Years ago, Australian novelist Xavier Herbert appeared on a chat show where he was asked his opinion on a solution to the ‘Aboriginal problem’ (it was the 70’s).

Herbert was well known for his epic novel Poor Fellow My Country which was one of the first to show a deep understanding of the culture – as well as the plight – of Indigenous Australians. After giving it some thought, he very quietly said “I think we should all get back on our boats and go home.”

The statement was, of course, meant to explain the difficulty of the situation – white Australians are not British, just as white South Africans are not Dutch. We cannot go home; this is our home and we need to work towards an understanding and bonding with the First People.

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Kangaroo Valley bard Andy Gordon has long tapped into this in his music. His 2013 album, The Reverent Jorfy contained songs pertaining to the story of Jimmy Governor, created in collaboration with Governor’s great granddaughter, Aunty Loretta Parsley. Yet, Gordon has never treated it is a problem, he has gone the other way: ignoring the sticky politics and opening himself up to the spirit and wonder of Indigenous people and their world-view.

Along the way, an important collaborator of Gordon’s has been Syd Green – multi-instrumentalist, muse and owner/producer at MonoNest Studios on the NSW South Coast. Green is a great sound-shaper; the studio’s relaxed vibe and ‘in the moment’ attitude of his approach has yielded consistently satisfying results. In fact, I would say that there is a ‘MonoNest sound’ evident across the myriad recordings I have heard over the last few years: rich and country-deep, acoustic-based yet inclusive of any technology that works – it has cap-S Soul, which ever way you want to define it.

Andy Gordon’s new album, New Albion, benefits in equal measure from his songwriter’s craft as well as Green’s ‘MonoNest sound’. Gordon has constructed a series of songs conceptually linked around the early settlement of Sydney – and the interaction with the Indigenous Australians of the region – and Green, through sound-shaping and his usual simpatico meshing with Gordon’s songs, has given them the perfect setting and atmosphere. The result is very real and very beautiful.

The songs have a depth brought about by Gordon’s respectful research, such as opener ‘Lieutenant Dawes’ – based on the relationship between the First Fleet astronomer, William Dawes and the fifteen-year old Indigenous boy, Patyegarang. They also have a breadth which comes purely from Gordon’s big-hearted song craft – ‘Warra Warra’ is an instrumental featuring Green on keening slide guitar; the atmosphere is one of a boat on water, and yet conjures the surreal and alien feeling both the First Fleeters would have had sailing into Port Jackson and the local Aborigines would have had sighting these strange new ‘floating islands’. gordon new albion2

‘Circles In the Sand’, about Governor Philip’s misunderstanding of the Port Jackson peoples and ‘Always Hungry’ – a poignant and sharp reminder of how ill-equipped the settlers were to the new land – paint pictures of those times as real as earth and as deep as roots. ‘Patye’s Song’ and ‘Ngiya Ngai’ show Green’s great ability to create a small world for the life of a song – only three or four minutes, but complete in every way: on ‘Ngiya Ngai’ he blends drums, percussion, guitars (both electric and acoustic), string bass and organ into a sky and sea that surrounds you and laps at your feet.

All across New Albion the heart of Gordon’s songs could not beat in a better breast than the one made by Green. Gordon writes: “All tape distortion, analogue compression, analogue anomalies and hiss, buildings, hallways, rooms, doors, traffic or environmental noise or anything unusual you may hear is intentional and has been crafted carefully into this project.”

Gordon also writes, in his extensive and must-read liner notes: “I hope this album starts you on a journey to know more. First step might be to do some reading if that makes you comfortable, but i have found that meeting and talking to (Indigenous) Australians is really the way to go. I feel more like an Australian for knowing real Australians. I hope you will feel the same”.

Published September 2015 on theorangepress.net

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