Sunday, 01 June 2014
ELDER MUSIC: Songs About Cities - Melbourne
This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
Okay, first up I'm going to tell you how to pronounce the name of my city. Australians reading can skip this bit and go on to listen to the music.
Still with me? Good.
If you don't wish to appear to be a bit of a drongo when you speak its name should you visit these sea-girt shores, listen up.
First of all, you don't pronounce most of the letters in the name. Really only 55.5 percent of them, or perhaps to be slightly more accurate because of what I'll describe, 44.4 percent (sorry, I used to be a mathematician in a previous life).
The first approximation of how it should sound is Melb'n. That's not bad, it'll get you some kudos, but there are more subtleties to come.
First off, the B and the N should be rather dismissed. They are there but only in a minor capacity. Swallow them or mumble them is the best I can come up with.
Next, and now if you really want to sound like a native Melburnian, here's the real secret. We who live in the fair city pronounce the name with a vowel shift – the E moves towards A.
So, if you really want to sound like one of us, it's more Malb'n than Melb'n. Do that and we will think you've lived here for years.
The great singer/songwriter Paul Kelly said about the city:
"Melbourne is a city divided by a river. The river also divides sensibilities. You either live in the north or south. Most of my friends lived north of the city - Fitzroy, Carlton, Brunswick.
“I moved to Elwood and St Kilda where the rents were kind of cheaper and the atmosphere was different. There was more air, there were beaches, big old buildings. Houses with gardens."
Paul's correct. People move around but they seldom change from north to south or vice versa. In case you're wondering, I live south of the river (not far from Paul).
Now I've got that out of the way, let's play some music.
CROWDED HOUSE was created in Melbourne and it consisted of one New Zealander (Neil Finn) and two Australians (Paul Hester and Nick Seymour).
Over time, some others came and went in the band but these three remained the core until they called it quits. Melbourne has a reputation in this country for having changeable weather. The House tackles that topic with Four Seasons in One Day.
Before the early seventies, Australian songwriters didn't write songs about this country (except for a couple of country singers). That all changed with Greg Macainsh, bass player and main songwriter for the group SKYHOOKS.
Their first album was full of songs referencing parts of Melbourne including this one, Balwyn Calling. Balwyn is your ultimate middle class suburb in the leafy eastern area and thus ignored by both northerners and southerners (except Skyhooks, of course).
It's been a traditional for more than a century for people to meet "under the clocks". These are the clocks that tell when the next train is due to depart on the various lines at Flinders Street Station, the main suburban railway station in Melbourne.
WEDDINGS PARTIES ANYTHING are far from alone in celebrating this custom.
Over the years, there have been several attempts by bureaucrats to remove the clocks or replace them with electronic devices. The outcry each time has been so overwhelming that it's come to naught (and no one has suggested doing that in recent times).
Here are the Weddoes with Under the Clocks.
ARCHIE ROACH's song Charcoal Lane is about life on the streets for young indigenous people. In this case, it's on the streets of Fitzroy, just to the north of the central business district.
This was Archie's early life before he met his life companion, wife and musical partner Ruby Hunter, turned his life around and became one of the most important and loved singer/songwriters in the country.
Alas, Ruby died a couple of years ago and Archie suffered a stroke not long after. However, he is a survivor and he has come through that and is recording and performing again.
He has often appeared with a couple of other musicians featured here today – Paul Kelly and Dan Sultan (and others as well).
Mark Seymour, head honcho for HUNTERS & COLLECTORS, wrote one of the all time classic songs called Throw Your Arms Around Me. It achieved that status without ever having been a hit. I'm not using that song today, so you'll just have to take my word for it.
The song of the Hunners (as they're universally known) that I am using, because it is about Melbourne and the other isn't, is January Rain.
DAN SULTAN's song is Old Fitzroy.
I had Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, choose the photo for me. I had to fan her down afterwards.
In an interview, Dan was asked about the song. He said,
"I grew up around there and I remember seeing homeless people hanging out. It makes you think if things had of been a bit different, maybe if they had come from a nicer socio-economic background, things might have been a bit easier for them, you know?”
When asked if the now highly sought after Dan Sultan could comfortably ride the Number 86 tram in peace these days, he replied,
“It’s not too bad. People are pretty cool. And you know what it’s like in Melbourne. They see someone they recognise from the paper or from telly and no one really gives a shit.”
The amazingly talented Dan Sultan sings Old Fitzroy.
Here is the Poet Laureate of Melbourne (even though he was born in Adelaide), PAUL KELLY.
There are a couple of dozen songs I could have chosen; I actually had to restrain myself from including three or four of them today. In the end, I settled for Leaps and Bounds, thanks to advice from the A.M. (I originally had a different song and she convinced me to use this one).
AUSTRALIAN CRAWL was formed in one of the outer southern bayside suburbs.
They not only sang of life on the beach but also tackled serious topics. It's just that most people didn't realize this as no one could understand what they were singing. So don't worry if you can't catch the words because we can't either.
However, I can assure you the song is about Melbourne, in particular the suburb of Toorak, the richest enclave in Australia, home of "old money" (and some new). It's called Beautiful People.
BERNARD BOLAN was born and bred in Britain but has called Australia home for several decades now.
He's a lawyer, gardener, traveller, wordsmith, musician and many other things. When asked if he regretted leaving his birth country he said definitely not. In Britain it would not have been possible to combine the several careers to the same degree as he had in Australia.
He writes love songs, humorous songs, reflective and poetic songs and more besides. I'll let you decide into which category Toorak Tram falls.
I'll end with a disaster. In 1970, the Westgate Bridge, being built at the time, collapsed. Well, the main span of it did so.
This was a large bridge to cross the Yarra River (the one that separates Melbourne) at its mouth where it flows into the sea. This made international headlines – I know that as I was in Vancouver at the time and saw Melbourne above the fold in their newspapers and wondered what was up (or down, as it transpired).
MARK SEYMOUR has written a song about it.
It wasn't the only bridge of ours to collapse. The King Street Bridge did so as well (in that case there were no casualties, fortunately). Also, as I'm writing this, a few days ago, probably due to a prolonged unprecedented heat wave, cracks appeared in the Westgate Bridge.
I think I'll keep away from it for a while. Here is Mark Seymour with Westgate.