Monday, November 16, 2009


Wednesday, November 28, 2007 

"It's that Liyarn; the inner spirit, it's your being..that warmth and that depth...a richness and management of the pain, it's so clear. It can't be articulated through an orator, it has to be an artist that does it, that's why I find it so easy to feel at one with him when he sings." - Pat Dodson from the film "Liyarn Ngarn"

Archie Roach has quietly and boldly written his name across the Australian musical landscape with a humble integrity few can match, a journey he describes as being "incredibly blessed and lucky". His trademark cracked vibrato and unadorned writing style struts rich themes of love, racism, strength, history, injustice and most notably, the land. With his fifth album Journey, Roach reaches new heights of rendering hope and tireless resilience to acoustic balladry. That these songs might, through the album's accompanying DVD, reach a new audience overseas, is another hopeful thought. The sort of hopeful thought that represents another step in his songs' own journeys and their collective journey of giving a closer encounter with his Australia to the listener.

The DVD is a documentary entitled Liyarn Ngarn, meaning 'The Coming Together of Spirits'. Liyarn Ngarn concerns several journeys, the primary one being that of English actor Pete Postlethwaite's incidental meeting with old schoolmate Bill Johnson in Perth and the story surrounding the death of Bill's adopted Aboriginal son Louis. This takes Postlethwaite deeper into the marked injustices that colour recent Aboriginal/White Fella relations; deaths in custody, attempts at reconciliation and the role of the land in Aboriginal culture. At times harrowing in its stories, it's acutely judged in its tone, often beautiful given the locations, and huge in it's cultural significance, much the way Roach's songs are. "We're hoping for a cinema release if not then TV for sure" he says of its future.
Roach accompanies Postlethwaite throughout the film, providing a musical foil to his trailing of Louis Johnson's journey, a journey that has tight parallels with Roach's own; fostered by a first generation British family, a long, difficult and futile quest to meet his birth parents, finding and exploring their art, but from there, markedly different paths fork.

"Of course there were parallels between Louis and me, and I identify with him for sure. Certain situations aren't too good for Aboriginal communities, which you know...but when you go back and see it again, even as an Aboriginal person, it's hard to take in. There are some beautiful people out there and they made a lot of the places really welcoming, people were happy to share their stories, it's always great to go. They slap me on the back and call me Old Man or Grandfather in Alice Springs (laughs) that's the sort of respect that really matters."

Roach has never sounded as world-weary as during his interpretation of John Davis' poem John Pat, sung with Paul Kelly and perfectly depicting the senseless killing of it's character and Pat's role in the long line of deaths that occurred in custody. That said, there is much that is life-affirming on the album, as there is about Archie Roach in conversation.
"Out there, the old people they just sit, they just sit and observe nature. This is where all the dances and the songs come from, they were formed by the land and the culture and the language. Because of my background I would still probably look from that perspective at the landscape if I lived in the outback all the time instead of being an urban Aboriginal and there would probably be more songs of creation and praise. I do like having this perspective." Of home though, Roach finds himself spending more time in a quite different place. "Lately, as I get a bit older I feel more comfortable down south in Victoria, where I was taken from, down that way, that's where part of this album began too. Most places I go I make connections and meet people and they become family and then I'm happy being there."

At the moment Archie is in Adelaide, fresh from seven days straight of gigging including two sold out nights at The Powerhouse in Brisbane, shows he's very pleased with. "What I've found is that there is a great mix of people at our shows, young to elderly people, and the response has been great. Same with the response to Journey, that's been very well received though it's only been out a week or so."
What it is that bonds audiences to Roach comes down to the open expression and the stories he tells, his most well-known, Took The Children Away, Beautiful Child and Charcoal Lane. A term he uses to describe Journey's co-producer Nash Chambers, "a no-nonsense bloke from good musical stock", could be used to describe him too. There is an unexpected lightness in Roach's conversation when talking about writing songs, and he readily answers difficult topics, like his reaction to playing Never Blood for poet and songwriter Robbie Walker by the jail cell where he was killed in Fremantle -"Robbie Walker was like a frightened kid playing his song in that jail (Linyarn Ngarn has wrenching footage of Walker playing OK Let's Be Honest). It was hard in the prison in Freo where he died, I just sort of couldn't talk, it was so hard to play."

For his own songs, Roach reaches back to the land that inspires him, singing from it and to it. "When I was a kid if anything every happened to me in school, or I got hurt in the heart from racial abuse - and this is before the areas around Melbourne were built up - I'd go to the bush. I didn't know why that just what it always was. I wasn't really aware that I would go into the bush, that's where I felt comfortable with the land and that's the way I feel today. If I'm feeling a bit low or lacking in energy I'll go out in nature somewhere. I suppose everybody must get that feeling if you stand somewhere on your own sometimes, its a feeling that just comes to you. This is Australia, this is an old country and it's a part of each and every one of us. My one great wish is to endear people to this country, that 's all I can do. I believe that the more we start sharing the more we open up, and we've been pretty quiet for a while."

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