“Music was my first love, and it will be my lastJohn Miles
Music of the future, and music of the past
To live without my music, would be impossible to do
For in this world of troubles, my music pulls me through.”
It was March 2017, a typical Saturday evening in Albury, NSW. Young merry-makers were wandering between the pubs in Dean Street. Albury musician, Jeremy Kerr, was set up on his usual busking corner opposite the post office.
A group of passers-by asked Jeremy to play a rendition of Darude’s Sandstorm on his Melodica, an instrument that had captured their curiosity.
An obliging fellow, Jeremy agreed. The result now lives in the Albury Music Legends Hall of Fame (well, it would, if there were one).
The video of Jeremy nailing every note of the popular rave anthem, with a small flashmob of revellers, went viral, attracting an astonishing three million views in just 24 hours after it was picked up by popular Facebook page The LADBible. The humble melodica, and the humble Jeremy, were suddenly centre stage.
The Melodica is a free-reed instrument similar to a pump organ and harmonica. It has a musical keyboard on top and is played by blowing air through a mouthpiece fitted to its side. Pressing a key opens a hole, allowing air to flow through a reed. They are popular in music education, particularly in Asia.
Wikipedia states that the instrument was popularised in the 1970s by reggae musician Augustus Pablo. We believe this needs updating to state that it was popularised one Saturday evening in Albury in 2017, by musician Jeremy Kerr!
We invited Jeremy to the blog to talk about his busking experiences, other than on that fateful occasion.
Why the Melodica?
Mostly because there’s so many guitarists out busking. I just wanted to kind of stand out from the crowd. Melodicas are not very well known so I thought instead of playing guitar, why not do something different?
Is it difficult to play?
Only as difficult as learning the piano. I had about 1 year of keyboard lessons when I was in Year 11 and it’s pretty much just the same principle as piano.
What are your most requested tunes?
Obviously Sandstorm is the standout. People just associate with me with that one now. Also the Super Mario theme is a popular one, for some reason I get asked for that quite a lot, not sure why, must be a lot of gamers out and they probably associate that one with memories from their childhood.
What other instruments do you play?
My first instrument was the classical guitar. Then I moved on to the trumpet, then I tried the tin whistle. When I was young my parents took me to the Port Fairy Folk Festival and bought me a tin whistle there. I made all sorts of random sounds on it. It wasn’t until I was about 16 that I tried to hone my skills on it and eventually, with enough practice, I learned to do all manner of things with it. I can also play the harmonica, I sing a bit, I’ve dabbled in trombone, saxphone, ukulele. Overall I can play about 6 to 7 instruments fairly competently and on top of that another 15 or so, average (very average).
Where do you do most of your singing?
I perform A Cappella with a barbershop quartet called Good Gravy. Our biggest performance was at Albury’s Carols by Candelight in 2019. We were pretty stoked with that performance. We’ve also busked regularly at the Farmer’s Market on Gateway Island as well as a few other gigs.
You busk late at night. Does that cause you any issues?
Not that I’ve experienced directly. Sometimes I’ll see a few fights but I’ve never been involved in them. One time someone started a brawl directly in front of me, in that situation there’s not much I can do except keep playing, or if it gets too close, just move out of the way. I did have to do that once, the police came and the guy was arrested.
Probably the worst I’ve had is a guy driving past winding down his window to yell: “Get a job you Hippie!”
Apart from the viral moment, what are some standout busking memories?
One night I was playing the song We Like To Party. Someone stood up on this little wall next to me and did a backflip, landing it perfectly, right on the chorus. So that was a highlight.
Another night I had my head down playing and when I looked up, Barry Morgan was standing right in front of me. I thought ‘OMG, it’s Barry Morgan!’
Barry Morgan is the character in Barry Morgan’s World of Organs, a stage show/comedy based on a fictional electronic organ salesman from Adelaide, portrayed by Australian musican and comedian Stephen Teakle.
So Barry Morgan was standing right there watching me fiddle on my organ (so to speak) and I was a bit starstruck for a moment, but thank goodness he complimented my playing.
What’s a great piece of advice you’ve been given in your lifetime?
Mum once gave me this advice – “you don’t have to be perfect, just be the best you can be.” That really stuck with me.
Also, one quote I read that really struck a chord with me was “if you want to conquer fear, don’t sit home and think about it, go out and get busy.”
I see you have an eftpos square – how do you find the reponse to that?
As for popularity, it’s paid itself off. I bought it on Halloween in 2017 and tips had paid for it within a couple of months. So some people definately will use it. If people don’t happen to have cash on them, it’s just a convenient option. I don’t pressure people, I just make sure they know it’s there.
If you could choose a lyric that sums up life for you, what would that lyric be?
Definately the first song that comes to mind is one by John Miles called ‘Music.’
“Music was my first love, and it will be my last. Music of the future, and music of the past. To live without my music, would be impossible to do, for in this world of troubles, my music pulls me through.”
What’s next for Jeremy Kerr?
This year, the very next thing I have planned is Australia Day. I’ll be conducting the Wodonga Brass Band for the first time ever. Our conductor is having surgery and she’s asked me to lead the band for the anthem and a few songs before the ceremony.
Also Good Gravy are looking to do a few bigger concerts during 2020 and I’ll also be performing as part of the orchestra for Monty Python’s Spamalot which is being presented by Livid Productions.