Fergus Maximus- Singer, Songwriter, Storyteller
Fergus Maximus grew up immersed in music, coming from a talented family of musicians. His dad is a singer/songwriter who would write songs for the family to play together. “He sang and played the guitar, mum played the piano, my younger brother played bass and I played the clarinet,” says Fergus. He grew up with the impression that this was normal; that all families played music together. “When I stopped and thought about it as a teenager, I realised none of my friends played music as a family”.
But the music gene goes even farther back. Fergus’ paternal grandmother played the pipe organ at the local Methodist Church. His Pop used to play the cigar box banjo in skiffle bands with his brothers. Fergus’ maternal grandmother was a semi-pro Opera singer and his Grandpa a very talented whistler. It’s no wonder that Fergus would grow up to be such a talented musician.
In primary school Fergus started to learn to play the piano which would lead to picking up the clarinet in fifth grade. Once he left school, Fergus taught himself to play the alto saxophone.
Progressing to Songwriting
His songwriting started to take him places around 1997 when he co-wrote a song Henley Square inspired by his favourite beachside place in Adelaide. The song was for a competition, seeking original material about South Australia. “My brother and I won the Adelaide section. I got to go into Mixmasters studio and record the song and absolutely fell in love with the whole process,” Fergus says.
They say that curiosity killed the cat. Well for Fergus, curiosity inspires. “One day, the line
‘Kelly wasn’t there again today’ came to me out of the blue. I started exploring why she wasn’t there and wrote the song to find out the rest of the story. I was house-sharing with a good friend named Kelly at the time, so I changed the name to Shelly”. Fergus further says that he found a broken key on the footpath once. It looked like it had broken off in the lock so Fergus wondered what the key was for and ended up writing a song called Key to Your Heart.
For Fergus, writing lyrics is an intellectual and artisanal exercise. “I’m a writer at heart. Words are chosen deliberately and carefully crafted together in an attempt to construct a story in unexpected and playful ways.”
Performing as a band and solo artist
Fergus Maximus would soon become a band. He started writing songs with his friend Grant Shillabeer, and they began performing under the name Sideways Glance. Soon their bass friend Jamie Harrison joined, followed by Kym Perry on the drums. The band name changed to Stumbletrip. Together, they played several gigs around Adelaide but in 2005 disbanded. “My wife and I packed up the car and travelled around Australia for 8 months with the kids,” says Fergus.
In 2010, having been quiet on the music front for the last 5 years, Fergus was asked to perform for a charity show. Kym joined him and the ball began to roll again. Jamie also re-joined and the band began performing as Fergus Maximus. “The name is a nickname given to me by a friend in the 80s”.
In 2013, Fergus began playing solo, having taught himself how to play the guitar. Being used to performing with others, Fergus felt a little terrified but that all went away once he sat down and started playing.
Although he loves performing with a band, Fergus admits that he loves how solo gigs allow him to be more conversational with his audience. Adding the loop pedal to his repertoire has also contributed to his career as a solo musician. “I can now lay down a groove with guitar or layer a sax or vocal pattern and then play sax over the loop. I never thought I’d be able to get away with playing the sax at a solo gig, but I love it!”
Performing with Clare Bowditch
Fergus has had the opportunity to perform with Clare Bowditch, someone he has admired for many years. She was running a competition in the lead up to her Winter Secrets tour in 2013. Artists were invited to submit a video of themselves performing a cover of One Little River. One winner from each state would then go on to perform the song on stage with her during that leg of the tour.
“I did an a cappella gospel quartet version. I didn’t win but she messaged me to say that she loved my version. I said that I would bring my sax to the show and could maybe play it on one or two songs,” says Fergus. He hadn’t heard any more about performing with her, but he took his sax anyway. The last song came around and Fergus decided that it was now or never. “I stood up and started playing from the audience. Clare stopped the song and invited me up on stage and I sat with her on You Make Me Happy which made everyone in that room happy”.
The following year, she ran a similar competition but Fergus just couldn’t connect with the song she chose. “I sent her a message and asked if she would be willing for me to pull together a gospel quartet to back her so that she could sing my arrangement from the previous year live,” says Fergus. Clare agreed, pending the outcome of the soundcheck. It was a success so at the show that night, they performed the song. The quartet was comprised of Fergus, his daughter Rachel, her friend Lily and Luke Thompson.
Opening Act for Khristian Mizzi
Fergus has also been fortunate enough to open for Indie Melbourne artist Khristian Mizzi on two separate occasions. The first was in August 2018 at Stone Pony in Willunga and the second was at the Red Rhino Room in February this year. “Khristian is a fantastic performer. He has an incredibly arresting presence on stage so working with him again was a real joy,” says Fergus.
After opening for Khristian on both occasions, Fergus was later invited up to play the sax during his set. “In August we played Under The Milky Way Tonight with Jen Lush joining in with harmony vocals. This time it was one of Khristian’s songs,”says Fergus. He wasn’t too familiar with the song and it turned out to be in a really difficult key for the sax. He was listening to the chords and trying to figure out the shape of the harmony and realised that playing along wasn’t going to be easy. “I just shut down that part of my brain and followed my ears. It worked out fine. My playing wasn’t terribly clever but it tasteful and appropriate and I was eventually able to relax and enjoy it”.
Debut Album Release
Last year, after many years of writing and performing, Fergus released his debut album Restless Soles. The album features a variety of sounds from pop, to soulful tracks featuring horns and gospel inspired backing vocals. There’s also ballads that feature strings. It is an anthology of songs, telling stories of love, loss and people with itchy feet. Fergus hopes to release videos for at least two songs off the album this year.
2019 will be another music-fuelled and storytelling year for Fergus as he continues to perform at various shows and, hopefully, festivals. Keep up-to-date with Fergus via his Facebook.