When Sunraysia reared singer Sara Storer wanted to write a song about a prisoner she found a habitual convict - an armed robber at Silverwater Jail in Sydney.

The Ballad Of Tommy Foster was such a success she decided to write a song about a prison character from the other side of the bars.

She didn't have to look far for her research - she chose prison warder partner Craig Roberts as her co-writer.

And, to add polish, she asked duet partner Paul Kelly to help finish the song Walking The Landings.

< Sara Storer
photo courtesy www.sarastorer.com.au

The song is one of the highlights of Storer's third album Firefly (ABC-Warner).

"It's based on life of prison officer who is so stuck in his job he feels imprisoned in his own job and lifestyle that he doesn't feel he can get out of it," Storer, 33, told Nu Country TV.

"He's lost his wife, things have gone terribly wrong in his home life. Now that he's on the drink and drinking so much it's further imprisoning him into that lifestyle he feels he no alternative to going home to drink and then back to jail again for his work."

Although Roberts is not the character in the song he was an invaluable research tool.

"Craig works in the Prison System, what better than have someone who is close to a lot of people in his life who have gone through that way of life," Storer added.

"Also he has been through a stage in his life when he felt close to that song. He has been married. He's divorced. It would be a tough old life dealing with criminals day in and day out. It's a job he's been in 16 years. When you're not working in the system you think you can leave it all behind at the end of the day when you go home. Until you work there and you are face to face with a lot of cases of evil you really wouldn't know how much it effects them."

Storer is also indebted to Roberts for research for The Ballad Of Tommy Foster - the true-life story of a habitual armed robber.

"They are the only ones that know what's going on in their head," Storer explained.

"I bounced ideas off Craig. My challenge was to write a song about a prisoner - I don't want a real baddie. I just wanted to get inside the head of someone who has made a mistake in life and spent a lot of time living behind four walls, what are they thinking. Do they hold regret, do they hold sadness? Since I wrote the song Tommy has heard it. I wanted approval to know if I got the song right before I recorded it. I can't balls it up. He said it was like someone cut the top of his head off, looked inside and there was his life. For me as a songwriter there I felt really good that he had approved it. He's no longer in Silverwater - he's now in Goulburn. It's just like writing a farming song - if you haven't experienced it you should know what you are on about or you end up using cliches and it sounds corny."

Storer also used her three-year relationship with Roberts to source two love songs
Crazy As It Seems and Star from her new album.

"There's a slight comedy to Crazy As It Seems," Storer confessed.

"It is about Craig and I, about what people on the outside looking in see. But only the two people on the inside know what holds them together - you can't go telling people your life's problems because they'll never know the secret of life and what holds two people together. It's a bit of fun. I don't know where do I stop - how much do I let people know about what's going on? Now people know I throw his cuppa down the sink and flowers on the floor when I get angry with him. Actually I didn't throw the flowers on the floor. If you are ever in trouble with me just bring flowers."

Sara Storer -Firefly Cover Image

Storer said she used a metaphor to illustrate Star.

"Star is about the same relationship and my life in country music," Storer added.

"There's a crossover link about people thinking you're a star. It's hard to explain but I used the metaphor to explain it. Our relationship has been going for three years with a split in the middle. I think of the time we got together and so much courage in holding on. He has a tough time in his life and job - he comes home to an empty house and the dog. Each night I go to a different town and meet different people. My job goes really quick. We live together on the Central Coast but he works in Sydney and commutes every day. He wasn't a big country fan before we met but he loved Johnny Cash as his dad sang country songs. We met on the Central Coast at a pub - he has a certain look as you are attracted to fellows. I gave him a wink - we met up and started yarning. He came to a show and got a big surprise - it was at Rooty Hill. I said come along to the show and he thought I would be singing downstairs to diners in a map lit lounge. But he found me in the main auditorium where I was supporting Troy Cassar-Daley. He got a big surprise."

Storer also sourced her title track from depression - not just the hidden killer in rural areas - but of close friends.

"I know a lot of people who suffer depression, I know one closely," Storer said.

"It was purely the emotional side ticking over me for this person. It's about always someone there to help them get through it The word Firefly came up in the song. I write a song and then look through it and find a title."

Although Storer recorded few rural requiems this time she sourced Snow In Mid-July from an incident in the NSW bush.

"Where I wrote it never snows," she joked.

"I was on the farm writing a song when a big mob of cockies were frightened from a tree. It just looked like it was snowing it was so white. Farmers have a lot of trouble with cockies stripping leaves off gum trees. I just fell in love with it when the boys started playing it in the studio."

Storer also wrote Billabong with brother Greg about an oasis on the family's former farm at Wemen near Robinvale in the Sunraysia.

"My nan and pop were early pioneers there and down the bottom of the hill on their farm was a billabong," Storer recalled.

"My brothers and I would go down to the billabong to yabby for the day and build a fire. Greg lives in NSW now on another family farm. It was written from the view of an adult trying to explain that billabong's history to his wife and children. My older brother Doug wrote Raining On The Plains for my previous album. Family members are all very musical - if I get short on fourth album I'll get them to write it."

Ironically another new song Chillers Bend, penned with brother Greg, was a mystery death fantasy.

"We made it all up," Storer confessed.

"It was challenging because I'm not used to writing like that way. I normally see the characters and know them. If you know a person makes it much easier - Greg has a great knack at doing that. I owe him a lot of credit - but the open ended death tragedy story and the characters Billy and Beccy are fiction. But I did spell Beccy the same as Beccy Cole for a bit of a laugh."

Storer also duets with Waifs singer Josh Cunningham on his song Important Things.

"I met Josh in Tamworth,' Storer said.
"I went through all my songs and couldn't find anything suitable. He writes a lot for The Waifs so I asked him what he had. The first song he sent me I fell in love with. It has a definite Waifs stamp on it. It brings something fresh to my album - especially with him singing it."
< photo courtesy www.sarastorer.com

But the duet with Paul Kelly on Must Have Had Us One Hell Of A Party - penned by the late Slim Dusty and son Dr David Kirkpatrick was an unplanned bonus.

"I thought one duet would be enough but when Paul agreed to a duet I think I had to take a couple of Panadol and lie down for the day after that," Storer quipped.

"It was one of those fantastic opportunities - Paul had heard me sing it in Tamworth and wanted me to put it on the album. He said you should record it without knowing he was going to do it as a duet. It was a real Celtic Irish song. I love Irish music and I love his voice too."

Storer embellished the Irish flavour with a co-write with Martin Oakes on Molly Green.

"I had done some songwriting with Eric Bogle," Storer added.

"He showed me some folkie chords. Martin Oakes said why don't we write an Irish style song. I went through an Atlas and found Dooley Downs as a locale. I went away with an Irish love tragedy as the Irish do in these songs. But I have got rellies who live near Inverloch in Victoria."

Sara Storer returns to Victoria late in 2005 on her national tour to promote Firefly and ABC Music DVD, Stories To Tell that boasts a live version of The Ballad Of Tommy Foster.

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