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Greg Quill

An Australian-born musician, singer, songwriter and journalist who lived in Toronto, Canada and was an entertainment columnist and long-serving staff member of the Toronto Star newspaper.

Quill began his musical career in the 1960s as a solo performer on the Sydney folk scene clustered around the University of Sydney, where he graduated in 1970 with a B.A. in English Language and Literature.

He worked briefly as a history teacher at a Catholic Boys High School in Bankstown, in Sydney's western suburbs, before being hired by David Elfick, then N.S.W. editor of the national weekly pop music magazine Go-Set and later a prominent Australian movie producer, as a feature writer and regional editor for the Melbourne-based publication.

During this time Quill ran The Shack, a popular late-60s folk venue at Narrabeen on Sydney's northern beaches.

Music publisher and record producer Gus McNeil (a former rock singer who fronted the 1960s Sydney band Gus & The Nomads), signed Quill to a publishing deal with own company, Cellar Music.

McNeil produced Quill's first commercial recording, the single "Fleetwood Plain", and the subsequent album of the same name, for EMI Australia in 1970. For the album Quill was backed by John Walsh (bass), Chris Blanchflower (harmonica), Orlando Agostino (guitars) and members of Sydney rock band Pirana, Stan White (keyboards), Jim Duke-Yonge (drums), Tony Hamilton (guitar) and Graeme Thompson (bass). The LP was released on EMI's new progressive subsidiary Harvest Records, although the "Fleetwood Plain" / "Song For David" single was issued on EMI's Australian pop label Columbia Records.

"Fleetwood Plain" was subsequently covered by Australian country music star Reg Lindsay, and by Canadian folk-rockers Creamcheeze Good Time Band on their 1973 album, Home Cookin'.

To promote the record, Quill put together the original lineup of his band "Country Radio" in June 1970. The members were John Walsh, Chris Blanchflower and Orlando Agostino. The group started as an acoustic act but during 1970-71 its musical style evolved into electric country-rock, a style then gaining wide popularity (especially amongst musicians) through the influence of albums like The Band's Music From Big Pink, Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline and The Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo.

By May 1971 the Country Radio lineup had changed to Quill, Blanchflower, John A. Bird (keyboards), Mal Algar (bass) and Ace Follington (drums, ex-Chain). In October 1971 Country Radio signed to Infinity Records, the newly-formed subsidiary label of Festival Records and recorded its debut single, "Listen To The Children", which came out in Nov. 1971, although it did not chart. Soon after, Follington left to join the pop band The Cleves for a tour of Britain, and was replaced by Kim Bryant, who was in turn replaced a few months later by Tony Bolton (ex-The Affair, Freshwater).

In January 1972 Algar left and John Bois (ex-Circle of Love, New Dream) and Kerryn Tolhurst (ex-Adderly Smith Blues Band, Sundown) joined the group on bass and guitar/lap steel/mandolin, respectively. The addition of Tolhurst was of crucial importance to the band's sound and style. He and Quill also began a successful songwriting partnership.

With the formation of the "classic" lineup—Quill, Tolhurst, Bird, Bois, Bolton and Blanchflower—Country Radio recorded their second and most successful single, "Gyspy Queen", with producer John French, in Melbourne in April 1972.

It was co-written by Quill and Tolhurst and featured a string arrangement by session musician Peter Jones (who later worked on Quill's solo album, The Outlaw's Reply). Released in August, the single spent 13 weeks in the national charts and peaked at No. 12.

"Gypsy Queen" shared the APRA (Australasian Performing Right Association) Song Of The Year award with Mississippi's "Kings Of The World". It was featured on the soundtrack of director Rod Hardy's 2007 film December Boys, starring Daniel Radcliffe, and in the popular 2009 ABC-TV series East of Everything.

The success of the single and the intervention of expat Canadian music promoter/label rep Michael McMartin, who would later manage Australian rock band Hoodoo Gurus, led to a contract with Toronto-based MUCH Productions, which released "Gypsy Queen" in Canada in 1972. The band's follow-up single, "Wintersong", made the Australian Top 40 in December 1972, the same month that Infinity released their debut LP Country Radio Live.

Denied a budget for extended studio sessions, Country Radio recorded the album live in one evening in front of an invited audience at Melbourne's TCS Studios on 4 October 1972. It featured a selection of originals, plus two songs by John Stewart (ex The Kingston Trio), one of Quill's favourite songwriters.

Country Radio toured relentlessly in 1972-73, and made several live TV recordings for the ABC in-studio concert series, GTK. The band appeared on concert and festival stages with many stars of the era, including Creedence Clearwater Revival, Elton John, Santana and Stephen Stills.

They made successful appearances at several large festivals, including the Rock Isle Mulwala Festival in 1972 and the Sunbury Pop Festival in 1972 and 1973, and the live track of Quill's "Silver Spurs" was included in Mushroom Records' three-LP recording of the latter event, released in April 1973.

Kerryn Tolhurst abruptly left the band just after the second Sunbury festival, briefly joining Mississippi, and announcing his intention to put together a new group (The Dingoes) in Melbourne, with singer Broderick Smith. Soon after, both Bird and Blanchflower also left Country Radio.

With a complete redesign in mind, Quill, Bolton and Bois invited Adelaide guitarist/songwriter Russ Johnson into the band. Johnson effectively swapped places with Tolhurst, having himself just left Mississippi. In May 1973 the lineup of Quill, Johnson, Bolton and Bois recorded their fourth single, a country-rock restatement of the traditional maritime work song, "Bound For South Australia" (b/w "I Need Women"), and the first folk ballad arranged in a rock format in Australia.

A recording that helped lead subsequent rock/pop bands to Australia's folk treasury, "Bound For South Australia" did not chart. The four-piece ensemble with Johnson opened for British folk-rock band Fairport Convention with Sandy Denny on three dates of their 1973 tour. Soon after, Johnson left Country Radio for medical reasons and returned to Adelaide.

Guitarists Les Stacpool, a veteran of many of Melbourne's top bands of the 1960s, and Russ Hinton (ex-Moonstone) alternated on lead guitar after Johnson's departure, and Hinton also performed on Quill's subsequent solo LP. Bois left in August 1972, rejoining Tolhurst in the newly formed Dingoes. Quill dissolved Country Radio in December 1973, and worked for a year as general features writer and news reporter for the Sydney Sunday Telegraph, then as editor of the Sydney suburban weekly newspaper The Peninsula News.

In 1974 Quill, performing solo, opened for Fairport Convention in several Australian cities.

In the same year, with the backing of Sydney-based executive producer and Trafalgar Studios owner Charles Fisher, Quill finally recorded the studio album he was unable to make with Country Radio.

The Outlaw's Reply was produced by John L Sayers and featured most of the 'classic' Country Radio lineup, including Tolhurst, Bois, Bolton and Blanchflower, plus Russ Hinton (guitars), Peter Jones (keyboards), Peter Walker (guitars), Chris Neal (synthesizers) and Barry Leef (backing vocals).

Two singles were issued during 1975: "She Do It To Me" / "Terry's Time" (April '75) and "Blackmail" / "The Outlaw's Reply" (Sept. 1975). The album included the Quill song "Almost Freedom", which had previously been covered by former Company Caine singer Gulliver Smith on his 1973 solo LP The Band's Alright But The Singer Is ....

During 1974 Festival also released a de facto Best Of compilation entitled Gypsy Queen, credited to Greg Quill & Country Radio. A selection of album tracks and single A- and B-sides, the album included Quill's cover of the country classic "Singin' The Blues", which featured Renee Geyer on backing vocals and Les Stacpool on guitar.

In May 1975, Quill showcased The Outlaw's Reply at the Sydney Opera House, backed by all the musicians who contributed to the album. The Dingoes and Richard Clapton were also part of the first all-Australian country-rock show to take place on the Opera House's main stage. It was to be Quill's final performance in Australia for almost four years.

Along with Margret RoadKnight and guitarist Rob MacKenzie (MacKenzie Theory), Quill was one of the first Australian rock musicians to be awarded a grant by the Australian Council for the Arts, enabling him to travel overseas. He moved part-time to Toronto in mid-1975, where he put together a new band, Hot Knives, with Bolton, Toronto bassist Dennis Pinhorn and violinist Anne Lindsay, and expat Australian guitarist/keyboardist/songwriter Sam See (Sherbet, The Flying Circus, Fraternity, Lighthouse).

When Australian guitarist/songwriter Chris Stockley (Cam-Pact, Axiom, The Dingoes) replaced Lindsay in 1977 and Australian bassist Bruce Worrall (also ex-Sherbet) replaced Pinhorn, the band of Toronto-based expats took up the name Southern Cross.

Southern Cross released only one single, "Been So Long" / "I Wonder Why", issued on Warner's Elektra Records label in October 1978. The group split at the end of that year, during a tour of Australia. Quill returned to Canada alone. A re-arranged and remixed version of "Been So Long", with parts added in Toronto by bassist Steve Hogg, singer Ian Thomas and keyboardist Hugh Syme, was released in Canada as Quill's first solo single there, but it was the B-side, the raucous, guitar-heavy "I Wonder Why", that got most of the attention on Canadian radio, particularly Toronto's then hard-rock FM station Q107 (CILQ).

A subsequent album, "Correspondence", produced in Toronto by Alan Thorne, and featuring mostly new Quill compositions and guest performances by Canadian guitar legends Amos Garrett and Mike McKenna (Mendelson McKenna Mainline), as well as Thomas, Hogg and Syme, was never released.

The demise of Southern Cross effectively put the end to the professional performing careers of both Quill and Bolton. Bolton gave up the drums after Southern Cross and later went into private business. Quill stopped playing professionally for almost two decades and stayed on in Canada, where he married concert promoter-turned-corporate public relations executive, Ellen Davidson, helped raise a family, and became a prominent journalist and music writer.

Quill wrote for and edited numerous music magazines (Music Express, Graffiti, Applaud, Canadian Composer, Songwriter) and published books about Bon Jovi (1987), Michael Jackson (1988) and The Rolling Stones (1989), among others. Since 1983 he has been a journalist and occasional TV and radio commentator on the arts scene in Toronto, where he is an arts columnist for the Toronto Star, Canada's largest newspaper.

An impromptu reunion in Melbourne with Kerryn Tolhurst and Chris Stockley in 1999 led to Quill's decision to return to music.

Over the next two years, Quill in Toronto and Tolhurst in New York maintained contact and began working together again. The result was a new batch of songs which eventually appeared in early 2003 on the Quill-Tolhurst album So Rudely Interrupted, released in Canada by True North Records.

The duo promoted the Canadian release with a concert in October 2003 at C’est What? in Toronto, performing with a full band featuring keyboardist Garth Hudson (ex The Band) on accordion and piano. Excerpts from the show were aired nationally several times on Bravo! Canada’s Arts & Minds program and on CP24. The duo then made a short tour of Australia, marking their first public performances together since 1973, appearing at several festivals, including the Port Fairy Folk Festival and the Brunswick Music Festival in Melbourne. Their concerts in Sydney reunited Quill with many old friends from his folk days at The Shack, and at the final event of the tour, at the Bridge Hotel, Sydney, Quill and Tolhurst were joined onstage by Country Radio harmonica player Chris Blanchflower.

Since 2003 Quill has become a regular performer in Canada's roots music scene, as both a solo act and with members of a loose collective that includes Cam MacInnes (guitar), Denis Keldie (accordion), Anne Lindsay (violin), Dennis Pinhorn (bass) and Bucky Berger (drums).

From June 2006 though March 2008 Quill compiled and hosted the hour-long weekly Canadian roots music specialty program River of Song on Sirius Canada satellite radio.

He returned to Australia again in July 2009, playing two shows in his home town, one at the revived Shack in Narrabeen, and at the Excelsior Hotel in Sydney, where he was joined for several songs by former bandmates Orlando Agostino and Chris Blanchflower.

In January and February 2011 Quill toured Australia's east coast, playing 15 dates with Toronto singer-songwriter Jon Brooks. He is currently recording an album of new material for release in 2012.

Greg Quill died at aged 66.
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