Italian, Irish indigenous Darwinian LEAH FLANAGAN takes ANDY HAZEL on a trip through her upbringing and loving opera in a footy-obsessed family.
Interrupting her day job at an indigenous art gallery to have a chat, Leah Flanagan instantly comes across as exactly the sort of person you’d want to be showing you the results of creative processes; smart, animated, and wholly involved. The more you discover the more Flanagan seems a product of Darwin itself, rendering her both more typical and extraordinary at the same time.
“Everyone in Darwin is very mixed, “ she says, playing down her own Irish, Italian and Aboriginal ancestry. “My background does define who I am as a person, but Darwin is such a multicultural…everybody is Aboriginal or Greek or Indonesian, Timorese, Chinese or a mix…it’s such a broad range of people.” It also seems a great place to be raised to love music, provided you can stand Oz Rock. “The music scene in Darwin is predominantly Cold Chisel cover bands – it’s unusual for us [Leah Flanagan Band] not to be reggae or country or a cover band - but it is changing thanks to festivals and more bands coming up. I come from a really footy-orientated family, so growing up it was always: ‘No, I’m not going to go and play football.’ Music was always my thing and has been since I was a kid, but I never thought of it seriously. I had a lot of support playing music though it doesn’t mean I haven’t had to win people over.” One of those she won over at a local show was an organiser of last year’s Bluesfest, who put instantly added her to the bill, catapulting her to a giant stage where the winning over continued. “That was amazing. It was the biggest crowd we’d ever played to by far. A lot of good things came out of that experience.”
Flanagan has done so well in Darwin that what awards there are to give to musicians there she’s been given, resulting in a local fame that, in typical earthy style, she plays down. “I do alright I suppose,” she says laughing. “I’ve been playing in bands here for a long time and…I do alright”.
After studying opera at Adelaide University, further pursuing her musical heritage and roping in some of the finest musicians she could hope for, Flanagan produced her first album, the recently released Leah Flanagan Band, an entirely Darwinian creation though one that fuses Celtic lilt, Italian bombast and Australiana with ukulele and banjo. “Making the album was a huge learning experience, the only concept I knew was that I wanted a live album. We hadn’t thought about recording much, but after we applied for grants and got them, we got to work. It was all recorded in Darwin and I’m very happy with the outcome, but the next one will be much more studio-based, I’m keen to get more into that.”
Flanagan specialises in personal narratives that take flight with dry evocative imagery, vocal swoops and musical pyrotechnics. While this may differentiate her from other Authentically Australian™ singer songwriters, the inspiration for her songs is ordinary in the extreme. “A lot of the songs are about aspects of Darwin, my stories, stories of my grandmother,” she explains. “It wasn’t very easy for immigrants and indigenous people back in the day. So many people have stories here, and that’s what songwriting is all about I guess, telling stories. Darwin has a lot of history and everyone loves a yarn. People are so friendly and they’ll answer you honestly most the time so storytelling is second nature.” The feelings that Flanagan moves through when singing does seem almost spiritually guided in it’s free-flowing narrative. “I don’t intend to write with a spiritual feeling to my songs, I’m a spiritual person but I don’t think it’s anything that I intentionally do.”