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Posted Tuesday, June 6, 2006
Ever since Chris Kempster's untimely death, his friends and admirers have worked hard to bring out a recording that does justice to the breadth and variety of Chris's music settings of Henry Lawson poems. Because the resulting songs were taken up by such a variety of singers around Australia – and overseas – a great part of this project was finding well-loved versions from singers over the years … and finding current singers to present their favourites.
The result is a selection of 30 tracks on a double CD set – with some two dozen different singers, solo or in combination and this great variety of voices and styles produces a virtual concert with something for everyone. The great Lawson songs – from Chris's setting of Reedy River . . . almost the anthem of the first Australian 'Folk Revival' of the 1950s (but sung very well by USA's Priscilla Herdman) . . . through the songs of Lawson's social concern (Faces in the Street and Freedom on the Wallaby marvellously rendered by Declan Affley, observations of the pioneering life of his youth – such as The Roaring Days given a lively modern treatment by James Fagan . . . to later songs of racial struggle in post-war Australia like Dorothy Hewitt's Clancy and Dooley and Don McLeod, very forcefully presented by England's Roy Bailey – to Chris's 1993 tune.
The Bushwhackers Band in their "summer costume": Shearing trousers, neckerchiefs and "Jacky Howe" blue singlets, Lithgow, 1955. Back: Jack Barry, Chris Kempster, Alex Hood. Front: Cec Grivas, Alan Scott, Harry Kay jnr. (Photo by John Meredith)
There are several of those songs written by Henry Lawson and others with a sensitivity to the women of pioneering Australia: Chris singing his own setting of The Drover's Sweetheart, Priscilla Herdman presenting Chris's tunes for that enigmatic verse The Water Lily and Louis Esson's Bush Lullaby . . . through to Chris's version of Dorothy Hewitt's words for her husband Merv Lilley The Sailor Home from the Sea. Henry Lawson's troubled life combines with Chris's talent in tune-writing to produce masterpieces like Bertha (addressed to Henry's daughter) stunningly sung here by Margaret Fagan … the brilliant refutation of lesser rhymers' carping Do You Think I do not Know? - Chris's tune as it was first interpreted by Declan Affley … that piercing observation of Darlinghurst Gaol (Keep Step) One Hundred and Three sung by Len Neary . . . and that song of acceptance and resignation to fate that Henry wrote only months before his death: On The Night Train – brilliantly sung by Chloë Roweth.
Chris demonstrates his appreciation of others' work on the Lawson vein with a fine rendition of Henry's The Outside Track, to a tune by English singer Gerry Hallom and a nicely balanced performance is rounded out with a short instrumental treatment of Chris's tune to The Drover's Sweetheart.
The 2-CD set was selling for $25 at the National Folk Festival launch . . . and wonderful value! You can buy it for the same price from Folk Trax, Trad&Now, Stairway to Kevin or, perhaps, your local folk club.