Sings His Songs

Album Notes by Sven Libaek (1966)

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This is Gary Shearston's sixth album and one in which I take considerable personal interest not only because I talked him into doing it but because I feel it is important that Gary Shearston, the songwriter, should come to the fore with an LP of his own songs. With his two previous recordings, THE SPRINGTIME IT BRINGS ON THE SHEARING and BOLTERS, BUSHRANGERS AND DUFFERS Gary has emerged as one of the most important interpreters of Australia's traditional songs, receiving worldwide acclaim for both records. The success of these two LP's, however, tends to underestimate Gary Shearston's own capabilities as a writer and composer of contemporary songs of considerable importance. His songs are not just "protest" songs! They are, rather, his personal comments and thoughts on a wide variety of issues and human emotions. This album features eleven of these songs. Most of them have not previously been recorded, those that have been, are presented here in new versions.
As usual, Gary Shearston is backed by his own guitar and the "old team" of RICHARD BROOKS on harmonica and LES MILLER on banjo and guitar. The sound reproduction here is in the style of Gary's traditional recordings without the use of artificial studio techniques or reverb resulting in a closer, more personal appeal to the listener.
DON'T WAVE TO ME TOO LONG is one of Gary's most tender love songs. Beautiful words set to a haunting melody make it one of his best songs to date in this category.
OLD BULLI was written for the four miners who lost their lives at Bulli Mines in November 1965. Methane- is a firedamp marsh-gas and one of the main causes of fires and explosions in a coal mine. The goaf is an area of abandoned workings where gas tends to accumulate and the roof is likely to fall; such an area is usually curtained off with a cloth-like canvas called a brattice. Dusted lungs is the most common disease contracted by miners and after-damp refers to the noxious gas, carbon monoxide. The "Merkesworth" was the name of the boat which carried non-union labour down from Sydney to work the Bulli Mines during the strike of 1886. The first group was taken to the mines under police escort. The second contingent, however, never got there; the local miners and their families blocked the locomotive and six cars carrying the blacklegs from the wharf to the mines. The wives of the miners actually lay across the railway tracks.
THE LOST SOLDIER was written from a newspaper report of the death of an Australian soldier in Vietnam. The song finishes with some of the statements made by his young wife about his participation in the Vietnam war. The tune for this song is adapted from a traditional song known as "Lord Franklin".
DUKE'S SONG is a tribute to one of the last of the old-time bushmen, "Duke" Tritton, who died in May, 1965. During his seventy-eight years "Duke" lived and worked the kind of life Henry Lawson and "Banjo" Paterson wrote about. In later years as a member of the Sydney Bush Music Club, where he was a life member, he was recognised as one of Australia's finest traditional bush singers. "A lifetime of years and experiences separated us," says Gary, "yet he gave his friendship with the same sincerity and honesty that he sang his songs. He was one of the finest men I've ever known." The tune for this song is adapted from a traditional Australian song, "The Cockies of Bungaree". 

"Be on your way, leave the sands behind, go build your house of clay . . ." This is Gary's most recent song and like "Sometime Lovin'" again clearly demonstrates his ability to produce a strong melody and sensitive lyric without sounding contrived. Gary plays harmonica on this track.

each week as you enter this timeless land . . . (the tune is adapted from the traditional American song, "Railroad Bill").

THE VOYAGER was written a couple of days after the sinking of the Voyager, Australia's worst peacetime naval disaster.

SOMETIME LOVIN' Gary's most talked-about and recorded song to date. The beautiful lyrics and tune combine to make one of the most outstanding songs ever written by an Australian. It was awarded the "Best Australian Song of the Year (1965)" by Radio Station 2UE in Sydney. Personally, I believe this song establishes Gary Shearston as a song writer in world class.

THE CONSCRIPTION RAMP Perhaps this song, written a week after the announcement of conscription, anticipated the political and moral debates that were to come throughout Australia in following months. The tune is adapted from one of the fairly numerous Australian versions of an English folk song, "The Derby Ram".

GO TO SLEEP, ME LITTLE SON a lullaby about an incident Gary remembers from his childhood. A drover's wife had died and he had to leave their young son with friends to go droving for six months.

WAITING FOR THE POSTMAN "I wrote this one morning after listening to, and watching a bunch of kids near where I live. They had a whole fleet of scooters, tricycles, skate-boards, pedal cars, billy-carts and bare feet ready to accompany the postman up the street as he made his deliveries."

WE ARE GOING TO FREEDOM was officially adopted at the Easter, 1966, Conference of the Federal Council for Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders as a "freedom song" for the movement. The tune is based on an Aboriginal song taught to Gary Shearston by Roy Dadynga of Yirrkala in Eastern Arnhem Land. The words of the verses are simple statements of the hopes and aspirations of the original Australians. Gary Shearston has given the song to the F.C.A.A. & T.S.I. and all royalties from its performance will go to that organisation. It is his hoped that the song will grow steadily as more and more people add verses of their own. It is performed here with a group of aboriginal singers representing the Federal Council.

Notes by Sven Libaek - Sydney, May 1966

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