Trad and Now Review
Autumn 2005 Trad&Now
6th Annual Autumn 2005 Trad & Now
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Read through the liner note essays on Pat Drummond's new double CD offering, The Chess Set, and you discover a man asking the big questions - the one's about human nature, progress, art and justice.You also discover song titles like 'The Lovin' of the Bush' and 'Marilyn Monroe was a Size 14'. Drummond has a knack for marrying his wonderment at life's complexities with the language and stories of real people.
There are plenty of people's poets about the place. Pat Drummond is more people's philosopher. The 25 songs that make up The Chess Set come as two volumes, The Age of Dissent (Volume 1) and The Descent of Age (Volume 2). They're two quite different albums from two different Pat Drummonds. On Dissent our narrator, a Black Knight, clings to his generation's belief that songs can change the world. It's Pat Drummond as angry middle-aged man.
On Descent his White nemesis is more prepared to accept the world as it is and look inward for change. Drummond as wise middle-aged man perhaps.
The set represents a major philosophical work for Drummond, a doyen of the pub, folk and country music scenes. It also represents a new phase in Drummond's 30-year career as a folk/punk, a one-man sing-a-long band, a romantic country singer and a musical pressman.
'I deliberately set out to write about the political divisions that have emerged in Australia,' he says.
For earlier albums, Drummond had travelled the country, finding real people's stories and, as the pressman, 'reporting' them as songs. He'd created what he believed were accurate 'jigsaw puzzle snapshots'of where his country was. By 2002 he realised his journalistic approach could no longer tell the whole story. So were born his philosophers, the narrator Knights.
'If you were talking about any issue virtually, it depended on who you were speaking to,' he explains. 'It wasn't just if they were for or against a public policy, like our detention of refugees or our involvement in the war in Iraq or our involvement in free trade agreements. It was a passionate position that divided the nation in a way I hadn't seen since the days of the Vietnam War.'
Now 53 and a grandfather, Pat Drummond doesn't give a lie to a life of ceaseless gigs and late night lugs. He's a little weather-beaten, hair greying in clumps at the sides. In a faded black T-shirt and jeans he seems to have shrunk a little from the superconfident on-stage persona. With those famous spectacles on the table, the observation glass has been removed and you're in the same room with him.
The five Drummond boys grew up in Sydney's inner west, sneaking out to folk gigs and becoming mesmerised by the 'magic' of the finger-style players they saw there. It's the trendy home to most of Sydney's acoustic gigs these days, but Pat Drummond recalls a very different place.
'I was three when I watched a friend of mine, a policeman who used to talk to me on the steps of my house every day, stabbed with a bottle outside my house,' he says. 'It was a fairly violent and workingclass place. It also had the most incredible community and spirit.'
Drummond watched the world change from here, where his community's Rugby League team, the Western Suburbs Magpies, became a metaphor for all that was going on outside.
'How crushing it was to watch those kids come up, and just when they were about to step into first grade and they were invincible, they were bought by Manly,' he says. 'Instead of that community, every person was an individual with their price. It finished me with sport completely.'
While training as a teacher in the early 70s, Drummond and his friends went to see Melbourne unknown Paul Kelly, booked to play The Journey's End wine bar at Woolloomooloo. A Kelly no-show sent Pat's go-getter friend (and future Nuclear Disarmament Party Senator) Robert Wood into action. Wood soon tapped him on the shoulder and told him: 'You're on.' Seven years later, Pat Drummond was still performing there every Sunday.
'It was just an accident. I went to see Paul Kelly play, he didn't turn up,' Pat says now of how a three-decade fulltime music career got started. They may have started as an accident, but Pat Drummond's one-man shows went on to become the stuff of legend, most infamously at The Rest Hotel, nestled beside the northern exit of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Drummond took the 'stage' there on Friday nights for more than a decade and recorded a live album that captured a last gasp of an older Sydney.
'People could say, "Oh my God, you mean you were responsible for those shitty drum machines?"' he says of his pioneering work ripping the circuitry out of a Hammond organ to build a prototype.
While he was at it, Pat Drummond also managed to 'accidentally' invent the truly independent record in this country.
'When I went to CBS they'd never heard of anyone putting out their own album, let alone buying 5000 of them,' he says of the early vinyl cuts that established his successful country/ folk label Shoestring Records.
'I wasn't trying to pioneer an industry, it was an accident and then it worked out so other people started doing some of those things as well.'
When The Rest was sold and demolished in the late 80s, it inadvertently gave Drummond an opportunity: to change stage personas and concentrate more on his songwriting and touring. 'I said [to Wood] "I've sung American Pie more times than Don McLean has I've got to stop this."'
So was born the reporter, complete with pressman's hat and garb, and a 'paper' to write for, The Local Rag. Drummond watched his gig income drop 'through the floor', but he started making money from selling records.
'We became Tupperware salesmen,' he says. 'We go out and do these kind of parties and we sell plastic at the end of it. In a way it was more honest because we weren't peddling grog so much as peddling our music.'
It was self-consciously Australian music that Drummond, the musical journalist, set out to create. Like his colleagues from Redgum and The Bushwackers, it would be delivered in as broad an Aussie brogue as folk/rock would allow. Defining Australian music, though, would not be Pat Drummond's lifelong project.
'I've become suspicious of that,' he says now. 'Things like national identity are good as far as giving you a sense of tribal family feeling, but they are also very effective in creating divisions.'
It's probably the White Knight from The Chess Set philosophising now, rejecting a fundamentalist kind of national identity. But Drummond's recent work has begun to use the language of religion.
'I've looked back over my work and realised just how much my own faith-life has drawn its symbols and its angles on its stories from my life as an Australian catholic brought up in De La Salle schools and subject to fairly stringent theological training,' he explains. 'What's alarming me now is that it's not just poets and songwriters who are doing it, it's politicians and militants. 'If my writing is supposed to mirror the national life, then the rise of religious imagery within the songs is actually very appropriate at this present stage because that's where the national political life has gone.'
'Frenzy' is perhaps the word that best describes Pat Drummond the songwriter. Like his pressman, he's deadline driven, needing to spit the song out before the inspirational moment is gone, before it's not news anymore.
'I'm an obsessive compulsive, no question about it,' he says. 'I'll suddenly work on songs for 10 weeks and I'll be producing stuff and then nothing, (pause) nothing. And I'll go into a slump and I won't write or I can't see the point of writing.'
Being on the road doesn't stifle his songwriting either. That's where the bulk of the inspirational moments occur.
'All my best songs have been about recognising the moment, seeing something strange and unusual and just stopping the truck,' he says.
Pat Drummond has learnt not to worry about his songwriting slumps. When he's at home he has several music business ventures to chip away at organising the Galston and Dubbo country music festivals and running Shoestring Records, the humble label that cut the first independent record in Australia that's now home to 17 artists. He doesn't mind the business side of things, but his philosophy here goes back to the community spirit of his upbringing.
'If I feel I'm constantly perceived as the enemy in any way, shape or form, I'll probably walk away,' he says.
On The Descent of Age, Pat Drummond listens to a veteran rock star's lament as a tribute band playing his old hits packs the venue across the road. The song's called 'Hard Times For Old Heroes'.With so many philosophical questions still unanswered, how long can the people's philosopher keep it up?
'Someone once asked me about my guitars, but my PA is my instrument. So the answer is, as long as I can lift my PA,' he says.
The death of Pat's brother Ron in 2003 has also caused him to consider another philosophical question the one about endings. A huge part of Pat's live shows for years, Ron gave him his motto, a phrase called upon during the tough gigs: 'Eyes and teeth mate, eyes and teeth.'
'You have to embrace the end. My brother's death has led me to look at that,' says Pat Drummond. 'The end of your performing life. For an artist that is, in some ways, the end of your life.'
Discography What You See is What You Get 1979 Pat Drummond 1984 Skooldaze 1985 Never Underestimate the Power of a Song 1987 - Compilation Live at The Rest Hotel 1988 Tales from the Local Rag 1990 Over The Top with Macca 1991 - Compilation The Best of Australia 1993 - Compilation Laughter Like A Shield 1993 The Winners 2 1994 - Compilation Rural Aid 1995 1995 - Compilation Canowindra Means Home 1996 - Compilation Of Wheels and Wires 1996 Through The Cracks - Live at The Clarendon 1998 Naked Poets 1...liev! 1999 Naked Poets 2 Newdirections 1999 Six Days In December 2000 Naked Poets 3...butt seriously 2001 Naked Poets 4 Swingin' Ockers- 2002 The Chess Set - 2004 2CD Enhanced CD featuring The Age of Dissent and The Decent Of Age www.patdrummond.net Words and Music Pat Drummond For Philip Goodyear and the Adelaide bell ringers Dateline: St Xavier's Catholic Cathedral, Adelaide
The People's Philosopher by David Beniuk
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