By Adam Norris
If you have even half an ear tuned to Mid North Coast music, well, chances are high that you’ve encountered Greg Sheehan before. One of the most respected and sought-after performers in the region, Greg’s percussion skills are genuinely world-class – and it doesn’t hurt that he’s an all-around nice guy. With the release of his textbook/manifesto/artbook/diary/coffee-table book (unsurprisingly, The Rhythm Diaries is hard to categorise), Greg shares his love of sound… and why Bellingen is the musical pulse he keeps returning to.
“Back in the seventies, new settlers with alternative ways of doing things came to the region, particularly to the Bellinger valley,” Greg recalls. “This then helped to make the region a stopover for bands touring the east coast. Eventually the wonderful Global Carnival festival established Bellingen and the region as a creative hub for musicians and punters alike, and this continued with festivals such as Bello Winter festival. Like-minded musicians were attracted to the area. So often, l find myself getting together with many of these great musicians and jamming.”
For many musicians, the simple joys of jamming and performing in front of audiences are only just beginning to emerge from the darkness of Covid. While the immediate future is by no means free from uncertainty, a potential silver-lining has been the lockdown-imposed chance for many artists to reexamine how their musical skills and careers will continue to evolve into the future. It’s here that Greg hopes The Rhythm Diaries might be able to step in and help.
“Yes indeed, it’s been SO challenging for musicians! However, given that many musos are stuck at home and not performing live, I’ve found that it’s actually a great time to have published my book. People who have bought the book are studying it and hopefully finding ideas in there to practice and explore. I’ve been developing lots of creative musical ideas over the decades which I’ve been writing in my rhythm diaries. The idea of eventually complying these into a book was something that I’ve had on my mind for a long time. I’ve created a unique system of using number combinations known as Rhythm Diamonds, and these rhythms have appeared in the curriculum of music schools in Australia and further afield, and off course on stage, with hundreds of musicians adapting it into to there repertoire.”
What makes The Rhythm Diaries distinct is not only the educational intent behind the book, but also it’s multifaceted nature. Part visual art portfolio, part musical treatise, part personal history – it’s quite a labour of love whose various aspects are rather fluid. Greg talks of ‘playing’ the images, which comprises a key component of his Rhythm Diamond system.
“My collaborator Naomi Jean and I began with chapter headings which included Diamonds, Circles, Triangles, Body Percussion, Children’s Rhythm Games and Nature. I wanted to gather all aspects of my educational side together, plus throw in a few yarns to give people an idea of my
musical journey thus far. The book is suitable for primary school students right through to the best musicians on the planet! I also have found a way to marry my musical life with my visual arts side, in that I have drawn over fifty graphic designs which represent music. [It has] unique designs displayed in [a] richly coloured format. I use a lot of body language to get my points across when I’m teaching, so the challenge with the book was to transfer this animated approach onto the page. We ‘road tested’ it with several muso friends and gradually refined it into this form.”
Whatever its future, there is little doubt that The Rhythm Diaries will prove to be an invaluable contribution to contemporary musicology. For his part, Greg is hopeful that it will simply be of help for those looking to learn… And, perhaps, serve as his testament.
“Well, there is talk that it will be a reference for rhythm for generations to come,” he says. “Hopefully it will be picked up by schools and universities as a resource to be used by teachers and students alike. On a basic level, I wrote it for my children as a keepsake of my life’s work. I also enjoy picking it up, opening a random page and exploring!”