Born and raised in Australia on bush music, classical and pop, the members of Appalachian Heaven String Band (AHSB) take their sustenance from the deep well of Anglo-Celtic ballads and dance tunes that met up with African-American rhythms and white gospel in the hard scrabble counties of West Virginia and parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Appalachian or "old-timey" music is a pure folk tradition, the oldest Northern American style since the wonderful music of the American Indian Nation. Singing was for personal and group enjoyment and the passing on of family traditions and historical narrative.
It was popularised by American radio stations and the recording industry in the 1920s but the Great Depression changed the landscape and the 1930s and 1940s saw the rise of "stars" like Hank Williams and the introduction of Swing, Bluegrass, Country and Western.
But old time music hung on, finding its place once again at the centre of community life in the coal mining and isolated farming settlements of West Virginia and other "back country" places.
Band founder, Ian Alexander, says his interest in Appalachian music grew out of an admiration for the resilience of the music and the people who played it. Ian was previously a classical violin and clarinet player for most of his life.
"It's the music of back-porch jams and family barbecues. Old-time musicians don't expect to make a living playing this style. They've got day-jobs as coal miners and teachers. They play this music for their own entertainment, for house parties, and at folk festivals.
Ian Alexander plays "clawhammer" banjo, a down-picking style that lays down a percussive rhythm for the ballads and dance tunes and arrived via slaves from Senegal, Africa. If there's a solo part in old-time music, it's more likely to be taken by the fiddle player than a banjo player.
"Some of the old tunes are played by banjo and fiddle alone and can be quite complex. But what a pleasure to sit with a friend on a sunny afternoon and play "Hell Among the Yearlings" or "Breaking up Christmas"; songs full of history and passion."
Ian Alexander has sponsored visits to Australia by old-time musicians for the Harrietville Festival and the National Folk Festival in Canberra for over 15 years now. In the process, he has learnt from the masters of the clawhammer style.
The band's repertoire borrows from recordings made between 1920 and 1940 but some folk, blues and modern country music songs are in there too.
Appalachian Heaven's first album "In the Pines", (2010) was launched to acclaim at the National Folk Festival while the second album, "Railroadin' and Gamblin'", (2011) was launched at the Auckland Folk Festival. The band was the headline act and closed the final concert in spectacular style.
The third album, "Been All Around This World", a fine example of how the band recreates and honours Appalachian music tradition, was launched at the Cygnet Folk Festival in Tasmania in 2013.
The band is a regular at the Maldon Folk Festival, Great Alpine Pick, National Bluegrass and Traditional Music Convention, Kelly Country Pick at Beechworth, Healesville Music Festival, Yarra Junction Fiddlers' Convention, Guildford Banjo Jamboree, Blackwood Fiddlers' Convention and Dorrigo Folk and Bluegrass Festival.
The band is hired for house parties, southern barbecues, wineries, dances and weddings.
Members of the band teach instrumental workshops for clawhammer banjo, autoharp, fiddle, and upright bass. The band also calls and plays for old time squaredances.
Appalachian Heaven String Band brings a high level of musicianship to a genre played with flare and passion. The band members have more than thirty years' experience playing old time music and are consider an institution in the old time and folk music community within Australia. Their instrumental prowess and strong lead vocals are evident throughout their performances. Expect to be overwhelmed and uplifted as this heart-warming band with an ethos to always engage and entertain ... a must see experience!
Graeme Fletcher is a multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter, Graeme is on a mission to popularise the autoharp. One of the few autoharp teachers in Australia, Graeme says the instrument brings a harmonic element to the music. Graeme also plays guitar.
Ian Alexander is the band's founder; Ian plays clawhammer banjo and is considered a knowledgeable and competent expert in this style in Australia.
Kim's journey started with grunge metal and "electric bass shoe gazing" in Boxmonster, then embraced the double bass in the Dan Hick's inspired Innocent Bystanders, before turning left at Albuquerque to the valley of bluegrass and Uncle Bill. Kim plays double bass, mandolin and sings. Kim also plays bass with the Little Rabbit band.
Maggie plays fiddle with the band and also calls square and contra dancing for parties and festivals. Maggie runs fiddle workshops and convenes the Chestnut Street Orchestra - a committed group of musicians who play at dances around Melbourne.
Sally is a professional fiddle player. Sally is a founding member of the bands Flap!, Dev'lish Mary and Triskel. She currently plays with Stray Hens, Nigel Wearne, Rising Tide, and the Ugly Uncles. At the 2013 Port Fairy Folk Festival, Sally played with Arlo Guthrie at a 100 year tribute concert to Woody Guthrie. Sally plays fiddle and sings with the AHSB.