“I’m a great believer in the power of positivity.”
It’s a Friday morning and I’m at Rock Pride Music (RPM) talking to Albert Skipper – Skip as he is known to hundreds of Bendigonians. On polite nodding terms with Skip for some time I was looking forward to a proper, more in-depth chat about his life and times in music.
People talk highly of Skip:
“RPM is one of Bendigo’s hidden treasures. The good that goes on there is truly unbelievable.”
“He does far more (for the local music scene) than any of us realise.”
Amongst the many hats he’s worn – and wears – he’s probably best-known for fronting Ethanol for many years. Skip is a man on a mission.
“It’s got to be fun. And I think everyone has a musical skill,” he says, before giving me a whirlwind verbal tour of his 40-odd years learning, playing, teaching and simply just loving music.
“I’ve been playing music in one way or another since I was that high,” he says, his hand about a 2L Coke bottle height off the floor. “That’s about 40 years.”
“This place?” I ask, looking around at the large but homely and funkily-decorated creative space that is RPM, “how did this come about?”
“I was teaching music, going from home-to-home, giving lessons. Then I thought about bringing it all to one place and I came across this,” he says, looking around. RPM is a large upstairs space at the back of the YMCA in Mundy Street in Bendigo’s CBD.
“That was about seven years ago,” he says.
“You’ve got some great stuff in here. How did you pull all this together?”
“All recycled. All of it. All from tips, different places – mostly around Bendigo,” he tells me. “Put this together on a real shoestring, half a shoestring!”
Skip teaches singing, guitar and introduction to music classes at RPM. Bands rehearse there. He also puts on gigs and showcases at RPM. During last year’s Bendigo Blues & Roots Music Festival there were several workshops at RPM.
“We had about 50 people in here for Steph Bitter’s gig the other night,” he says. A cold Sunday night; testament to Bendigo folks supporting young musical talent.
“I teach here. Lots of groups, individuals as well. I do an intro-to-music class for under 5s. Also music therapy for people with disabilities. I focus on breathing and listening for singers. Everyone has a skill, I believe. When singing they need to be able to listen first. Anyone can sing along to a CD, but get them up there…” he smiles, pointing to the stage.
“And you do some teaching work with refugees as well. Tell me about that.” I ask.
“Yes. I work with about 40 refugees – Karen people and Afghans. Music works helping to build a connection to the community. It also helps if you’re learning English. It helps build confidence.”
“And bands play and rehearse here don’t they?” I ask.
“Yes. It’s a good rehearsal space. Lots of local bands use it. Or bands travelling through. Midweek Blues rehearse here. John Grossman Project, Fountaineer, Jack and the Kids – they played Groovin’ The Moo the other day. We have gigs here as well. Bill Barber’s played here. The Dead Lurkers, Made In China. Lots of different stuff.”
“I remember seeing you play in Ethanol,” I tell him. Ethanol – the seminal Bendigo band loved by locals of a certain vintage.
“Ethanol was great,” he says fondly, “we were doing it for 10, 12, 15 years or so. Three albums. We finished in 2010.”
“And what about live stuff since then?”
“I do some solo gigs but I also had a band with Lauren Jennings, The Lost Heart Sirens. She’s a classically-trained cellist. We were doing that until a couple of years ago.”
Skip’s energy and enthusiasm is infectious. It’s hard to imagine him taking a breather.
“What do you do to relax when you’re away from here?” I ask him.
“Yep, skateboarding!” and he gives me that big smile.
The door opens and the first of Skip’s under 5s class come in excitedly. Their musical futures are in good hands.