Songs Of Our Time

Album Notes by John Baker (1964)

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With "Songs Of Our Time" Gary Shearston takes Australian contemporary song a big step forward . . . right into the turbulent song world of Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Ewan MacColl.

Seven Australian songs join the great ones in today's folk and topical song as Gary sings about love and hope, life and death in Australia, Britain and America. This record - more than any other recently issued in Australia - takes the singer, song-makers and audiences into the worldwide activity around songs with a purpose, songs of urban life today, an idiom that demands consideration of the realities of our time, not just the romantic turn to yesterday. It is essentially an urge to realism in song.

Only recently (as an awareness of their own rather short folk-culture has made them tune into some of the unique musical influences around them) have young and thoughtful Australians begun to look at this question of song creation as something distinct from the products of the music and entertainment industries in general.

Many influences have been in the Australian air but, until folk-song records began to circulate, they had remained isolated: Folk-songs of lreland: and Scotland that, for many years, remained in the Hibernian and Caledonian societies without circulating among the less- Gaelic; the song-making of the Aborigines and Torres Strait lslanders who have passed Methodist and Anglican hymns into their own music, thus re-fashioning work, boating and feasting songs into a popular music of the far North Coast; and the unfortunately isolated songmen of the tribal Aborigines.

A new awareness of the great crop of Australian songs of last century and the balladry of Henry Lawson and "Banjo" Patterson has influenced some to transplant the tradition complete with bowyangs and bush bass into "industrurbia", while others have made it a starting point for the increasing amount of song-writing now going on throughout Australia.

"Songs Of Our Time" are all songs of The Sixties. Each is a serious comment, even a challenge to the apathy that would ignore the questions "Who Killed Davey Moore?" and "Who Can Say?" In these days when television, radio and newspapers bring people the news of events so quickly, do we need in our lives a combination of the qualities of the Irish street singers and the old broadsides of London at the time of Governor Phillip's departure for Botany Bay? Is there a need for worthwhile contemporary song today? Is the poetry, satire and humour and the intensity of feelings generated by current events in the community where the songs are made something which television, radio and newspapers exclude from their reporting? Is there a need for the poet as well as the professional politician and journalist to interpret the events of our time?

The treatment by Gary Shearston, singer and songwriter, of his own and his Australian and overseas colleagues' songs gives the answer: Yes! In its effect a song may be worth countless newspaper reports on the same subject. It is hard to write a good song, but impossible to write a good song that tells a lie!

GARY SHEARSTON today holds an enviable place in the field of folk music in Australia. His concerts, radio, television and theatre appearances, recordings and songwriting have brought him the respect and appreciation of audiences and fellow singers alike. He has travelled extensively in Australia and brought hours of listening pleasure to thousands of people. He is a keen student of Australian folk-lore and wrote the historical notes for his first LP recording: "Folk Songs And Ballads Of Australia" (BP233094). Leading Australian folklorist and author Bill Wannan has described this recording as a "superb introduction to Australian folk-song".

However, Gary's repertoire is international and a deep awareness of the humanitarian value of contemporary song has led him to include present-day songs of the world's best writers in his programmes. Carrying his guitar onto a theatre stage, outdoor platform or into a floodlit studio, he sings with a conviction and simplicity that draws his audience into emotional involvement and personal participation. Of his music he says: "In many ways, traditional folk-songs serve as the best record of a country's history and- as these songs have done in the past- so contemporary songs can do something toward changing that history if it's heading in the wrong direction".

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