Monthly Archives: December 2016

The Blue Room's Year in Music 2016

Despite the sadness associated with a major loss of musical talent, there was a veritable plethora of great albums produced this year, both from ageing stalwarts and a new breed of talent. It think too often pundits around my age are quick to lament that there’s nothing put out in the marketplace these days to match the quality of product that occurred when they were in their prime. I do beg to differ – and I would suggest that a listen to some of the CDs I’ve listed in my Top 10, as well as those among the honorable mentions, would cause a rethink =

1. Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats – this hipster-bearded wonder from Missouri first enchanted me on Graham Norton with a raucous single I could easily take as my motto – ‘I Need Never Get Old’, a raucous foot-stomper if there ever was one. Check it out on YouTube and you will see what I mean, with, as a bonus, a viewing of Nathaniel’s generous gut. I bought the CD as a result and found it to be a quality collection that I keep returning to.

2. Mary Chapin Carpenter – ‘The Things that We Are Made Of ‘– this darling of nineties country music comes back with a collection reminiscent of her pomp.

3. Sonya Kitchell – We Come Apart – Sadly not available here – I imported it from the States but it was well worth the effort – apart from one discordant track. A multi-talented lady, Sonya K has produced an album Rolling Stone describes as ‘Extraordinary… a remarkably sophisticated collection of songs that belies the age of its creator ‘.

4. Emma Russack – ‘In a New State‘ – Made whilst finishing off her law degree, this unsung (sorry) Melbourne songstress has produced a moody gem. Will music be her eventual calling, or the legal profession?

5. Jack and Amanda Palmer – ‘You Got Me Singing‘ – A father and famous daughter project, this took me back to Lee Heazlewood and Nancy Sinatra.

6. Felix Riebl – ‘Paper Doors’ – Not a huge fan of The Cat Empire, but I am of this band member. Even better than his excellent debut a few years back.

7. Paul Kelly and Charlie Owen – ‘Death’s Dateless Night‘ – Another co-production, with Kelly in sublime voice re-inventing some of his back catalogue, along with some quality covers.

8. Eric Clapton – ‘I Still Do‘ – So what if he’s not cutting edge in his dotage. Let’s just appreciate Old Slowhand while we can and long may he walk his way through albums like this.

9. Lucinda Williams – ‘The Ghosts of Highway 20‘ – this warhorse of alt country isn’t getting any younger, but she can still belt it out in her ballsy style better than most half her age.

10. Archie Roach – ‘Let Love Rule’ – Living national treasure. Nothing more to be said.

HMs – Foy Vance – ‘The Wild Swan’; Angel Olsen – ‘My Woman’; Andrew Bird – ‘Are You Serious?’; Willie Nelson – ‘For the Good Times’; M Ward – ‘More Rain’; Melody Pool – ‘Deep, Dark, Savage Heart’; Case, Lang, Veirs; Joan Baez – ’75th Anniversary’; Leonard Cohen’ – You Want it Darker’; Tony Joe White – ‘Rain Crow’.

Songs I Liked in ’16 – Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats – ‘I Need Never Get Old’, Joan Baez/Mary Chapin Carpenter – ‘Catch the Wind’, Steve Earle and Shaun Colvin – ‘Ruby Tuesday’, Case Lang Veirs – ‘Delirium’, Felix Riehl and Martha Wainwright – ‘In Your Arms’, Angel Olsen – ‘Sister’, Archie Roach – ‘Let Love Rule’, Sonya Kitchell – ‘We Come Apart’.

A Dose of Reality

When she asked, on my return, what I’d thought of the latest movie I’d viewed at the State, I replied that it was, ‘Very good, but it broke my heart in places.’ You see I could connect with an aspect of it. My lovely lady had spent a year recovering from a non-workplace injury that precluded her from from doing the job she loved as a nurse. Then there followed another ten months, once her medical people deemed she was fit enough to return, to jump through all the hoops before the system actually allowed that to happen in just the last few weeks. She is now back in her rightful place, with her colleagues, in the most caring of callings and I am so proud of her determination not to let the system beat her. She wasn’t ready to be put out to pasture – and nor was Daniel Blake.

Ken Loach movies come from a decidedly left wing bias. He often shoves it up the silver-tails and the powers to be with what he presents and ‘I, Daniel Blake’ caused a minor political storm when it was released in the UK. The film was pilloried over its portrayal of the systems in place that supposedly should act as a safety net; a net that professes to support people like Daniel. He is a no-nonsense Geordie with a gallows sense of humour and straight as a dye. He’s no shirker, but a heart attack has laid him low and his personal health carers are of the opinion a return to work is not in his best interest. Widower Daniel is also a bit at sea after his wife’s death, but he still manages to be chipper and positive – until he enters the domain of the British equivalent of Centrelink. He’s hoping he can attain some benefits to keep him afloat till he can return to his trade of forty years. But a desk drone deems his medical condition is not serious enough to keep him away from a workplace despite his doctors’ orders. So it is decided, in the unfailing wisdom of the petty bureaucracy, that he must apply for jobs he is in no position to accept if successful. When he arcs up at the ridiculousness of this, the bureaucracy turns nasty and he is further hampered in his own efforts to hold his financial ground. In his dealings with the system he encounters a newly arrived on the Tyne single mum who is also being given an unreasonably hard time by the unbending nature of said system’s toadies. Daniel comes to her aid, befriends Katie and does his best to help her and her two kiddies keep their head above water when he is struggling himself. Eventually it grinds them down till they both have to make choices that go against their convictions.

Comedian Dave Johns and Hayley Squires are exceptional as the leads. Daniel becomes very close to Katie, in a platonic fashion, as do her two offspring to him. Brianna Shann, as Katie’s daughter, would melt the hardest of hearts.

So who wins out? Do our two battling heroes or is it the strictures of the beige brigade whose sole role in life, it seems to be, is to sit behind a desk and heap misery upon misery on the undeserving? To be fair, there was one who did not behave entirely like a robotic android and actually had a bit of human kindness – and was hauled over the coals for deviating from strict procedure. It’s a realm in which it seems the hoops to be bounded through are like a labyrinth specifically designed to make people give the game away, drop off the radar and thus not become a negative statistic. I’ve heard enough horror tales here about interminable waits on the phone that drive people spare. And heaven help you if, like Daniel, you are not au fait with computers, especially the notion of completing forms on-line, only having to go through it all again on the phone or in person. This movie is not easy viewing at times for it so accurately reflects what seems to be happening all over the western world as the rich get richer and the governing classes further disconnect from those they are elected to serve.

Described as ‘A fierce and often funny polemic designed to leave a lump in your throat and fire in your belly.’ (SBS), for my money this is one of the year’s best, a rightful winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes earlier this year.

Admittedly at times the Geordie brogue was somewhat hard to decipher, almost warranting sub-titles, but Loach, together with writer Paul Laverty, have given a sharp shafting to the grey-hearts who inflict their pedantry on those they obviously consider their inferiors. Although the movie was declared as ‘unfair’ by the British Conservative government – it nonetheless seemed a pretty fair call to me.

Trailer for the Movie =

Heading South

James Kelman – ‘Dirt Road’ Paul Theroux – ‘Deep South’

In 1917 HL Mencken, writer, regarded the lands south of the Mason-Dixon Line ‘…as the bunghole(s) of America, a cesspool of Baptists, a miasma of Methodism, snake charmers, real estate operators and syphilitic evangelists. And an artless place to boot.’ He commented that, specifically, ‘Georgia is at once the home of the cotton-mill sweater, of the Methodist pastor turned Savonarola and the lynching bee.’ (Paul Theroux, ‘Deep South’ p222). So I checked in with Mr Theroux and James Kelman to see if much had changed. Theroux’s book and Kelman’s ‘Dirt Road’ are both worthy tomes but, gee, they took some getting through.

I was attracted to Kelman’s novel firstly because he is a Booker Prize winner. Secondly, I purchased as it dealt with, according to a laudatory review I read, the healing force of music for troubled souls. Entering into the book, I was immediately struck by the quality of the author’s prose, as well as his disdain for the apostrophe. But there has to be more to bound printed pages than the excellence of the wordsmithery, even if his casting of conversation in the Scottish lilt and southern drawl was commendable. There needs to be a story – but this one moved along at a more glacial pace than the Mississippi meanders through its delta. Admittedly it was the language that kept me going; that and the desire to find out if the lad finally wins the girl.

‘Dirt Road’ is half a coming-of-age saga, half a tale of the Southern byways – the latter being the case with the great American travel writer’s non-fiction take as well. Interestingly we tend to forget that Paul Theroux once excelled at fiction, being responsible for such product as ‘Saint Jack’, ‘The Mosquito Coast’, ‘Half Moon Street’ and ‘O-Zone’ – but more on him later.

Kelman’s tale centres on a grief stricken teenager, Murdo, who, together with his dad, the silent and traumatised Tom, have lost their mother/wife and sister/daughter in quick succession. Tom decides an American holiday is just the ticket to escape the blues, so they leave their island, off the western coast of Scotland, to escape to the US, planning to stay with rellies in Dixie. Getting there by a circuitous route, young Murdo, an accordion toting folkie-to-be of some local repute, discovers zydeco, as performed by the remarkable Queen Monzee-ay and her washboard playing granddaughter. Murdo is immediately attracted to both, for different reasons. He performs with them on a whim; the black musicians being so mightily impressed they invite him to take the stage with them in a few weeks time when they perform at a festival in a place called Lafayette. Dad and the lad continue on their journey to their welcoming relatives – unfortunately a fair distance from the happening-to-be in a field near Lafayette, Louisiana. Adding to his confusion is a town by the same name much closer to where he is staying. It’s at this stage that the novel becomes more boggy than Culloden. Murdo proceeds to spend an inordinate amount of time camped in his host family’s basement, trying to figure out how to reunite with his newly made musician friends – especially that girl. Towards the end, this offering from Kelman picks up the pace as Murdo does a runner with his father hot on his tail, but by this time I was thankful I’d reached the final pages. I was over it. It was an easy novel, despite its positives, to let go of.

And sadly, I felt the same way about ‘Deep South’. Was that because Theroux went over the same territory, just with seasonal variation, as he made the trip from his New England home towards the Gulf in Autumn (sorry Fall), Winter Spring and Summer? Was it because he self-drove those byways instead of using the conveyance we most associate with him – the railroad? With ‘The Great Railway Bazaar’, ‘Riding the Iron Rooster’, ‘The Old Patagonian Express’ and other such titles he made his name as a travel writer par excellence. As an aside, whilst I was reading this, I encountered a well-journeyed shop keeper in Richmond village who was inspired to go places she would never have countenanced before she came across this author’s writings, even taking the same trains. And perhaps there is one final question – is age catching up with the famed describer of exotic locales?

But the book did thoroughly explain to me, in no uncertain terms, as to why the Trumpster was able to capture the disaffection of the American heartland thus taking him to the Presidency. Over and over again Theroux railed about the destruction of American industry due to globalisation. It’s pulverised the economy of much of the South and ergo the lives of huge swathes of its populace; what with the transition of their jobs to south of the border down Mexico way, as well as to China and India. Most of the towns he visited were just shells of their former glory, their inhabitants existing well below the poverty line – black and white. There are still immense racial divisions and antagonisms, as well as a fissure between urban and rural of both races. He also points to the deep distrust held by many to anything associated with the Clinton family.

Theroux meets many of the poor and down-trodden. The stories they told were uniformly heart-breaking, but by the end there were just so many of them it seemed to defeat the purpose. He also heard the tales of those doing their best to assist these defeated souls – including some from outside the region who were often viewed with suspicion as do-gooding interlopers. In his travels he bumps into the former wife of the great BB King – and does she have an interesting word or two to say about her ex. He encounters numerous men by the name of Patel, all from the state of Gujarat in India. A Patel ran every single motel he stayed in – could these be the same industrious people who seem to be behind the counter of seemingly all United servos here?

But, overall, the wordsmith’s impression of the people of the South, with some notable exceptions, was that they abounded in ‘…kindness, generosity; a welcome I had found often in my travelling life in the wider world, but I found so much more of it here that I kept going…’ The fact that he did so, on and on and on, is perhaps not such a plus for the reader.

‘Deep South’ is illuminated by the images of the great Steve McCurry, but more illumination would have been gained by an inclusion of a map of his travels for those of us not so familiar with the geography of these former Confederate states. As Theroux points out, with the US pumping so much foreign aid into the third world, some would find it at odds with such poverty on the home front down south. Maybe Trump will pay more attention to those who, through no fault of their own, are doing it tough from the Georgia shore to the Ozarks.

Not since Kennedy has there been a President as charismatic as Obama, but the hope that came with him had well and truly dissipated in the south by the time these two books were written. Middle America has now gifted the planet the ultimate wild-card. Can he conjure much needed change for those who demonstrated how weary of the political elite the voters in these regions were? Time will tell.

Paul Theroux Website =



‘I took up drawing in my early twenties to escape the drudgery of teaching English to miserable high school kids in miserable towns on the west coast of Tasmania.’
That surprised me – but then I found this, trying to track down more of his personal history on-line
‘Oslo Davis was born in Brooklyn, Tasmania. He is now an illustrator and cartoonist living in Melbourne, Australia.’

At first I was going to write that, as we both taught in the same educational district of the island state and as I had forty years teaching in the same region as Oslo, I’d probably come across him. Then, to find out he was born in the suburb of Brooklyn in my home town of Burnie – one of my favourite cartoonists – I was gobsmacked to say the least. Oslo a Burnie boy – well I never. And like me, he headed south to complete his education at UTAS, possibly also well before it came to be generally known as UTAS – although, by the look of him, he is considerably younger than myself. And we both ended up teaching. No doubt we probably attended the same moderation meetings – they usually being a right royal waste of time really, trying to make sure our teaching of English was on the same page, so to speak. As if.

Now Burnie’s not the most attractive town on an island noted for its attractive locales, but, compared to places like Rosebery and Queenstown, down the west, it’s a veritable Paris or Florence – despite the latter mining town having the ‘Mountains of the Moon’ and the infamous gravel oval. In such a place most teenagers would be miserable – I’m sure it wasn’t entirely down to Mr Davis’ lack of pedagogical skill. But teaching obviously wasn’t for him. Thankfully, so it turns out. In between Oslo leaving the classroom and achieving the measure of fame he has today, he dipped into a number of professions, as well as some extensive travel, before he found his true calling. And that brings me to the point of this exercise – reporting on my perusal of his latest publication, ‘Drawing Funny’.

In this Oslo recalls that he’d always been a doodler, leading to now earning a living from producing funny drawings. He has developed, as any cartoonist worth his or her salt should, his own recognisable style – despite once receiving a letter of complaint, from a more senior artist, reckoning that, ‘I have never ever seen worse drawings anywhere by anyone.’

Oslo came to my attention through his work for the Age newspaper. He was a regular contributor until he, along with Horacek and Weldon, was sacked as full time employee in 2012 due to cost cutting measures that saw the broadsheet become more tabloid. He now only produces two weekly cartoons for that daily, one being his popular ‘Overheard’ series for the Sunday edition; as well as an occasional article. But he has various other gigs to fall back on – and then there are his books, ranging on such topics as the attractions of various Melbourne localities, Henry Lawson to even Donald Trump.

‘Drawing Funny’ is described in its blurb as a ‘how to’ guide, but it really just tells how Davis goes about it – I suspect such a thing cannot be taught in any case. And it is also a vehicle for the ‘best of’ his product. There were quite a few fresh ones for me to quietly have a chuckle over, the highlight being, for me, his take on the abomination that is the morning shower. I guess we may well have that in common too – our abhorrence of that form of ablution as opposed to languorously lingering in the tub. Showers apart, there’s much pleasure to be had in this small collection and for the uninitiated it would be a great introduction to Oslo’s product – and at around a mere $15, it’s a steal.

Oslo’s website =

Let Love Rule

‘And we hear the children crying and we don’t know what to do’

We might not, but he did. And I imagine it went something like this.

It was the news item one too many. It doesn’t matter if he’d heard it on the evening news or the radio. Maybe it was one he read in his daily newspaper. He’d had enough of the rise of Trump with his divisiveness; the bombing of the innocents in the hospitals and schools of Syria. Sure, they were bad, upsetting – but what really got to him was what was happening in his own country; a country he loved dearly despite all it had thrown at him, personally, in the past. Abbott, Dutton, Morrison – even Turnbull, whom he’d once had such hopes for – they all used their weasel words to give credence to their foul policies. They would one day be held to account for them; of that he had no doubt. He knew that yet another Prime Minister would have to stand up and say ‘Sorry’ for the misdeeds of his/her predecessors. It would be a fair bet, though, he wouldn’t live long enough to see that day – but he had the one apology that mattered to him the most. He found it difficult to credit that his land, once so generous to those fleeing war and persecution, could now close its welcoming doors in the name of border protection. Could incarcerate those men, women and children who made it through; incarcerate them indefinitely in tropical hell holes. Subjecting those poor souls to mental depression and self harm – our government seemed to him to be making life as intolerable as possible. Even worse, it gave them no hope of any form of a future worth living. The nation’s leaders were falling over themselves to be hairy-chested on the topic and the country had again elected the redneck redhead to spit her venom out; to again be the darling of the shock-jocks. He just shook his old head at it all, over and over.


Yes, it was too much. He grabbed his notepad and took to his seat out on the porch where a gentle zephyr and sun’s rays would clear his head. His abode, near Robe in South Australia, was his haven, but it would be remiss of him to become insular. Remiss not to at least try to change the minds who counted on where they were leading Australia. He’d done it before, he could do it again with the power of his words. He knew he’d be listened to.

As he sat and thought and considered what shape these words would take he also cast his mind to her, his beloved Ruby. She’d been gone now for five long years and even his words couldn’t start to tell how much she was missed. He wondered what she would have thought of these odious men, supposedly of Christian values, or so they claimed, who inflicted so much misery. She always saw the best in people – saw the best in him, too, when he was down and out in the gutter all those years before. He knew she’d be appalled as well. He owed it to her to do something about it. He knew his voice was not alone – his would be one of a number of humane compatriots doing their best to bring pressure to bear. Ruby was only 54 when she left him and, by rights, it should have been him, he reflected. He survived a stoke and losing part of his lung to cancer, but he carries on, doing what he has done so well for decades. He understood the verses he was about to scribe would need to be strong to cut through – just as another batch of lines had done so decades before when he started out on his musical journey. And his new project was centred on the nature of love. He would make what he now wrote to fit in with what had already been prepared.


When he finished Archie was satisfied with the outcome. And he already had a melody to it swirling around in his head. His mate Craig, who’d produced his last CD collection, liked it when he plucked it out on guitar for him, softly crooning him the words. He gave the tune a title – and eventually, between them, Archie and the producer decided that it embraced something of what he wanted to make plain in an album devoted to love in all its forms. It was, they felt, even strong enough to be the lead in song, as well as giving it’s title to the whole; it having eleven new compositions in total.

Archie Roach knows the power that music has as a means of making people respond to a message. They will listen to ‘Let Love Rule’, just as they listened, all those years ago, when his recorded CD appeared. His 1990 debut, ‘Charcoal Lane’, had a song that made the nation sit up and take notice – ‘Took the Children Away’ – an introduction, for many for us, to what was a blot on our history. The protest song bought to the attention of the mainstream the Stolen Generation. If it’s one thing Archie knows it is that Australians, at their core, are, in the main, compassionate – even if that is not reflected by the flinty-heartedness of our government leaders.


It was music, with Ruby’s help, that raised him up from that Gertrude Street gutter. It was music that helped him over her death and his health issues. His last release of new material, ‘Into the Bloodstream’, was a salve to his broken heart and broken body. It lifted him up and got him running again. He knew, physically, it would be a struggle to tour this new product of his – but he is, as I type, on the road doing just that. He wants us all to hear this particular message. For, as he has stated, he fears, that as a nation, ‘We are closing ourselves off and not letting people in. And not just in the sense of not letting them into the country, but not letting them into our hearts, into our minds. He feels ‘This country was built on people coming here from other countries. That’s what has made Australia what it is today.’

Archie Roach is a living national treasure. As Stan Grant comments, ‘How would anyone not open their hearts to… Archie? (He is)… a gentle soul singing with no bitterness. (He) wasn’t about politics,…(he) was about people.’

The artist Ai Weiwei, in his recent massive exhibition at the NGV, shared with Andy Warhol, fully recognised Archie’s contribution to national healing with his Lego based installation for the ‘Letgo Room’. His likeness of Archie has been donated to that gallery for posterity and is the image on the cover of ‘Let Love Go’.


So take a trip to YouTube and have a listen – or, even better, buy the album. Archie is trying so hard to heal; to give an alternate view to that of our pathetic politicians who are anything but healers. And the final word goes to the musician. As part of his promotion for ‘Let Love Rule’, in an interview for the Weekend Australian Magazine, he was asked what keeps him going. His reply, ‘When you’re writing songs, when you sit back and think about what love is, you realise there’s no one answer to that; love is so many things. It’s how I relate to not just family and friends, but to the rest of the country and the world; that’s when I realise that, sure, I’m Aboriginal, but I’m Australian, and I realise that I actually feel and appreciate and love Australians. Basically, we’re a good people and a loving people. I grew up in a place where people had a basic respect for each other; you barracked for the underdog.’

One day, Archie, we’ll get back that core Aussie value

Let Love Rule
Oh when darkness overcomes us
And we cannot find our way
And though we keep on searching
For the light of day

And we hear the children crying
And we don’t know what to do
Gotta hold on to each other
And love will see us through

Let love rule; let it guide us through the night
That we may stay together and keep our spirits calm
Only fools will shun the morning light
Cos love’s the only thing that’ll keep us safe from harm

Oh I cover up my ears so I cannot hear
The voices of hate and the voices of fear
And I cover up my eyes so I cannot see
What’s happened to this country that used to be free

Let love rule; let it guide us through the night
That we may stay together and keep our spirits calm
Only fools will shun the morning light
Cos love’s the only thing that’ll keep us safe from harm

You know I love this country, every rock and every tree
The grasslands and the desert, the rivers and the sea
Oh you know I love the people, wherever they are from
Yes I love all the people, who call this land their home

Archie singing ‘Let Love Rule ‘ =

Archie’s website  =