Busby Marou go from empty pews to political views
Busby Marou. Picture: Dane Beesley.

The toughest gig for an Australian musician seems to be Q&A, Aunty's live chatfest where one slip of the tongue can result in public humiliation at the hands of host Tony Jones and the twitterati.

We have two double passes to see Busby Marou at the Prince on 6 July. Details here.

Songstress Kate Miller-Heidke found that out the hard way recently, so fellow Queenslander Jeremy Marou, of Rockhampton roots duo Busby Marou, was rightly terrified as he joined the panel in Toowoomba earlier this month.

"I've never been so nervous in my life," Marou admits from his home town of "Rocky" where he formed the band with Thomas Busby seven years ago.

"For me to sit on a panel with some Federal politicians on live TV and with questions that I have no idea about, I'm not talking about music or football . . ."

Marou, who is of Torres Strait Islander heritage, fared well, re-contextualising the discussion of overseas ownership of mining resources with a reminder that "200 years ago the Aboriginal indigenous people didn't get to have this conversation - and it happened anyhow".

"I'm not, like, a black power sort of person," he says.

"But I just like people to be educated and a lot of people don't know what happened 200 years ago. It was only 50 years ago that you could own a licence to kill blackfellas. A lot of people don't know who Eddie Mabo is."

As it turns out, in addition to being a lands right campaigner, Mabo was also Marou's great-uncle.

"He died when I was 12 or something but he used to hang out with my dad. He's a pretty cool person to be related to.

"He's a hero to a lot of people. He thought outside the box and he's the bloke who pushed through some of the biggest legislation for indigenous people."

Both members of Busby Marou come from big families. Busby is the youngest of eight siblings, while Marou is the oldest of five - a number that would expand whenever cousins came down from the islands to study in Rockhampton.

"I grew up in a room where there was 10 boys and I was smack bang in the middle," Marou laughs.

Their childhoods were a good preparation for touring.

"Your shirts are everyone's shirts. Sometimes I forget that, and I practically live at Tom's house, and I'll just blithely cruise into Tom's room and help myself to his wardrobe."

A couple of years apart at high school, the two formed a band together when all their respective bandmates drifted south to work or study. Forming an acoustic duo dishing up close harmonies sweeter than a double Bundy and Coke, they performed Busby's originals and a few covers in Rockhampton's pubs, especially the Oxford Hotel. Their manager Josh Jones' family owned the pub.

"We literally played to no one," Marou says. "I used to bug my girlfriend at the time to come down and bring a friend.

"We started playing and literally three to five months later there was a line-up outside with security."

The pair eventually recorded an EP, then a full self-titled album of originals (plus a Ben Harper cover). They released this independently, attracting a rave review from Sydney Morning Herald critic Bruce Elder.

The write-up caught the attention of former EMI chief John O'Donnell, who was looking for homegrown talent for the 2010 Finn brothers tribute album, He Will Have His Way.

They covered Crowded House's Better Be Home Soon, a staple at their Oxford gigs, and major labels came knocking.

Busby Marou became the first signing to Warner's imprint Footstomp Records, which released the debut last year. They continue to grow in stature and last month their song, Biding My Time, won a coveted APRA Award for blues and roots work of the year.

Earlier this year, they played showcases at South by South West in Austin, Texas and Canadian Music Week in Toronto, where they signed with booking agents, The Agency Group. Marou says they will tour Canada in October and November, after their 17-date Australian tour, which kicked off last week and includes their third visit to WA.

Then, hopefully, it's time for a breather.

"Fingers crossed we can use the time to write the new songs," Marou says. "Tom and I are thinking about jumping on a cheap flight to Bali and sitting on the beach with a couple of guitars and nutting out the songs."

Busby Marou play the Prince of Wales on July 6

The West Australian

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