2016 CD REVIEW
50 YEARS IN OZ (Shoestring)
NOTHING BLUE ABOUT THE MOUNTAINS FOR ALLAN CASWELL
“On a morning in September I was standing on the deck/ on the Castel Felice in 1966/ staring at the building site where the Opera House would be/ my mother and my father and their 10 pound family/ at least we spoke the language for what that was worth.” - 50 Years In Oz - Allan Caswell-Lachlan Bryan.
Expat English singer-songwriter Allan Caswell was never tempted to resurrect the Beatles hit When I'm 64 after reaching that memorable milestone in March at Medlow Bath in the Blue Mountains.
Instead he had a ready-made title track for his 19th album - 50 Years In Oz.
The singer, born in Chester, arrived here at 14 and has since written more than 500 songs for a vast cast of peers.
Caswell reflects on that rich catalogue, especially The Prisoner TV show theme song On The Inside , a huge hit for Lynne Hamilton in his title track.
It was a nice little earner for Caswell when it was reprised in Prisoner Cell Block H in the U.S. and U.K. and Caged Women in Canada.
But it also became a painful and protracted battle when Caswell sued the publisher of chart topping American band Alabama for allegedly plagiarising it as Christmas In Dixie in 1982.
The singer found far more rewarding pages to tear from his life in his album entrée that details five decades here in the trenches.
“ 50 Years In OZ is intended as a celebration of my 50 years here,” Caswell recently revealed to fellow singer-songwriter and Scotch College house-master and media and drama teacher Michael Waugh in an interview.
“I was lucky to start my career at a time when I got to perform with legends like Tex Morton, Buddy Williams, Slim Dusty, Chad Morgan and Kevin King. The things I learned from these blokes was tremendous. They seemed to think of me as an upstart who didn't understand the music and wouldn't amount to anything. Now I'm one of them and routinely pass judgement on the new kids.”
I can empathise with Caswell who chose Mornington Peninsular raised singer-songwriter Lachlan Bryan as his title track collaborator.
As a country music newspaper feature writer-columnist and songwriter at the long defunct Sydney Daily Mirror from 1980-5 there was backlash from country music cliques that prompted Hillbillies Hate Change - a song I penned with an expat Kiwi Darcy LeYear who recorded it before finding more fame with The Wolverines .
But the backlash was not from successful stars such as Smoky Dawson and Slim Dusty who wore another parody I'd Love To Have A Joint With Willie with genteel humour.
It was, of course, the barking dog vocalists with the vintage nasal whine trapped way beyond the neon with little chance of success.
FRACKING OFF THE BUSH
“Good grazing and good farming land has been all buggered up/ and you're never going to find a politician you can trust/ tearing down those little towns we thought were built to last/ while they're digging up the future and burying the past/ they're killing off the rivers, because they're poisoning the streams/ what once was drinking water you can light up like kerosene/ the resources led economy is all they talk about/ but where are we gonna be when the mining boom burns out.” - Nothing Left For Them - Allan and Marian Caswell.
“That experience coupled with the atrocity is CSG mining led to this this song. We took the farmer's perspective and write it that way. Playing it safe has never been my thing and I have always believed that an artist's jobs is often to rattle cages.”
Caswell reached further for his rigours of the road reminisces in Back When We Had Nothing .
It enabled Caswell to collaborate with Nia Robertson on Sweet By And By .
“I loved writing this song,” he added.
“Nia had already done all the research for the true story of Australia's worst ever mining disaster. The trick was to give it a human face. Sweet By and By was the song the miners sang at the end, it could be heard from the surface. Bluegrass music has a rich history of reporting real events, it seemed natural to write it as a bluegrass tune.”
It was Nashville hit writer and recent visitor Max T Barnes whose sire Max D Barnes was also a prolific writer with the late Frank Dycus, Harlan Howard, Vern Gosdin and stone country peers.
“It's a song about the road and the business where we have spent most of our adult lives,” Caswell recalled.
“I guess this song was an exercise in nostalgia for both of us. It was great to write with Max. L love his songs.”
It's a sibling song of sorts of Mercy Of The Road - penned with another prolific Nashville writer Fred Koller who often wrote with late Playboy cartoonist Shel Silverstein and also penned Elvis Was A Narc .
“I first wrote with Fred Koller in Nashville in the early eighties then lost touch until 2015,” Caswell revealed.
“He's a great writer and a real cool human being. This is another road song but with the kind of quirkiness that only Fred can bring.”
NOT SLIM PICKENS - JUST A LITTLE DUSTY
“When I'm strung out tight from driving all night/ I know what it takes, I need the six dollar truckies' breakfast that the Red Roo Roadhouse makes.” - Red Roo Roadhouse - Allan Caswell.
Caswell again reached south of the Murray Dixon line to southern Melbourne suburb Highett for Golden Days that he penned with Weeping Willows singer Andrew Wrigglesworth.
The singer got two for the price of one when Andrew and his Weeping Willows partner Laura Coates also performed on the song shortly after they released their duet CD Before Darkness Comes A-Callin' in April.
Caswell also chose another Victorian - Werribee singer-songwriter Billy Bridge - for Hero Just The Same .
“Marian and I stayed for a night with Billy and Bec Bridge and their kids in Melbourne,” Caswell said of the song source.
“I have always loved cowboy and rodeo songs. Billy and I wrote Hero Just The Same based on Bec's pop who had been a bronc rider a series of war wounds made bronc riding too dangerous. He took a job as a rodeo clown which was way safer, yeah right.”
“I love working with Manfred because he brings a poet's soul to everything he writes so we wrote a bunch songs together with a real Australian slant to them,” Caswell said of the truckie double shot.
“This song started as a droving song and quickly turned itself into a truck driving bush ballad. It was the song that set the direction for where I wanted the album to go.”
And, of course, Caswell revived Red Roo Roadhouse - once a staple in Slim Dusty's repertoire.
“I wrote this song for Slim Dusty back in the eighties, and when he recorded it, it was a huge thrill. When we recorded it Slim asked me if there really was a Red Roo Roadhouse . I told him if he recorded it there would be.”
It's no surprise that Caswell, who published his first book Writing Great Song Lyrics in 2006, also reprised album finale His Old Piano from one of his song-writing workshops.
Although Allan often advised of dangers of co-writing without equitable reward this is a generous publishing royalties sharing scheme.
“This song came from a song-writing workshop I ran in Theebine, Queensland,” Caswell confessed.
“There were seven participants and me. An enthusiastic couple of hours and we had a song that we all loved. A song with eight co-writers is pretty rare outside of hip-hop but I think it worked really well.”
OK that's the plot from the Caswell song factory.
What about the verdict?
Well, Caswell balances his serious social comment tunes with just enough pathos and humour to sate the audience.
“The road is a big part of this album as it has been in my life for the last half century,” says Caswell whose songs have also been covered by Paul Costa, Tracy Killeen, Rose Carleo, McAlister Kemp , Travis Collins, Patti Page, Cilla Black, Irish Rovers , Max Bygraves, Acker Bilk, The Living End , Chad Morgan, James Blundell, Anne Kirkpatrick, Don Spencer, Graeme Connors, Delltones , Doug Ashdown and Ricky May.
“It's a road that took me to nearly every town in NSW, every state of Australia, New Zealand, Nashville, New York, L.A, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. The songs on 50 Years In Oz were all inspired by my life in Australian and my place in it.”
And, of course, exploring the bush is the best means of massaging the message.