Monday, July 14, 2008

Miracle in Marrickville in Erskineville

Over the last few years I’ve been driven to discover more about Australia’s indie music heritage. Not quite sure why this should be so – it’s partly something to do with the appetite for diffracted nostalgia that I struggled to express in that Takeaways post.

There’s also a bit of bloody-mindedness involved – a sense that nobody else particularly cares about this music. Invisible in the media, absent from folklore, unavailable to purchase - the fact that nobody is telling me to look this stuff up seems as good a reason as any to hunt it down.

(In a media-saturated environment, I’m often conscious of sailing the seas of other people’s enthusiasms; perhaps having found reasonably under-explored territory so close to home I am excited by the obscurity itself, the way I can map my own thoughts and associations onto this stuff.)

More than enough tenuous theorising. I know for sure that I have a John Kennedy compilation called “From Woe to Go” – I got it for about five bucks from Red Eye in the late eighties, and used to listen to it sometimes but not quite get it. It had a slightly country thing going on (not least in JFK’s look) at a time when country music appreciation wasn’t a fitted-as-standard part of the indie-kid repertoire, or mine anyway.

My world is full of records that I didn’t quite get when I was younger – many of them I have since revisited with rewarding results. A while ago I downloaded a copy of “From Woe to Go” from the excellent Striped Sunlight Sound site, and have been enjoying listening to it while I push my crummy Pintara around the inner city.

I was a little apprehensive about JFK’s gig at the Rose in Erskineville; I’ve seen some pretty terrible shows there - it’s one of those Sydney places that isn’t really meant to have a band and the crowd can be pretty unforgiving. Saturday night was pretty cool, though – after a few songs they turned off the all the fucken televisions (the football was over) and the atmosphere instantly became 100% better - what with the tiled walls and old school bar, I was pleasantly reminded of the lovely clip for “Ghost Ships” by the Chris Bailey Saints.

Kennedy’s voice is strong, his songs are interesting and the band were excellent. That last factor isn’t an uncomplicated asset for me – there’s a real tentative charm in some of his 1980s recordings that I think comes from uncertain indie types playing country-inflected music. Nonetheless, having a muscular roots band behind him had a lot to do with the success of this evening. Perry Keyes had the crowd cheering his solo on “Your Cheating Heart” – I’m not much of a guitar solo man, but I could definitely see their point.

It’s a genuine treat to hear someone singing about Brisbane and Sydney’s Inner West with all the (mixed) passion and engagement with place that we associate with Other Countries’ Music. There’s a directness to Kennedy’s songs that sometimes verges on the hokey, but this is quickly undercut by a wry smile or a knowing couplet – he’s in on the potential for this to be silly, he got there before you and isn’t going to let himself be stopped by anything as pissant as the cultural cringe . This isn’t novelty music, though – there’s something brave about his “Urban and Western” project, and there’s something cherishable in the slight incongruity of hearing Sydney and Brisbane landmarks referenced against the strains of the harp and dobro.

The only two songs I really knew (apart from some predictable but well-realised covers) were “Miracle in Marrickville” and King Street. The former feels like it has grown in stature since 1984 – maybe it’s just that Marrickville has become Ground Zero for independent music in Sydney, as the shifting affordability/close-to-city equations force everyone out of the old haunts. Hence “King Street” sounding like a paean to days gone by - its celebration of Newtown’s key artery as a place of diversity and inclusion is pretty heartbreaking when contrasted against the expensively bland commercial strip of today.

1 comment:

Bob, Brisbane, Australia said...

Someone who loves Johns work as much as me.
ciao bob