The Bushwackers’ Australian Songbook, 30th Anniversary Edition

cover, Australian Songbook, 30th anniverary editionThe first time I became aware of The Bushwackers was over 30 years ago, when I had a telephone call from a friend who told me he was going to make a Lager-phone. The next part of the conversation was rather like the famous Stan Freberg recording of Sir Walter Raleigh discovering tobacco, and trying to explain over the telephone what tobacco is, and what you do with it! A Lager-phone is a pole with about 100 or so lager beer bottle tops loosely nailed to it. To play it, you simply banged it on the stage to the beat of the song. It didn’t sound too good, but it was a lot of fun to make – in between the hangovers, you understand.

It transpired that my friend had been to see this new Australian band, the Bushwackers, and he was hell bent on making me see them too. I am glad he did; from that day on I was a fan. The lead singer was Dobe Newton…and yes, he played a Lager-phone. The band was loud, and very full on! Fronted by Dobe this Aussie band had some brilliant songs.

Over the past 30 years, the Bushwackers have made 18 albums. As you would imagine, over the years the lineup has changed a little bit, but the overall sound has remained the same and the band is easily recognisable. Dobe Newton (1973, lead vocals, Lager-phone and bodhran) and Roger Corbett (1980, bass guitar and vocals) are the longest serving members. Completing the current lineup you also have Tim Gaze on electric and acoustic guitar and vocals, Mark Oats on fiddle and vocals, Pamela Drysdale on piano accordion and vocals and Justin Duggan on drums. The Australian Songbook album represents 30 years of favourite songs from the band’s repertoire. On this album they are all new recordings of previous songs that were only available, for the most part, on vinyl LP’s.

The album starts with “Flash Jack from Gundagai” followed by “The Ryebuck Shearer.” As with quite a few of the Bushwackers’ songs, these can be classed as sheep shearing songs. They fairly bounce along in a not-too-heavy folk rock style. This is punctuated nicely at track 3 with “Murrumbidgee,” which starts as a trad waltz tune but ends in true Bushwacker style as a jig. Next is “Beneath the Southern Cross,” a patriotic diggers’ (soldiers’) song, probably one of the strongest songs on the album.

‘The Shores of Botany Bay” has a strong Irish flavour to it, as we find Pat off to Australia to dig for gold. “The Lachlan Tigers,” yet another shearing song, celebrates the quantity of sheep the gang could shear in a day. Next is a song called “Les Darcy” written by Newton and Warener Chappeli; Les Darcy was a local hero who gained some fame as a fairground boxer, but he was branded a coward when he refused to sign up for the army. Eventually he stowed away for the land of the free, only to die alone. His coffin was shipped home to Australia where he is buried. A couple of – yes, more – shearer’s songs come next in the guise of “Lazy Harry’s” and “The Wooloomooloo Liar”; the latter ends with a jig version of the tune “Brighton Camp.”

Next up is a railway song “Indian Pacific” about a train that spans Australia; this is coupled nicely with a superb rock version of “Orange Blossom Special.” They slow the tempo down a bit with a bushman’s lament, “Shoalhaven Man.” A sea shanty is next, with a rocked up hornpipe version of “South Australia.” I am not sure who takes the lead vocal on “Limejuice Tub” as the recording is new, but on the 1979 Bushfire album it was sung by Mick Slocum, who is not in the band anymore. The song has stood the test of time, and sounds just as good. The album ends with a song written by the band, “Go the Distance,” a strong trade unionist song about the early days of some of the immigrants struggling in a new land. Although the play list only has 14 tracks there are in fact 15. Leave the CD playing for about 27 seconds after track 14 and it appears. On this hidden track Pamela Drysdale shows she can hold her own with boys, so to speak; she narrates a poem/monologue called err…’Get Back You Bastard.” Warning… it contains language some may find offensive. But viewed in the right context I thought it very funny.

If you like Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention, then I think you are sure to appreciate the Bushwackers. Unlike the trend in some folk music nowadays, which can have a tendency to be very dour, the Bushwackers have thankfully stayed in the time warp when folk music was fun. I am sure if you buy this album, you won’t be disappointed, but be warned … The Bushwackers are seriously addictive!

(Stallion Records, 2002)

Peter Massey

Born in 1945, Peter Massey, Senior Writer, is now living in the city of Chester, England with his wife Sandra. Now medically retired he worked for 35 years in the shoe business. He has been a semi-professional musician and singer performing mainly traditional / contemporary folk songs for over 38 years as part of the duo (and sometimes trio) 'The Marrowbones'. His musical interest started at the age of 14 with Rock 'n' Roll and by the time his seventeenth birthday came along he was already playing rock 'n' roll and R&B in and around the local dance venues and clubs such as the Cavern in Liverpool. Thankfully he was saved from the evils of rock 'n' roll when he discovered real music and folk clubs. His collection of recordings houses over 3500 folk songs alone. Other interests and hobbies include Computers and Amateur Radio (he has a class A G4 call sign) His latest project is 'The Little Room Studio' dedicated to making 'live' recordings of folk artists and producing their work on to CD using a portable digital recording studio. To date he has written and composed over 12 folk songs and co-wrote with Gordon Morris another 10 that have been recorded on CD. The song writing has continued and they have another 10 songs in the pipeline not yet recorded to CD. Favourite music / bands at the moment are Steeleye Span, The Battlefield Band, Little Johnny England and Fairport Convention, (in that order), and much admires the work of Martin Carthy, Martin Simpson, Roy Bailey, Vin Garbutt, and Bob Fox, to name but a few! You can visit the crummy Web site here and read about The Marrowbones and how to get your free songbook.

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