THE MIRACLE OF MUSIC – from Woolshed to Recital Hall
It was one of those typical ends to an early-Spring day in the Hills District of Sydney. Warm…and the sight of an evening star above the western ridges of the Blue Mountains foreshadowed the onset of a twilight ready to swallow the last remnants of the day’s warmth and fading light.
Mandatory sound checks complete, Tommy Emmanuel racks his guitar and drifts backstage of the Vinegar Hill Woolshed his thoughts awash with the intricate arrangements he had prepared for the aprčs-dinner, full-house performance ahead… and the faithful were arriving early.
Miles away, 7-year old VJ King Jr – a mere 9 months into his own guitar pilgrimage – buckles his seatbelt and for the next 20 minutes gazes out at passing rural landscapes and the manicured acreages that front the neglected bitumen back-roads along the drive from Glenhaven to historic Vinegar Hill.
The sight of farm animals still a fascination for VJ, he voices repeated concern for their welfare during the cold night ahead. The topic dominates front-seat discussion in the old family Mazda, itself struggling to shrug off the accumulated chills of the winter that was.
It is Wednesday, 16 September 1998 … and tonight the paths of Australia’s internationally recognised Grand Master of Guitar and an unknown young blonde, mop-topped, Victor James Hocking Jr (a.k.a. VJ King Jr) are about to cross.
VJ’s introduction to Tommy Emmanuel would come at the end of the Woolshed concert. A brief, pleasant encounter. Others, too, were assembled, jostling politely around the merchandise table awaiting autograph opportunities. The occasional flash of friendly camera-fire captures each special moment as Tommy gives audience, one by one, to the patient band of Vinegar Hill admirers – all a far cry from the flash of musket-fire and chaos that surrounded the capturing of convict rebels just a stone’s throw from here during the1804 Battle of Vinegar Hill.
His hand outstretched for Tommy to feel the hardening tips of his tiny fingers, Tommy, smiling as if in the young face before him he could see reflections of his own early childhood experiences, willingly obliges.
Unable to afford a CD for Tommy to autograph, a piece of paper is quickly found on which he pens those challenging, dig-deep words “Never give up” – before affectionately subscribing his autograph. With a shyly spoken “thank you” and a wide-eyed grin, VJ pockets the treasured document, reaches for his dad’s hand and with a yawn not born of boredom heads off into the dim lights and shadows of the car park, and home to dream.
No one could have possibly predicted the impact of that encounter, nor of Tommy’s words.
Within 18 months, an 8-year old VJ was in a recording studio working on the first tracks of his debut CD, Shadow Of A Dream. The album was released on 28 October 2001, a date that, coincidentally, marked Hank Marvin’s 60th birthday – Hank being another of VJ’s motivational influences... but that’s another story.
Tucked away inside the cover of the CD is a truncated history of how the album came about, along with track and liner notes. The Shadow of a Dream story ends with the following quote from VJ: “By the way, Tommy, I DIDN’T GIVE UP!”
It was VJ’s way of acknowledging Tommy’s silent contribution to every single track on that CD.
During a subsequent interview conducted in May 2002 by Sydney Blues Society journalist and CD reviewer, Julie Fox, VJ – speaking of Tommy Emmanuel and other guitar legends – would add: “I haven’t given up . . . and I’m going to keep at it . . . because one day I’m going to bump into one of those guys, and I need to be in good shape to jam with them.
And so shall it be! On April 26, 2003 VJ’s long-held dream of jamming with Tommy is to become a reality. The internationally acclaimed Grand Master of Guitar, Tommy Emmanuel c.g.p., will be hosting the gifted 11-year old for a jam session prior to taking centre stage at the City Recital Hall for his final Sydney concert for the year.
In the four and a half years that have elapsed since the Vinegar Hill Woolshed meeting, and in addition to recording his Shadow Of A Dream album, VJ has played guest spots in countless suburban restaurants, clubs, public and private functions, blues gigs (including last October’s Narooma Blues Festival 2002) and featured in a number of centre stage performances at the Sydney Entertainment Centre as a featured solo artist in the Australian Schools Spectacular.
VJ King Jr first came to public notice early in 1999 as a grand finalist, at seven years of age, in the Castle Hill Show’s Talent Quest for Bands and Vocalists – even though he was neither. Runner-Up to his award-winning vocalist sister, Chantelle Marie King, in the Hills Talent Search 2000, VJ returned to claim the title for that event the following year, 2001.
That he has been recently described by one of the world’s greatest, living guitar legends, as a child prodigy, with similar plaudits coming from a host of other industry peers and personalities, speaks volumes.
As one blues music journalist, David (TUG) Hooper, put it: “The music we love is in good hands.” – The Blues Times (Sydney) March 2003.
Glenn A Baker, after one of VJ’s performances, publicly remarked:
“I had the pleasure of meeting Nathan Cavaleri about 10 years ago … and I never thought I would meet another as young and as talented as he in my entire lifetime … but I just have.” – August 2001.
There is little doubt that both the circumstantial Vinegar Hill Woolshed and invitational City Recital Hall meetings will find their way into music’s history books as two of the great watersheds in the emergent career of an unassuming, talented young Australian musician.
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[T] 0414 44 99 44
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FOOTNOTE: Circumstances overtook events… firstly, with VJ King Jr appearing with Tommy Emmanuel at TE's Yallah Woolshed Concert on Thursday 17 April; and, secondly, on Channel 9’s Mornings With Kerri-Anne – Monday 21 April 2003.
For pictures - see http://www.heartbeatentertainment.com.au/Beat_gallery.htm
The scheduled 26 April 2003 meeting – VJ with TE – at the City Recital Hall went ahead as originally planned.