HomeArticlesArts & CultureMeet Polly Armstrong: The woman behind the music

Polly with Tones and I (Toni Watson)

Meet Polly Armstrong: The woman behind the music

Natalie O’Driscoll | October 2019

Gold Coast’s thriving music scene is something of an anomaly in a country which is currently seeing live music venues close down in major cities everywhere. But it’s not just our indoor venues that are bucking the national trend.

From markets to busking festivals, there is no shortage of outdoor music happening here throughout the year. And with our mild temperatures, family friendly lifestyle and 300 days of sunshine per annum, why wouldn’t Gold Coasters enjoy a regular boogie in the great outdoors?

Just in time for summer, three of the City’s most popular recurring outdoor music events are set to kick off. Seaside Sounds, Summertime Sessions in the Village, and Palmy Sunday Fundays not only bring the best of Gold Coast music to the outdoors every year, but they’re also run by one very busy person.

Polly Armstrong grew up on the Gold Coast, and has been a stalwart on the music scene here for her entire working life. Well known locally as a photographer, music video director and mentor, she’s also achieved recognition among some of Australia’s top acts, having worked with John Butler and Cat Empire, among others, and toured with Michael Frante and Spearhead as their photographer and videographer.

It’s her desire to help musicians thrive in a tough market that drove her to create the popular events.

“Being a musician can be a really lonely road and there’s a massive lack of managers in this country,” she says.

“The money system’s changed, no one’s buying music anymore, so artists can usually only make money through ticket sales and merch.”

Fortunately, the support Polly receives through City of Gold Coast means that the bands get paid at her events while they also remain totally free for audiences to attend, something that is critically important to her.

“It’s great because if people are struggling a bit financially, can’t afford buy food out, they can bring a picnic. We’ve made them family fun days, where you don’t have to spend a cent if you don’t want to and it’s just about people coming together and enjoying the music.”

Summertime Sessions in the Village (SSITV), which runs at the village green in Mudgeeraba, also boasts First 15, a program giving young Gold Coast artists an opportunity to perform in front of the city’s music fans.

First 15 allows an up-and-coming youth performer to strut their stuff for 15 minutes before the two more experienced artists at the weekly Mudgeeraba event.

“First 15 is a really important part of Summertime Sessions,” says Polly. “We’re giving the young crew a little platform to come and do two songs, get some experience and exposure. They connect with Councillor Glenn Tozer on that one. He’s super proactive, we really work together on the SSITV lineups. He’s such a music lover, he’s the biggest asset to our community.”

The acts for the other events tend to come to Polly’s attention fairly organically via her connections in the industry.

“Someone will put me onto them, or I’ll get approached directly. One example is I’m a judge at Bluesfest Busking Comp and that’s where I found Port Royal – the new rock n roll.” And sometimes, just a bit of professional instinct goes a long way, too.

“I discovered Tones and I when I was running a street party in Byron, and gave her all of her first paid gigs,” says Polly. And we all know how that turned out! Gold Coast funksters Electrik Lemonade are also regulars at Polly’s events.

“They’re the ultimate party band and they keep getting better,” she declares. “They’ve added a female lead singer to the lineup, she’s rad, and this is the first time that Palmy Sunday Fundays will have the new lineup. Vaudeville Smash are so much fun as well, and other bands I discover I take them to other events, like Peak Festival down in the snow at Perisher. I always take a heap of Goldy acts too.”

One thing is for sure, the Gold Coast Music scene, minus Polly Armstrong, wouldn’t look the same as it does today. With her tireless work and advocacy for musicians behind the scene, and knack for curating exciting gigs and events, she’s been an enormous contributor to the industry, and no doubt will continue to be long into the future.

You can get your outdoor gig from Friday 1 November at the Summertime Sessions in the Village featuring Ryan Munroe + Hayley Grace & The Bay Collective, and Sunday 3 November at the Palmy Sunday Fundays which kicks off with Vaudeville Smash + Katie Who.

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