"Penelope Swales is a unique Australian singer/songwriter and performer. She is a quality performer who always wins her audience irrespective of their age or demographic background. She writes and sings about contemporary and historic Australian life developing great pictures of the issues and the experience of ordinary people. She has much to offer her audience and I believe she is a great representative of Australian culture."
- Bill Hauritz, Director, Woodford Folk Festival
Award-winning singer/songwriter Penelope Swales has been articulating the human condition for over 30 years. Her subject matter ranges from politics via the environment, through to love, sex, the profound bond between people and dogs to the impact of the Internet on our society and relationships. She has just won the 2019 Alistair Hulett Songs for Social Justice Award with her song “Cambridge Analytica” which explores the impact on democracy of disinformation spread via social media.
She first went on the road at the age of 16 as a backing vocalist for the band Dreamtime (a precursor to Kangaroo Moon). She supported herself through homelessness in her teenage years by busking for a living in the streets of Melbourne and Sydney before forming John's Sister in 1989 and releasing her first album of original material the same year.
Penelope began playing solo in 1993 and by 1996 had become an international artist, touring England and Ireland playing at clubs and festivals including Cambridge Folk Festival, Sidmouth Folk Festival and the Rose of Tralee. In 1998, she took up making musical instruments out of Gourds and formed the band Totally Gourdgeous with Mal Webb (Oxo Cubans, Formidable Vegetable Sound System), Carl Panuzzo (Checkerboard Lounge, Those Acapelicans) and Andrew Clermont (The Supper Club, BluGuru) Totally Gourdgeous has been a favourite on the festival scene for many years, winning Folk Alliance Australia's Members Choice Award for Best Live Act in 2004.
Penelope toured extensively throughout Canada, Europe, Japan, Britain and the US the mid-2000's. She was described as the pick of the Port Fairy Folk Festival by Melbourne's Inpress magazine in 2000. In 2003, her double album “Monkey Comfort” was released to critical acclaim, garnering numerous 4-star reviews and reaching No. 6 on the Australian Independent Blues and Roots charts where it remained for 8 weeks. She headlined the New York's Estfest Women's Music Festival in 2004 and a received a standing ovation for her formal showcase at the North East Regional Folk Alliance in New York State.
However, family needs intervened and in 2005 she she returned to her childhood home to care for an elderly parent. While doing so, she completed a law degree and worked for some years as a community lawyer advocating for the human rights of disadvantaged and disabled people in Victorian courts and tribunals. She continued to write and record and released “Skin Deep” in 2007 and “Legacy: Two decades of Topical Songwriting” in 2010. Now freed from her duties as a carer, she is returning to her first love, music.
Penelope also has extensive theatre experience, including a cameo in the Sydney production of The Vagina Monologues. In 2017, she joined the Good Girl Song Project, which combines theatre and folk music to create a compelling song cycle about the experience of female immigrants to Australia in the 1830's. Swales plays the character Elizabeth Wade, a destitute domestic servant who uses her wiles to talk her way onto a boat to Australia hoping for a better life.
Penelope runs workshops in circle singing and songwriting, both solo and as part of the Good Girl Song Project. She has released ten solo albums and is currently working on her eleventh solo CD. Totally Gourdgeous will release their fifth CD in 2019.