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| 12 September 2012 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

Perth rockers STONE CIRCLE aren’t ones to sit around waiting for the world to come to them – oh no, these guys are taking their music to the world one step at a time.

After playing countless high profile supports in and around Perth over the past few years, they were personally invited to play for Sir Bob Geldof at the after party for the ROCK & REBUILD event in Sydney last year.

In April and May of this year STONE CIRCLE headed to South America for a 3 ½ week tour through Columbia, Venezuela and Cuba where they were treated like rock royalty. We talk to bass and keyboard wizard CRAIG SKELTON in advance of their “Return To Rock” homecoming show this Friday at Perth’s Amplifier Bar.

Craig Skelton, portrait by Awakening Vixen Photography

Hey mate, thanks for taking the time to talk to THE ROCKPIT

A pleasure mate, thanks for taking the time to interview l’il ole me.

Congratulations on your recent tour of South America – it sounds like an amazing experience for the band. How many dates did you do?

It was an incredible experience for Stone Circle. We played 13 shows all up across three countries. Met a lot of amazing people and drank a lot of rum!

How do South American audiences differ from Australians?

They are incredibly passionate and vocal about their music and not at all afraid to show a deep emotional response to what they are hearing and seeing. The last show we played in Bogota, Colombia they were jumping on tables, screaming, punching the air, hugging each other, it was quite overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, we get a great response from our Aussie fans whom we love and appreciate very much but this was something else.

You seem to have got the full rock star treatment – what were your highlights?

This was such a smooth tour and we were treated so well the entire time. Highlights? Always having transport and minders for us and our gear, having people working so hard for us all the time giving us the opportunity to spend those three and a half weeks just being a band. Might not sound like much to everyone out there but to be able to spend your every waking moment just being a musician and focusing on the next gig or interview was an unparalleled joy.


Stone Circle in Cuba – Craig Skelton, Jeremy Harris, Scott Howe, Derrin Kee

Did you have any great disasters on the tour?

Ah… the Great Cuban Keyboard Incident…

Yeah we bought a keyboard in Cuba. Harry [Singer Jeremy ‘Harry’ Harris] got a little over zealous towards the back end of our last performance at the closing night of the Romerias Festival in Holguin, Cuba. He spun around during the first verse of Northern Lights and his mic stand collected the keyboard we had hired for the gig, spun it so it fell in to the keyboard stand and then bounced on to the stage. Totally smashed several of the keys. All of a sudden there were five guys on stage trying to clean this up and in the process they knocked out the power to the bass rig. Now normally we’ll keep playing come rain, hail or shine but we actually had to stop the song because of the mayhem on stage!

Are you thinking of heading back?

Absolutely! We feel we have just scratched the surface there, taken the first few steps in opening up a whole new and exciting market for Stone Circle. We definitely will go back and plans are already afoot to get us back there around the same time next year. We want to expand on what we’ve achieved and take in more countries and more cities in those countries.

Stone Circle – Jeremy Harris, Derrin Kee, Craig Skelton, Scott Howe

I believe you self-funded the trip without a grant or subsidy at all. Do you feel young rock bands are given enough industry and Government support?

This is a hard question to answer. Of course I’d love to see more support and money and a greater understanding of what we are trying to achieve shown by the local and national music industry and governments and it really is frustrating to pour a lot of time and effort into grant applications for something you really believe in, only to have them knocked back. That being said at least we have arts funding bodies like the DCA here in WA and the Australia Council on a national level. A lot of countries out there don’t have that and creative artists are totally on their own.

The most frustrating thing is that it’s like dealing with a bank. If you already have money, a bank will lend you more. If you already have a proven track record, if you’ve already toured and have a fan base and a record deal the funding bodies will give you money. What about young bands like Stone Circle who are going out there, taking bold steps to open new market places…? We don’t need the money once we’ve made it – we need it now to help us make it!

If only the industry and funding bodies would be willing to take a little more risk, show a little more support to those lesser known bands who haven’t quite made it yet but are busting their humps to bring new original Aussie music to the rest of the world…

The music industry is doing it hard right now. Can young bands afford to rock as a full time career?

It is tough but I don’t know if it’s any tougher than it always has been. What it definitely is, is different to what it used to be, which presents a whole new set of challenges to young bands these days. I still believe it is definitely possible to make a full time living as an original rock band or I wouldn’t be doing this. I mean that’s gotta be the goal, right? That’s always the driving force behind any artistic endeavour. To be able to do what you love the most so well that it pays your way through life and that’s all you have to do.

I think the big challenge in today’s industry is that you have to be more than just a musician, you have to have business and marketing savvy as well and I believe that holds true across the whole entertainment industry and beyond into any other trade. Let’s face it – that’s what we are. We are tradesman, troubadours, minstrels and we not only have to be able to create our product we have to be able to market and sell that product. Any band or artist that truly believes in themselves has already got the drive needed; they just need to focus some of that energy on raising the public awareness of their particular product.

You do that enough and sooner or later critical mass will be achieved and your band – i.e. your business – will start funding itself.

Do you think the promotional potential of the digital age has equalled the loss in revenue that has accompanied it, or is it an unfair imbalance?

Ooh, nice question! The loss in revenue to whom? The artist? The record company? I think the companies have taken much bigger hits than the artists and many have completely failed to adapt to a vigorously changing landscape which is why many are no longer with us. I think the promotional potential of the digital age is fantastic but it does put the onus on the artists themselves to really have their game on in this regard.

Record companies are not putting their publicity machines at every bands disposal anymore. On the whole, record companies are focussing on that which makes them money – production line, cookie cutter music and carefully manufactured images to sell that music. A steady line of short term, hard sell items fed by the clever cross promotional tools of Idol, the Voice, X-Factor and the like.

They are also savvy enough to latch on to anything that goes viral on YouTube that they feel they can control, manipulate and make money from. Unfortunately one of the changes I see in the industry is that these companies no longer care about the artists they push. To them they are cattle.

The big change is that the artist no longer needs the record company to take advantage of the marketing potential out there.

Stone Circle portrait by Awakening Vixen photography

Do you see a way forward to a fairer industry?

When musicians and music lovers run record companies like they did back in the 60’s and 70’s then maybe some balance will return. But then again many would argue that the industry is fairer now than it ever has been. Record companies no longer dominate the landscape and dictate the terms. Artists are able to get their product out to more people than ever before. You can truly be an independent artist if you so choose.

Have you started writing for your third album yet?

Yes indeedy! We have four new tracks already onstage as part of our set which seem to be going down well. Plenty more in the pipeline in various states of completion and a whole bunch of seeds, beginnings, riffs and lyrics in the ‘to be explored’ pile as well. This will become our primary focus over the next 3 to 4 months. More writing and getting those songs on stage to road test them. We continue to grow and individuals and as a band and there is so much more we want to explore musically.

We’re very proud of what we have achieved musically already and very excited about what is yet to come and how we can evolve as a band.

How & when did you first realise music was your calling? Was there a defining moment?

When I was six years old I knew. My family had just moved to Melbourne and in an effort to get me out from under foot during the unpacking my mom had deliberately unpacked the TV first and set it up out of the way for me to watch. It must have been a weekend and she turned on the ABC and there in front of my naked eyes and ears was this wild looking band called Hush played a rockin tune called Boney Maroney on a show called Countdown and I knew right then and there that this is what I wanted to do!

What was the first gig you ever went to?

My Dad took me to see Rolf Harris, I must have been seven or eight at the time. Still remember that concert. What an entertainer – Jake the Peg rocked!

Stone Circle LIVE in Cuba, May 2012

… and the first record you ever bought?

The first recorded music I could call my own was a cassette recording of ELO’s ‘Out of the Blue’ that my mate’s and I recorded from the record player by holding the cassette recorder up to the speakers of the stereo system. I must have been about 12.

The first two cassettes I bought for myself with my own money were the soundtrack to the film Xanadu by ELO and Pink Floyd’s The Wall. I was 13 at the time. I think I bought them on the same day or so close together I don’t remember which one came first. I’d like to be super cool and say The Wall but I think it might have been Xanadu!

I remember taking The Wall back to my dorm, I was at boarding school at the time, and full forwarding to Another Brick in the Wall Pt 2 and playing that like five times in a row cause I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever heard. Then I rewound the tape and listened to the whole album and that just blew my mind.

What’s the best piece of advice a peer has ever given you?

Be yourself. Be true to yourself and to the music you write because the audience can smell a fake a mile away and they will crucify you for it.

What can you tell us about your homecoming show this coming Friday at The Amplifier Bar in Perth – and how are the band playing after the tour?

So looking forward to this gig! Man, it’s a killer coming off a tour. Going from playing gig after gig to playing nothing. We are burning to play and we are on fire after this tour. Nothing gets a band tighter than touring.

Pumped to be sharing the stage with our good friends Graphic Fiction Heroes. Such a good, solid, tight band with oodles of tone and chops to burn. Also Nymph Honey are on the bill and I am very much looking forward to their set esp. following the huge success they’re having with their video for Because I Don’t Love You on YouTube.

What does the rest of 2012 hold for the band?

A lot of writing and creativity. Gigging to put money back in the coffers. Exploring touring opurtunities to the east coast particularly Sydney and Melbourne. Basically as much promotion, writing and gigging as we can cram in.

If you could go back in time and be a part of the recording of any song or album throughout history, what would it be?

Man there are so many but the first that leaps to mind is the album “Hemispheres” by my fave band Rush (yeah, yeah I know the rest of the band will be groaning and rolling their eyes… Craig’s gobbing off about Rush again!!)

Recorded in 1978 at the height of their prog rock explorations. To be able to sit in and witness the writing process, in piecing together the mighty Cygnus X-1 Book II in all its 18 minute glory…

In particular though the track La Villa Strangiato, the 9 ½ minute long instrumental that ends the album. To witness a band absolutely on fire as writers and players, to be a part of that laser focus and precision back when digital recording was just a dream.

If I could pick one other it would have to be “Joe’s Garage” by Frank Zappa. To be in the presence of genius. What more could you want?!

Finally, what for you is the meaning of life?

In a word: Love. Love is all and All is One. Love each other as I have Loved you. Be Excellent to each other. Happiness, joy, wonder, sharing, giving, growing…this is what life is about.

We are here to learn and to have fun. If you ain’t doing either then stop and reassess!

If I can leave this world a little better than when I first walked it, if I can inspire people to reach for greatness, to achieve their full potential I will consider my life well spent.

And on that fantastic, positive note we say thankyou Craig for your time, and remind readers in Perth to get to Amplifier Bar this Friday 1st June for STONE CIRCLE’S “Return To Rock” with Graphic Fiction Heroes and Nymph Honey

Stone Circle on Facebook

Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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