The Gov Saturday 20 February 2021
Words – Geoff Jenke
John Schumann recently said in the paper that he would never reform Redgum despite many requests from fans of the band to do so. However, John Schumann, lead singer/guitarist with the band, has done the next best thing, performing the songs of Redgum over two nights at The Gov, with both shows selling out.
Redgum formed in 1975, releasing their debut album, If You Don’t Fight You Lose in 1978. Initially the band only performed part time, but after the success of their second album, Virgin Ground in 1980, they became a full-time professional band.
It wasn’t until 1981 that I first caught up with Redgum live, the Troupe Theatre in Unley for a Christmas show which cost $5 to attend. I was impressed and became a fan, writing at the time “…the music was magnificent. They talked about the songs they were playing and jammed when they had technical issues…” I also remember John and some of the band hung around during the interval to talk to fans. I had never seen a band do that before.
Redgum is a two headed monster, one with Jekyll & Hyde personalities. On one side are the songs tackling serious issues that still resonate today, 40 years after release. Songs like Gladstone Pier, Working Girls, Stewie and Beyond Reason (sadly not played this evening). On the other side are the “fun” songs like Fabulon, Serving USA and I’ve Been to Bali Too, which to be honest, generally sound very dated today.
The show started with Mickey O’Brien (please forgive me if I have the name wrong) doing the Welcome to Country and smoking ceremony, but doing it in a way I have never seen before. He added humour to it, at one stage explaining how to make fire with two sticks but they always had a better way, then pulling a gas lighter out of his pocket. And on lighting the gum leaves and grass said “It’s not hash. The old men in the band room have that”.
John’s band, the Vagabond Crew came on stage and started with the only Redgum song that could begin a show in Adelaide, One More Boring (Covid) Night in Adelaide, updating some of the lyrics to suit the modern times. Beaumont Rag followed with its tale of 4-wheel drives, a thing of rarity back in 1978. John had to admit now owning a four-wheel drive.
Stewie followed and the first of the serious songs. John explained how the song came about after playing Cadell prison. A song about hopelessness, songs Redgum did so well. Peter the Cabbie tells us of the hard-working cabdrivers of the 1970’s when “there were no GPS’s and the drivers knew where to go”. John admitted to driving cabs in the 70’s, but only after a couple extensive tests to get his license.
Fabulon, sounded very 70’s despite the slight update of words but the band made up for it with a brilliant version of If you Don’t Fight You Lose straight after. Following this John announced “We were now going to sing a song about apathy… but we can’t be bothered” to the amusement of not only the audience but also the band.
The band were tight and had done their homework on the songs, perhaps only a missing a female vocalist to do a few of the songs sadly missing this evening, originally done by Verity Truman. John told us stories of the songs and history of Redgum and quite often I felt I had heard a few of the funny stories way back in the early 80’s.
But you cannot deny the quality of the songs in Where Ya Gonna Run To, The Last Frontier, Ted, Working Girls and The Diamantina Drover. Just as Deep Purple have to play Smoke on the Water every time they play live, I guess doing Redgum songs means you have to play I’ve Been to Bali Too. I loved this song in the 80’s even though it was years before I went to Bali too, but it is one of those songs that should remain in the 1980’s. It has no redeeming features in 2021, even with the line “went through my bags like Schapelle”, although naturally the audience loved it, especially the two very drunk people behind me. (They also were yelling out for Caught in the Act all night, thankfully not played).
But it was Gladstone Pier that almost bought a tear to my eye. This is probably one of the most depressingly powerful songs ever written. A song of hope, love, despair, loss and pain as never written by anyone else, including Springsteen.
“And Gladstone couples break that
way / Mutual blame and no regrets
And boomtown blues just fade to grey / And all that’s left are debts”
Gladstone Pier is in my all-time top 5 favourite songs ever. It is that good.
The set could only end with I was Only 19. If ANZAC Day is still with us in 150 years, this song will still be playing and rightly so.
Encore consisted of The Long Run, Serving USA and a great version of a “lost” Redgum classic in 100 Years.
The evening is probably best summed up with John commenting during the set, “We are the only band in the Fringe this year not doing cover songs” to which a band member replied “but I thought we are covering Redgum songs”.
Although it wasn’t Redgum, it was great to get out and hear the songs live again. Well done to John and the Vagabond Crew.