Appreciating the Talents of Pat Drummond
© Jim Low
Last Sunday afternoon I attended a house concert at Engadine on Sydney's southern outskirts. It was officially Pat Drummond's second house concert. Ten years had rolled by since his first one in my home at Mt Riverview, in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. I had not seen Pat since then.
Alighting from the car I could not but notice the large, shiny-white Ford Transit van parked behind me. There on the grass verge next to the van was Pat. He was making final adjustments to his tie in readiness for the role of country newspaper journalist, complete with press pass poking from his hat band. It is through the persona of a reporter that he is now most familiar to audiences when he performs his songs. It was good to see him again.
From the van, which was full of a number of PAs, microphone stands and boxes of other musical accessories, he was gathering together the final things necessary for that afternoon's performance. This van was the newest in a long, unremembered count of vehicles that have taken him around the country. Only a week old, it had already notched up 3 000 kilomtres. I helped him carry his two guitars into Margaret and Allan's home where the concert would soon be commencing.
Pat Drummond is a highly gifted Australian singer-songwriter and musician who has been entertaining audiences for over thirty years. Many of his songs introduce us to some very interesting characters around whom he skilfully weaves their stories. He takes us travelling, venturing to different parts of Australia through the magic of his words and music. He possesses the ability to extend the imagination of his audience and create the illusion of a wonderful journey through the dynamics of his performance.
In the house concert on Sunday he was joined by Karen Lynne. As well as singing harmony she took the lead vocal in a number of the songs. I had not heard Karen sing before and was thoroughly entranced by her sensitive interpretations of Pat's songs. Her singing voice possesses such a beautiful clarity and control.
Audience participation is always encouraged in a Pat Drummond performance. In Eighteen Wheels, a song about a long distance truck driver, the audience was soon confidently singing the clever, interweaving chorus. Throughout the song the imagery intriguingly likens the driver to "a sailor on an inland sea". The well known Somewhere In The Car which concluded the concert was performed to an array of prearranged sound effects provided by the audience.
Pat and Karen performed a lovely version of The Darling Downs. Its waltz time, musical accessibility and strongly appealing chorus with classic Australian feel, made this a highpoint for me. Pat is a master at telling really interesting stories in his songs. David's Watch and Dreams, for example, took us on life journeys of optimistic hopes and dreams. Both these songs reveal a real empathy with the protagonists and never become judgmental.
Songs like The Bridge and Love And Irrational Hope exemplify Pat's facility to introduce some profound ideas into his songs and refine them to some well chosen words and imagery. The Bridge is a song of compassion for and faith in humanity, negating our differences in the scheme of things. The mention in one of the verses of William Hobbs of Myall Creek was for me a compelling and appropriate addition. In Love And Irrational Hope the lead vocal is sung by Karen. This is an inspiring song that confronts the uncertainties of life that we all often experience. The song reminded me of a favourite quote I came across as a teenager when reading Albert Schweitzer's writings. Schweitzer believed that those who experienced life more deeply would always encourage others to follow the ideas that inspired them in their youth. In "youthful idealism" he claimed that we perceive the truth. Such idealism, in my opinion, creeps unashamedly into this and other songs written by Pat.
Pat is a passionate, thoroughly engaging, larger-than-life performer. As I watched him perform I was reminded of the first house concert he gave at my place. After everyone had left and he was packing up his gear, he commented that the room - our sunroom - seemed strangely smaller than it had appeared during his performance earlier in the evening. I had to agree. I also thought that Pat himself seemed to have shrunk in size. When he performed I was sure he appeared larger. It was this impression I was again experiencing during the Engadine concert.
Many of the songs sung at this second house concert were from Pat and Karen's recent duo CD Long Journey Home. This CD contains fourteen of Pat's original songs - the majority new ones - along with a charming Christmas song written by his brother Geoff and a beautiful, reflective, co-write with Brent Parlane. The CD was produced by Karen and she has done an excellent job. Some choice musicians also play on the CD. The instrumentation is clear and well balanced, enhancing the overall sound of each song. Through carefully textured, acoustic settings Karen has allowed Pat's strong melodies and lyrics to be fully appreciated.
I really enjoyed listening again to If A Man Is A Man, a song which first appeared on Laughter Like A Shield in 1993. Celebrating the life and values of a Wellington car parts salesman, this song is given a new musical setting. Lindsay Martin's tastefully moody violin and precise mandolin playing, along with Pat's accomplished guitar work, all combine to make this song a great addition to the CD. I have always enjoyed Pat's guitar playing in his live performances. On this CD he plays all the guitars and you are quickly aware of his fine capabilities with the instrument.
A songwriter friend once told me how important it was to be honest when writing a song. But it sometimes takes a certain amount of courage to be honest in your songwriting. It's not very hard to find examples on this CD showing Pat's honesty in his songwriting. In the somewhat self-deprecating song Arrogance, for example, he demonstrates his ability to treat a very personal song of faith with integrity.
The CD title Long Journey Home suggests that Pat is not averse to wandering off the main road and along the back-roads. Although taking more time to travel, these back-roads often introduce him to some interesting people, places and rewarding situations. Despite the background design of each CD booklet page being part of a map, it's pretty clear from listening to Pat's songs that he is a person who delights in disregarding maps and confidently charting his own course home. Thankfully for us he always seems to arrive with material for his thoughtfully crafted songs. These songs are insightful, inspiring, entertaining and always set to engaging tunes.
A few weeks before the memorable house concert that Pat gave at my home all those years ago, I remember taking the time to play his first album of songs. Two songs which had originally taken my interest - 23 and Another Weekend - again caught my attention. There's Pat confidently sprawled across the inside cover of this album, while these two songs seem to be expressing a certain restlessness and dissatisfaction with the precarious balancing act he was performing in real life at that time. On the one hand, there were the responsibilities involved in raising a family and working a demanding but secure, full-time job as a school teacher. On the other hand, a lot of time was spent singing his songs in bars and restaurants on at least three nights every week and wrestling with the desire to go into full-time performing. By the time this first recording was released in 1979, Pat had ditched his teaching job in favour of the insecure life of a full-time musician. And that is what he has been doing enthusiastically ever since.
He sang in the song 23, which was written in 1976, that he had "so many songs inside (him)". With the benefit of hindsight, we know that this statement was indeed very true. Like many others, I am grateful for the rich collection of wonderful songs about Australia and its people that he has written and shared with us for over thirty years. Hearing him again last week at Margaret and Allan's house concert and listening to his latest CD Long Journey Home reaffirmed what an important Australian contemporary singer-songwriter Pat Drummond is.