2019 CD FEATURE
WATLING & BATES
SMALL TOWN TALES (INDIE).
WOODENBONGS AND RURAL SONGS
“Small town girl, sweet as a picture/ drive's Daddy's tractor, wears Mother's pearls/ home on the farm, in town at a café/ she's telling me some day she'll go see the world/ kids, they're not scared on nothing these days.” - Small Town Tales - Geoffrey Bates.
It's rare pleasure when copies of CDs arrive with a tourism map for Woodenbong and a circle to identify where the artists hang their hats when not on the road.
Even more intriguing was a web page CD site that warned it “contains explicit lyrics or themes that may offend some listeners.”
I had no trouble finding the locale for Unumgar - home of Dr Kym Watling and Geoffrey Bates - due south of Woodenbong and Urbenville on the western edge of the Northern Rivers region of NSW.
Urbenville is not where expatriate Kiwi superstar Keith Urban swung from the ropes north of the NSW border in Caboolture as a teenage troubadour.
“We have a few horses in the paddock, a major highway out the front, wallabies on the lawn and mysterious unexplained noises in the middle of the night,” the duo revealed in their CD liner notes.
“Thor Phillips met us on the street one day while we were busking, and a creative relationship soon developed between the three of us. When Thor asked if we would like to record an album of our songs with him, we didn't hesitate.
“The songs on this album are the result of a rich and satisfying process between ourselves, Thor as producer, and esteemed colleagues from the past and present.
“Collaborations from overseas, interstate, regional and metropolitan cities and rural towns were undertaken by road trips or satellite internet.”
I can reveal this disc is an unabashed trip back in time - a not so distant sibling of Appalachia with all those down-home homages that only inmates or innovators can create with creative credibility.
That's all very good but I still had a major question.
After repeated playing of the Watling & Bates 13 track CD Small Town Tales , I had no luck identifying the explicit lyrics or themes.
THE SEARCH FOR EXPLICIT LYRICS
“I'll tell you now a story back in 1861/ men vanished on this lonely stretch of road/ then bones were found on Glennie's land in caves above the stream/ old saddlebag and bones in every one/ the old man's voice was raw/ three dark men I saw/ I watched them from as close as I would dare/ their dark and misty forms melt before the dawn/ vanished in that chilly mountain air.” - In The Dead OF Night - Geoffrey Bates.
Magistrate Golden, wishing to give the retailers the full benefit of his musical and legal knowledge, requested the Vice Squad or prosecutor oblige with such an accessory.
There was a deafening silence - perhaps an omen for the outcome.
So I suggested to the cops that they purloin a record player from lost property at the adjacent police station.
The prosecution subsequently located a stereophonic unit with minimal hiss and the show began as his worship dropped the needle on the Gravy and treated an ever-growing matinee audience to selected tracks from the distinctly Australian album in a welcome sense of fair play.
I don't recall the name of any long-forgotten tunes but have vivid memories that none featured pedal steel, fiddle or banjo.
Golden, a man of diverse taste and humour, ruled the disc might offend some but was not obscene.
"Anyone possessed of a reasonable intelligence would not buy it," Golden declared for the benefit of the Press.
"If I said it was obscene it would probably increase sales and I don't want to do that."
His Worship said that most of the $9 retail price wasn't spent on the music.
"I imagine most of the $9 went into packaging."
So the charges were dismissed and Negro went away to find other means of increasing his infamy including being banned from Tamworth Workers Club in 1986 with another of his bands The Gravy Billies , the Dead Livers and the late larrikin A.P. Johnson.
Cartoonist Negro also fronted The Brady Bunch Lawn Mower Massacre, The Band Who Shot Liberty Valance and another group whose name may fail spell and spiritual checks.
But I digress.
OLD TIMES WITH LESTER AND EARL, GRAM AND EMMYLOU TOO
“You old boys come see my girl/ she plays guitar and banjo too/ I'm her Lester, she's my Earl/ together we love singing those old time fiddle tunes/ hair in plaits, lace-up boots/ gypsy dress, she looks so cute/ just like Gram and Emmylou/ together we love singing those old time fiddle tunes.” - Old Times - Geoffrey Bates-Kym Watling.
Meanwhile back at Unumgar my research revealed that Geoffrey Bates is from Clayton - yes, not far from the original campus of Monash University and due west of where rabid Collingwood fan Fred Negro was raised in Richmond.
And unlike the music of Negro's many outfits including the Shonky Tonks there's plenty of fiddle, banjo, mandolin and dobro on the Watling & Bates CD.
And the good doctor Watling expanded on her field of expertise before music intervened.
“My PhD was in physical chemistry - electrochemistry and vibrational spectroscopy,” Dr Kym revealed.
“I was one of a group of spectro-electrochemists, and our research group used a combination of laser Raman spectroscopy and electrochemistry to observe the interaction of metal surfaces with solutions. We were working on replacing cyanide in the gold processing industry with an alternative lixiviant, specifically thiosulfate.”
Yes, there's gold in the hills and valleys south of Woodenbong and Mt Lindesay described on the helpful map as “heart of yowie country.”
You may be wondering where to catch concerts by Watling & Bates who debuted on the Nu Country TV Series #40 premiere on June 1 with their Old Times video filmed with Johnny Rumble on bull fiddle in Valiant Music's guitar heaven in Brunswick Heads.
You can hear them live at festivals, country halls, hotels, art galleries, and Opera Queensland productions.
There's also showcases for Seniors Week and Mental Health Month, Canada 's All-Day Breakfast Stringband and old-time jams.
Here's some history - Small Town Tales follows their 2014 debut EP Before I Met You .
The title track entrée segues into Bates penned In The Dead Of The Night , also promoted with a video clip that will air on Nu Country.
I won't spoil this plot but it's set in Unumgar back in 1861 and the devil and Jesus are locked in a battle that may have been the embryo for the murderous mayhem on the mean streets of Melbourne this year.
But, at least back then, there were no car-jackings and drive-by shootings, and the cops didn't have Mongols neck tattoos as targets for their pre-dawn raids.
The Dr Watling penned Ciderville , also about to receive video accompaniment, is a love song set in a trailer-park.
It won't be mistaken for Blue Mountains bard Jed Zarb's tune Hillbilly Cider , also set for exposure on Nu Country in July.
Ciderville and Bates Ned Kelly saga Such Is Life are punctuated by the good doctor's rollicking instrumental Minus Three that is not an IQ test result for politicians such as Putin, Palmer and Trump.
Another instrumental Poppy's Tune precedes Bates optimistic I Got Gold and Watling's seasonal metaphor for departed romance in The Train Was Leaving .
GHOSTS ROAM IN UNUMGAR
“There's not a lot on in this old hometown/ the bank shut its doors and the school's closing down/ went out Friday night but there's no-one around/ so we sat in the car and remembered.” - Sat In The Car And Remembered - Geoffrey Bates.
The duo's trip down memory lane peaks in the historic Bates song Florence Met Frank - a reality rooted remembrance of romantic rural days of yore.
Salient sequencing finds it preceding Watling's Barry And Adrienne where the characters find love the second time around 30 years later with new partners.
It's a familiar theme that will resonate way beyond Woodenbong.
Perhaps it's a wry word play entrée to the good doctor's fateful Wondering About My Time that is sewn from the same cloth as many new songs about the after-life by Shotgun Willie Nelson, now 86, and still riding horses, playing guitar, singing and writing with inspiration.
Well, it's not humorous like Willie's satiric Still Not Dead Yet but perfect parable to accompany their co-write of Old Times where their angel band celebrates other heroes and heroines.
The fitting finale is Sat In The Car And Remembered - Bates tale of graphic road tours of this lucky country before returning to a rustic retreat where memories fuel the fires in the warmth of the home straight.
“Small towns are as good as you make them,” the duo explains in the liner notes.
“They can languish in the past or break their yoke to carve a new path and identity. You have to make your one fun in a small country town.”
Guests on this disc include mandolinists Christopher Ridgeway and Slim Pickens (not the actor I assume), pianist Bill Mark, drummer Marcus Schintler, bassist John Wilsteed, double bassist Rumble, John James Maloney on bells and Gareth Bjaaland on banjo.
The good doctor also sings, plays fiddle, banjo, bass, recorder, banjo, percussion, harmonica and rooster arousal while Bates provides guitar, bass and vocals.
Producer Phillips also guests on dobro, stomp box, slide guitar, keyboards and guitars on the disc he produced with the duo at Horse Station Creek.
As Texan singing crime novelist and comedian Kinky Friedman says “is there anyone I missed?”
Further info and CD purchase - https://watlingbates.com/