Songs and Compositions by Basil Bracken Toucan
‘Like the Sun” recorded by Fiete of Ebden Studio Full album ” 20th Anniversary Remastered edition – Recorded one afternoon around the turn of the millennium at Ebden studios version 1, in the donga out the back, with 1 microphone gaffa taped to a pole, gaffa taped to a bar stool. If you listen very closely you can hear the 385 bus hurtling past.”
Belly Button Dreams.
Like the Sun.
River of Sludge
Sutter Street Strut.
Empty your pockets.
Interview with Basil Bracken Toucan
Basil Bracken Toucan has the innate ability to create visual stories through his music compositions. Its an art. It is a discipline. Since time began Basil sang, he was born with music in his head. His ability to listen. An art few of us have had or kept.
He is a singer, composer, visual artist, gardener, carpenter, sparkie’s assistant and a wanderer of the soul. Basil resides between two countries: Thailand and Australia. Fluent in both languages bringing a unique perception to his music. His most recent recorded compositions are ‘the fish and jimmy cricket’, ‘the mirror and the razor” and ‘eyelids’.
Today he is sitting waiting. Waiting for the next rain. Waiting for COVID restrictions to lift. Waiting to have that choice to stay or go. Under a big tin roof in the middle of a paddock sitting on the cool cement floor as slight murmur of a breeze passes through the wall-less room in the heart of Thailand.
Fern Smith in Australia and Basil Braken Toucan in Thailand start a Messenger conversation about his music March-May 2021
In his words
What were your influences? Any reflections?
“Dad used to change the words to songs to funny/rude songs, so I think my first song was probably an attempt at one of these. I could play my first couple of chords at about 8/9 years old. I wrote a kind of country song and chorus went “oh I long to see you riding ‘cross those plains, on your cold black stallion, riding ‘cross those plains”. There is something about those early songs which I miss also. Like when you look at little kids first pictures. There are no rules or restrictions there is a kind of natural quality to them that gets lost.
With hindsight, I approached music in way that made it more difficult than it needed to be. I was frightened that if learned the way everyone else did that I’d lose my originality. The more comfortable you are in the fundamentals the more freedom you must express yourself, the less walls you come up against.
Over the internet learned how to fingerpick country style which helped me greatly. The thumb held the rhythm, and the fingers played the melody, all the parts were separated and could be worked on individually. Everything became half as hard and twice as simple overnight, although it took me a good many months to get the technique down.
Recently with Covid19 leaving me with more time than I knew with, decided to subscribe to a course with “Tomo Fugita Guitar Wisdom” and just try and fill in all the gaps that I had left out through the years.
I went back to basics rhythm and timing. It really increased my enjoyment of music. Like that saying; Take care of the pennies and the pounds take care of themselves. Practice the fundamentals and the difficult things just fall into place. All that experimenting did not go to waste. It is probably necessary for every artist. I have gained some intangible things through that process. “
How do you compose? What were your influences?
“Tunes and lyrics do kind of unravel together, although one might proceed the other a little.
When Covid19 hit the US one of the first celebrities to die from it was John Prine and so passes one of the most respected singer/songwriters in America. That was the first I had ever heard of him, so I went down a rabbit hole watching everything I could find on him.
In one interview he was asked a similar question and he said that songs are just kind of floating around on the breeze and if one floats into your head you’ve got to be ready with a pen and paper to capture it otherwise it will just float onto the next person. He went on to say that sometimes they were not all that good, and you might like to just let them go on to the next person.
It is kind of like that, they do seem to have a life of their own. It is difficult to sit down and manufacture a song, for me a least. Maybe some people can do that, or maybe one just happened to come along when they sat down. You need your hook and have your box of bait and tricks ready to catch them. But all the bait and tricks will not help if they are not biting that day.
Music is easy to write. Poetry is a little harder. Songs are damned difficult. But when you do write one, it seemed easy.
My first influences were probably like a lot of people in my generation I suppose. Born in 78, the first music I can remember are the Dad sung on his guitar and early to mid-80s pop songs like Michael Jackson and Tina Turner. I think the first record Dad bought me was the Beatles Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the White album.
As I got a bit older, it was what my older stepbrother liked, mostly AC/DC. I started to become a teenager the heavy metal bands were popular with me and my friends. I stopped following pop culture in the early 90s it became more hip hop, grunge and techno, that was all the rage. Around that time I got into more the 60s stuff with my friends such as; The Animals, Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Lead Zeppelin , Pink Floyd. Back then it was mostly what other people had in their collection that you record on cassette tape; it was too expensive to buy albums.
Dad found a couple of old records in grandma’s collection; they were the Ink Spots and Nat King Cole, she loved them both. Leadbelly and Dust Bowl Ballads by Woody Guthrie came from Prem Bhaven, who Dad and I lived with in middle pocket. He also had a big Bessie Smith collection. Wow. They were important.
I remember you bought me some tapes from the two-dollar racks which were which were quite integral, Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, and Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 revisited. That is where I got a taste for older music and folk and blues music. It was not until the internet got good that I could really explore types of musicians their music their lives. I live in Thailand a lot of the time. I really like their older country style music which has strong roots in their traditional music.
My long-time best friend Fiete is a good musician and he studied composition. He listened to broad range of music from classical to jazz to a lot of underground stuff. He broadened my horizons. While he was studying music, he explained a lot of what he was learning to me and still does.
Dad’s taste in music had a big influence on me as well. He liked a lot of country and folk songs. But not the Nashville sort of country. More Hank Williams, Bill Monroe and Blue Grass and some of the more obscure hippies that’s played country like music. He also nurtured my love for Irish folk songs such as the Dubliners.
I thought wanted to play complicated stuff because it looks cool and guess I wanted to impress people or something. I found virtuoso guitar playing isn’t really my forte. To be honest with myself what really connected with me is Hank Williams, Ottis Redding, Bob Marley and The Wailers. It is all quite simple and direct music, but very disciplined and tight.
To focus more on my feel and timing more than anything now. I am really stripping back my playing. Concentrating on rhythm.
People overlook rhythm guitar and want to play the fancy stuff, but good rhythm is not as easy as you think, and it is a great feeling being part of the rhythm section. I approach the guitar a bit like a drum now, where each stroke has a purpose.
You can have good rhythm and know just 3 chords and it sounds fantastic, but it does not matter how much you know without rhythm it will not mean anything.”
Self-recording in the time of COVID
“It is great that nowadays that you can buy the equipment to record your self quite inexpensively and easily. But recording is a whole other art in itself, it takes years to master. I want to keep it as simple as possible. Approach recording like John and Alan Lomax; capture a musical performance rather than create an audio montage.
I must stay in practice and each piece needs to stand on its own as a performance, which gives me a reason to pursue my musical interests.
Back in the day because they did not have a lot the technology as we have today; they would make sure the initial recording was of the best quality they could get. A lot depended on the microphones and the space in which they recorded.
Not having a recording studio I have found one of my biggest challenges is finding a suitable space to record. It needs to be quiet, with no traffic or conversational sounds, and not too many natural reverberations which create difficult problems in working with the product. One space I had some success with, although it was a bit cramped, is in the car in a quiet spot. It is insulated from the outside and has good dead sound on the inside.”
Dreams and Schemes?
‘ As a young lad I, like many others I think, had grand dreams of becoming a professional preforming artist, but had no idea of how to pursue such an endeavour. As life happened and I went into the world it became clear to me the chances of success in such a career were very slim and so I abandoned this dream and resolved to keep it as a hobby.
In the struggle to make a living and get by, these hobbies of ours tend to slip down the priorities list. Music always niggled away in my mind and at certain points I found I just could not take it. I would go to my guitar and spend time practicing and creating music and songs.
I now believe that people don’t choose artistic pursuits, artistic pursuits choose them. A person is not an artist because the make a living from art, they are an artist because they create art. “
COVID and beyond
“With Covid19 and the enforced holiday that resulted from it, I have had a lot of time to reflect on life and my wants and needs. It is the first time my labours for money have seemed as futile as my labours for love. So why not work on what I love and have it as my main goal in life to further my art and take myself seriously as an artistic in the form that chose me.
In so far as the direction of my music, I would like to write songs that reflect the world and my experiences in it.
Just listened to Bob Marley again recently I felt great inspiration from him. His words and music played an enormous roll in informing the world about its past. The whole capitalist system that runs the world right now was built on the proceeds of the slave trade. Vast fortunes were made on the blood and sweat of African slaves, in the 1970s most of the world was ignorant or in denial of the fact now it’s much more broadly accepted. And yet his songs are positive and uplifting and bring people together and empower people’s spirit. So, I would like to move in a more positive direction, that the music I truly love to be positive. “
End note by Fern Smith
For the past twenty-four years Basil has had one foot in Australia and one foot in Thailand where Pen his wife resides. Neither have been able to have permanent residency in either country. This conundrum has presented opportunities giving different life choices to what we would consider normal; their life is entwined with the ebb and flow of living/existence. At the end of 2019 he went back to Thailand and by March 2020 Australia closed its boarders, just as he was to start an apprenticeship in Australia with his father with whom he regularly sings with when in Australia . His music is his rock and faithful companion.
Influences YouTube Links
His father Alan Gillard recounts Basil’s first song he could sing and play on guitar was “sloop John B’’ By the Beach Boys https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSAoEf1Ib58
Country Thai: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOL6y4hYzic , https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITyXj-j6Ahk
Dust Bowl Ballads by Woody Guthrie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBGQuX_1Cvo
Bessie Smith: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zea-1Fzi9JQ
Fats Waller: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4ZFsm9msv4
Louis Armstrong: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7N2wssse14
Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 revisited: https://vimeo.com/380598943
Hank Williams: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDoR5clAE5U , https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WXYjm74WFI
Bill Monroe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYTvj9Z_rlo
Blue Grass https://youtu.be/3XV7mxfIIr0
Ink Spots: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6l6vqPUM_FE
Nat King Cole: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFyuOEovTOE
The Animals: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3mgapAcVdU
Jimi Hendrix: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3JsuWz4xWc
Lead Zeppelin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlNhD0oS5pk
Pink Floyd: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLOth-BuCNY
Tomo Fugita Guitar Wisdom: https://tomovhxtv.vhx.tv/