Port Fairy Artist of the Year – 2012
Port Fairy Festival Director Jamie McKew told me recently he remembered seeing John Butler supporting The Waifs in the backroom at The Nash in Geelong, more than ten years ago. “No one knew who he was,” McKew smiled – how things have changed.
Since that day, and indeed, since the days when Butler first embarked upon his musical journey – busking mainly, a slow and steady beginning – his star has risen. Risen to heights not often seen in the realms of roots music, a genre (or a collection of genres) before thought, amongst younger circles, to be ‘uncool’ and ‘old’, until the likes of a few came along and turned that notion on its head. John Butler was one of those few.
It’s because of what Butler has achieved over the past decade or so then, that he’s been awarded the 2012 Port Fairy Folk Festival’s Artist Of The Year. This is a man who began at the bottom, and through talent, drive and creativity, made it to the top, in the process reinvigorating music and minds alike, ideals and perceptions of roots music, of independent artists, of ways of getting your message out.
“It just has to come from a soulful place at the end of the day, and if it has the opportunity of reaching as many ears as possible, then that’s awesome, that’s a dream come true for me,” Butler himself muses from his studio out West, where mere hours before, he’d happily received news of the aforementioned award. Butler is also sage on his methods of presenting his ideas, his messages if you will – “I think, of all things, you have to be playful. If you clutch onto anything too strong, you end up strangling it.”
It’s been this genuine desire to share in such an artistic and subtle way then, that has seen Butler – both solo and in trio format – reach people the world over, come into their lives, enriching them as he’s gone. But in amongst the accolades and the adulation as well, Butler has given back, perhaps most importantly through what was initially known as The JB Seed, now The Seed, “an initiative funded by the music community for the music community”, a true indication that Butler recognises the need for nurturing, particularly given he himself came from such grassroots beginnings.
“It’s all I know… and I’m really proud of where I’ve come from, how I naturally grew from that place – it’s where I paid my dues,” he tells. John Butler is still paying his dues (“I feel like I’ve grown… but I feel like my best work is still ahead of me,” he smiles. “I’m really excited about that.” ), and as such, he’s still exploring, still growing as an artist, still exciting his legions of fans, not to mention himself.
Although Butler is still young, it’s universally recognised that he’s on the path trodden before by the ‘greats’ of Australian music – Paul Kelly, Archie Roach, Jeff Lang, amongst others. This is a canon of artists revered the world over, and Butler, given his past, seems destined to join them – from little things, big things grow, as Paul Kelly sang, an adage which in this instance, rings clear as a bell.
Samuel J. Fell