Mary Brettell grew up in Brisbane in a singing family and was actively encouraged to perform by her mum and dad. She says, “As a child, I always wanted to be a singer and used to gather together the neighbourhood kids and put on concerts under our house.” The folk revival of the ’60s encouraged her further – the days when “Peter, Paul and Mary” and “The Seekers” were popular and played frequently on the radio.
In 1968, she bought her first guitar and began playing and singing in coffee shops. The following year she was invited to go along to the Brisbane “Folk Centre” in Ann Street and do a bracket of songs. There she met many friends like Anne Infante, Jan Davis and Don and June Nichols: most of whom are still around the Brisbane folk scene. Others have drifted away, like Keith and Jan Smith and Serge Petelin. Stan Arthur, who ran the Folk Centre, gave her a regular spot where she played until the close of the venue in 1974.
Mary involved herself with the Queensland Folk Federation in the early ’70s and was a regular performer at the monthly QFF concerts at the Roma Street Forum, along with the singing sessions at the monthly wine and cheese parties. The Barley Mow Folk Club at the Hotel Cecil was a regular haunt, and she performed at some of the early Mediaeval Fayres and folk festivals, such as the Australian National Folk Festival in 1973.
Mary has a deep, rich voice and sings anything from unaccompanied English traditional material to bluegrass and contemporary material, and everything in between – including Australian traditional songs. She joined the “Hilltop Holdout Bluegrass Band” in 1978 and still fondly remembers their performance supporting the Fureys at Festival Hall. Later she became a founding member of the “Stanley County Newgrass Band” which appeared regularly at the Tar Pot Folk Club at the National Hotel, Brisbane. She has played in groups such as “The Wayfarers”, “Prickly Pear” and “The Royal Bounty Bush Band”. She is currently a member of “Rantan Bush Band”.
Mary has some good tales to tell: about performing at the gathering of thousands of bikies at the Motorcycle Riders Association Annual Christmas Toy Run at Musgrave Park; and a particularly ‘interesting’ event where she had her toes and ears nibbled while trying to sing to a crowd in a gay (of the female variety) bar. At Expo 88 she did stints at the American Pavilion with her repertoire of American country and bluegrass material and at the Communities of Australia Pavilion singing Australian folk songs.
Mary says, “I sing a wide variety of songs from British and Aussie to American, both traditional and contemporary. I look for songs that have good rhythm and tell an interesting story. My main aim in performing is to entertain. I like to grab the attention of my audience by performing well.” Recently, Mary has performed at the Woodford Folk Festival (2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006), the 2006 National Folk Festival in Canberra, the 2006 Redlands Bluegrass Convention and the inaugural Redlands Folk Festival on the 3rd and 4th June 2006.
Mary was a special guest at the inaugural Clennell Hall Folk Festival at Alwinton in the Northumberland National Park (UK), in May 2007, with return guest performances in 2009 (as a guest performer at Clennell Hall and also at Alcester Folk Festival) and 2011 to perform once again at Clennell Hall festival and folk clubs elsewhere.
As well as being a local singer of note, Mary is webmaster of the Folk Rag and Brisbane Folk History Project websites.
You can often catch Mary at Red Hill Folk on a Wednesday nights and at Folk Redlands on the first and third Sunday of the month – also, on occasional Tuesdays, at the BUg (Brisbane Unplugged) Acoustic Music Club at New Farm Bowls Club.
Listen to some songs...