Noongar musician Phil Walleystack and orchestra combine to lift spirits during COVID crisis


An Indigenous performer has teamed up with a classical string section to tour regional Western Australia and lift the spirits of people struggling amid the COVID crisis.

Phil Walleystack and the Perth Symphony Orchestra had their own tours cancelled as a result of coronavirus shutdowns, but have joined forces and are taking a bold fusion of Noongar rock and classical music on the road.

“Now is the time for us as artists to go and entertain people and take them away from that worry and that stress,” Walleystack said.

“There’s a lot people that lost their jobs, their full-time jobs.

“And we’re trying to make this concert as free as possible so people can come because we know a lot of people lost a lot of money.”

Walleystack said linking up with the Perth Symphony Orchestra would help him engage with a new audience.

‘Touching souls’ and sharing emotion

Symphony Orchestra CEO Bourby Webster said the bold collaboration was driven by a simple musical desire.

“During lockdown when things just started to reopen we were both desperate to make music,” she said.

“So Phil and I jammed on my front verandah [and] everyone on the street came.

“Everyone was like, ‘what an amazing sound’, having strings with Phil and his guitar and singing his songs in language.”

Phil Walleystack and the Perth Symphony orchestra had their own tours cancelled earlier this year.(ABC News: David Weber)

Ms Webster said the concerts should be cathartic.

“Touching souls, making people feel incredible, it is not the same simply playing music on your car stereo,” she said.

“We’ve planned our set to be as joyous as we can first up and then Phil’s songs really reach out and grab you and make you feel very emotional, and in fact in rehearsal we’ve seen some tears.

“So I think this is hugely important, not just because people need to get out — actually, I think there’s going to be a big release.

“People are going to be sharing a lot of emotion.”

The ‘Isolation Tour’

For many years, Walleystack has been working to help address youth depression and suicide.

He said his own anxiety levels “went through the roof” when he endured his own disappointment with the tour cancellation.

“It shattered me man, it was gonna be my biggest year,” he said.

“Pre-selling that tour, it was unbelievable and it didn’t come true.

“But what it did, it made me appreciate my family a whole lot more.”

Phil Walleystack sits on the edge of a stage holding a guitar.
Phil Walleystack says the COVID shutdowns initially sent him into an emotional spin.(Supplied: Nick Way)

Like so many other performers, Walleystack went virtual.

“When we went into lockdown the first week, I was crying a lot and falling into a bit of depression,” he said.

“Then I just grabbed my phone and got on social media and just started singing some songs live and people started making requests and sending in requests.

“A good mate of mine, Mr Bradley Hall, who’s a musician from up Marble Bar, he started replying to my songs by singing his songs and then we started everyone else.

“We kicked off the Isolation Tour Facebook page — the next thing you know, we had hundreds of people performing but thousands of people joining in live, and it was every night.”

The hardest prison to escape

Walleystack said addressing issues in the community was part of his role as a performer.

“One of my songs, Find Your Way, … the film clip is shot in Freo Prison, but what that prison represents is the prison that is the hardest prison to escape in the world, and that’s the one we create in our mind,” he said.

“People like myself, we get up on stage and sing and dance with a big smile on our face, but we’ve got some demons inside of us as well and I want to let people know … don’t let them hold you back.

“Just get out there and find a way, find your way around it.”

Walleystack knows what it was like to lose friends to suicide.

“You sort of start blaming yourself. Should I have answered that call? Should I have said that?” he said.

Phil Walleystack and the orchestra musicians lined up on stage.
Phil Walleystack and Perth Symphony Orchestra members are heading out to regional WA.(ABC News: David Weber)

“I don’t have the answers, but I have a show to be able to put the message out there.”

A message of reconciliation

Walleystack said the concerts would also serve as a way to thank West Australians for getting on top of the virus.

“The State Government and Mark McGowan … great job that they did by enforcing the rules, but we as West Australians abided by the rules and we enforced those rules ourselves and now we get to go out and enjoy life,” he said.

The shows would also carry a message of reconciliation.

“We’re all working together, genres of music, classical instruments and I’m up there singing the Noongar language so we’re showing that people can work together if we get out of our own way,” he said.

The tour will take in Bunbury, Moora, Northam, Kalamunda, Geraldton and Albany.

The shows are mainly free, with some by donation, although each will be ticketed to assist with numbers and COVID tracing if necessary.



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