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Interview: GRAEME CONNORS

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Mackay based singer/songwriter, Graeme Connors, shot to prominence in the Bicentennial year 1998, with his ground breaking album ‘North’. Twenty five years later, Graeme has released his first album of non-original material ‘Kindred Spirit’, which pays homage to some of Australia’s greatest songwriters. Not content revisit the songs of well known and often heard songwriters, Graeme has instead radically reinterpreted twelve songs by great but often, sadly, unrecognised Australian writers such as Sam Hawksley, Glenn Cardier, Brian Baker and Paul Green. Whilst some of the songwriters’ names are well known, including Paul Kelly, Shane Howard, Briand Cadd and Kevin Johnson, the songs chosen would be unknown to all, save for the respective artists’ most die hard fans. From my South-East Queensland home in Russell Island, I recently spoke to Graeme Connors about the truly delightful and inspiring CD, ‘Kindred Spirit’.

Rock Club 40:

I believe the impetus for this album actually came from Randy Newman’s tour of Australia in 2011?

Graeme:

Yes, and it came about because Glenn A Baker and I bumped into each other at the Sydney Opera House. We were both fans and we got talking about the personality present in Randy Newman’s music and how other people can record a Randy Newman song but it still sounds like a Randy Newman song. I somehow took a leaf from that into analysis of Australian singer/songwriters, looking for the same parallels but, also, in the same way Randy Newman seems to capture this casual Americaness (if that’s a word), I was looking for the same from Australia. A lot of what I do is an attempt to capture what we are, whenwe are and where we are and that led to basically a two year sabbatical study period of song writing within Australia in conjunction with Glenn A. Baker. Glenn, of course, is sort of the mind of the music industry in this country. We were discovering various songs and recommending each other listen to this, that and the other and eventually we went through all of these artists and listened to their whole catalogue. Some songs sounded as if they belonged to their time and other songs were timeless and I hope we’ve chosen the timeless songs.

Rock Club 40:

What I found really interesting is that you didn’t go for well known covers. When I was approached to do this interview with you about your covers album of Australian songs, I originally thought of Jimmy Little’s wonderful 1999 album, Messenger, and I was expecting something like that where there would be well known songs, maybe by independent artists but what I found was something totally different from that. You’ve actually gone exploring and trying to unearth those things that aren’t necessarily well known, giving other artists the opportunity to have their songs showcased by another artist. Is that the right sort of way of looking at it?

Graeme:

Yes, we took the view ‘Let’s just find some great songs,’ and sometimes the great songs and commercial successes don’t necessarily come together or the commercial successes have a time span and it’s very hard to have them live beyond that or have another reincarnation. These songs are about things that I felt connected to. Also, the language to me is totally contemporary in each one of the songs. They could have been written yesterday, although some songs were written more than forty years ago and the musical component has to also stand the test of time so there was a fairly rigid criteria before selection. I basically learned these songs with an acoustic guitar or a piano and my voice. I sat down and played them all until they felt comfortable to me and I felt that I could deliver them eyeball to eyeball with an audience and not feel as if I was keeping some historic secret. Matt Fell’s big part in this was that he was given complete freedom to reinvigorate the arrangement in whichever way he chose and a lot of these songs, he’d never heard and he didn’t want to hear the old version. He worked off the acoustic guitar and vocal that I created and then put them into another direction that he felt they worked better with. In the same way that I take a song and work with it to make a record, he did the same thing because outside ears working on a song can sometimes give it character.

Rock Club 40:

But two of those songs, the producer himself had recorded or been involved in?

Graeme:

Yes… Sounds Like Summer more so than Shines Like Gold, the Paul Glenn song. And Matt said ‘This is going to be difficult because I know the original version. I worked on the original version.’ But I think, somewhere in this process of extracting everything he could from the song, it led to another arrangement and a new view of what the song is all about.

Rock Club 40:

How did you decide what you were going to cut out? I gather that you had two or three or even more albums worth of material originally?

Graeme:

Absolutely. Matt and I could go into the studio next week and do version two and possibly the week after, version three. I don’t know. These songs held together… You can’t explain something like that. Somehow it has a sense of unity about it. I can’t explain that apart from the fact that it happens like that sometimes and you get it right.

Rock Club 40:

I’ve been listening to the album pretty well non-stop since I received it on Monday. It just is lovely and it really does come together and flow.

Graeme:

It’s great to hear you say that.

Rock Club 40:

It’s really nice and, interestingly, I was surprised there was really only one song that was particularly well known, being Richard Clapton’s Capricorn Dancer. Were there any other well known songs that didn’t find their way on to the album?

Graeme:

There were a couple of Paul Kelly songs that I was very intrigued with that I really liked. To Your Door, which is very, very well known but once we established Lost On a River, which Peter Blakely had co-written with Paul Kelly, somehow the magic of Peter Blakely’s voice.. it’s beautiful… and the recording just stood out. Somehow it made me think of Brisbane River. It’s really weird. And that’s where it was.

Rock Club 40:

I was reading somewhere that all of your songs, in essence, come from the north and interestingly, you’ve actually got one song on the album called Christmas in Melbourne, so you’ve taken a step and done a southern song.

Graeme:

I should explain a bit about that song. I always saw Broderick Smith as the ultimate singer. I never saw him as a singer/song writer. I saw him as the quintessential interpreter, until I heard this song and then listened to a whole batch of others and realised that, along with Nick Smith, who has written songs with Joe Camilleri, Broderick has written beautiful songs and Christmas in Melbourne, there’s a bit of hardness about it but it somehow captures the detachment and I suppose, the whole concept of Christmas.

Rock Club 40:

What do you think generally about the number of Australian artists who actually speak about Australia in their songs? Do you think there is enough or there isn’t enough?

Graeme:

From my perspective, I think there is not enough. I think I’m a little bemused that many of these young artists are more concerned with things in Texas than here in Australia and I don’t see the point. If you want to have that attachment and write their story, do that. By all means, pack up and go but be proud of your backyard. The stories you have to tell from the people you meet in the street, they are worthy of your artistic endeavours. Your neighbours are worthy of the songs.

Rock Club 40:

It seems to me that, through the 70s, we went through a period, and maybe to a little lesser extent in the 80s, where Australian artists, particularly rock artists, were prepared to sing about Australia, Skyhooks being the most obvious but then other bands like Weddings, Parties, Anything and Paul Kelly of course but in recent years that seems to have all dissipated.

Graeme:

There’s been a loss of confidence I think. I think we’ve been probably sold the international viewpoint of one world and if you want to be a success at that level, you’ve got to appeal to the rest of the world. I see something wonderful about making Australian art and taking it to the rest of the world. And it seems to happen with other artists overseas. They can bring their music and their stories to us and we enjoy it. The cultural cleanse dies here today. (

Rock Club 40: Is there a tour to promote the album?

Graeme:

We’re doing the Gympie Muster. We’re doing the Brisbane Music Festival in June and in October we start celebrating the 25th anniversary of the CD, ‘North’ and that will have some concerts at the Sydney Opera House and Queensland Performing Arts Centre. And that’s a special concert where will do the whole of ‘North’ plus, of course, what we’ve discussed now as well.

Rock Club 40: I might see you then…

Graeme: I hope so. It’s only a hop, skip and a jump from Russell Island

by Vivien Fleming.

 

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