Melbourne, 1989, midnight

I am sitting in a blue Laser sedan under a streetlight in a back-street in Brunswick. A man called John Ewbank is in the passenger seat fiddling with a cassette and the car’s tape player.

“Listen to this,” he might have said, in his northern England accent. “Listen to this song.” It’s as if he’s offering me a secret.

That night John Ewbank had performed at an upstairs venue in Brunswick called The Troubadour. It was born a folk club but welcomed various performers. Paul Kelly had played a stirring set one night with The Coloured Girls. Left-wing comedian Rod Quantock had the full house laughing another night.

Ewbank was as much a talker as he was a singer. A white Yorkshire-born rapper, I suppose. Ewbank mixed music with satire, his Australian tour including a spot on the hot ABC TV comedy show of the time, The Big Gig. Ewbank knew how to work and play with words,  knew how to turn them into wry stories.

And it’s a fair bet he knew his Dylan. I was giving him a lift after his Troubadour gig, having gone to the show to review it for Juke, an Australian music newspaper.

And there I am sitting in the near dark with a virtual stranger who’s struggling to hold back his enthusiasm so that I can listen to a new Dylan song, and a new Dylan album. Even within the confines of the little car and its tape player I could sense the greatness of Most Of The Time.

It’s a brooding song, about holding things together after love’s gone wrong. It’s a simmering song, where disappointment and remorse bubble away without ever evaporating. It’s got a terrific bass line, and some searing but never overbearing guitar.

It’s a song that’s not about most of the time at all, but really about the times in-between.

Most of the time
I’m clear focused all around
Most of the time
I can keep both feet on the ground
I can follow the path
I can read the sign
Stay right with it when the road unwinds
I can handle whatever
I stumble upon
I don’t even notice she’s gone
Most of the time

It’s a song that, inevitably, you use as a mirror: maybe to a love gone wrong, or a job or a career or a family or a life or a dream that’s gone, if not wrong, then at least astray or adrift or awry.

Most of the time it’s well understood
Most of the time I wouldn’t change it if I could
I can make it all match up
I can hold my own
I can deal with the situation right down to the bone
I can survive and I can endure
And I don’t even think about her
Most of the time

John Ewbank played me other songs from his tape of the Oh Mercy album: Man In A Long Black Coat, Ring Them Bells, What Good Am I, Disease of Conceit. All wonderful moody songs. He might have played all 38 minutes of the album as we sat there in the near-dark. Mostly, though, I remember the haunting self-denial of Most of the Time.

And then John Ewbank popped out the cassette, thanked me for the post-gig lift and disappeared into the night.




I took a punt on tracking down John Ewbank…

Email inbox, Melbourne. June 2012

Hi Vin

Thanks for the message. I enjoyed the article about Most Of The Time, and I remember the evening. You know I was only just talking about Oh Mercy the other night, with a fellow songwriter here in New York. He was agreeing that it is one of Big Bob’s most under-rated albums.

I heard a very good version of Most Of The Time by Willie Nelson a while back…


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