Your columnist has lived in Sydney for more than a decade. It’s not something I’m proud of. But pondering my 30th birthday this year from the boozy, carefree side – the side sans Medicare Levy Surcharge and widow’s peak – I’ve felt the growing need in recent months to take stock, and the realisation that I’d spent more than a third of my life ensconced in the State capital took me by surprise.
Even more surprising, though, is the fact that I now find myself, at 29 years of age, enthusiastically tapping away at my keyboard as I bend my mind halfway out of shape obsessing over the minutiae of all things country music. Because, as a teenager growing up on the treeless plains of the Monaro – surrounded on all sides by Landcruisers and stockyards and quicksilver flocks of merino ewes turning suddenly on bare hillsides – I once baulked at listening to Neil Young’s Harvest Moon because a friend described it to me as a country album.
So it was no surprise that, while leafing through my stack of hoarded childhood CDs during a recent visit to my hometown of Berridale, I found little evidence of any burgeoning adolescent taste for pedal steel and fiddle – with two exceptions: Johnny Cash’s American IV (2002), and Paul Kelly & Uncle Bill’s Australian bluegrass classic Smoke (1999). The first release hardly counts for much – it’s a truth self-evident that we all come into this world as Johnny Cash fans. But turning a dusty copy of Smoke over in my hands elicited a flood of memories that seemed to be completely out of step with the account of my early life I’ve long since grown accustomed to reciting: I was mostly into punk. Because I know I spent more than one night singing along to ‘You Can’t Take it With You’ and ‘Taught By Experts’ with friends – punk, metal, and (there’s always an outlier) Jeff Buckley fans all.
All of which leads me inexorably to the conclusion that, while it’s not until we reach adulthood that we come into the unhappiness that is our birthright (in my case, hereditary hair loss), and though we may find ourselves mired in the unfriendly surroundings of an indifferent city for decades at a time before we realise it, it’s not all bad: with adulthood comes the ripening of taste, and it only takes one good country record to sow the better seeds of discernment.
As a side-note, Sydney has at least taught me there’s a whole world of beer out there beyond Reschs. That said, a niggling thought plagues me yet: is there really?
Thankfully, there’s one other silver lining to Sydney’s cloud: there’s never any shortage of great gigs to see.
The tireless Troy Cassar-Daley is at Rooty Hill RSL on 2 September, launching his phenomenal 10th studio album Things I Carry Around and new book My Country, My Music, My Story. Diesel pays the venue a visit on 23 September, funnyman Rodney Rude on 14 October, and Sara Storer on 22 October. And the Club has its regular Total Country Sundays fixture every Sunday afternoon, featuring the cream of local country talent – including Christie Lamb on 21 August and 4 September, and Craig Morrison on 11 September.
For those closer to the CBD, Sunday afternoon is also the time to gather your thoughts and steel yourself for the week ahead with a show at Marrickville Bowlo.
Katie Brianna launches her exquisite new album Victim or the Heroine at Django Bar in Marrickville on 18 August with support from Adam Young, before Fred Smith calls into the venue on 25 September, and Dashville’s Ramblin’ Nights on 29 September, featuring bluegrass outfit Brothers Comatose (USA) and Western Australia’s Davey Craddock & The Spectacles. Harry Manx (Canada) calls into sister venue Camelot Lounge on 3 September and 22 October.
Circular Quay’s iconic Basement hosts Texan country comic Rodney Carrington (USA) on 21 August, The Spin Drifters – severally Felicity Urquhart, George Washingmachine, Stuie French, Michel Rose, Clare O’Meara, Andrew Richardson, Hamish Stuart, Garry Steel, and Michael Vidale – on 24 August, Delta bluesman Corey Harris (USA) on 25 August, Codie Prevost (Canada) on 31 August, Harry Manx (Canada) on 4 September, O’Shea on 7 September (with special guest Caitlyn Shadbolt), outlaw iconoclast Kinky Friedman (USA) on 20 October, and Canadian bluesman Matt Andersen on 3 December.
Read the rest in Issue 82…