Radio Skid Row 88.9FM

Radio Skid Row 88.9FM I’ve been ‘missing in action’ for more than a few years and the closest I’ve come to performing my songs in public is at the Group Home in which I work. Three of the four blokes who live there quite like my stuff and are brilliant to try new songs on. ‘Good’ or ‘crap’ are quite definite in meaning when you’re non-verbal, and the fact that they want the T.V. off when I bring the guitar out tells me they’re not being a captive audience. I’ve never been disciplined about music. I haven’t practised on a regular basis and I’ve rarely been comfortable under a spotlight. These qualities aren’t very useful when the world is bursting with passionate, articulate songwriters and musicians. Working in the Group Home has shown me how disability is a relative term. I’ve yet to meet a human being who didn’t know what gives them comfort, what gives them pleasure and what is horrible to them. On a black humour level it’s cause for a chuckle that most behavioural problems come from staff rather than clients. The point of this preamble is that each year we are obliged to produce an Individual Plan which covers every aspect of life and must include a couple of reachable goals and also the means to attain those goals. This is not easy to accomplish and in the process of tailoring a plan to individual need it becomes apparent that we could all use a ‘key worker’ and an individual plan. Brian Ralston wrote an inspiring article in the June edition of the Songsmith about Radio Skid Row and the opportunity he took up to go in for a chat and to play a few of his songs. Thanks mate! It took awhile for the seed to grow to the point where I find myself driving down from the Blue Mountains with a slight nervous feeling in the stomach. I couldn’t pick up Radio Skid Row 88.9FM until about Springwood and listened to some reggae for a half hour or so and then the gentle tones of the next presenters. I arrived with fifteen minutes to spare and got to hear another songwriter, Johnny McCarthy, talk about his latest cd and heard a great song about Jesus driving a Holden. You had to be there for that. I didn't catch it all but I did catch his passion for meaning and, linked to that, Aboriginal reconciliation. The fact that Bill Jacoby, a great songwriter and musician, plays bass on his cd added a nice connection as Bill is also part of a mountains duo called ‘Rhythm’ who blow my socks off. I’d ‘prepared’ four newish songs which really means that I changed my strings and practised through a bit of hay fever. I felt o.k. and a bit energised rather than scared. Probably due to my three ‘salutes to the sun’ which tends to center me much more than drugs and alcohol. Justine and Hiske. who present a show called Kompaktion. made me very welcome into a slightly chaotic studio and I gave them bootlegged (with artist permission ) cds of both Mark Wilkinson and the band ‘Open’. Both of these cds are so good that I felt moved to ask that they not be played until after ‘Elvis has left the building.’ It gave me huge pleasure to hear Mark Wilkinson’s ‘Keep Fighting’ - an inspiring, anthemic song about not giving up the struggle - as I lay stuck in the traffic jam on the M4, heading back to the hills an hour or two later. To be honest, I’ve got no idea of how much of the chat that we had actually went to air because talk doesn’t stop while a recorded song is playing but we touched on a lot of subjects that matter to me. In the satirical series ‘The Games’, a brainstorming session dealing with the fact that the world would be looking at Australia during the Olympic Games, and be questioning our lack of reconciliation with Aboriginal Australia, then raised the possibility of replacing John Howard, the Prime Minister, with John Howard, the great Australian actor. After a silence while this is digested, someone says something like... ‘what’s the point ?’ The response was roughly this. ‘The world knows that John Howard is the prime minister of Australia but I bet that most of the world doesn’t have a clue what he looks like. This being so - and our actor actually looks like a prime minister - we just put him in a splendid prime-ministerial office, play the national anthem, introduce him as ‘Ladies and gentlemen....John Howard’ and get him to make a really good apology. This will please everybody and no-one will ever be the wiser because no-one in Australia will see’s for the tourists!’ The concept is brilliant and it worked. In the midst of this satirical program, a deeply serious apology was made with utter sincerity. It made clear what it is that we, as a nation, are sorry about - critical if the apology is to have meaning. Whoever wrote that script moved me to tears. It was the most beautiful acknowledgement of our collective lack of understanding of both the nature of Aboriginal culture and the substance of Aboriginal spiritual life. John Howard, the actor, actually used the word ‘sorry’ which is a word that we all understand. ‘Profound regret’ doesn’t cut it even though that’s the best that our ‘real’ prime minister has managed. That episode of the Games could be compulsory viewing for all Australians and should be for the Government. I felt proud and delighted to be an Australian and to have a 'Prime Minister' capable of expressing such a fine truth. I hadn’t intended to talk about that but I’m really glad it came up. I had the privilege and responsibility of being a tour manager with the Arts Council of N.S.W. in the mid seventies when two tours of N.S.W. primary schools were undertaken by a group of tribal men from the top end. It was a profound experience and not just for me. One of the less profound realisations was that ‘an arseole is an arseole no matter what colour skin he has’ Not very deep but grimly true and just the peeling of an onion skin when trying to reach the ‘whys and wherefores’ of human nature. I played two songs using a pick which I still struggle with. One dealt with the absence of someone loved, the other tries to express the wonder of a moment which can pass between two people. The sweat ran off my head which indicated that I wasn’t that centered and I made it past that dreadful moment when you go to a wrong chord and can’t quite make the mental connection that you’ve slid into a different but similar chord pattern. I bellowed and clanged my way through two quiet and gentle songs. It was fine. Justine’s e.mail at Radio Skid Row is yogasolutions which gave me a chance to link yoga, minimal though my efforts be, to the saving of my sanity. By the time the kettle boils I’ve ‘done’ my salutes and fall about with coffee and cigarette. ‘No contradiction here’ says my spine. ‘Bullshit’ reply my lungs, with an asthmatic chuckle. Ultimately this was a lovely experience for me. It doesn’t matter whether the performance was technically brilliant. When I walked outside, I met the Australian/Jamaican, Jahbaya, who had played the reggae on the trip down. After we talked for awhile he quietly said words to the effect that it takes courage to get up and bring joy to people through the music. I know he was encouraging me but it’s also true that it takes courage for him to put in the long, often lonely and unacknowledged, unpaid hours of effort to bring ‘joy to the people through the music’. I didn’t really make that connection until I’d had a chance to reflect. It’s a few days later as I write this. I’m off to do the afternoon shift and will take the guitar. It’s a beautiful spring day in the mountains and we’ll probably find time for ‘Knocking on heavens door’, ‘You got to move’, ‘happy birthday’ x 4 and perhaps ‘Waltzing Matilda’ played at half pace. It’s not all sweetness and light but it’s got meaning. Almost forgot.... we got to talk about Saucepan Bach. I’ve two cds of songs recorded under that name. You don’t need to be a good musician or a good singer to write a really good song but you do need to be a good musician for the purpose of recording. Just seemed silly to put out cds as David Griffith when I don’t play on the cds. So Saucepan Bach is whoever I record with. Finally explained that. The other aspect that may chime with many a songwriter who has no great desire to be a performer. The greatest compliment you could receive is to have another artist be moved to record and re-interpret your song. Problem - apart from the quality of the songs on offer - is in getting the songs to where they can be heard in a presentable form by the rest of the world. I really recommend the radio experience for other songwriters and cheerfully thank Radio Skid Row and the Songwriters Society for providing the opportunity to grow. I’ll have gathered my courage and played the same few newish songs at the Excelsior Hotel by this time next week. I’m o.k. and even a bit excited about that.