Sometimes life gives you lemons, and members of West End’s most inclusive music group Whoopee-Do Crew have made a darn fabulous lemon daiquiri from the sour moments. The release of their first album All the People Cheer Me Up is imminent, so if you’re not on the bandwagon yet it’s time to get onboard.
It’s Wednesday morning when I arrive at the People’s Park on Boundary Street to interview the Whoopee-Do Crew, an all-abilities community band. The People’s Park is an open-air alcove lined with grimy public toilets that sits between shops and bars of gentrified West End. As I am welcomed in by Trevor and Elise and offered a cup of tea by Judy, the melodious hum of three guitars and a ukulele starts drifting through the space. While band members are setting up and rifling through lyrics folders, local personality Delilah is freestyle singing about peace and love over the guitars. Jenny keeps the beat on a big fur-rimmed djembe and facilitator-songwriter Tom clicks his left hand emphatically, finding the rhythm.
Folks hang around taking in the music. Some join in, clapping, dancing or singing while others stand there bopping awkwardly or sitting on one of the plastic chairs facing the band.
Nigel arrives off the street sporting a crocheted cap of red, black and yellow. Its long ear flaps dangle as he marches in and sets up. He’s got a cajon (drum seat) and a variety of small percussion instruments with him – a cabasa, shakers, bongos, bells – which he lays out for people to play.
This scene is not entirely unusual for a West End morning. Our beloved suburb has its share of unique buskers and street-based jams. But now band member Judy is up front performing her song ‘I don’t care what people think,’ which she and Tom wrote and the ‘regulars’ are singing along word for word. It’s like a sing-along you would expect to see amongst die-hard fans at a reunion concert of their favourite band.
Herein lies the magic of Whoopee-Do Crew: each band member (that is, anyone who hangs around at the sessions long enough) gets the invitation to sit down with Tom and tell their story, from which Tom composes a song. The songs are then performed weekly in the park by the very people whose stories they tell.
Auntie Marlene came across Whoopee-Do Crew while volunteering at the West End Community House, the organisation who hosts the group. She says,
“Tom asked me to talk about my life and he came back with this song ‘Brought Up White.’ Until the last 12 years I thought I was a whitefella but I’m actually a blackfella.”
Dan, a gentle, softly spoken young man who I interview with the help of his support worker Elise, has a cheeky song called ‘I Get a Bargain Wherever I Go.’
“I get a bargain wherever I go/ My wallet is empty when I open it/ I just smile and you can’t say no/ I get a bargain wherever I go.”
Though Dan is usually slow to speak and tentative in conversation, when performing he attacks his song with confidence and has memorised all the lines.
The longest standing member of Whoopee-Do crew of over six years, Alison, speaks proudly of the four songs she and Tom have written together. ‘Banjo,’ is a stand out track on All the People Cheer Me Up and can be heard on local community radio station 4ZZZ. Alison says it feels “amazing” to have these songs which share her individual story. The first verse of ‘Banjo’ begins:
“They advertised to sell a one month pup/ He ran straight up to me when he saw me come/ Now I have to wipe his bum; now I have to be his mum/ He ran straight up to me when he saw me come.”
In the past, Tom has called the Whoopee-Do Crew a songwriting workshop; now he sees it as ‘storytelling with music’. He says.
“I think the act of telling your own story connects you. That’s the magic of it. If you [keep] a story to yourself it can take on all sorts of negative meanings but the moment that you share that story, it becomes something that people will connect with.”
Frontman of the band, ‘The Songs of Tom Smith’ and member of ‘The New Middle Class,’ Tom is probably the best songwriter you’ve never heard of. Born and raised in Adelaide and now based in Brisbane, he’s been in a slew of bands since the 1990s and even has a tribute album made in his honour by fellow musicians. In person, he is tall, exceptionally generous, and eager to play songs with anyone else who’s keen.
Other local musicians Jem Sparkles and Tania Tulip come along to the weekly session at the People’s Park, as does famed busker and previous member of ‘Painters & Dockers’ and ‘Dili All Stars’ Jenny Pineapple. Jenny’s own song ‘Pensioner with Dementia’ is a hit with the group who sing the chorus in a noisy, joyful and ebullient manner. Reflecting on this, the unusual culture of Whoopee-Do Crew, band member Elise says, “it’s a space where you can make noise, even if it’s a silly noise. That’s very rare.”
When: February 28 launch of All the People Cheer Me Up, with a 5:30pm start and a break for dinner at 6:30pm and then more music from 7pm-8pm
Where: Food Not Bombs, Kurilpa Kiosk, 155 Boundary St, West End.