Vin Maskell
Newport Bowls Club, Melbourne; September 2015

My mind went blank.

The performer whose music I thought I’d followed closely for over 30 years said to the audience towards the end of the show, “Eh, anything else you’d like to hear?”

No recent song titles came to mind. Hardly any album titles either.

There were the obvious songs from the performer’s days with his band. The hits. Especially the land rights anthem. But no one in the audience – about a hundred members of the Newport Fiddle and Folk Club – called out for those songs. Either they had too much respect for the man and his extensive solo career or they didn’t want to be exposed as being there for mere nostalgia.

One or two voices piped up for songs from early solo records. The performer obliged.

But my mind had gone blank. To sit there mute was to realise you live your life differently nowadays. Didn’t I once follow this songwriter like a pilgrim, think and breathe and write about his band day and night, sing this man’s praises from the rooftops? And now, for the life of me, I couldn’t name a song from any of his own albums. (Thirteen, the MC had said. That many? I’d thought.)

Back then, in that thing called youth, I had all the time in the world to listen to music and especially to Solid Rock, the land rights anthem, and Livin’ On Razor’s Edge, the ballad about Torquay and Byron Bay, about directions and decisions. I had all the time in the world to see Goanna, and other bands, anywhere and everywhere. As much as I could, as far as my little car would take me. I could play the Spirit Of Place album as loud and as often as I wished. And the forgotten follow-up too, Oceania.

I bought the cassette and record of Shane Howard’s first album, 1988’s Back To The Track. Then the record of 1990’s River. Then the compact discs of…of…and, even now, while writing I have to think harder, I have to get up from my desk and find the CDs in the loungeroom.

And there they are. Well, some of them: Clan (1996), Beyond Hope’s Bridge (2001), Another Country (2004), Songs of Love And Resistance (2006), Driftwood (2009), Goanna Dreaming (2010).

But at the Newport Bowls Club, towards the end of a gentle, thoughtful, lovely concert based around the new album, Deeper South, I found myself grasping at thin air. No names of songs came to mind. And, yet, I’d listened to those albums.

Life gets busy. Music has to find a place amongst family, work, health, and bills, bills, bills; amidst the maintenance of creaking bones, leaking pipes, faulty wires, worn out engines. Music has to find some space above the din of phonecalls and television and traffic and the neighbours’ barking dogs. There’s cooking and shopping and cleaning and working and sleeping and waking and caring and worrying and wondering and falling asleep on the couch in front of Midsomer Murders.

Eventually the song I wanted to hear took shape in my mind: a lament, a prayer about creation and garden and God. About forgiveness. From a fairly recent album. A quiet, weary song that would have nestled in well with the evening at Newport, with Deeper South’s songs about the strength of love and the fragility of life and nature.

But too late. The Shane Howard Trio was into its encore now, and I still didn’t have the name of the tune.

I found the song the next day amongst the CDs. Don’t Give Up On Us is on Shane Howard’s 2010 album Goanna Dreaming, which I’d bought at a gig at the Caravan Music Club in Oakleigh, another bowling club venue. (What does it say that bowling clubs, long regarded as God’s waiting rooms, are increasingly popular as music venues for a certain age group?)

Goanna Dreaming has no shortage of gems amongst its 12 tracks: Earth Is Singin’, Come Down Moses, Kimberley Rain, Oh Life for starters.

And then, track 10. We’re all alone/Not sure where we are/It gets so lonely here on earth/Adrift in the universe/Given a garden so beautiful/But we’ve made a mess of things/We got distracted/It’s hard to stay focused…

But don’t give up on us/don’t turn your back on us/I know we’ve made a mess of things/we’re just foolish human beings/ don’t give up on us/please don’t give up on us…

Once upon a time I knew track listings and song lyrics off by heart, but that was long ago. Things are different these days. I listen to music in different ways.

At least now I’ve done my homework for the next time I see the Shane Howard Trio.

 

 

Vin is founding editor of Stereo Stories and director/MC of Stereo Stories In Concert.