2018 CD REVIEW
JOHN FLANAGAN TRIO
HONEST MAN (INDEPENDENT)
NO SNAIL MAIL FOR POSTIE JOHN ZARB IN GAOL
“John Zarb, a postman, refuses the call/ his objection to Vietnam, is his downfall/ the judge said, “John, it's written in law”/ you can't object to one specific war/ only a staunch pacifist can walk free/ and that's not what you claim to be”/ the man stands up with courage, doesn't try to hide/ and now he's doing two years on the inside.” - Free John Zarb - John Flanagan.
It was just a roll of the birthday dice that saved some sixties survivors from fighting in the historic but ill-fated Vietnam War.
But not Pascoe Vale postman John Zarb, a conscientious objector, who was sentenced to two years in gaol in 1968 for his refusal to be conscripted because of his beliefs.
Another John - Melbourne country folkie John Flanagan - was too young to recall the Free John Zarb campaign that polarised post World War 11 Australia and kick started a graffiti flood on well- known local landmarks.
But the multi-instrumentalist, aided by suburban research, has picked up the baton 50 years down the Lost Highway with his anthemic social comment tune Free John Zarb on his third album Honest Man.
More of that soon after this short pregnant pause.
Former teenage rocker Normie Rowe became the poster boy for Vietnam War conscripts when he lost at marbles and was flown into the killing fields.
Meanwhile behind the scenes a vast cast of other local musicians, far too many to be listed here, were called up.
Peter Bird, co-founder of Warrnambool country bands Nevada and more recently Lost In Suburbia , was sent into overseas battle and returned home and re-mastered the Dead Livers Greatest Misses with bonus tracks for their 40th anniversary at Thornbury Theatre in May.
Lost In Suburbia sidekick and Dead Livers bassist Michael Schack has dined out for many moons on his conscript chef duties for fellow Nashos including VFL champ and record breaking Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy during their training at Puckapunyal.
But Schack has not claimed credit for Sheeds love of country music that has culminated in his free country music festivals in Yarra Park for the annual Essendon-Geelong MCG country game.
This reviewer may have dissuaded Sheedy from choosing a pop music passion during a stint as a DJ and Gong Show host at the trendy Toorak Hotel in days of yore.
Kevin and his posse declined my kind offer for them to participate in the talent quest that lured two sons of multi-millionaire trucking tsar and St Kilda football club benefactor Lindsay Fox to chance their voices.
They were gonged in a fashion not dissimilar to this judge's decamping from a Puckapunyal school cadet camp when told he could not grow his beard at 14.
Luckily, later in my teens I was toiling as a cadet journalist on the Launceston Examiner when my birthday marble rolled me out of the ballot.
The Australian Army was spared a colour blind conscript whose aim would not have been true.
Meanwhile back to Flanagan's song that he researched at the Moreland city archives - not far from the original Dawson farm estate at Phoenix Park in Brunswick.
John, expat Canadian singer-songwriter Tracey McNeil, Geelong born guitarist Jeff Lang and one time Geelong student and long-time St Kilda supporter Mick Thomas were asked to inspect council records and write a song based on local history.
Flanagan chose the John Zarb saga that decimated the Zarb family when his beliefs led to him being relieved of his postal duties and sentenced to Pentridge.
Pentridge may now be peddled as an historic housing estate but back in 1968 it was a hellhole that held no escape for Zarb whose plight was explored in the recent Going Back theme concert.
THE LAST OF THE CASSETTE MEN
“He's the last of the cassette men/ the Slim Dusty of today/ with his songs of the everyman/ the struggles that come his way/ if there's a torch that he's passing on/ well they might not let me stand in line/ but I stole a tiny ember/ and I'm still working on my little fire.” - The Last Of The Cassette Men - John Flanagan.
Ironically, it was another singer-songwriter with a passion for eclectic songs also embracing sports diverse as football and cricket who inspired The Last Of The Cassette Men .
Flanagan recalled a pre-Uber request around a decade ago from a friend, asking if he could do her a favour and drive Paul Kelly from St Kilda to the Paris Cat in Melbourne.
"I had been writing songs and playing in a band although I hadn't yet gone out on my own as a singer-songwriter," Flanagan revealed.
"It was very inspiring chatting to Paul for that brief car trip. After reading How to Make Gravy and listening to the full A to Z recordings, I finally had a few ideas to kick off writing this song. My respect for Paul as one of the great Australian songwriters and lyricists is clear in the lyrics of this song."
Flanagan chose Beauty On The Bottom - a troubadour's tale of rejection by a belle of the ball who never rang for him but led him to Ayers Rock - as his album entrée.
It's one of his 11 originals and segues into Nomad and the single Something To Complain About that is accompanied by a Preston front porch picking video featured on Nu Country TV on Saturday June 30.
A smart meter reader creates a smart video theme on the album that was recorded in February 2017 over four days at Dog & Bear studio in Trentham.
That's the central Victorian town that Colac born veteran country singer-songwriter and disc jockey Gene Bradley Fisk, now 82, calls home.
Gene moved from Moriac to Trentham after a colourful radio career in Hamilton, Maryborough, Geelong, Bendigo, Melbourne and way beyond.
Fisk's career began at 14 in the Colac banjo club and included a 15 year Air Force stint in Malaysia in the fifties.
Fisk, like Flanagan, wrote and recorded songs - He's On The Run and The Ballad Of Ronald Ryan - about Pentridge prisoners.
He's On The Run depicted the tale of Pentridge prisoner-songwriter Garry David Webb who died at 39 on June 11, 1993, from peritonitis after self-mutilating during 33 years in institutions.
It was 11 years after Fisk released his song based on Webb's songs and letters sent from his cell at the long defunct Coburg jail.
Webb died suddenly despite counselling from late Pentridge chaplain Father John Brosnan - another Geelong supporter.
PENTRIDGE NOT A PLACE UNTOUCHED BY MAN
“I wanna go to a place untouched by man/ to see the perfect work/ of God's almighty hand/ I want to leave my lonesome footprints in the sand/ in a place untouched by man/ this is the kind of beauty we've just got to share/ let's build a road through here, a hotel over there/ we'll make a pretty penny with plenty to spare/ in a place untouched by man.” - A Place Untouched By Man - John Flanagan.
Flanagan daubs his dramas with suburbia surrealism in Honey, I'd Buy You A Home - a vast contrast to developers' destruction of idyllic retreats in his vitriolic vignette A Place Untouched By Man.
Maybe not the old Pentridge penthouse that was prison for Zarb.
Flanagan proves his aim is true when he uses romantic rejection to claim a heretic in Ripples.
But materialist masochism fuels You Can Love Yourself and the telephonic trauma rings through the title track.
And for balance there's sweet solace in rebellious Young Minds and fatalistic finale Leave Me To My Blues.
Flanagan's trio was augmented in the studio by guest musicians - drummer Justin Olsson, Pete Fidler on dobro/lap steel and fiddler Kat Mear.
He co-produced the album with Erick Jaskowiak who mixed it at Sage Arts Recording Studio in Arlington, north of Seattle in Washington.