Friday, 18 September 2009

It might have been the result of a musical assessment piece for a Politics and Art course at Flinders University in 1975, and has probably been close to impossible to track down since the early eighties, but Redgum’s first album remains an Australian classic.

Rear View: Redgum "If You Don't Fight You Lose"

If You Don't Fight You Lose

Over the past thirty years there's been a lot of water flow under the bridge but it may come as no surprise to discover that many of the currents that were passing under the bridge all those years ago are still there.

At least, that's how I felt when I sat down to listen to Redgum's first album If You Don't Fight You Lose a few days back.

Discussing something that dates back to the late seventies is going a long way out of the planned sequence for these Rear View pages which involved running through some of Hughesy's favourite albums roughly in the order I encountered them, but given the current state of progress. I'm currently mired down in the late sixties with a good dozen titles to discuss before I even get into the seventies, so if I don't tackle this one now it could still be on the To Do list come 2012 or 2015....

For reasons that'll soon become obvious it had been a number of years since I'd thought of that first Redgum album, but I was in Australiana-reminiscent mode writing my review of Kamerunga's The Push when If You Don't Fight You Lose came to mind.

Right, Hughesy thought, I'd like to hear that again. Wonder if you can buy a copy on line...

A quick Google search revealed that the album is currently unavailable in any legitimate digital format, but there were a number of blog sites where unofficial copies were available so, rather than waiting till I could obtain a USB turntable and the relevant digital conversion software I went for the easier immediate option.

As I sat down to listen I was struck by the fact that a number of the issues that concerned John Schumann and friends back in 1977 are still with us. Some may have changed form slightly, but the more things change, as the saying goes....

The first thing struck me, from the first couple of notes is that it's a stridently Australian album. There's no way you'd pick it as coming from anywhere else. As things continued along the track on subsequent releases Schumann's nasal Strine accent moderated, but there's no way that you're going to place these vocals on any other continent or plonk them down in the middle of any of the intercontinental oceans for that matter.

I'm no expert on Adelaide night life, and while the elements identified in the opening One More Thursday Night In Adelaide may or may not still be there, regardless of whether there’s still no one on the streets there’s definitely still nothing on TV/So I think I’ll go and burn my T.V. guide. We may have reached the wonderful new age of high definition and pay T.V. but there are now, to paraphrase Mr Springsteen, somewhere around fifty-seven channels with nothing much on...

Regardless of that point, hangin’ out at discos, orange laminex pizza bars and arty farty cities more than likely continue to bring you down.

If that opener isn’t pointed enough when you’re talking contemporary issues the second track, Carrington Cabaret presents a depressingly familiar view of life as it’s imposed on sections of our indigenous community. Thirty years, millions of dollars, assorted policy initiatives from State and Federal governments, Royal Commissions, Parliamentary Inquiries and the odd intervention here and there and not much has changed.

If there hasn’t been a whole lot of change in the situation as far as the indigenous population’s concerned, in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis we’ve still got a bastard called the economy that’s been wrapped ... up in bandages/To hide his gaping sores. Those lines from Track Three Critique In C.

Stimulus package, anyone?

The more, as they say, things change...

Then you get to the next track, Beaumont Rag, and find a character who appears to be a reasonably close approximation of your average front bench Australian conservative politician. Listening again after all these years I couldn’t help visualising a certain ex-Foreign Minister.

When Madam walked into the office just now I asked for a second opinion, so it’s not just me....

Then there’s the character in Peter The Cabby, who would have an equivalent in any Australian urban setting where there’s more than one or two taxis operating. I’m not saying all cab drivers fit the bill, but he seems awfully familiar.

Speaking of awfully familiar, Side One’s closer, H.M.A.S. Australia, may have morphed slightly in thirty years but there’s still a hell of a lot that rings true. The band may not still be playing American songs from 1973 - it may have turned into gangsta rap or one of its offspring - or the Imperial Waltz/from far across the sea and if the song was brought up to date there’d probably be a reference to dragon dances or Bollywood musicals but there are still many of the same themes lurking in the background today.

And that’s just Side One.

As was so often the case back in the vinyl days, Side Two isn’t quite as strong, but there’s still plenty of apposite comment with contemporary relevance.

About the only track that’s obviously locked in the past is the penultimate Letter to B.J. (i.e. a certain ex-Premier of Queensland) who may no longer be with us, but there are still plenty of authoritarian little bully boys lurking in the woodwork waiting for the opportunity to stick their heads above the parapet when it seems safe to do so.

If You Don’t Fight You Lose, in its own way represented a significant point in Australian music. It’s a pity it’s no longer available through official sources, and while there may be those out there who claim that the country has moved on since those days there are enough themes there that still resonate in the early twenty-first century to keep it relevant.

Oh, and if someone goes to the trouble of releasing an official, authorised or legitimate digital copy, they can definitely put me down for one.

In the Top Thousand:
H.M.A.S. Australia