Local band profile: Mama Juju & the Jam Tarts - The Community Leader and Real Estate New and Views

Band nostalgia has been the flavour of recent years; the Silver Chair memoir, Midnight Oil’s final concert, the Beatles’ Now and Then release – but on a somewhat smaller stage a local women’s quartet is celebrating its tenth anniversary year.

Mama Juju & the Jam Tarts have been rocking since 2014 with their encyclopaedic mix of Celtic, rock, blues, folk and country. Even more impressive than their musical repertoire is the range of instruments these women can play. The setup, which could be an eclectic tour of the orchestra, includes guitars, bass, drums, harmonica, a genuine 1980s keytar, ukuleles, flute and piccolo. All four band members sing so four-part harmonies are a natural and everyone gets a chance to shine with lead vocals. Front woman Julie Minto – Mama Juju – jokes that playing in a group of multi-instrumentalists has its moments.

“Sometimes we forget who’s playing which instrument and one of us has to do a quick swap. Having lots of instruments on stage means that quick access to them can sometimes be a challenge. I’ve found the best place to store my harmonicas is to stuff them down my bra and just rummage around for the right one as needed.”

Julie and Vicky Macdonald, who write the group’s original songs, started playing together 24 years ago in Irish band Thornlands which took them to many local and interstate festivals.

In 2014 Cath McCourt, was recruited by Julie from BUMs (Brisbane Ukulele Musicians), and along with Vicky, the trio Mama Juju & The Jam Tarts was born. (Mama Juju is a name Julie carried over from a jazz duo she played in.) Another group Julie jammed with introduced her to Trish Rodwell who became the Jam Tarts drummer. The newly-formed quartet did local gigs with no real plans for continuing as an entity but growing popularity – and increasing demand as a party dance band since the addition of Trish’s driving drum rhythms – saw Mama Juju & The Jam Tarts become an established part of the Bayside music scene.

There were a few changes to the line-up; Cath McCourt moved on but still comes back for the occasional guest spot and Connie Di Dato joined the permanent lineup in 2016.

Each of the band members has a long association with music. Julie grew up in a musical family.

“My three older sisters all sang and played instruments, Mum was into musical theatre and played piano, so we all grew up listening to Gilbert and Sullivan, The Sound of Music and stuff like that,” she says. “Dad played bag pipes. He’d given that up by the time I came along but I remember him singing the occasional Scottish folk song.”

Julie progressed to choir and musical theatre in high school, wrote songs and performed in various bands playing guitar, bass guitar, harmonica and ukulele.

Vicky, with classical training in guitar, flute, voice and music arrangement, has played and sung in community orchestras, theatre productions, jazz ensembles, bush bands and folk groups and is Music Director for the Coral Chorale on Macleay Island. Vicky is also a teacher and composer, writing for such varied genres as experimental theatre music and fun songs for children.

“I am lucky to have so many musical influences – when song-writing, I find ideas often burst full-blown into my mind, and can be any genre – traditional, country, ballad, swing, jazz, blues, music theatre, silly kids’ songs or quirky pieces.” Vicki plays flute, piccolo, keytar, guitar, bass and ukulele – it’s been said that given time, she could probably get a decent tune out of a brick.

Trish’s burning desire to play drums in her primary school marching band was initially blocked by prevailing gender attitudes. “I was told ‘boys play the drums, girls play the fife,’ she says. But you can’t keep a born drummer down and at fifteen Trish got her first drum kit. Two years later she got her first car – a two-door Toyota Corolla – and the bass drum took pride of place in the passenger seat; “That’s the only place that it would fit!”

As well as singing and playing tenor guitar, harmonica and ukulele, Trish can play pretty well any percussion instrument she’s presented with, including washboard, lagerphone, cajon, congas, bongos, djembe, shakers – and tin kettles. (She could probably get a rhythm out of Vicky’s brick.)

Connie is a rock’n’roll devotee who took up guitar as a teenager. “I went to TAFE as a mature age student in 1999 and met other musicians, gained confidence in my musical ability and started a duo,” she says. “Later I joined a few bands, including originals band Cosmic Honey which is when I met Julie. I got hooked on performing live and joined The Jam Tarts in 2016; I love the musical versatility and the friendship in the band, it’s really good fun.”

Connie sings and plays guitar, bass guitar, drums, harmonica and solid body electric ukulele (all the band members play ukulele) and is currently exploring the potential of the violin as well as recording a CD of her original songs.

There are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the Mama Juju & Jam Tarts’ magic. As well as being musos for hire they play gigs at the Pub Paradise – Macleay Island Hotel and at the Manly Deck. You can track them down through their Facebook or at https://www.mamajujuandthejamtarts.com/

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