Evan Mathieson - Tribute to Harry Robertson

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Tribute to Harry Robertson 1923-1995, rounds out the recording of the songs of Evan and Lyn Mathieson's old friend Harry. It is designed as a companion to the Harry's Legacy CD from 2007. Harry was one of the true founders of the Folk Festival movement in Australia. Track listing: 1. Scratching for Tin 2. Poling in the Dry 3. The Pole 4. Poling in the wet 5. Albany's Whalers 6. The Thrill of the Hunt 7. The Kaptajn Nielson 8. The Isle of Cockatoo 9. Norfolk Whalers 10. Brother Jack 11. Is it true? 12. Time for a laugh and a song? 13. Murrumbidgee Whalers 14. Rodger's Folly 15. Wee Honey Jar 16. A Musical Reflection 17. Ballina Whalers 18. The Politician


REVIEW by Chris Clarke, poet and songwriter and an original “Shiny Bum” singer
CD and 24 page insert booklet
This is the second fine CD by Evan Mathieson of the songs of Harry Robertson, the Scottish born singer songwriter, seaman and engineer, who emigrated in 1952 and established himself as a true Australian folk icon. Evan and his wife Lyn were befriended by Harry and his wife Rita in Brisbane in the 1960's and the friendship grew through the years. This CD pays tribute to Harry's folk legacy – a timely tribute to Harry in the year that Rita Robertson celebrates her 80th birthday.
The problem with dying is that what remains of our creative output can be left in disorder unless, as for Harry, there is a Lyn Mathieson to put Humpty back together again. In Harry's case this carefully considered labour of friendship was clearly worthwhile. Harry had left scattered versions of so many fine songs on work, hazards of seafaring, politics, Australian history, period gender issues, people, and the hard stuff about the things (good and bad) that we really do. Harry's songs are an unflinchingly honest diary of life.
They are also musically diverse, enabling Evan to showcase his fine guitarmanship, and mastery of his self-built autoharps played with unparalleled versatility. Evan's home studio enabled him to follow his dream in producing an album, unrushed, solo, and entirely according to his own ingenuity and judgement. Evan layered instruments (autoharp, guitar and harmonica), created his own harmony choruses, and arranged a variety of tight but relaxed accompaniments to his own easy but accurate singing style.
Some of Harry's sharp-edged poems are also included - one in his own distinctive Scottish voice.
Another powerful archival recording re-engineered by Evan is of Harry singing his original 1967 version of “Ballina Whalers” with the majestic steady pace and momentum of one of his repaired ships (with Harry-sweetened engines) gliding from the dock, accompanied by a very able shanty chorus of voices recorded with him in the 60's.
This album will take you out to sea, into the past, across the continent, underground, through the night with drink and song, under the lash, through the protest era, and on with a laugh and a song.
A fitting finale to round out the definitive Harry collection:-
1971 LP “Whale Chasing Men – Songs of Whaling in Ice and Sun” (Originally an Albert's
Music For Pleasure vinyl, re-issued in 2001 in CD format by the National Film and Sound
Archive.) Now sadly all sold out, but all the tracks from the original LP are available for your listening pleasure at www.harryrobertson.net
2007 CD “Harry's Legacy”
2009 CD “Tribute to Harry Robertson 1923-1995”
and don't forget that each of these three CD's organised by Evan and Lyn Mathieson has its own 24 page booklet of lyrics and archival photos.

Evan Mathieson - Tribute to Harry Robertson
CD review by Chris Clarke

Songwriting?
Easy.
Just tell the truth in simple, graphic, lyrical verse, and set it to a tune that fits like a piston in a cylinder.
Easy if you’re Harry Robertson that is.
Edit his lifetime’s work?
Simple.
Just be a lifelong friend and then spend more than ten years with gentle, caring persistence, coaxing the material and the memories, piece by piece, into their complete and final order.
Simple if you’re Lyn Mathieson that is.
Record the definitive version?
No problem.
 Just master an instrument you have spent fifteen years re-designing and hand-building, sing as naturally as you breathe, in your own accent with every word and note crystal clear, and spend six months in the studio you have built yourself, patiently laying it down track by track.
No problem if you’re Evan Mathieson that is.
Design a CD insert?
Just look at this one, a perfect match to its companion CD “Harry’s Legacy”.
Then take the same trouble and care with text, images, layout, legibility and accuracy.
You could frame these pages and hang them in a gallery.
One day, if the planets line up, another set of people may do all of these things just as well, but don’t give your grandchildren false hope.
Write a Review of it?
Usually, there is one stand out track on even a consistently excellent CD, but this time I had to wait and see which one would haunt me in my dreams.
As a Shiny Bum Singer, I have a soft spot for songs about work.
(Editor’s Note: The Shiny Bum Singers perform their own topical, political Working Songs of the Public Service.)
This CD starts with the first of a set of Harry’s onshore working songs.
‘Scratching For Tin’ establishes from the first bar that we can all relax about the quality of the voice and instrumentation and just ride the soundwaves.
A bright metallic autoharp style on this track perfectly conjures up the nature of tin.
There is then a set of three songs Harry wrote about the 1872 construction of the Overland Telegraph Line.
Harry was commissioned to write and perform these songs and to take an acting role in the colour feature film “ No Longer Alone” for the ABC TV “A Big Country” series.
Harry focuses on the poling teams who constructed the Overland Telegraph Line linking Australia through the centre from the south to the north.
Harry could not help giving this  land-locked venture a salty tang, with a team of “buckos” and “bully-boys” navigating the hazards of the terrain with the cadence of Horn-rounding shanties  and it works so well!
Evan clones himself into an effective harmonising chorus for the first and the last, but the middle song, ‘The Pole’ stands apart as a classic, haunting, outback soliloquy.
I was once out in such places on and off over eight years and this song has the real feel.
We then go whaling with Harry through the material he wrote for the ABC TV program “The Whalers”.
First with a song about modern day whaling in Western Australia in ‘Albany’s Whalers’, and then Harry’s poem ‘The Thrill of the Hunt’ which harpoons the industry with a cool thrust into the guts by a professional insider.
Still on a maritime theme, this time in Moreton Bay, we go down with the sand dredger, the ‘Kaptajn Nielsen’ in a sad tribute to the Plimsoll Line which would have saved the Danish crew.
Then Harry takes us to Sydney Harbour where he has honed his poetry again to a keen blade with, ‘The Isle of Cockatoo’, this time flensing the convict regime in a poem with the range of a novel.
Offshore then to another island with ‘Norfolk Whalers’, in a song from Harry’s 1971 LP “Whale Chasing Men - Songs of Whaling in Ice and Sun, telling another truth of a more desperate form of whaling and its hazards and rewards, for the isolated population.
Two of Harry’s Vietnam war songs, ‘Brother Jack’ and ‘Is It True?’ follow.
They should have become period pieces by now, but sadly they tell enduring truths to this day.
Next it truly is, ‘Time for a Laugh and a Song’ and then Harry’s tall tale bush yarn ‘Murrumbidgee Whalers’ both from the “Whale Chasing Men” LP and both delivered here with assurance by Evan.
Humour continues wit,h ‘Rodger’s Folly’, Harry’s contribution to a traditional comic genre in which male sexual over-reaching gets its literal come-uppance.
This time the tables are neatly turned on a would-be homicidal husband.
It was thought originally that this offering was just a poem, but unrelenting research unearthed the tune remembered by Andrew Kruger. now SBS Radio Executive Producer of the World View program, who had learned it directly from Harry back in the 1960’s.
Then a delightful find, ‘Wee Honey Jar’ which warns of the foibles of Harry’s great friend and fellow folk legend, Declan Affley.
Harry wrote this based on his own experiences at the hands of “Doctor” Affley at the 1967 Port Phillip Folk Festival, Australia’s 1st National Folk Festival.
Sobriety returns paradoxically to the album with, ‘A Musical Reflection’, another haunting soliloquy conveying Harry’s searingly honest commentary on the elephant in the room of the folk scene of his era, the drinkin that went with the singing.
This is a companion piece to the similarly titled, ‘Reflections’ on Evan’s 2007 “Harry’s Legacy” album.
I do not know of any other songs about drink that match this pair in conveying, with such psychological insight, both sides of the experience.
This one would make a great session standard, but there is a spectre at the feast.
How else to end the album but with Harry’s own voice and it seems to endorse, rather than overshadow, Evan’s own interpretations of his songs and poems.
I heard the earlier playing of Harry’s steady, measured, perhaps epic, delivery of his original shanty form of ‘Ballina Whalers’ at the 2001 National Folk Festival launch of the re-issue CD of Harry’s original 1971 LP.
The Mathiesons had organised this re-issue through the National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra.
Lyn had chosen to play Harry’s rendition, taken from an old reel-to-reel archival tape, as part of the Re-issue Launch Concert she scripted and compered.
The sound of Harry’s unmistakable voice truly conjured ghosts in the packed venue for the full six minutes that the track ran.
That original rough but evocative recording has been transformed by Evan, with God knows what painstaking audio re-engineering, into a clarity that brings Harry right back into the room.
The last track returns again to one of Harry’s keen-edged poems.
This time, his voice in, ‘The Politician’ conducts its own Reign of Terror, guillotining that entire despised modern aristocracy.
Tribute to Harry Robertson is a good-listening must-have album for any serious collector.
Oh, I almost forgot, the track that did haunt me in my dreams was the moving outback soliloquy, ‘The Pole’ .



This product was added to our catalog on Sunday 20 September, 2009.

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