THE SONGS OF A SHOWMAN’S DAUGHTER, GLENN A BAKER
She may not be its actual subject but in the song (and indeed the album) Showman’s Daughter Anne Kirkpatrick tells us much about her life.
The title song was inspired by a tragedy that befell a friend, the daughter of one of her father’s old travelling showmen comrades, and in writing the song for and about her, Anne inevitably found herself very close to home, to one of her many homes. “Whenever I look back down along the track” she sings in wistful tone, “I can hear the spruikers loud and clear.”
She can also call to mind Samson the strong man from Greece who ate razor blades and laid on a bed of nails, Bubbles from the girlie show, Happy Harry the double-jointed horse, jugglers, clowns and whipcrackers, and a communal Christmas tree under the Big Top. She lived in a camped caravan among the mayhem, the lights, the noise and all the incomparable characters until the age of 11, when she was sent off to school, the correspondence courses having outlived their usefulness.
“I am a Showman’s Daughter myself, formally recognised” she says, with no small amount of pride. “My dad was an honorary lifetime member of the Showman’s Guild and mum and I will always be accepted as ‘family’. We keep in touch with many of them and I was recently give the full run of Grafton Showgrounds during showtime to shoot a video. My family spent six years on the show circuit, with mum and dad doing up to 24 sets a day at the Royal Shows in the capital cities and a dozen at the rural ones. We were Showies and there are very strong memories from those years.”
Memories which, mingled with others just as potent, have taken shape as the most personal of the showman’s daughter’s 13 albums (two of which were duet sets with her father Slim Dusty) and her first solo set since 1997. A recording artist since the age of 12, Anne staked her claim as a woman of distinctive voice with the impressive 1971 Down Home album and since then has crafted and delivered, at irregular intervals woven around the raising of a family, accomplished and ever-evolving albums that display an innate understanding of the essential qualities that render truly great country music so emotionally overwhelming.
Anne’s albums seem to tell her when they are ready for arrival, rather than the other way around. This one draws together emotional threads – some raw, some resolved – from a tumultuous time in her life; a time which saw her lose a father and the nation lose an heroic figure so widely admired and even adored that he was honoured with a State Funeral.
In the song One Of A Kind she pays a powerful daughter’s tribute that starts as stridently as it ends: “He’d blow them all away when he’d hit the stage.” The song had a prescribed purpose. “I wanted to celebrate this amazing, larger-than-life dad, who was human too,” she explains. “He was so spontaneous, so vibrant, so full of life, so charismatic. He was always the presence in a room – such a strong soul. I’m very aware of my dad’s legacy and I know that I can never stop making music. He was so much a part of our lives. Losing him made me think a lot about where I came from. I mean, what a tradition!”
A tradition going forward as well as back. For the most remarkable aspect of Showman’s Daughter is its intertwining of generations. Multi-layered and inter- connecting musical families are not unknown in American country music – the Cash/Carters, the McGarrigles and Wainwrights come to mind – but it’s hard to think of another contemporary female artist able to front a microphone in a studio armed with high quality songs penned by herself, her father, her mother and her son – as well as friends of them all, the “extended family”. All seamless in their integration into her personal story.
Just as she reminds us how accomplished an observer she is of her own life and environment, with the finely honed works Drive Away, Goodbye, One Of A Kind and the title track, she reawakens in us an awareness of the artistry of her father’s earliest efforts in song. One of the two Dusty-penned classics she takes on even actually pre-dates her mother’s entry into the saga. Slim signed his first recording contract with EMI’s Regal Zonophone label in 1946 and recorded the timeless When The Rain Tumbles Down In July. It was not until 1952 that he married Joy McKean of the McKean Sisters.
It was Joy who provided Slim with so many of his most memorable songs and who has been a key contributor to her daughter’s albums since furnishing One Day Blues for Down Home thirty five years ago. This time around her contribution is the heartfelt and evocatively dobro/accordion-laden Peppimenarti Cradle. In this, Anne sings about the cradle that Peppimenarti women from the Territory by the Moyle River made for her to rest and protect her new-born babe twenty five years ago – a long and slender construction of bold ochre colours that now sits atop her bookshelf. “The picture mum paints is so poetic” believes Anne, “she really is an inspiration to me”
That was not Joy’s only contribution to the album. With the recording undertaken at the Dusty home studio, Columbia Lane, she was, as Anne reveals, “There for me, supportive, a shoulder to cry on. When the going got tough mum and I would have our own Happy Hour and after a glass or two of red wine and a laugh, everything was alright again.”
Players and the guests came by the studio as the album took shape both to play their parts and pay their respects. Bill Chambers, who had taught his own daughter Kasey more than a few Slim Dusty songs by campfirelight when he was a fox hunter on the Nullabor, came by to add a rich harmony and dobro to Bernie O’Brien’s Bluer Skies. “Dad’ s corner of the studio was pretty much as he’d left it,” Anne explains, “and when Bill saw that he got quite emotional. Both our families grew up with music and dad just loved Kasey.”
It all began with the song Drive Away. Anne was driving back from a show at Twin Towns on the Queensland border in 2004 with her adult daughter Kate and the Slim Dusty CD Columbia Lane: The Last Sessions was playing. “We had it up loud and there were some tears flowing and somewhere around Tenterfield, when we stopped for a coffee, the first two verses and the chorus of Drive Away just came into my head. I finished it when I got back to Sydney. It was great to set myself something to focus on – a creative outlet.”
At that point there was no specific intention to make a new album but such things take on their own momentum. “I drew on Dad’s strength and that of my family, and creating songs is what this family does – all of us have music that we need to get out. It was my son James [writer of the liquid, languid song Never Say Never] who got me in the studio and Fet who kept me there.”
Fet is the multi-instrumentalist Dusty band mainstay Mike Kerin, who was tagged The Fettler by Slim a long time ago. ” He’d keep saying to me ‘ What have you got?’ and I’d say ‘Oh, a few songs’ and he’d say ‘Well let’s put them down’ and that’s how it all came together. It took eighteen months, with lots of breaks. We started in November 2004, about ten months after dad died.”
It was a three musketeers effort, produced by Anne, Fet and Michael Vidale (who played bass and also mixed the album), with some stellar musical contributions from Jeff Mercer, Colin Watson, Rod Coe, Mark Collins, Michael Rose, Rob Souter and a few others. Small, tight, lean and luminous.
With few pressures (a luxury of a home studio) and no time frame, the mood was positive and encouraging and the vocal tones warm and embracing. “I felt in good voice and it all went down fairly spontaneously “ Anne recalls. “I was more confident of my own voice but I found that, as you get older, you have to exercise it to keep it up to the mark. My dad never stopped singing and that’s something I learned from him. It’s easier for me these days because I don’t get too precious about it.”
As the session progressed it became evident that not only was this shaping up as Anne’s most personal album but it was also proving to be cathartic. “When something like that happens in your life you tend to focus on what’s really important and when you write you have to be honest, you’ve got to get to the core of stuff” she reasons. “I’ve always liked writing songs but it didn’t always flow that easily for me. I had ways of going about it and making it happen. I mostly write when my mind can freewheel – when I’m driving or jogging. Sometimes I’d take drives, with a dictaphone, to be on my own and try to get thoughts to come. I’d go up to Blue Mountains, park somewhere quiet and get to work. But with this album I really enjoyed the writing, it just flowed. And it was very ….. therapeutic I suppose you could say.”
Outside of the brace of sturdy originals the songs came from myriad sources. One of the most striking, Silos Of Home, is from the pen of former Cold Chisel member Don Walker, who has written for father and daughter in the past. “He’d sent it to dad around the time of the Looking Forward, Looking Back album but it didn’t get done” Anne recalls. “At the time he put in a note with the disc that said ‘Anne might like to look at it’. He hadn’t recorded it himself then, he’s only done that recently. It was Rod Coe, dad’s producer, who remembered the song and the note and dug it out, and I’m so glad he did because it’s just wonderful. Don uses words in a way that leaves a mark on you – the imagery is so powerful. I mean, just listen to the first verse.”
It was also the words, the pure poetry, which reached and touched Anne with Women Of The West, an epic 1902 piece set to music by New Zealander Graham Wardrop around the end of the seventies. “I think he wanted Slim to do it but dad wasn’t that fussed about it; I think he thought there were too many words! But I loved them, particularly the third verse which starts, ‘The red sun robs their beauty and in weariness and pain the slow years steal the nameless grace that never comes again’. It gave me so much pleasure to sing that.”
And it was the pleasure of the project that, in the end, overcame the pain present at its origination. The catharsis was broader than Anne could have imagined when she conceived those first words in the car at Tenterfield. So many bases were touched – emotional and musical. Take, for example, When It’s Lamplighting Time In The Valley, a sweet traditional country song cut by Tex Ritter and Marty Robbins a long time ago. “Dad and mum did that as a duet on a really early album” she details, “and I always loved it. It became my party piece; I could pull it out and sing it and family gatherings. So we put it down in the studio, it seemed right.” Just as right as an effusive take on the other Slim ‘classic, co-written with Stan Coster, the rollicking The Cunnamulla Feller, (rambunctiously rendered by The Screaming Jets in 1998).
Certainly it is the breadth of Showman’s Daughter that is one of its most satisfying achievements – something integral to its excellence. And at the heart of it is that title song, the fine, sparse piece of subdued western-swing with a Hank Williams edge that kicks the album off. Reflective, maybe even a little unsettling. A song that lingers. “They’re like all families, Showies,” the writer contends. “They might be tight as a community but, as much as they try to protect their own, they’re not immune to tragedy. None of us are.”
My family left the grounds
and moved on further down the road
.. the outside world was movin’ in
to change a way of life the showmen know
BRUCE ELDER – Sydney Morning Herald
Anne Kirkpatrick, daughter of Slim Dusty and Joy McKean, hasn’t made a record since 1997. She is too significant, too innovative and too gifted to be allowed such a long sabbatical.
Still, we shouldn’t complain. This is, quite simply, the most important Australian country album since Kasey Chambers’s The Captain.
Kirkpatrick, with a fine understanding of the mostinteresting experiments on the outer edges of American country, has created an album that, while distinctively Australian, draws on the hardcore tradion of contemporary talents such as Iris DeMent and Gillian Welch.
There is a gorgeous, timeless, sepia toning to the album, it is both ancient and modern; both Dusty and Troy Cassar-Daley, Chambers and Joy McKean.
The title track’s bluegrass gothic feel is worthy of Welch.Kirkpatrick’s version of Don Walker’s Silos of Home is hauntingly beautiful and her interpretation of Dusty’s When the Rain Tumbles Down in July is revolutionary.
SonyBMG/Compass Bros 022 CDCB
SUSAN JARVIS – Capital News
Some albums stand far above the crowd – they offer a unique, incomparable experience that takes you to another place. ANNE KIRKPATRICK’s new release, Showman’s Daughter, Is one of them.
It’s the second time in her career that Anne has achieved this feat – Out Of The Blue did the same thing way 15 years ago. Showman’s Daughter is full of integrity, warmth, passion and intelligence. It’s also firmly rooted in the Australian country music tradition. Yet at the same time it offers new perspectives, new sounds and new musical styles – and it all fits together perfectly.
Highlights are DON WALKER’S eerie song Silos Of Home, the JOY McKEAN penned Peppimenarti Cradle, which tells the story of the cradle Anne used for her two children and contains some wonderful, evocative imagery, and the album’s title track, Showman’s Daughter which seamlessly blends the narrative style of traditional country with an edgy, rootsy musical arrangement.
Anne’s son JAMES ARNEMAN contributed the sensational Never Say Never, while BILL CHAMBER’S voice works perfectly with Anne’s on the beautiful Bluer Skies.
This is one album you’ll never want to stop playing.
COMPASS BROS/SONG BMG
Dave Dawson – Music Australia Guide
Anne Kirkpatrick celebrates 35 years in the recording saddle with a disc true to her rich rural roots. She chips three tunes from the Dusty family tree but originals impact best on her 14th solo disc.
Kirkpatrick’s entree title track a tragic tale of the drug death of another troubadour’s daughter – sits in stark contrast to paternal eulogy finale One Of A Kind.
She entwines three generations on Drive Away and Goodbye, the latter penned with Jeff Mercer.
Like her dad, she gives exposure to peers Don Walker Silos Of Home – and Bernie O’Brien on Bluer Skies.
Pure country without the corn.