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Emma Donovan and The Putbacks gear up for the inaugural Jazz Roots Festival

The Melbourne Jazz scene has a new date to add to their calendar with the recently established Jazz Roots Festival about to launch its inaugural extravaganza. 

Presented by Melbourne’s own Paris Cat Jazz Club, the festivities will bring together established and up-and-coming artists to celebrate great Australian talent and – of course –  all things jazz.

Ahead of the festival’s inaugural chapter we spoke to Mick Meagher of Emma Donovan & The Putbacks, who will be bringing their heartfelt blend of funk and soul to the main stage. 

“Melbourne has a scene you know, Melbourne is great for live music … there’s so many high calibre musicians. Definitely [Melbourne’s jazz scene] should be celebrated and we’re happy to be a part of it,” Meagher says of the festival’s celebrations.

The group initially teamed up with acclaimed soul singer Emma Donovan on 2014 album Dawn. After releasing their debut album, the band toured extensively, picking up gigs across the country which fine tuned their performances as a group.

“We got to tour that album for a couple of years, we were pretty lucky,” Meagher explains.  “We got some good supports and some good festivals, so playing live after the release of Dawn helped us grow as a unit … whereas prior to that we hadn’t done a whole lot of gigs and not everyone from the band got quality time with Emma, but it’s much different now.”

It’s clear that the collaboration has something truly special going on, especially when Donovan takes centre stage.

“I think when Emma sings, she treats [the songs] as a soul singer, she doesn’t do anything half-arsed,” he explains. “We’re essentially just backing her up. I guess what’s great about being in the band behind Emma is that you know she’s going to bring it 100 percent.”

Meagher also assures us that there is plenty of new music on the way for audiences, combining both their much-loved previous endeavours with some new music and possibly a few tributes.

“Hopefully we’ll play some new songs. We’ve got some songs that are kind of forming and we’re hoping to play them live. We’ve got a few shows coming up including one at Adelaide Festival – a Ruby Hunter tribute – where Emma will feature songs acknowledging Hunter and Archie Roach.”

Outside of that there’s plenty of new music on the horizon with The Putbacks preparing their next LP.

“We’ve started writing our second album,” says Meagher. “Musically I guess The Putbacks have grown more as a band. We released our own album at the end of last year so it’s sort of hard to predict which way we’ll go but it’ll be elements of funk music definitely. It’ll still be heavily groove based.”

Adding to the funk and groove, Meagher says the partnership is looking to explore some new sounds this time around.

“I know Emma’s got such a big influence of country music and she’s wanting to revisit some music that her grandparents wrote. She also has a big interest in gospel music as well and some of the music that was written by her family. Not necessarily drawing from American gospel music as such but that kind of plays in it and informs us of her lyrical material.”

Performing at Jazz Roots Festival’s first instalment, Emma Donovan & The Putbacks will be joined by the likes of Black Jesus Experience, The Meltdown, Toshi Clinch Big Band and many more to keep you grooving throughout the day.

“There’s lots of good stuff on and Emma’s the star of the show, she deserves to be in the spotlight.” 

By Eliza Booth

Jazz Roots Festival comes to The Coopers Malthouse Theatre Courtyard on Sunday April 28. You can get your tickets via the festival’s website.