FIRST there was Tommy and Tuddy. Then there was Tommy, Tuddy and Mick.
Now the trio of musical mates have added the 2014 Koroit Irish Festival Artist of the Year award to their esteemed and lengthy performing careers.
It is the first time the Artist of the Year has been awarded and will be presented prior to the Australian Danny Boy Championship final on Saturday, April 26, by the festival’s 2014 ambassador Damien Leith.
Tommy Brooks and Frank “Tuddy” Bowman have been playing music together for about 50 years while the youngster of the trio, Irishman Michael Morgan, joined them in 1997.
Mr Brooks, 72, said all three felt very surprised to receive the award but very proud to have been chosen.
Mr Brooks plays guitar and sings, Mr Bowman sings, while Mr Morgan plays the harmonica and sings.
They specialise in Irish and Australian country music and are regular performers at Koroit hotels and clubs and some other south-west venues.
All three said their strong friendship underpinned their long stint performing together.
They typify the tradition of performing that runs strong in local families of Irish descent, with all three being raised in a musical environment.
They are regular performers at the Koroit Irish Festival and will be playing at four gigs at this year’s event that gets under way on Friday, April 25.
The trio play many traditional Irish and country and western songs and pride themselves on keeping audiences entertained, with lots of jokes and stories between tunes.
Songs with “a story behind them” were their speciality, Mr Bowman said.
Mr Brooks said the trio’s love of music had kept them young.
“Music expresses the better side of everybody when you are up singing. People can relate to what you are doing,” he said.
The trio rarely get time to rehearse but incorporate new songs after hearing them, in a type of organic process.
“We just perform,” Mr Brooks said, adding that performing had been a path to giving him the self-confidence to “stand up in front of people”.
Both Mr Brooks and Mr Bowman are born-and-bred locals. They have never played in any musical group other than with each other.
Mr Brooks, who runs Brooks Motors at Koroit, was raised on a dairy farm at Toolong.
He learnt the guitar by ear after hearing his brother play the instrument.
“I just sat out there after milking the cows. I liked playing on my own.” His father was a button accordion player who could “play anything and sing anything”. Mr Brooks’ prowess with the guitar won him a prize in Melbourne from the Victorian Banjo Club when he was a young man.
Apart from his performances with Tommy, Tuddy and Mick, he also performs each year at “walk-up” events at the Tamworth Country Music Festival, which he has attended for the past 19 years.
Mr Bowman, 68, a house painter who still lives in the house he was raised in at Southern Cross, comes from a family of singers.
His father played in a harmonica band in Warrnambool and all his brothers and sisters can sing.
As a lad, there was no television and frequent power outages.
“We would be sitting round an open fire and my older sister would start singing. It was really good,” he said.
The late Patricia Daly, a choir leader at Koroit’s Catholic church, also helped him develop his singing technique.
“Tommy and Tuddy” got to know each when they played football for Koroit as young men and have been firm friends ever since.
Mr Bowman not only gained a friend from playing with the Saints, he also got his nickname — bestowed by his teammates because he was a keen Collingwood fan whose hero in the 1960s was Des ‘Tuddy’ Tuddenham.
Mr Morgan was roped into the group after the other two heard about his talents as a harmonica player and singer.
He picked up those talents from his father, who was an Irish national champion harmonica player, and other members of his 11-member family.
His mother was a good singer as were his six brothers and three sisters.
Singing was “just natural,” he said.
Mr Morgan, a carer with Karingal community services in Warrnambool, immigrated to Australia in 1976 after meeting his Australian wife, Patricia, in Ireland.
He had fine-tuned his abilities singing in pubs in London but admits most of the songs he sang then were not the Irish songs that are now his forte.
In London, he sang popular Elvis Presley and Tom Jones hits.
“I only started learning Irish songs when I came to Australia,” he confessed. He was runner-up in a western Victorian talent quest in the 1980s and won the Koroit Festival’s Danny Boy singing competition in 2000.
The trio’s repertoire of Irish and country and western tunes was “a good mixture” that appealed to many people, Mr Morgan said.
Mr Brooks said the Koroit Irish Festival committee had done “a brilliant job” in lifting Koroit’s profile on the music festival calendar.
“It’s a credit to the committee to get a little town like Koroit up and going.”
The festival was keeping Koroit’s musical tradition vibrant, which was critical because it needed new blood, he said. Local musicians of his generation had created a “terrific” appreciation of music among the community — but they were getting older.