who were you most excited about working for on the festival scene, and what relationships have you gained from your time in this work?

It all becomes a bit of a blur really because I’ve been doing this for so long. I definitely get excited about seeing some bands and can’t wait till some of the others just finish and get the hell out of there. I had to do five Jimmy Barnes gigs in a row, back to back; I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. It’s been refreshing working at Soundwave Festival though as I’ve been able to see all those 90’s bands all over again, Soundgarden, Faith No More, Smashing Pumpkins, Primus, Slayer etc. It’s a real shame that festival died this year.

I’ve gained a lot of close relationships with the crew I’ve worked with over the years. Because we are away from home so much, we have all become our own big family away from home. I’ve definitely built life long relationships with many of these people as we have all been through so much together, both good and bad. There’s always plentiful laughter, we all share some pretty amazing stories and memories together and we all still Love doing this job after so many years.

How does your work impact upon your role as a husband, father and musician?

I got married in 2013 and my wife Amie and I have two beautiful boys Phoenix (10) and Kobi (3). It is definitely hard being away so much now that I have a family. I’m very lucky that Amie and the boys are so understanding of me being away so often. They come to as many shows as they can and we all have a great time watching music together. I think it’s really important for the boys to see all of this amazing music and thankfully they really enjoy it. Phoenix is dabbling with trumpet and bass guitar and I can’t drag Kobi off a drum kit without a fight. Being away does put extra pressure on Amie, practically making her a single parent for 8 months of the year. She is extremely busy on top of all that, as she is doing a Clinical Science degree at Uni. Fortunately, I’m making enough money to support us all and after we have built our house I will back off work and try to do local events only, so I can be at home way more often.

Being away has definitely impacted on me playing music in a band where I can make a full commitment to rehearsing, gigging and recording, but a few years down the track I should be able to commit more to being around and having some fun again.

In a perfect world, where would you fit into the recording and live music scene? Will this ever eventuate for you?

I don’t know where I fit really, I guess I’ve been recording and playing live for the last 25 years anyway. I don’t think this will ever change, I’ve only ever done it because I Love it, but if you’re referring to making a living from it then that’s another story. I plan to build a rehearsal / recording studio at our house in a couple of year’s time, so who knows what might happen. I’m guaranteed to have more enjoyment from music however it pans out.


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