Only Love Survives

Album Notes by Warren Fahey (2001)

Back to Only Love Survives Go to Song Notes by Gary Shearston

It is hard to believe this is Gary Shearston's 30th recording to be released in Australia. His first release was a two-track 45 rpm on the Leedon label that belonged to the legendary impresario Lee Gordon who was best known as manager of Johnny 'The Wild One' O'Keefe. The two songs on this 1963 |release were 'The Ballad of Thunderbolt' and 'The Crayfish Song'.

The early to mid-1960s saw Australia and a large chunk of the world caught up in what became known as the 'folk revival'. Folk songs were the popular music of the day in folk clubs like The Troubadour in Sydney and similar clubs in other States. However, unlike many of his contemporaries, Gary was singing Australian songs, just as he had been doing in other venues long before the 'folk revival' arrived. His early records became the benchmark for the interpretation of our traditional repertoire and albums like 'The Springtime It Brings On The Shearing', 'Bolters, Bushrangers and Duffers' and 'Folksongs & Ballads of Australia' still stand tall these many decades later. He was also singing new songs written by local songwriters, Don Henderson in particular. However, it was his own songwriting that kept shining through in his performances.

His 'Australian Broadside' album, issued by CBS in 1965, remains an important landmark document in Australian contemporary music.

Gary was also fairly unique in that he sang with an Australian voice when most singers were bunging on an Irish, British or American accent to carry their repertoire. Maybe it would be more appropriate to say he sang in his own voice reinforced by the fact that he was born in the bush (Inverell, northern New South Wales, 1939) and was always interested in what made Australians tick. As the 'folk boom' continued to explode Gary appeared on several major television shows around the country and even had his own national television programme 'Just Folk' on the Seven network. In 1965 Peter, Paul and Mary toured Australia and heard Gary's composition 'Sometime Lovin' which they subsequently recorded.


The famous trio invited him to tour America. However with an ASIO file documenting his public opposition to the Vietnam War and his equally public support for the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, such a move proved extremely difficult. After a brief time in America, cut short by US immigration officials serving the Nixon administration, Gary moved to Britain where he continued performing and recording. In 1974, he had an international hit with his quirky version of the Cole Porter classic, 'I Get A Kick Out Of You'. But, more importantly, he recorded albums for the Charisma/Virgin label featuring his own songs.

Gary returned to Australia in 1988 and, in 1989, recorded 'Aussie Blue', a widely-acclaimed album that reintroduced him as a strong Australian voice. It was also around this time that Gary made a decision to follow his heart and enter the priesthood, serving in the Anglican tradition. He was ordained in 1992, and served in Narrandera, Deniliquin and Hay in the Diocese of Riverina until, in 1998, he moved to the Parish of Bangalow in the hills just inland of Byron Bay. Most of the songs on this album were written along the way.

The songs in this collection are true to Gary's musical and spiritual heart. They talk of friendship, love, understanding and joy. There is also a sense that after all these years the songwriter is entitled to look back. However, in this case, it is clear that his feet are firmly planted in today's Australia. True to the saying 'everything old is new again' in 'Hey There, Songman' he skillfully uses the late Don Henderson's own song words to shine a bright light on one of Australia's great wordsmiths. Likewise his new musical setting for the Ben Hall bushranging song rings true to remind us of this tragedy of some 150 years ago. When he invites Brother John Sellers to 'Sing on, Brother John' we sense that the old gospel bluesman is knowingly swinging along.

The appropriate title 'Only Love Survives' comes from a line in one of the songs. Heaven knows this battered old world could certainly do with more love if we are to survive.

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