Evan Mathieson – Harry’s Legacy (CD and 24 page insert booklet)
CD review by Chris Clarke
This is a fine first CD by Evan Mathieson, featuring excellent accompaniment on his self-built autoharps. The songs are the legacy of the late Harry Robertson, Scottish-born seafaring engineer, Australian folk activist and singer, and truly one of our finest song writers.
Harry was a key identity of the folk revival, organiser of the early Folk Festivals, and a songwriter of conviction about contemporary working life, raw human nature, and the politics of a stormy era. He was not always easy to know, but those who knew him well are fiercely loyal to his memory. He married and emigrated in the 1950’s after years at sea as a ships’ engineer on Royal Navy rescue tugs, on Shell tankers, and with the Norwegian Whaling Company fleet. When he and his family settled in Brisbane, Harry worked mainly on dockyard fitting out and repairs. He was an early driver of the folk scene, also contributing masterfully crafted songs of searing directness and compelling delivery. However, apart from his 1971 award winning album “Whale Chasing Men – Songs of Whaling an Ice and Sun”, an honest record of that industry to those of all opinions, Harry’s many other songs on other themes were left in multiple drafts and informal recordings when he died in 1995.
Lyn Mathieson, who with Evan had been a Robertson family friend from the 1960’s, worked with his widow Rita to painstakingly re-construct the intended final versions of the songs on this album. Harry was very particular about his songs, in the same manner as he was with his engines, and compiling Harry’s legacy required such great care, something which sadly not all of his promoters have exercised. Evan Mathieson also knew Harry and his work intimately, and had the early folk multi-genre background to handle the wide range of Harry’s output, influenced by all seafaring traditions. Evan had learned Harry’s songs direct from the man himself in the true Oral Tradition. Evan’s playing of his own self-built and re-invented autoharps has to be heard to be believed. He is also an accomplished and versatile guitarist. His easy and accurate singing style allowed him to record more tracks unaccompanied than I would guess have ever been issued on an album by such a fine accompanist.
The existence and quality of this album are a miracle – the kind that is 90% talented hard work, and 10% our good fortune. “Harry’s Legacy” CD comes with a 24 page colour insert booklet with complete lyrics and archival photos. Definitely a very good listening must for any serious collection.
by Chris Clarke (poet and songwriter, an original “Shiny Bum” singer. Canberra)