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Collard Greens And Gravy

Known for their all-compassing, rollicking blues sound, Collard Greens and Gravy have been entertaining Melbourne for 20 years. They’ve performed molasses-rich Jessie Mae Hemphill renditions, impressed us with passionate Louis Armstrong covers and recently added a little more spunk to Freddie Hart’s Juke Joint Boogie. To celebrate 20 years, Collard Greens and Gravy will fill the Spotted Mallard with their gritty down-home blues sounds. Though, the question of the moment concerns whether it’s acceptable to eat collard greens with gravy.

“No. [That’s] just going to be really slushy,” says singer and harmonica player, Ian Collard. “When we went to America we discovered that you don’t put gravy on collard greens. They have it in this broth, and everywhere we went people would say, ‘You can’t put gravy on collard greens. Your name doesn’t make any sense. You should be called Collard Greens and Sweet Potatoes or Collard Greens and Biscuits.’ So, we paid the price for that hasty decision.”
 
Music is a full-time job for Collard, whose childhood ambition was to become a singer. This idea would later come to fruition in a score of bands, fostered by an innate love of music and a refusal to consider any other career path. “Still today, when it’s getting hard being a musician, I wish I had actually studied something or gotten some degree, but I still can’t think what that would be,” says Collard.
 
Founded in 1995, Collard Greens and Gravy are renowned for their foot-stomping and contagious blues renditions. Their talents earned them an ARIA Award for Best Blues and Roots Album in 2001 (for More Gravy), a runner up position at the 2001 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, and Best Album and Best Band at the 2008 Australian Blues Awards. Despite these laurels, Collard’s still inspired by the feel of blues more than anything else.
 
“The great thing about blues music is, even though you may be playing the same song each time, every time you play it you get to interpret it in a different way,” he says. “Ideally, you can put the emotion into the music that you’re feeling at the time and you’re creating something different every time you’re playing it. Blues music is nothing without that. Otherwise it starts to sound the same. It’s all about the individual’s interpretation of the song.”
 
Given his penchant for improvisation, performing for the Australian Ballet’s Golden Jubilee celebration, Ballet Swee dee dee, in 2012 was one of Collard’s most challenging experiences in his 20-year career.
 
“It was a small 20-minute ballet choreographed to and inspired by our cover of St James’ Infirmary. It was pretty daunting because you can’t interpret the music differently each time because you’re working with something that’s so heavily choreographed. I had to be aware that I had to play everything the same, every night. I get the most pleasure when I can take a song and change the way I’m playing based on how I feel. I get new ideas and play those ideas. It’s what I find the most stimulating about music. Playing [at Swee dee dee], I really had to change this thought process that I’ve been cultivating for the past 30 years.
 
“We’ve never had a plan [as a band]. We’ve just taken it bit by bit and we’re all in shock that 20 years has gone past. Hopefully in 40 years, the same thing will be being said by all of us – ‘How did we get here?’” 
 
BY AVRILLE BYLOK-COLLARD

COLLARD GREENS AND GRAVY are playing at the Spotted Mallard on Saturday December 12, with special guests Suzannah Espie, Jeff Lang, and The Backwood Creatures.