When Leah Flanagan announced early this year that she was pregnant, we were all not only naturally delighted but hopeful-confident it wouldn’t cause too much disruption to her regular schedule. But when the baby refused to emerge for a few weeks beyond the due date, it was clear the Buried Country show at Dark Mofo in Hobart would have to do without one of its star attractions.
And so, when young Tom Emilio Jones, aka Tuco, was born on Monday, May 29, just days before the Hobart show – and it should go without saying that all our congratulations went and go to Leah, Tom and the little fella; we know they’ll make a great, loving family – we thought the show would have to be dedicated to him… so, this one was for Tuco…
And happily, as the Buried Country mob has made it fairly standard practice, it was a top show.
The festivalisation of culture is a syndrome that seems to enjoy almost universal approbation. But I am surprised there isn’t tad more wariness about it, or concern, like I feel. I mean, it’s state-controlled culture after all, and at worse when, say, in a place like my hometown of Sydney, the grass-roots that was once a thriving live music circuit has effectively been killed off – meaning if nothing else, where do to tomorrow’s festival stars come from? In Hobart, it’s a bit different, because the Dark Mofo festival of which BC was part largely comes down to one man, David Walsh, who’s not a bureaucrat or public servant but rather a wildcat philanthropist who’s almost single-handedly put Hobart on the culture map, and certainly bolstered its tourist trade, with his amazing MONA gallery and all the events that spin off it, like DMFO. Walsh and his empire is not beholden to the corporate-politics that so often stultify festivals. I’d been to MONA on one previous occasion and while there was almost as much art there that I wasn’t fond of as there was that I did like, that’s the point, and what’s great about it.
DMFO was much the same, among the attractions I was able to squeeze in, some fantastic, some less so I thought, but all of them adding up a vibrant variegated whole, which is how it ought to be.
I’d like to think Buried Country was generally one of the highlights. If audience reaction is anything to go by, certainly they seemed to enjoy it. In fact, I don’t think we’ve had a better audience, in terms of foreknowledge. There was a real nice little record shop (remember them?), Music Without Frontiers, virtually next door to the Odeon Theatre, and walking past it on shownight the strains of “Blue Gums Calling Me Back Home” rang out, and that was a lovely little touch that doubly encouraged me to buy a couple of disks (remember that too?). The audience for the show recognised many of the songs and gave them encouragement in anticipation, and responded with terrific applause and, at the end, with a standing ovation. We were all humbled and so, thank you, Hobart. Thank-you too to more than a few friends from Sydney and other parts of Tasmania who made the effort to be at the show, and played a part in its success.
In the absence of the new young mum, we re-shuffled the set slightly. Warren Williams, who opened the show as he usually does and with his usual stirring spirit, is to be doubly commended for pushing through some tragic sorry business back home. Luke Peacock has been enduring some trevails too and apart from wrestling one of our hire cars in an altercation, performed well too. Nobody was going to tackle Leah’s “September Song,” but Franny was game to take on “Brown Skin Baby,” as on offering to Leah, Tom and Tuco, and she pulled it off, again, with customary verve, a bit more country than Leah’s version.
The following morning, a few of the mob went into to the ABC for a session with Radio National’s Books and Arts program, which you can listen to here, and then over the next two nights, a few of ’em played short solo spots at the Winter Feast. For me, I finished my five days with a visit to MONA to see the opening of its latest exhibition, the Museum of Everything, and I was totally blown away by a vast show of outsider art or whatever you call it that I couldn’t see any other state-controlled gallery in the country ever daring to put on. Buried Country is a bit like outsider art too – my favourite kind! – and we will continue in our campaign to storm the citadel.
Buried Country was represented on last weekend’s fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 Referendum that accorded Australian Aboriginal people citizenship in their own country – a weekend when Aboriginal people were making more history with the Uluru conference on constitutional recognition – when I was honoured to be asked to go into ABC Local Radio in Sydney and, with the ABC’s Indigenous Affairs Editor Stan Grant, go on a ‘Sonic Journey’ on Simon Marnie’s morning show through some of the pertinent music of the era. Stan is a long-standing Buried Country fan (“It’s the soundtrack to my life,” he said), and a top fella who really knows his tunes.
Our hour included the unveiling of a recently remastered version (thanks to Darren Hanlon and the guys from Vinyl Frontier) of Jimmy Little’s legendary B-Side from 1958, “Give the Coloured Lad a Chance,” which was written by his father and certainly the first-ever Aboriginal ‘protest’ song committed to wax. Given the nature of the song, the nature of Australian radio back when and the rarity of the record (I’d not even seen a copy until just recently, when Bruce Milne gave me this one; thanks Bruce), it’s possible that this is the first time it’s ever been heard on air, period! If the podcast of Simon's show has already disappeared, you will have to wait to hear it: The track will hopefully be included on a new Buried Country vinyl LP coming out of America soon; but that’s another story I’ll get to in good time…