Saturday, 9 July 2011

The Ocean of Song

All over the world, songwriters are beavering away every day producing new songs.  I guess most of them never see the light of day, or get heard by a small circle of people before drifting off into the sea of forgetfulness.  Occasionally, one will break the shackles of time and place and become immortal, like Amazing Grace or Knockin' on Heaven's Door.

I've been thinking about the ones in between - the ones that reach the public sphere, experience a moment of adulation, then sink beneath the waves.  What happens to these songs, and to their authors?

I somehow managed to miss Pavlov's Dog on their first time around in the mid-1970's, although I remember seeing their records in the shops - who could forget that classic cover?  It's surprising, because it's just the sort of music I would have loved at 15, with its metal-lite sounds, over-emotive lyrics and David Surkamp's ridiculously powerful falsetto. 

I recently caught up with their first two albums courtesy of various people offloading them cheap.  I've been loving them just as I would have at 15, suspending my critical faculties and enjoying the rock'n'roll energy and melodrama. 

Like most rock bands they had their moment of fame and then faded away.  I guess they still get a bit of money from occasional CD sales but on the prices I paid for mine, this wouldn't be enough for a living.  To the apparent amazement of band members someone put up a Pavlov's Dog website and it's interesting to see where the members are now - some struggling along in the music business, some working in ordinary day jobs.  In the 1970s their fame spread throughout the world, now it has shrunk to a few nostaligic fans. 

Nonetheless, like everything else you can find many of their songs on Youtube and you'll find from there that Surkamp, who wrote most of them, is still paddling furiously in his 60's, touting his worn falsetto around the world and reprising Julia to fans who are still interested if maybe not quite adoring.

No so Andrew Durant.  He was rhythm guitarist and principal songwriter of Stars, a band in the good old Australian pub rock style best epitomised by Cold Chisel.  They had a brief moment of fame in the late 1970s and were already on the way down when Durant was diagnosed with cancer and died in 1979 at the age of 25. 

That could well have been the end of the story, but Durant obviously enjoyed more respect amongst his peers than in the wider community because in 1980 some of the cream of Australian rock music came together for a memorial concert at which they sang the bulk of his songs, including some written in the last months of his life and aired here for the first time.

Celebrity concerts can be tedious affairs as stars with oversized egos jostle for airtime.  However, in this one they seem to have submerged their egos in Durant's music, and the result is a beautiful concert, re-released on DVD in 2008. 

Not all the songs are brilliant but there are some true gems here.  The cheery Look After Yourself is actually better in the original Stars version.  That's Durant with the moustache.  On the other hand, Solitaire is given a soulful makeover by Ian Moss, while Last of the Riverboats is surely evidence that if you can just stop him screaming long enough Jimmy Barnes is a great singer. 

Of all these songs Riverboats seems to be the only one that has attained a life of its own, being added to the repertoire of various country artists.  On the other hand my personal favourite, Ocean Deep, written during Durant's last battle, may possibly only live on in this single electrifying performance led by Broderick Smith.

I'm feeling like a captain with no hull beneath my deck
Waves are pounding my proud ship to a wreck
The songs of the sirens are still ringing in my ears
I'm a weather-worn sailor feeling his years.

Turned my back on fate, but I didn't have much say
You can't ignore the weather when it's blowing you away
Threw out a lifeline and prayed that it would hold
And waited for the storm to go.

Ocean deep, time and tide won't let a sailor sleep.
Ocean never ends, like the tide I'll always roll out again.

On the distant horizon there's a golden beach
A haven for sailors, always out of my reach
As long as there's an ocean and a strong steady wind
I'll sail the seas forever, no land can lock me in.


Don Rocin said...

For over 30 years a song - a line - has driven me crazy.

I heard it on my car radio as the signal drifted in and out, driving back to Sydney from Broken Hill, late at night.

All I could catch was the line: …and prayed that it would hold…, and some reference to a captain or capstan.

It wasn’t just the line, it was this soulful big voice calling out of the night while I struggled with an old Ford that threatened to conk out every time I took my foot off the pedal.

I won’t bore you with the extent of my search but at least once a year the line would be back in my head.

Today, it returned, and with little expectation of success, I tried the search: australian sailing song "prayed that it would hold".

There were only 2 results, both yours.

As I write this I’m listening to Brod Smith singing Ocean Deep from the Andrew Durant Memorial Concert.

Thank you.

Jon Eastgate said...

Happy to have helped. It's a lovely song!