This article first appeared in modified format on the cover of The Australian Songwriter Issue 114, April 2015 (View the original here). George Begbie is the 2015 winner of the Australian Songwriter's Association Rudy Brandsma Award.
I meet George at an unpretentious coffee shop in Salamanca Place to ruminate on his recent success at the annual Australian Songwriting Association Awards. He’s on lunch break from the day job he still works, seemingly oblivious to the magnitude of his talent.
George didn’t just win the Rudy Brandsma Award for Songwriting Excellence at the awards last year, although that in itself would be something to brag about. He also placed 7 songs in the top 30 across 6 categories, including snagging a number 10 spot for his song ‘24 hours’ – setting a record for the competition which has been running since 1979.
I ask him if he’s even aware of his accomplishment?
Somebody told me it was [a record]. It is for me certainly.
I tell him I already checked.
Matt Sertori (the regional coordinator of ASA for Tasmania since 2001) has already gone on record…
As an ASA coordinator, I can confirm George Begbie holds the record number of top 30 finishes in the history of the competition. No one else has even come close to this feat, let alone an unsigned artist from Hobart, Tasmania.
The December 4 awards ceremony proved to be a “surreal” experience for the 31 year old musician, who entered a number of songs across several categories (as he has done in previous years) but wasn’t expecting these results:
- Rudy Brandsma Award for ‘Closing Time’
- #10 Placing for ‘24 Hours’ – Folk/acoustic category
Top 30 Placings:
- ‘Something to Think About’ – Ballad category
- ‘Weapon Words’ – Contemporary pop/dance category
- ‘Sand’ – Lyrics category
- ‘You, Me & Depravity’ – Open category
- ‘In the Afterglow’ – Rock/indie category
It was a real buzz and it almost hasn’t still sunk in. When I was up there I thought “Yeah these people are pretty good here, I think I haven’t won it,” but I got nominated and that was fine. But then they called my name, and I went “Oh holy cow, I can’t believe it!”
So what’s it like being at the ceremony?
It’s an amazing experience. You’re basically in a room with 400 songwriters and a few celebrities and organisers and everyone. You have food. You have drinks. You get to hang out, and it’s just wonderful. Receiving awards and watching people perform is fantastic. Actually being part of it, and receiving something is amazing. What I really loved though was just hanging out with songwriters, just meeting them and making new connections, making new friends. Being in contact with people afterwards. And something they did which was really good this year is they had sort of a chill out ASA Wax Lyrical on the Saturday night afterwards, and that was great because the awards nights – as good as they are – you get to talk to people for all of about 10 minutes and then you’ve gotta be somewhere else. Whereas we had a bit of an after party afterwards, and that was just really relaxed and fun – and I got to play again. I played some songs, and lots of other people played some songs.
Winning awards across so many categories obviously says a lot about your diversity as an artist…
I grew up playing classical music, listening to jazz, but I’d already had an upbringing with a lot of different styles of music and I think that either it’s my attention span or maybe it’s just my eagerness to try other things. I don’t want to be stuck just in one genre, and I guess I just want to challenge myself by writing in other genres, and particularly other genres I know nothing about.
Tell us more about your musical training…
My parents got us to do piano lessons when we were 6 years old and I think we had to do it ‘til we were 9 or 10, and then we could decide whether we would continue or not. That was a really big influence, and it gave us an opportunity to learn an instrument that a lot of people don’t get – they don’t get pushed by their parents to do it.
George also tells me he learnt a lot singing in choirs, but developed a real “love of music” in high school listening to rock bands. Naturally, this leads into a conversation about Leonard Cohen.
So what is your greatest inspiration?
I think watching real entertainers perform their own music. I went and saw Leonard Cohen a couple years ago and I was absolutely mesmerised by this guy on stage performing. In some of the quieter songs and poems everyone was just holding their breath waiting for the next line. That in itself above any other – above notoriety/fame and all that kind of stuff – it’s just so important to me to have people really engaging in what you’re doing.
George and his band played their biggest show to date at the Falls Festival last year, and followed it up with a knock-out performance at the prestigious Taste of Tasmania.
That was one of the most fun [shows]. We had so much room to move and just act up and be silly on stage.
Asked what advice he would give songwriters hoping to follow in his footsteps, George is reminded of Johnny Young’s Hall of Fame induction speech – also a feature at the awards evening.
Something that really resonated with me, and I thought was just so humble and so wonderful, [is] he said ‘Even at my level (to paraphrase), don’t do it for the money. Do it for the art. Keep doing what you’re doing cause you love it and that’s the most important thing.’ And that’s the sort of thing I’d say to people too. That’s the most important thing about songwriting.
George is planning to tour Melbourne and Sydney later this year. Details will be forthcoming on his band website. You can follow George on FaceBook, Twitter, and listen to some of his award winning songs here.