Jose – The Sydney Troubadour
He graces the streets of Sydney with his gentle, yet life-full presence singing romantic tunes to the unsuspecting passerby’s. You can find him at Wynyard, Chatswood, Martin Place, Circular Quay or the corner of York and Market Streets.
You play a very particular kind of music, how did you discovered it and embraced it?
I am very emotional, probably too much a lot of the time, I love baroque music, especially the early French music of Marin Marais, Sainte Colombe and Rameau. I also love Brahms and Rachmaninov and also like country music, seventies country rock, Roy Orbison, Linda Rhonstadt, and then Jaques Brel and Edith Piaf [Hymn a l’amour might be the best song ever written] and Joe Dassin and Veronique Sansons.
I also love flamenco guitar and singers. I spend a lot of time listening to, and trying to imitate Paco de Lucia and Cameron. I love the qawali singers of Pakistan. I love tango specifically piazzolla and also a great man who is still alive and working as far as I know Juan Carlos Caceres. Probably the biggest inspiration that ‘kicked off’ my career in music was the Italian composer and poet Paolo Conte. It is also not only about the music in isolation. It is the feeling, the intention and the possibility of communicating ideas that have no form in common language. So other big influences on my music have been the writers Borges, Doris Lessing, Ikbal Ali Shah, John Irving, Jeanette Winterson, Idries Shah and the psychiatrist Arthur Deikman.
I love music with intelligent and strong melodies and honest and intelligent lyrics. I don’t think my work always qualifies but that is where I am heading.
So there you go, the songs I write are a product of misinterpreting all of the about and struggling along with a burning desire to LOVE and quite limited skill and intelligence.
When did you first pick up the guitar, and how did this love story evolve?
Piano lessons from the age of six. Dismal catholic nuns smacking my fingers with a ruler.
Then hearing someone strumming and singing Peaceful Easy Feeling by the Eagles.
Started classical guitar at age 12 became a very good beginner. Was made to believe I was some sort of prodigy; A) because of the over heated imagination of some relatives, B) because of my own innate arrogance, C) because I lived in a country and in a particular part of the country that knows only football and other specific and less definable kinds of violence. It was easy to stand out as a guitar player in that environment.
When I moved to Sydney I was in a situation that made me feel ashamed of the myself and the guitar and it was basically ‘taken away from me’ since lots of my new friends did not see it as something worthwhile. I have since met lots of people to whom this has happened.
My second chance came with a very dear friend Gino Pengue. He is probably Sydney’s best guitar player and he used to come and sit in the hallway with me at my house and we used to play. Thus the song Gino.
I am starting to get there as a guitar player and if I make it to 55 I should be good.
I know you paint as well, what other things do you do?
I have an exhibition opening on the 15th Oct at RAW STUDIOS on Pittwater Road DEE WHY Right where the buses stop at Dee Why Main. I am exhibiting with three other wonderful women who’s work is very inspiring: Senka Holly and Isabelle.
I went to art school in the eighties and finished a degree in drawing and sculpture. The teachers there were fantastic and I learned everything I know about composition, both in art and music, from them.
Can you tell us about you travels in Europe?
Twenty Three. Living alone in Manly and spending all of my spare time alone painting. Working as a barman at The Regent Hotel, putting in 70 hours a week. Earning a fortune. Twenty Three year olds who are used to swimming in the river don’t need to spend a lot of money when they move to Sydney and as a committed daydreamer I kept forgetting to go and pick up my pay. In those days you went to Human Resources and they paid cash every Thursday. So when I quit my job with no other plan in mind someone suggested I should go and get my pay.
‘Will they still have it I asked?’
I went up to Human Resources and they gave me $1200 dollars It must have been six weeks or so since I had last picked up my pay.
So here I am wandering up George Street wondering what to do next when I see a sign Europe Return $1180. I looked in my pockets and thought, I’ll have one of those.
The left over $20 was enough for the train ride home and after working on a farm for 3 weeks I left for Europe with $300 and no real plan except that ‘If I don’t get a job I can always come back when the money runs out.’
Got a job in a pub in 2 days, worked in England for 3 months, but the whole thing started getting really interesting when I left my job. At that time they paid a week in arrears. I had bought a bicycle was supposed to leave for France the following day. I had planned to ride through France and eat bread, but those horrible people from the pub made me wait a week in London for one weeks wages. It was going to cost me more than a weeks wages even if I stayed in a backpackers. My bike was stolen and it was raining. So do I give up on a weeks wages or stay and wait?
Growing up in semi rural Australia has its advantages. I was passing a furniture store and saw some men unwrapping a three-seater lounge. There was this huge sheet of good quality heavy clear plastic that came off in one piece. I asked if I could have it and they gave it me. For a week I slept in Holland Park, [the bushy end where there is an emu and gay men wait for each other; no one tried to pick me up] and went sight seeing every day and had a wonderful week in London. Got my pay and went to FRAAAAAANCE!!!!!!!!!!!!
And then my life turned very beautiful. I hitch hiked out of London. My third lift that day was a crazy Irish final year medical student and his crazy Irish final medical year student friends. They were wonderful and on their way to Belgium for a holiday. They took me with them onto the ferry and insisted that I stay with them. They bought my dinner and at about 11pm dropped me off somewhere up in the north of France.
I will never forget waking up to the most lovely smell of grass and wild flowers and earth. I was on the side of the road and the rain was falling like a gentle mist onto my plastic furniture wrapping. I was warm and dry inside.
This is a long story with lots of love and adventure which I will tell somewhere else. I made life long friends and when I had to come back to Australia. I left a good half of my soul behind. For years after I had very realistic almost mundane dreams that there was one of me still living and working in France. It is the only place in the world where I have truly felt at home.
What is your actual heritage?
My father is the most warm hearted and tolerant man on the planet. My mother is a creative and passionate and, like me, over emotional daydreamer.
You are a regular street player in Sydney, what has this taught you about the city, the people, and yourself?
Here is the dedication from my album “AT WYNYARD PARK”
“My experience playing out on the street has convinced me that the people of Sydney are just absolutely beautiful, inside and out, and I am really lucky to be in a position to see it day after day.
I would like to dedicate this album to all the people I have met and all those who have listened to me play especially in Chatswood, Martin Place, Circular Quay and Wynyard Park.
Perhaps you bought a CD or just stopped to talk a bit, some of you bought me coffee or put coins in my cd case but literally thousands of you found ways to express gratitude in thousands of ways; a wave, a nod, a smile, an email…one old lunatic even gave me his favorite stick!
You have all made my life wonderful. I love playing guitar, but when your eyes meet mine and we smile for a moment, this is the magic of living.
So this album is for you
I know everyone likes this one, and I am no exception, you have been probably asked one thousand times, could you tell the story behind the song “Gratie Paulo” which is my favorite song of yours?
In France in 1987 Paolo Contes album COMEDIE was very popular. Having spent 7 days sleeping on the side of the road I first heard this album sitting in front of a fire with some very beautiful friends after a wonderful dinner.
It was the theme music for my months of hitchhiking around France.
In 1992 I was working as Night Porter at an apartment building at the Quay. 11pm till 7am and then off to Art School for the day.
A young guest locked himself out of his room. What began as a typical conversation turned and became a life time friendship:
where are you from?
how do you like Australia?
I hate it
[me suddenly laughing and crying at the same time]
so do I but I’ve been here most of my life, what is your excuse? actually who cares, anyway one of my favourite singers is Italian.
if you say Pavarotti I will be sick.
no not Pavarotti.
he literally fell into an arm chair in the foyer.
how can you possibly know Paolo Conte, even in Italy most people hate him.
We have been friends, as I said, for life.
Much later I am married with children of my own and one of my friends phones me, quite distressed:
Joseph I need your help
my daughter Josephine, do you remember her?
[I could never forget Josephine. She was 7 years old when I was there. A funny little sprite.]
The story was that she was now 19 and was going to travel no matter what. My friend Bruno was beside himself with anxiety. So she came to stay.
Again there is so much more to this story but the girl had grown into a sensitive and intelligent young woman with a most hilarious sense of humour which was her birth right in that family. But SHE HAD NEVER HEARD PAOLO CONTE! A scandal which I soon put right.
So the story came full circle. I discovered Paolo Conte in front of a French fire. She sat in front of an electric heater in Sydney and fell in love with one of the best song writers on the planet.
Grazie Paolo is a tribute to Paolo Conte.
A lot of your songs have very sensual lyrics and a lot of nudity, do they draw from your own experiences?
This is a great question because it is currently one of great concern and I find myself talking about it quite a lot.
I am from a big family. When we were babies they bathed us together four at a time to save on tank water, when we were kids we used to swim in water holes naked. A few years after I left home I went to art school where my first class was a life drawing class. I can’t say I wasn’t shocked when I walked into my first drawing class and beautiful women took off all her clothes but I was shocked in a very good way. I learned a way to love and appreciate people and their bodies in a way that allowed me to think of them with deep respect and at the same time respect my own crazy attraction to them. One day during my second year at art school the model didn’t turn up and I offered to model for the class. It was very relaxing so I signed on to the roster and worked regularly as a model for the rest of my time at the school. We were studying the drawings of Leonardo, Tintoretto, Michael Angelo, Raphael, the paintings of Matisse, Cezanne, Picasso, the sculptures of Rodin …in short the whole history of the nude figure.
The human body is intensely beautiful every single one of them and as I said when you concentrate and draw you develop a respect and ease which permits you to treat very sexy people well. It doesn’t stop you having an affair with someone if that is a good thing to do, but it is the polar opposite to the current sexual culture which I would like to talk about now.
In general I feel better around women. I have always been at a loss when groups of men or individuals comment on women. ‘Look at the tits on that one’ etc. It just confuses and depresses me. If you say anything against this, people think you are either a puritan or dishonest or both. The answer is, of course her body is beautiful and of course having sex with her would be great but what other possibilities are there here. Perhaps there are real possibilities. Possibilities that allow her space to be all of herself, to have ideas and longings of her own and perhaps your own part in it, may not really involve your own desire ‘to fuck her’. Maybe there are possibilities that could range from being useful in some way, or just leaving her alone to a life time friendship.
The other thing that happens here, when you think with the ‘nice arse’ mentality, is that only people with beautiful bodies become visible at all. It becomes very easy to disrespect and fail to value women who are older, or children or people with disabilities or men [if being ‘straight’ is very important to you]. Perhaps men need more intelligent attention from men. Maybe older women need attention too. Maybe older women have something amazing to offer in terms of intelligence and understanding and a certain feeling for life. But many of us miss this because we are wasting time mentally undressing the ‘hot chick’ who is walking past.
So yes I draw and paint and write songs and novels about people with no clothes on. What is even more interesting is the current perceptual climate.
I am about to have an exhibition of drawings and paintings. Mostly nudes. I am working along the very long tradition of ‘the nude’ in art. There are references in my work to Leonardo, Matisse and Picasso, there are techniques from Daumier and Tintoretto. I have created scenes and ‘stories’ that are very intimate, very nude, but not sexual as such. The one question I am getting over and over again is ‘WHY ARN’T THEY WEARING ANY CLOTHES?’. Friends making comments that Josie is obsessed with naked women etc. [P.S. I am, we all are.]
What is enormously confusing and distressing for me is that the same people who are ‘shocked’ by the nudity and intimacy are the same people who will say ‘whoa look at the arse on her.’ They are also the same people who listen to 2DayFM and think that everything they hear is normal. Have you listened recently. The new Rhianna song.
Rapper says ‘If you want anal I’m your man’
Rhianna says ‘I want to be a freak tonight…you can have me this way you can have me that way…’
I love the way you lie
‘If she fucks with me again I’m going to tie her to the bed and burn the house down’
and she says ‘I love the way it hurts’
or California Girs Snoop Dog ‘all that ass hangin’ out’
I am not arguing for censorship I am just confused that the same people who happily see pornographic advertising, listen to commercial radio and watch television can look at my paintings and ask ‘Why are they naked?’
Do you think there are enough outlets and opportunities in Sydney, for the kind of music that you play?
Sydney will be great in 100 years. So far we have not moved to far past football and beer and other forms of thuggery.
You have a film project in development, could you tell me more about it?
I wrote a play REHEARSAL SPACE about the impossibility of LOVE surviving longer than a butterfly. It includes all the music from my album IN LOVE WITH YOU. I think it would make a great film. If you can imagine Roman Polanski’s A PURE FORMALITY as a musical.
You can find more about Jose on his own website, right here:
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