New Year rolling relentlessly along

My friend Joy sent one of Jacquie Lawson’s life-affirming animated cards for New Year, a positive message delivered as a calendar, pages flipping to the tune of Auld Lang Syne. It was a northern hemisphere theme, but the message was universal – the wonders of nature.

As for last week’s flippant item about fluffy news, the opening days of 2023 delivered anything but. At New Year drinks, assembled guests inevitably began talking about the bad news of preceding days and weeks. The Tara shooting is still (and probably always will be), bewilderingly pointless. There are Court cases to come involving a traffic accident in which three people died. There’s the home invasion which left a young mother dead and her husband injured. There were drownings, fatal car accidents and a helicopter crash that killed four people.

Where’s a cat up a tree story when you need one?

For my part, I’ve been quite busy as one of my pro bono jobs is editing the U3A Warwick newsletter, an 18-page publication (due today). I was chasing up sponsors who booked advertising space. I made up an ad in Publisher and sent it for approval, quietly invigorated by finding that I can be multi-skilled at my age.

Mind you, race walker Heather Lee (96), could teach me a thing or two. ABC Breakfast interviewed Heather (a lone, good news contribution). She was lamenting that she can no longer compete in her age group – because she’s the only one.

Watching Heather briskly walking, arms swinging, made me prise myself out of the recliner, stretch my hammies and vow to return to the gym. If you make New Year resolutions, that should be Number 1, really. If we’re not fit and active, chances are we’ll soon be on a wheelie walker or in a wheelchair.

Neither of these options appeal to me, but at 70+ with diagnosed brittle bones, I have made getting fitter than I am a priority.

It’s all about exercise, stretching, lunging, eating good food and drinking lots of water; it’s also about brisk walking, not quite the Heather Lee standard but not dog-walking pace either.

The realisation that I was not as fit as I have been came while trudging around the Woodford Folk Festival site, up hill and down, on roads which had been knocked about by rain. I had not been to Woodford for some years. It was always tiring, no matter how fit you were. One year at Woodford, realising that the tiredness comes from the endless walking from one venue to another, I took up residence at one venue and stayed there for the duration. It sure was better than catching the last song of John Butler’s set or not being able to get into the tent when you wanted to be in the front row.

Woodford, with its teeming thousands milling about, is a place where you might meet someone you know and then again, not. In previous years, it seemed as if our age group (the over-60s) was well represented. This year, it was like being at Splendour in the Grass. Most attendees seemed to be in the 18-29 age group and of course there were kids and babies everywhere.

I was one of the few men I spotted wearing jeans. Most were clad in shorts, long hippy pants or on occasions, sarongs. Hardly anyone wore a hat (Albo did), and I guess they will pay for it later.

We were there for the 9am tribute to the extraordinary folk singer, comedian and writer John Thompson, who died in February 2021, aged 56. His widow Nicole Murray put the show together with the help of friends Fred Smith and Ian Dearden. They covered a lot of territory in just 50 minutes; there were performances from singers who’d been in bands with John, a special Morris Dance to the tune of his song ‘Brisbane River’ and a spooky rendition of The Parting Glass by the Spooky Men’s Chorale. As director Stephen Taberner told the full-house crowd, John had at one point joined the Spookies for a tour of the UK. If you did not know of John, you might have seen him as the Songman in the stage production Warhorse, which toured Australia and New Zealand.

A cheerful highlight of the tribute was a rendition of John’s song ‘Bill and the Bear’, about a Maleny man who wrestled a bear at Wirth’s Circus, back in the day. A scratch orchestra led by brass player Mal Webb marched in from the back of the venue to play the extended instrumental.

It was an appropriately sombre, hilarious, cheerful and tearful event. John would have been incredulous that he could draw a full house at a 9am festival gig.

From there, I wandered off to catch Jem Casser-Daley at one of her first Woodford gigs. Jem played piano and was backed by a drummer and bass player. She’s young and her songs are mostly about feeling young and vulnerable, broken relationships or being stood up for a date. She’s confident, natural, has a beautiful voice and showed her musical pedigree by including two covers. First came Neil Young’s ‘Harvest Moon’, maybe inspired by A.J. Lee and maybe not, and then delving into her Dad’s record collection to come up with Carole King’s ‘It’s Too Late’, Baby. Jem Casser-Daley, star of the future.

I found my way back to the 9am venue in time for Eric Bogle’s sound check in which the pithy Scotsman sang ‘For nearly 60 years I’ve been a jockey’. Later, he sang the real song with great heart, as he always does. As a songwriter who is always asked to sing the same one or two songs at gigs, I felt for Eric once again working through ‘No Man’s Land’ (also known as ‘The Green Fields of France’), which was a huge hit for the Fureys and set Eric off on the life of a touring musician. At 77, he’s still in good voice, quipping away between songs and bantering with fellow musicians, Emma Luker (fiddle) and Pete Titchener (guitar and vocals). I feel tired just writing this, but Eric went from a tour of New Zealand in October to a 13-concert tour here in November and a few gigs in December before the tour bus rolled into Woodford. As the quote goes on his tour posters: ‘A mixture of loquacious Scottish humour and exceptionally heartfelt folk songs. (The Irish Times).

Songwriters tend to become identified with a certain type of song – in Bogle’s case songs about World War I. He told his Woodford audience that he had published 230 songs, of which only 12 are about WWI. He also revealed he had registered ‘No Man’s Land’ under both titles!

Eric is one of three songwriters who wrote a tribute for John Thompson, ‘Catching the Wave’, which is on his latest album, Source of Light.

Fred Smith, better known for songs about the conflict in Afghanistan, penned the as-yet unreleased ‘Sweet Ever After’, watching John’s funeral on Zoom from his room in Kabul. Brisbane folk singer Ian Dearden, a long-time friend and associate, wrote ‘Song for John’ which can be found on Bandcamp.

I like to remember John Thompson as he was – a warm fellow with a brilliant mind, feverish sense of humour, a grand voice, clever writer, sometimes impatient but always with good intentions.

It’s so hard to refer to him in the past tense.








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