The Maton Artist of The Year 2016
Is Marcia Howard
The 40th festival celebrates culture, the roots, the homelands from which music and stories rise from the deeper well. It is a prime time to shine our bright Southern Lights on an artist who grew from these homelands to travel the world. She has made wonderful music with the best from Goanna, to Mary Black, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, The Chieftains and back home to Archie Roach. We are more than thrilled to announce that our Artist of the Year for 2016 is the amazing Marcia Howard.
‘One of the most charismatic, gentle, spiritual musicians Australia has ever produced.’ – Cliff Ellery.
Having grown up in this district, Marcia is no stranger to Port Fairy and the surrounding area. Marcia’s ancestors emigrated from Ireland in the 1850s and settled a few miles out the road at Yambuk. Her mother, Teresa Madden, was born and raised in Port Fairy. Growing up as the third youngest of a large musical family, Marcia was born with music in her veins and the special gift of a beautiful voice. With her mother and family, she performed at many local weddings, funerals, fundraising and community events. ‘My ear for songs, together with what was musically appropriate for different social ceremonial situations developed early. My love of harmony has always been very strong; harmony was a way I could clearly hear and identify my own voice amid the voices of my five brothers and sister.’ – Marcia Howard.
When Marcia finished school she ‘stepped onto Highway One’ and moved to Melbourne to begin tertiary study. As a young tertiary student, she began singing at the legendary Emu Bottom Homestead before joining her brother, Shane, in the highly successful triple ARIA award winning band, Goanna. At this time, she also met her life-long friend, supporter and musical collaborator, Rose Bygrave. ‘Rock’n’ roll in the early 80s was a very masculine era in music. You played in sweaty beer barns all over Australia. In the early 80s, there were very few female guitarists, singer-songwriters, recording engineers, managers or technicians in the Australian music industry. However, the band Goanna gave me the confidence and opportunity to write some songs that I performed and recorded.’ – Marcia Howard.
Following her time with Goanna, Marcia pursued a solo career composing, recording and performing at numerous festivals, venues and theatres around Australia and across the world, including numerous appearances over the years at her beloved Port Fairy Folk Festival. Throughout this time she has continued to generously support many musicians around the country with her vocal skills, harmonies and musicianship. In the late 1990s, Marcia returned ‘home’ to Port Fairy to raise her young family and run a Bed & Breakfast called Hanley House, which is located only 100 metres from the front gates of the festival on Bank Street. All the while continuing to perform, write and record her own songs.
Throughout her career to date, Marcia has worked with some of the world’s best musicians including Mary Black, Carlos Santana, Bob Dylan, Brian Kennedy, James Taylor, Peter Allen, Hothouse Flowers and the Chieftains to name a few.
Marcia was the first Australian female artist to feature on the highly-respected CD series A Woman’s Heart, A Decade On with her song, Poison Tree, singing with Mary Black alongside other artists on the CD including Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Sinead O’Connor and The Corrs. Her song, Angel Full of Grace, featured on the successful long-running ABC TV series, Sea Change.
Marcia has recorded three highly acclaimed solo CDs – Butterfly, Burning in The Rain and her latest release, The Nashville Sessions. In 2011, she released a CD with her musical colleague, Rose Bygrave, titled Pearl.
On her first solo CD, Butterfly, Marcia collaborated with respected Gunditjmara elder, Patricia Clark, to record the beautiful lullaby Vulla Vunnah Nah which was a rare opportunity to document in song a local, indigenous language of this region.
In 1997 Marcia and the band, Goanna was asked to perform her song Sorry which was her heartfelt lament for members of the Stolen Generations. She performed this song at Canberra’s Parliament House in 1997 when the enquiry into the Stolen Generation Report, Bringing Them Home was released, bringing to light the inhumanity and damage of these past Government policies inflicted on Indigenous children, their families and communities.
Over the past seventeen years, Marcia has combined performing and recording with work as a music educator in many local schools, combining her industry recording, songwriting and business skills teaching students the performing arts. Last year she completed her Masters of Education thesis, Holy Wells to Waterholes: Belonging to Place Through Song, at Monash University, where she explores the issues of belonging to place through the medium of songwriting. ‘As a songwriter, I enter the liminal space of the song in order to put myself in the emplaced world of the song. It is not an easy thing to do, to share your vulnerabilities both personally and musically as a songwriter, but over the years, I found music to be a refuge, a place I could go when I didn’t feel understood. I found that when I sang or played music that could truly express what I was feeling and in that sharing of songs was a connection with people, recognition of shared stories that other people identified with as a collective experience.’ – Marcia Howard.
‘Divine singing, clever songwriting and a lifetime’s stagecraft, in unforgettable performances.’ – Nick Charles.
‘Playing on stage, writing songs and expressing how I feel, or playing an instrument or humming a tune is the most comfortable place for me to be. Songs are conduits for me, the connection to expressing my emotions, and a way for me to connect with others and share life experiences, which is ultimately a good thing. Songs are just emotions and experiences and sounds coming together in sung form.’ – Marcia Howard.
It is with great pleasure that I acknowledge Marcia as this year’s Artist of the Year. This award is recognition of her generous contribution and support to many independent, local musicians and artists; her songwriting, musicianship and stagecraft; her ongoing quest to sing out for justice; her persistence and strength as a role model for all female musicians in this country; and, her beautiful, generous and giving spirit to audiences around the world.
I congratulate Marcia mindful of our deceased parents, Leo and Teresa Howard, who would be delighted that she has received this award. Over this weekend, they will be watching on with pride and clapping loudly from the great audience above. From all of her siblings – we are proud of our beautiful sister.
The Irish poet, John O’Donohue, once wrote ‘one of the most beautiful gifts in the world is the gift of encouragement. When someone encourages you, that person helps you over a threshold you might otherwise never have crossed on your own.’ Throughout her musical career, there are many musicians and audiences that Marcia has helped cross over the threshold. We thank her for this gift. Long may it continue and let the music play on!
By Damian Howard
In 1980, I was worried when Goanna’s manager, Ian Lovell, wanted to bring my sister, Marcia, into the band. It wasn’t because of ability; she had loads of it since childhood. Marce had a honey voice of exceptional quality. I was worried about bringing my little sister into that very male dominated world of band touring.
I needn’t have worried. She and Rose Bygrave were strong women and well able to handle themselves in that world and brought a feminine dimension to the band and a harsh Australian music industry.
Throughout our childhood, we sang with brothers and sisters at home and in public, surrounded by the music our mother sang and played. Mum was a Port Fairy girl. Dad had a few songs under his hat too. So many musicians came and went from our family home by the Merri River, in Dennington.
I’m so glad we shared those amazing Goanna experiences together and many more since, from Indigenous Australia through to our ancestral Ireland.
Marce is musically and personally brave. She has a great musical gift and an energy and exuberance to match, be it in her writing, singing or playing.
She carries with her an old family tradition of music, passed down to us by our mother and many more mothers and fathers before her.
By Shane Howard