When Chris Eaton, known to his bandmates as Ban Jovi, moved to Australia he knew he needed to find like-minded musicians. So when he came across a mandolin case in the teacher’s room at the school he was temping at, he got just a little excited.
And that’s how he met fellow school teacher Chris Brooker and the Round Mountain Girls were born.
“The band started out just playing covers, playing local pubs once a month. That’s what we were for the first two or three years, and then it became obvious that we were becoming known for a certain sound,” Eaton said.
“The whole emphasis was to get together and play for fun and the next minute I’m standing next to Robert Plant in the urinals backstage at Bluesfest. When you start rubbing shoulders in the backstage area, you feel like a bit of a fraud somehow,” Chris laughed.
He tells me that since he first started gigging – when he was 14 – he’s always liked the sound of the banjo but never really liked country music.
“I really like the percussive sound of it, but I was a rock guitarist actually. I came over from the UK and was keen to do something along the lines of the Far Gone Beauties. And they did a similar thing – basically doing rock tunes and playing them on the wrong instruments.”
As with most bands, the Round Mountain Girl have been through some metamorphosis, which includes having Bill Bilson (ex Sunnyboys) as their original drummer.
“But then we started to get busy,” Eaton laughs. “He said he’d done this all before and I don’t think his wife was keen to see it happen again.”
A quick search of the internet shows that Round Mountain Girls have found a solid following, particularly of people enamoured with their live performance. And performance it is. Fiddler Rabbit Robinson has a mop of hair that would rival any glam rock outfit and he travels with a fan to showcase that hairdo as best he can.
Eaton laughed as he told me about the fan. “We’re hopeless nostalgic rock n rollers. All we need is some tight pants and platform shoes. It’s the way we perform,” he said. “But that fan comes in handy when you’re playing Tamworth and it’s 40 degrees.”
But it’s not all show with the Round Mountain Girls. They took out the Best Band Featuring A Fiddle Player at the 2012 Golden Fiddle Awards in Tamworth with Robinson winning the Lifetime Achievement Award as well as Best Fiddle Teacher award.
“He’s just an outstanding performer,” Eaton said. “We work hard for a bunch of old blokes. We’re not spring chickens. There’s five of us … three on vocals and we make a big noise.”
The ‘five of us in question’ are Chris Eaton on banjo, Chris Willoughby on bass, Chris Brooker on mandolin, Rabbit Robinson on fiddle and Rex Carter on drums.
After listening to Round Mountain Girls’ music, it’s hard to pigeonhole the lads into any one genre and Chris says when people see the name, then look at the five of them and see the instruments they’re not really sure what to expect.
“We do a lot of country music festivals. Because we play ‘country’ instruments, we sneak into them. We get a good response at those festivals. But we can equally go play a folk festival.”
“Whatever the genre box is for the festival, we just pretend. It’s genuinely hard to define what we are,” Eaton said. “We can play three nights at Twin Towns, then the Beach Hotel at Byron to a bunch of backpackers. I have not played in a band before that busts across those different genres.”
But it’s not all ecstatic, thigh slapping country fans and duelling banjos. Eaton says it’s been particularly hard to find a spiritual home on the Gold Coast. But hopefully that’s about to change with two stellar events lined up featuring this energetic five-piece.
Eaton raved about the Gold Coast Folk Music Festival.
“Oh, that’s just going to be fantastic,” he said. “Hats off to the organisers. I don’t think they even get paid for what they do. They just love music and they’re having a real good go. They’ve pulled a phenomenal lineup together for a small festival and they’re doing all this hard work at the grassroots level,” he said.
“I think while we keep pushing doors and they keep opening, we’ll keep walking through them,” Eaton said.
Playing with Doc Neeson for anti-CSG
When Leo Sayer spearheaded an all-star cast to protect fracking, Round Mountain Girls’ very own Chris Eaton was called up to provide his banjo prowess. Doc Neeson was also amongst the star-studded lineup which included Kevin Borich, Deni Hines, Steve Balbi (Noiseworks), Mark Gable (Choirboys), Jade Hurley and many others.
The video has already had more than 25,000 views on YouTube. “I’m just there playing a bit of banjo in it,” Eaton said humbly.
Leo Sayer wrote the song No Fracking Way and the video was produced to support Lock The Gate, an anti CSG movement – thought to be one of the largest environmental and social movements in Australia.
The video was used as part of a launch of Australians Against Fracking which has seen artists such as Ash Grunwald, Reg Mombassa, Lil’ Fi, Pete Murray, John Butler, Xavier Rudd, Marcia Hines and Troy Cassar-Daly support communities who want to be CSG-free .
Eaton said Round Mountain Girls have performed at a bunch of benefit gigs and he was happy to throw his weight behind the video.
“We have all this natural energy we could be using. We’re just way behind. It’s a really retrograde step and we should be spending our money doing better things,” Eaton said.
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Round Mountain Girls join Wes Carr, John Schumann, Hat Fitz and Cara, Leaping Lizards (bushdance), Michael Fix (guitar workshop), Quatro, Owl Valley Bluegrass and a heap of other acts at the Gold Coast Folk Music Festival, 20 – 21 September at Country Paradise Parklands Nerang. More info at coastacoustics.com.au.
View the No Fracking Way video: tinyurl.com/BlankCSG.
More information on Lock The Gate at lockthegate.org.au.