Home Interviews Interview: GARTH PORTER


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 Garth getting some feedback from a wild wallaby during a recent song writing trip to Queensland.

Many thanks to Garth for the above photo.


If ever there was a reluctant recipient of a Hall of Fame induction, it would have to be acclaimed songwriter and producer, Garth Porter. Recently, Garth was inducted into the Australian Songwriters Hall of Fame, in recognition of his incredible contribution to our national songbook and the music industry in general. But it was with some hesitation that this humble creative genius accepted the award bestowed upon him by his peers. I recently had the privilege of talking to Garth about the award and how it felt to be honoured in this way by others in the industry. He told me that, in his opinion, there were many others that were more worthy of the honour than he was. “I was pretty overwhelmed by all the kind words,” he admitted to me after the awards night. “And the reaction of the people coming up to me and saying really nice things. It was really humbling and it was really nice but I suppose the reality is, I still go home that day and I still get up early the next morning and go back to work. It doesn’t actually change your life. It just gives you a little sort of pat on the back, saying you did all right, I guess. It was amazing.”

Garth says he doesn’t think of himself as ‘some sort of songwriting genius’. “I just work hard at it,” he explains. “Sometimes I come home and think, ‘I’ve done something really good.’ and other times I think ‘I wish I could do better!’ But I suppose, overall, maybe my hard work is sort of recognised by the award as some kind of acknowledgement and that is kind of nice.”

He also felt touched that there was so much support from people in the room and that includes the other members of Sherbet: Daryl, Alan and Tony as well as his current co-songwriter, Lee Kernaghan. “And there were a few people there who I especially invited who I feel as though contributed importantly to my career, other than the guys in Sherbet and Lee Kernaghan. You probably got the gist of that through the night, when I was talking.” Yes, I did. Garth made sure to acknowledge the input of as many people as he could during his speech.

He admits that public speaking can be intimidating. “I don’t do it that often so it’s not a breeze but I seemed to manage ok.” When hit with the realisation that he would have to make an acceptance speech, Garth said that his mind tracked through his song writing life from where it began. “The first inspiration; the first yearning to want to write songs and so on. And then, through my acceptance speech, I tracked through the main points of that lifetime. That’s a lot of years writing songs. There’s an awful lot of songs I’ve written and co-written. If somebody asked me to write it down, I wouldn’t have a hope! There’s just too many to remember.”

But does he remembers the first one that he wrote?

“I wrote it, I think, when I was about eleven,” he tells me. “I didn’t have a tape recorder or anything and I’d learnt piano for about six months so I had a rough idea of musical notation. I’d written out the words on musical score. I actually tried to find it so I could play it and see what it was that I had written but unfortunately I couldn’t find it.”

He doesn’t remember what he called the song.”But I’m pretty sure that it would have been a love song, remotely inspired by The Beatles or Peter, Paul and Mary or someone like that at that particular time I guess.” He says that writing songs was something he always wanted to do. He remembers back to his youth in NewZealand. “Two nights a week,” he recalls, “I didn’t go home for dinner. I walked from my work in Hamilton to my grandparents’ place and I would have dinner at their place. I’d walk there from work and from their place, I would walk to night school and I vividly remember I used to really look forward to my walks. As I was walking, the pace of my footsteps would be the rhythm of a song and I was just making up words and melodies all the time I was walking to my grandparents and then to night school. Nothing was ever recorded or remembered but that’s what I would do. I’d just make up songs and words as I was just walking along, so it’s always been there.”

When Garth joined Sherbet, their set was completely made up of covers of other people’s songs. “I was sort of pushing the barrell,” he explains. “I was actually wanting us to write our own songs and the first song I can remember was called ‘One Man Team’ . Sherbet learnt it and we played it. We never recorded it but we learnt it and we played it for a little while at least. That was a pop/rock sort of thing I guess. That would have been about 1972 or ’73. The first song that I had recorded was a song that Sherbet recorded and I think it was called ‘Back Home’. (Garth sings some of the song for me so I know which one he is referring to. Of course, that was hardly necessary as I know the track well but it was still nice to listen to him singing a song I had only ever heard Daryl sing prior to that.) It was a B side of an early Sherbet single. That was the first song I ever wrote that was recorded.”

When I remark how good it is to hear him sing it, Garth prefers to save his praise for Daryl Braithwaite. “If you’re talking about great singers,” he says, “Daryl Braithwaite is a great singer. He’s remarkable. He’s one of the greats. The day of the ASA Awards, he came into the studio because the band that I am recording are recording a version of ‘Juliet and Me’ and Daryl kindly consented to come in and do a guest vocal. The song has evolved. It’s not a clone of the Sherbet version. It’s sort of built off it, for sure, because the song is done in more of a mainstream rock sort of a way. It was brilliant and to have Daryl come and sing was excellent. The album should be finished in a couple of weeks and I believe the first single comes out about February and the album will be March or April but it will be an Indie release. They certainly won’t be getting a record deal. It’s just not even worth trying. It’s so hard these days. But it’s a pretty exciting album. I put a lot of song writing energy into it, helping the guys with their songs and initiating quite a number of songs as well. We kind of felt the same about a lot of things so it was almost like being in the band in a way, writing songs and producing it. It feels like I’m in the band, at least with the song writing and recording process.”

Not only is ‘Juliet and Me’ getting a new lease of life, but another Sherbs song recently got a bit of an airing again as well, with French band Daft Punk sampling ‘We Ride Tonight’. “Yeah, it’s amazing how those sort of things happen,” Garth admits. “And the bit they used was just my bit; the keyboard bit. They didn’t use any of the melody or the lyrics, just the music. And for that, they have to pay a royalty and it just amazed me. I thought ‘Why didn’t they just play it again themselves? What was so unique about the way I did it?’ Although, having said that, it’s impossible to copy things. It really is. You can have the same instrument and play the same part, exactly the same notes and whatever happens, you can never do it exactly the same. It would be impossible. So maybe that’s why Daft Punk chose to use it. Maybe there was something in it that made it different.”

On closer listening, Garth was also surprised to discover a further link between Daft Punk’s song, ‘Contact’,and Sherbet/Sherbs. “The whole concept of that song is from a Sherbet song called ‘Survival Reprise’ from the album ‘Life…is For Living’. The only dialogue is from a Russian cosomonaut and it’s about the docking of the Soyuz spacecraft in about 1972. If you play ‘Survival Reprise’ and play ‘Contact’, you’ll see that the concept of the songs is the same. So it’s not like a plagarism issue. The fact that they used a Sherbs song for the sample and a Sherbet song for the concept is more than a coincidence. It’s got to be. So what’s happened, I think, is that they’ve probably found the Sherbs song and thought ‘Well, I wonder what else these guys did’ and then found the other thing and thought ‘Hey, that would be interesting for us to do in a slightly different way.’ And I’m sure that’s what happened. I have no doubt that we’ve had an influence on one of the variations of Daft Punk’s styles. The music is different but it’s the whole broad concept of the way it ends with the whole sort of flowing synthesiser. There are parallels all through the song.”

I admit that I was not at all familiar with Daft Punk before this sampling surfaced and drew my attention to their music. Garth says that it was the same for him. “But I had to listen to the song which they sampled and I thought ‘You’re kidding me! They’ve sampled this song and taken the concept from another song.’ “

So Garth’s music continues to have an impact and to be an influence to many people, even more than thirty years after it was originally written and recorded. “It’s very humbling,” he concedes. “I’m just trying to write some great music to satisfy my self expectations and if other people can grab something out of that, that’s a huge bonus and I guess that’s what allows me to make a living out of doing it; it does sort of have some kind of appeal beyond my four walls.”

by Sharyn Hamey

Copyright © 2013 Sharyn Hamey. All Rights Reserved

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