Rockin' and reapin': the YP farmers lighting up SA's music scene

Rockin' and reapin': the YP farmers lighting up SA's music scene

Cropping
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JUST as comfortable on-stage as they are in a tractor cab, these Yorke Peninsula farmers have played at some of South Australia's most iconic music venues and have become a well-known staple of the state's music scene.

Aa

JUST as comfortable on-stage as they are in a tractor cab, these Yorke Peninsula farmers have played at some of South Australia's most iconic music venues and have become a well-known staple of the state's music scene.

A classic rock, rhythm and blues outfit, the Swamp Donkeys have been jamming all over the Yorke Peninsula for more than a decade.

Practicing out of an on-farm studio that was once a two-stand shearing shed, the affable group are dedicated to their craft - music only takes a backseat during seeding and harvest.

Playing covers, the Swamp Donkeys try to steer away from the typical playlist, listing some of their favourite artists as van Morrison, the Rolling Stones, JJ Cale, Steve Miller, Muddy Waters and one of their signature songs as Joe Walsh's Rocky Mountain Way.

Frontman and Minlaton grain producer Tim 'TG' Glazbrook is the band's easygoing and quick-witted singer and bass player, while Mount Gore farmer Wayne 'Chicken' Hayes is the sharp and sage rhythm guitarist.

Coming from a long line of Rachwal lead guitarists is the energetic and passionate cropper Nick Rachwal, whose father Dick played in the band before passing away in 2013.

The Rachwal's property, east of Warooka, is home to the Swamp Donkeys soundproofed studio.

Sitting together in the studio, the banter, stories and laughs flow freely between band members.

Leading the ribbing, of his bandmates and himself, is self-proclaimed sh*tstirrer Charlie 'Chaz' Longbottom, who leases his farm near Minlaton and teaches aquatics at Port Vincent.

While he jokes that he only became a member of the Swamp Donkeys because he owned a PA System, Chaz is the band's valued saxophone player.

Rounding out the ensemble is Guido 'Gweeds' Varricchio, a talented drummer and works supervisor with the Yorke Peninsula Council, Dave 'Rossy' Ross, player of the blues harmonica and saxophone and retired tech guy, and occasional band member Wayne 'Vas' Vassallo.

The Swamp Donkeys formed in 2008 and is an amalgamation of two previous YP bands - Max Tillage and the Erosions and Calicivirus - with the new name stemming from the studio's location nearby the Peasey Swamp.

In its early years as the Swamp Donkeys, the band performed at birthday parties, weddings, pubs and footy clubs up and down the YP, and even parties on one of the swamp's salt lakes.

Things kicked up a notch in 2018 when the band started playing regularly at the Watsacowie Brewery in Minlaton, where they received great feedback and support from both locals and tourists.

Tim says their Adelaide gigs began with a bolt from the blue encounter with Adelaide promoter Paul Sharman when attending Satisfaction - The Stones Show one fateful weekend.

Talking to Paul in the bar afterwards, Tim casually asked how a band would get a run in an iconic live music venue like The Gov and before you know it a gig was secured.

The Swamp Donkeys opened for The Stones Show and another chance encounter after that gig led to them being invited to open for the Hindley Street Country Club band at the Thebarton Theatre.

In 2019, the knockabout country blokes - who had been rocking local pubs, birthday parties and events out in the country for more than a decade - were waiting nervously in the wings at one of Australia's iconic music venues.

"I've never had nerves like what I had standing in the wings waiting to go on," Tim said.

More than 1000 people - including a rowdy contingent of YP family, friends and followers - cheered, sung and danced as the Swamp Donkeys played a half hour set and an encore at the show's conclusion.

"It was a dream," Wayne said.

"We never, ever thought we'd playing in a venue like that.

"The sound was amazing, you'd play a note on your guitar and it felt like a 747 coming in to land over your head. It was incredible."

MORE THAN THE MUSIC

It's clear the Swamp Donkeys is as much about mateship and camraderie as it is about the music.

If the walls in the on-farm studio could talk, they would undoubtedly have some stories of their own to tell.

The wives, partners and families of the band members are just as close, and never miss the opportunity to rock along at a live gig.

"Being in a band with a bunch of farmers and great blokes that you have a lot in common with is great fun," Nick said.

"We love hanging out and love playing tunes."

Though he enjoys taking the mickey out of himself, Charlie concedes that he has enjoyed the process of improving his sax-playing over the years.

"I like the freedom in this band - these guys let me play what I like whether it's in tune or not," Charlie laughed.

"In all seriousness, when it all comes together not much beats it."

Farming is often an all-consuming livelihood and Wayne said music had become such a valuable release for the band members.

"I love coming out to the studio and practicing, and love music and the way it makes you feel," Wayne said.

"Being involved in this band and practicing together is a bit like going to footy practice.

"I also enjoy playing live and seeing the enjoyment it gives people."

Tim agreed with Wayne that, with pursuits like sport falling to the wayside with age, music was an interest that had become an important passion.

"Apart from family and farming, this is all we've got and we love it," he said.

"We get a thrill out of playing in front of a crowd and entertaining people."

ORIGINAL TUNE REMAINS A GOAL

The time since the surreal gigs at Thebby have been a whirlwind for the Swamp Donkeys, with more shows at the Gov including a headline act, shows at The Arkaba, Finn McCool's Irish Pub in Norwood, a residency at the recently-closed Railway Hotel in Port Adelaide, and a gig at Pike's Wines during the Clare Gourmet Weekend.

While the band agree that releasing a song or two of their own would be a dream come true, Wayne says they are happy to "keep on keeping on" and enjoy the ride.

While they keep working on their first hit in the studio, the Swamp Donkeys have plenty of live gigs to keep them busy.

After playing at Warooka on Saturday and Watsacowie on Sunday over the long weeked, the band will be entertaining the masses at the Melville Hotel, Yorketown, on Saturday, October 23, with tickets available on Eventbrite.

More information can be found on the Swamp Donkeys YP Facebook page.

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