Peter Combe has sung and played for several generations of children and is happy that young fans still enjoy the same musical experiences
SING ALONG WITH PETER COMBE
We catch up with Australia’s most loved children’s singer and songwriter Peter Combe ahead of his gig at the Arts Centre Gold Coast.
How did you get into children’s performances?
I was a primary teacher for 10 years all up, so I always liked children. Then in the mid ’70s I wrote a children’s operetta. I just had that sense I could write for children and nobody else was really doing it back then. Fast forward to London in the late ’70s and I got a lovely presenting gig on BBC television called Music Time. I did that for three years then came back to Australia and got an ABC radio program called Let’s Have Music. By the end of 1982 I knew what I wanted to do. How do you get yourself in
the mindset to write for children?
Ideas come from everywhere. I have a big red book at home with 176 ideas in it. When I’m writing an album I’ll go through the book and see if anything jumps out. The whole trick is to get a bit of creative momentum, just get down and do it because sometimes you don’t really feel like it but suddenly you’ve written seven or eight songs.
What are the basic guidelines for writing a children’s song?
I may be stating the bleeding obvious here, but you have to like children. There’s no point writing for children if you don’t. You need a vast sense of the ridiculous. I’ve always had quite a Goon-ish Monty Python sense of humour. I find lots of things funny. You can never take yourself too seriously. Another thing is funny voices – kids love funny voices. You’ve obviously got to be somewhat musically inclined as well and the other thing is treat children as intelligent human beings. Never underestimate a child’s intelligence or patronise them.
You’ve been doing this for more than 35 years. Has what children respond to changed over the years?
It’s very reassuring to say children’s tastes haven’t really changed at all. They still love serious, funny, slow, getting up and dancing. I can do a concert for 300-400 children and their basic enjoyment of the show is the same as when I first started. Deep down children haven’t changed. Allow children to be children as long as they need to be.
Can you share a few of your favourite moments?
First of all there was one little boy in Darwin who after the show came up to me and with a deadpan straight face said, “Peter Combe, you’re not like a real man,” and walks off. The second one was a little boy after a show at a school. He goes, “Hey, I’ve got a dog called Peter Combe,” and walks off. But my third and favourite of all time – and if I ever write an autobiography this will be the title – was this little girl. Bearing in mind it was back when I’d just started and I wasn’t charging very much. She says, “Hey Peter Combe, you’re very good for 70c.” Peter Combe performs his Wash Your Face In Orange Juice show this coming Tuesday and Wednesday. Details at theartscentregc.com.au
Popular children’s entertainer Peter Combe with grandchildren Oliver and Eliza.