Peter Noble, Byron Bay East Coast Blues and Roots Festival Director. Photo Patrick Gorbunovs / The Northern Star

A NOBLE STORY: The man behind the Bluesfest

3rd March 2018 5:00 AM

BLUESFEST kicks off in less than four weeks and, last week, the Northern Star enjoyed a meandering conversation with director Peter Noble about life, the universe and everything.

But what we really wanted to know was, how did the whole event start?

WHEN Peter Noble was a child, during the heyday of the Beatles and Rolling Stones, he wanted to be like them.

Peter Noble, Byron Bay East Coast Blues and Roots Festival Director. Photo Patrick Gorbunovs / The Northern Star
Peter Noble, Byron Bay East Coast Blues and Roots Festival Director. Photo Patrick Gorbunovs / The Northern Star Patrick Gorbunovs

So he grew his hair and did what "all the kids did back then" - formed a band and played in the local Scout hall. After practising for many months with the boys he grew up with, they put on a dance, "because that's how you got girlfriends", laughed Mr Noble.

"It's the truth, you're standing up on stage, you're the focus of attention," he said.

"Luckily, I got asked ... to join an all-Brit band. And the biggest thing for me was, 'am I gunna leave my childhood mates?'. That was like leaving the club, if you know what I mean."

 

Despite this Mr Noble decided to join the British band Clapham Junction and became a professional musician by the age of 17.

"We won the 2SM battle of the bands ... and went on to have a top 20 single, Emily on a Sunday, before disbanding," he said.

"As many of those Brits say today, the ones who are still alive, we were making more money by the age of 18 than our parents were.

"So I've always been pretty fortunate in this music business.

"I also played with Marcia Hines, as well as other bands, before moving to the US."

Buddy Guy plays the Crossroad Stage at Bluesfest 2017 in Byron Bay.
Buddy Guy plays the Crossroad Stage at Bluesfest 2017 in Byron Bay. Marc Stapelberg

Mr Noble worked as a musician in the US and Canada.

"Then I got into the business side and finally came back to Australia and started touring artists," he said.

"Then I started supplying artists to the early blues festivals here, in Byron, and it wasn't long before they asked me to be a partner - 1993, I think - and I'm the last man standing."

When asked how long he intended to continue in the role, Mr Noble said: "I don't know. As long as it's a buzz, I'll keep doing it.

"I get so excited about it and I think that's what happens in the arts. When you find what you really want to do in life, you don't think about when it's going to end. You think about when the next chapter is going to start.

"The head of the Montreaux Jazz Festival ... Claude Nobbs, he died at the age of 78 or 79, in Switzerland, where the festival was - he hit a tree (while) night skiing. What a way to go! What a man, that lived his life to the fullest, you know? He wasn't playing bingo, that's my point!

"Nowadays, there's plenty of people I see that are 30 years old, that are old. They think 'old', they don't think creatively or what this life is giving you, what a gift it is.

"If you find what you want to do in life, it's a gift. You shouldn't allow that gift to be in any way diluted or taken away and that's what Bluesfest is for me - it's a gift. It's a wonderful thing."

Peter Noble and Steve Van Zandt
Peter Noble and Steve Van Zandt Contributed

Mr Noble returned to Australia from Los Angeles two weeks ago, then left the day after this interview to fly to Perth to receive silver in the Australian Tourism Awards' Best Major Festival and Event category, before heading to London.

The first thing he did after his return from LA was visit an Aldi store, to re-stock his fridge. While shopping, he was approached twice in the aisles.

"Are you Peter Noble?" One person asked.

"Oh, I hope so," he said.

"I've got to tell you how much I love your festival. My family goes every year," the shopper replied.

A similar thing happened to him at Ballina Fair Shopping Centre.

"And I always wait for someone to say I charge too much (for Bluesfest entry) or (some other criticism) - you know what I mean?" he said.

"But she said, 'You're the reason my family comes together. Because my kids grew up going to Bluesfest and they've moved away now, but they come back every Easter and our ritual is we go to Bluesfest together. You bring my family back together'.

"So, yeah, that was a teary moment and a hug, but that's the wonderful stuff when you do things in the community and many people care about it and they vocalise that to you."

They also vocalise their dissatisfaction when they are unhappy about a decision.

"When I booked Kendrick Lamar two years ago, people said I needed a lobotomy or something. But ... he's one of the great artists of our time. And the vehicle (music genre) that people use will always change," Mr Noble said.

"We've got a few rules at Bluesfest: we don't have DJs spinning other people's music, that other people created, and acting like they're something special. I don't get that. That, to me, is like 'yang', if you know what I mean, and I'm into the 'yin'.

"But there's reasons we have artists like Mary J Blige and, this year, Lauren Hill ... because to me, one part of what Bluesfest is all about is the black music experience. It started with us with blues, and moved into jazz, but black music never stops developing."

MOVING: Dancers at the Boomerang festival within a festival.Photo: Lyn McCarthyPhoto Contributed
MOVING: Dancers at the Boomerang festival within a festival.Photo: Lyn McCarthyPhoto Contributed Contributed

Rhoda Roberts is primarily responsible for booking the Boomerang Festival, the indigenous festival attached to Bluesfest.

"I think this year it's just amazing," Mr Noble said.

"We've recently had a great vote, which was to give same-sex marriage people the rights to marry, and there's only one big hurdle now left in Australia - apart from the #MeToo movement, which is coming up - and that is to really, really, really acknowledge properly our indigenous people.

"To sign this treaty that New Zealand signed ... in the 1830s and Canada around the same time. But we always had a thing here that it wasn't their land, they really weren't up to scratch beside us and it was okay to poison the well.

"And these people got through all that, and they're still being nice to us - which is kind of incredible, when you think about it. And all they're asking is 'Come on, let's do a treaty, and let's open the door and bring us into the room'.

"And that's what Bluesfest does, because that's what a music festival should do be doing. It should have a conscience. It should be working towards a better community.

"And I hope that people see that about us, that we see ourselves as part of this community.

"We started in a nightclub and we're still here."

And until Mr Noble trades blues for bingo, he'll continue at the helm of Bluesfest, which marks its 30th anniversary next year.