After a recent visit to Newcastle’s Mosque I was invited to take my family to the Newcastle Eid al-Adha celebrations. I took the opportunity to try and bust a few myths about being a Muslim woman by asking a group of them to tell their own stories over vast quantities of cakes and sweets.
Diana Rah is the vice-president of the Newcastle Muslim Association and I joined her along with a small circle of Muslim women as she explained the celebrations underway at the University of Newcastle.
“We have two Eids each year; one is Eid al-Fitr and that’s the celebration at the end of the fasting month of Ramandan, and we have this second celebration which is Eid al-Adha, this is a time that Muslims perform the Hajj pilgrimage, the pilgrimage to Mecca.”
“As Muslims, and you can see that we’re from so many different cultural backgrounds, our God is the God of all and we send, on this day especially, our best wishes to everyone from every race culture and religion.”
The group of women gathered to chat on this warm Saturday look like a tiny United Nations. Diana points out that there are 28 countries represented among the families busy with barbeques, conversations and children swarming over the jumping castle.
This small group of women, amongst other things, includes a dentist, a science student and a fitness instructor.
There are many questions I want to ask them, but firstly I want to know how they feel in the Newcastle community, given the broad discussion of all things Muslim at the moment – and not much of it positive.
Despeana has lived in the Hunter all of her life, and is not a Muslim by birth, or marriage.
“Newcastle has always been a lovely place to live in, I’ve noticed that some of the sisters have mentioned to me that they’re a little bit concerned about stepping out on their own.”
“I came into Islam as a choice, prior to finding out about Islam in 2002 I had no idea who Muslims were. I became involved with the Muslim community and discovered what beautiful people they are and I became one of them because of the love I felt here.”
“I don’t see what all the hype is about, I don’t understand it, but now we, and me myself are in a position that we feel threatened.”
Avelina doesn’t actually wear a veil, “I don’t normally wear a veil, my husband would like me to I’m sure but he’s happy with me to not wear a veil. It’s up to me 100 percent and he supports that decision.”
Avelina says when she has worn hijab in public she has always felt safe and hasn’t experienced any problems, but she does say she notices how people behave when she is out in public with her mother-in-law who does wear hijab, “When I walk with my mother-in-law who wears a hijab I often see people – she doesn’t notice, I notice – if anyone was to approach I would definitely say something.”
“I think people just need to realise it’s (hijab) part of who we are and whether we wear it or not it doesn’t make us any different.”
Avelina is a fitness instructor who works in women’s gyms and with children in schools and relates what is probably a common experience.
“I was actually in the gym doing my own workout and waiting for the class to start when the lady next to me commented on the stories in the news, “It’s terrible what’s happening with these terrorists around our country,” she said. I asked what she meant and she said, “These Muslims, they’re taking over and the women are wearing burqas and they’re scary and they frighten me.”
I said, “I’m a Muslim, do I frighten you?’ and she said, ‘No, I don’t mean you, I mean like those other Muslims!’ I explained to her that we’re all the same, that we might wear hijab or burqa and that I don’t but that we’re no different. She was shocked.”
There has been a prominent social media campaign over the last week or so called #WISH – Women in Solidarity with Hijabis – in which non-Muslim women are sharing photos of themselves wearing hijab.
There has also been some criticism of #WISH so I sought the opinion of the Muslim women I had in front of me – what do they think of it, is it offensive?
Unanimously the women assured me that it wasn’t seen as offensive. Indeed Diana Rah thinks women are doing an excellent job with #WISH, “No-one in our community is offended by it, we actually feel very supported by it and we love them for it.”
Dalia agrees, “I believe this is very supportive, you should try it yourself and see how the Muslim woman feels.” I assured her I did on my visit to Newcastle’s Mosque a week ago but that I got hot and sweaty.
Dalia says women at her gym often express concern about her being too hot, but she laughs, “I’m used to it! They keep telling me, ‘You must be very hot’, and I understand but when you’ve been wearing it for years you get used to it.”
Gym instructor, Avelina, “I can’t imagine (wearing it at the gym). I get so sweaty and so hot, even my hair I wish I could cut it all off let alone wear a scarf! I admire every woman who wears a scarf, their faces just glow and they look so beautiful, it’s admirable.”
Farida has come to Newcastle from Cape Town but is originally from Burundi in Central Africa, “I left my country 15 years ago because of the war but I just arrived in Newcastle two years ago.”
Generally the women I spoke with have had mostly good experiences of being Muslim women as members of a minority. Diana Rah says it’s only recently that problems have occurred.
“So far in Newcastle we’ve had a very good relationship with the wider community and we haven’t really ever had these problems that have happened in the last couple of months. I think that they’ve seen that in Newcastle and they do feel safe here but I think there are isolated instances of abuse like verbal abuse and the odd finger (gesture) here and there.”
Farida is concerned that this may change in the current environment, “I hope and we pray very hard that the government must find a solution to see how they’re going to protect the country because Australia is a peace(ful) country. We have the right to choose any religion we want and to wear what we want.”
Dalia has found the recent media discussion of what Muslim women wear to be shocking, “What I’ve known is that Australia is a free country and they support women and I know that the government usually supports women rights. So the idea of discussing what to wear is not what I expected. I wear hijab because I’m a Muslim lady and this is what I believe in. I believe that a women should cover her hair and it shouldn’t be seen by strangers.”
It is often claimed that Muslim women who wear a veil are oppressed. Despeana begs to differ, “No. We are not oppressed. It was my decision to wear the veil. Yes, I decided to become a Muslim in 2002, I wasn’t married at the time, my husband didn’t have a say (in it) – nobody’s pushing me to do this, it was my choice. Yes, it was a bit difficult becoming accustomed to it after being a non-Muslim and not wearing one, but I believe Allah gave me the strength and I just want to please my God. No-one is forcing me to do anything.”
Diana Rah agrees, “There is no compulsion in our religion and wearing a hijab is entirely a woman’s choice. There’s a huge misconception put out by the media and others to say that a women is forced to cover her head by her husband, by her son, her father, whoever, but this is entirely our choice.”
“I had an incident in Beaumont Street last week when we were stopped by two men who wanted to teach us about Christianity. He was very loud and overpowering, very tall and wanted to tell us what he thought about his religion. We accept that because we believe everybody has the right to converse and exchange ideas. But we need to respect each others opinions without becoming angry. He disagreed with something I put forward and then he refused to speak to me further. There is no need to be aggressive. But we need to converse and learn from one another. He was looking to agitate me but I walked away.”
What I have taken away from spending the morning with these women is that, for them, wearing hijab is simply an act of faith – the same as a Christian may choose to wear a crucifix or other religious icon.
If you want to know what a Muslim woman thinks – just ask one!
There is a national Mosque Open Day coming up around Australia on October 25, however the Newcastle Muslim Association will be opening their mosque to the public on Sunday 19 October so as to not clash with state government by-elections in Newcastle and Charlestown.
Megan Washington says that ‘Skyline’, one of the tracks on her new album ‘There, There’ is about ‘choosing hope’.
“I think that’s a choice we have to make daily. Choosing happiness and choosing positivity is something that you have to make a priority. For me, it’s a daily thing.”
“That song was inspired a few years when I became very ill and woke up in hospital, figuring out how I felt in that moment and what it meant. Those moments can be extremely formulative? Is that a word? The highest of highs and the lowest of lows is when you galvanise your resolve to overcome things and that was one of mine.”
Whilst not new to the music industry it would be surprising if her audience hadn’t increased substantially after her appearance on ABC TV’s Australian Story and her frank discussion of growing up with a stutter. It was wonderful to watch the flood of support from many thousands of people sent to her via social media after the program aired.
“To be honest with you, I cried a lot after that. I watched the show – because I couldn’t not watch it – with some friends and we made a dinner and watched it.”
“Afterwards, the overwhelming – you used the word ‘flood’ – and I think that’s a great description of it, all these people … it wasn’t so much the goodwill that struck me, it was the resonance, the ‘me toos’, that I heard and I found really moving. I found it incredible that people could see some of themselves in what I had said.”
“You’ve got to understand, I don’t know any other version of life than my life. It isn’t like I never had a stutter and then I suddenly got one. This is how existence is. To see that brought so many other people together with each other, not so much with me, there was a real sense of us being on the same side, the same team. It’s great.”
People like to tell each other who they are.
“I think it’s universal. When I meet anybody the first thing they want to do is tell you their story. People like to tell each other who they are. It’s not surprising to me when people do this and drop the act, stop acting out their role.”
The shortest song on Megan Washington’s new album was written in just a few minutes and she says she had the aim of trying to describe a sensation.
“There must be a word for that like ‘onomatopoeiac’ but that describes the sensation, the sound reflects the sensation. There must a word for it, a German word!”
“I wanted to write a song about falling in love that was less about falling in ‘lurve’ than literally FALLING in love, falling down the stairs or something. The dizziness or giddyness that comes with that. That was the plan. It is the shortest song I’ve ever written.”
Megan Washington’s new album ‘There, there’ is out now and is our 1233 ABC Newcastle Album of the Week.
You can hear Carol Duncan’s full interview with Megan Washington in the audio attached.
If you missed Megan’s exceptional TedX talk, the link is here.
Scottish musician Eddi Reader has spent decades travelling the world after leaving Scotland for England at just 18 years of age. Having been back in Scotland now for the last 13 years, Eddi says she’s had to make the effort to learn about what the deal that created the United Kingdom actually means for Scottish people. And she says it’s a dud deal.
“It’s quite a massive control of your life. You pay your tax and it all goes 600 miles away and someone else decides what to do with it. I lived in England for 28 years and I lived in Scotland until I was 18 and then came home just 13 years ago, so I’ve really had to get to know this place again. What really struck me was the terms of the deal – I didn’t realise that we weren’t equal. I’ve been voting for Labour or left-wing parties all my life because that’s what my family voted for, I just continued to do that. But what I discovered is that it doesn’t affect what gets in or out of parliament in London.”
Scotland matters to a lot of Australians. The 2011 Census showed that 130,000 Australian residents were born in Scotland and there another 1.7million with Scottish ancestry.
“I think there’s a lot of affection for Scotland and it’s clear to me in my travels is a real affection for Scottish people. I noticed in Australia recently that people feel a real connection to Scotland, every time I opened my mouth people wanted to ask me about it because they perhaps have a grandparent from Scotland. I was very touched by that.”
“But I think a lot of people have been unaware of the terms of the union, the contract. I myself wasn’t aware, so I think this debate that really took off a couple of years ago has actually made a lot of Scottish people ask the question, ‘What is the terms of the contract and why don’t we know that?”
“Most Scots are incredibly generous and most Scots want a union. I believe in a union. I am committed to unity, generosity and sharing, but there’s no sharing going on in this deal. Scotland receives a grant. For every public service pound spent by the government voted into westminster England gets 85 pence, Scotland gets 10 pence and Wales gets 5 pence.”
“The parliamentary union, as our democracy has grown, as women got the vote, as people who were not rich became people who could vote – nobody ever reassessed what the deal was so we’ve been living in this blind association which has caused frustration, resentment, blame and actual division – if Scotland is allowed to have the government it chooses, and spend its money the way it chooses, then I think we can create alliances with England which are much more solid and real. A true relationship is people that compromise with each other, this union we have isn’t really a union.”
Eddi Reader has been very vocal about her support for a YES vote for the referendum, but has been strongly criticised for doing so.
“I couldn’t believe it! When we were asked to make a democratic choice, I thought it was just a case of analysing what the deal was – it’s either yes or no. It was my duty to look at the deal and make a decision. I realised that I was falling down on the side that says ‘yes’ because I want my children to be confident, I don’t want them to leave like I did when I was 18. When I left at 18 there was no record industry in Scotland, there was no big publishing company – but now we’ve got amazing art. There are young people out there who know more about Scottish culture than I was taught. So there’s a confident nation happening here.”
“As soon as I said I was taking the YES position there was a headline in The Scotsman saying that my family were associated with the IRA. I was also told that in the House Of Lords, in the Hansard minutes, a Lord said that ‘if we had an independent it would be full of people like Eddi Reader murdering Robert Burns songs. Now I don’t mind if people don’t like my music but to stand in a public forum and attack my livelihood – I was getting a kicking by people who are very powerful. This is a powerful force that are against people making a democratic choice – it’s not like having 200 people on Twitter saying, ‘your music is rubbish’.”
“We have 59 MPs (out of 650), then there’s the additional layer of the House of Lords. There are about 775 of them, NONE of them elected. ALL of them appointed. So that means we have 4% voting power in the Westminster parliament.”
Eddi hopes that the rest of the world is bearing witness to Scotland as the referendum nears, “We’re a grassroots people. I’m an ordinary citizen making a democratic choice. I’ve been called a Nazi. I’ve been called a nationalist and I don’t even care about tartan! I just want to live in country where my vote counts.”
“There are a lot of scare tactics at the moment. Apparently people over the age of 75 have been told to stockpile food because they won’t get their pensions! We’ve been told all the banks are going to move out of Scotland, the businesses are going to move out of Scotland.”
“There are some people who have been really scared. But I’m not scared because of pragmatism. Finland is the same size as us, doesn’t have oil, and is doing fine. I just don’t understand why they think everyone is going to stop working if we vote YES. I’m still going to pay tax. I’m still going to do tours. My neighbours are still going to work. Why do they think Scotland can’t run an economy?”
“Scots in their voting patterns have voted for far more left-wing policies than they’ve ever been allowed to have but people say, ‘How are you going to pay for it?’ Well, the same way anyone else does.”
“My only worry is that if it’s a very narrow majority for YES, every single one of us will need to make sure we don’t get ripped off.”
Does Eddi think the referendum will be successful?
“I don’t know, I only have my one vote, but it can be powerful. I think that for people who vote NO, a lot of it will be because they’ve been scared.”
Jennifer McLagan says she grew up eating fat and never realised it was supposed to be bad for her, “We bought lard from the butcher’s store and I think it was through the 1970s in Australia that it started to change. In the US, people were trying to find out why heart disease was increasing and all of a sudden something we’d been eating from the beginning of time became ‘bad’ for us. If they’d been right we should now all be very healthy and fit and heart disease should have disappeared, but it’s not like that.”
Growing up in Australia, Jennifer is now based in Toronto, Canada, and says the manipulation of foods to make them ‘lite’ in itself creates a problem, “Once you take the fat out, you have to put something back in because fat carries flavour – fat is flavour. When fat is taken out it’s usually replaced with sugars, they replace the fats with carbohydrates. Replacing expensive animal fats with cheap vegetable oils only benefits industrial food manufacturers.”
Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma has said, ‘Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food’, and while Jennifer McLagan agrees with that statement, she says it’s not quite that simple.
“My grandmother didn’t eat starfruit, or ginger, and hardly any garlic so I think we have to be a little careful of that, but I agree with him that if we’re shopping at the supermarket we should be shopping around the outside where the fruit and vegetables are. The yam and the sweet potato doesn’t have a sign on it saying it’s fat-free or gluten-free. Science doesn’t have all the answers and when it comes to diet it’s very complex and complicated and each one of us is our own organism and what we eat will react differently with our bodies.”
Why does fat contain flavour? Jennifer says there are a lot of things that can only be carried by fat-volatile oils, “It’s also a way to deliver vitamins, a lot of our vitamins are only fat-soluble so when people buy skim milk or 0% milk – which isn’t milk at all – and it’s got added vitamins A and D, they’re fat-soluble vitamins. You need fat for your body to be able to take them in! What’s wrong with whole milk? I grew up with milk that had cream on the top of the bottle and it’s only 3.8% fat – it’s not like it’s a huge amount of fat and it’s very good for you. Eating fat doesn’t make you fat. Fat is wonderfully satisfying, so if you eat something with a good amount of fat in it you get pretty full and you don’t have a second or fourth piece of pork belly, but those fat-free cookies? You could eat a whole package!”
Jennifer McLagan has released several fascinating books about food – ‘Fat’ is just one, there is also ‘Odd Bits’ and ‘Bone’, so where does her fascination with the bits that are often considered waste in a Western diet come from?
“I grew up with split pea and ham bone soup, Irish stew, brains and bacon, we ate ox tail. These were the foods of my childhood and they were delicious. I worked in North America as a food stylist for a long time and everything was boneless, tasteless chicken breast and it was driving me crazy. Why aren’t we eating the bone? Why are we throwing the best part of the animal away and thinking the lean fillet is delicious when it isn’t. I went on a quest to bring that back, to try to convince people that these were the most delicious parts of the animal to eat. Organ meats are full of vitamins and minerals and people are scared of them but they’re absolutely delicious.”
“It isn’t that far back that we were eating all those things but with industrial farming meat became very cheap so we could all eat steak all the time and thought it was better, but it isn’t. It’s much more interesting to eat heart and lung and liver and ox tail and there’s lots of ways of cooking them and eating them.”
“It’s interesting how we now see them as second-rate cuts when we should see them as the prime cuts.”
Jennifer points out that fats are not equal. Pork, for example, is unsaturated fat.
“Everyone thinks animal fats are saturated fats. But there’s saturated and unsaturated – unsaturated you can break down into polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat. Every fat is a mixture of those things.”
“In something like pork fat there is more unsaturated fat than saturated. Any fat that sits at room temperature and gets soft or more liquid – the more unsaturated it is. I never cook anything in vegetable oil. I cook with olive oil, which comes from a fruit, and I like to cook with animal fat because I like to cook beef in beef fat, chicken in chickent fat, and I like to carry that flavour through. I like to work with a fat that I can smell and see if it’s rancid or not, with a vegetable oil I have no idea if it’s rancid. You don’t want to put rancid fat in your body.”
James Reyne has an enviable career in the Australian music industry – first appearing on ABC TV’s Countdown in 1979 with both of his arms in plaster after being hit by a car in Melbourne.
Australian Crawl held court around Australia’s pub rock scene for just seven years, but the sound of the band and the themes of their songs are the story of numerous Australian summers.
As a solo artist, James Reyne has released over a dozen albums, continued to tour Australia and internationally with audiences of up to 200,000 people.
ABC Newcastle’s Carol Duncan caught up with James Reyne ahead of his Anthology tour.
“I’m enjoying it more now than I ever have. I’ve developed an attitude over the many years that I’ve been doing this that it’s amusing. You can’t let most of it worry you. Certainly most of the people of my generation who were in it for the wrong reasons or the shifty ones have been weeded out. There are still a couple floating around and you run into them occasionally and think, ‘How is this person still here?’
Knowing my attempt to get James to name names will be rebuffed, I ask anyway.
He laughs, “No, I’m not going to name any names because they’re usually quite litigious people anyway.”
“I just think it’s quite amusing. It’s like a crash-course in human nature. You see a lot of extremes of human personality in quite a short time, and up close!”
“I’ve made some fantastic friends and there are some wonderful, wonderful people who work in this industry and most people are genuine with depth and credibility.”
James Reyne, particularly given the success and image of Australian Crawl, is perhaps seen by many as the quintessential sun-kissed Australian, yet like so many of his generation of peers he wasn’t actually born here.
“The ten-pound Pom thing, and Adelaide – the ten-pound Pom into Adelaide. It astounds me. A little city like that, the amount of music that came out of there either British or Scottish-based. We owe Adelaide. But yes, I was born in Nigeria,”
“My father was an Englishman in the Royal Marines, he was ADC to the Queen, but he left. He didn’t want to be a career soldier. He got a job with BP and he was posted to Nigeria. My (Australian) mother and he were not long married and they went to Nigeria when he was posted there. He’d be out in the field and she’d be sitting in a house in Lagos and my brother and I were both born there.”
“I was tiny, three or four, when we came to Australia. I have a really vague memory of one little thing in Nigeria, but I don’t really have any other memories of it.”
James Reyne is heading toward 40 years in the Australian music industry with a career that has taken him to stages around the world with massive audiences, but names Creedence Clearwater Revival as one of the first bands he remembers hearing on the radio.
“There were probably things I heard before that but I remember hearing Creedence and thinking, ‘Wow! What is that? I want to do that!’ I’d have been 10 or 11 and it was probably Proud Mary or Born on the Bayou or something like that. I’ve been a total fan of John Fogerty ever since. I love all the Creedence stuff and some of his solo stuff. Like everybody, it was my formative years, I just love all that and that led me into other things and I was just hooked,”
“There was a great show on the ABC called ‘Room to Move’ and it was hosted by a guy called Chris Winter. I think it was a Sunday or Monday night, quite late; we used to listen to it on the radio under the bedclothes. A few years ago I did a show with Tracee Hutchison on ABC 2 and Chris was our producer, I remember going, ‘Chris Winter WOW!'”
“He was brilliant, and I was hooked. His whole approach, his on-air style, his whisper – it was brilliant. So I fell in love with that, it was the first sort of album show. Then I started to get into albums with my friends at school. We’d collect albums and we had a little folk club – we got quite serious about
“I remember really loving records from Creedence, Little Feat, Ry Cooder, Jerry Jeff Walker but I think Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks ‘Last Train to Hicksville’ – as a whole album there’s not a dud moment on it. So if anyone can find it, get it. It’s brilliant. The whole history of Dan Hicks and his influence – he was in a band with a guy called Robert Hunter who essentially invented the San Francisco scene. This is before The Grateful Dead and so on. I was really in to the sociology of it – the background of who influenced who,”
“I used to pore over the album covers and sleeves and read all the liner notes. I don’t know that there’s much you can put on liner notes now that would be as interesting as they were then. That was your only access because there was no Google or anything. Your only access to any information about the band is what was in the liner notes.”
By the time James Reyne was just 20 years old, his band with a group of art college mates had been renamed Australian Crawl and taken off on the pub circuit, and although James admits that although they had no idea what they were doing, they were having fun.
“I was never thinking, ‘This will be my career’ or ‘this will be my job’ or ‘this will be something I’ll do for another 30 or so years and keep doing’,”
“We weren’t very good. The first band was terrible! But you’ve got to do your apprenticeship and you start learning. But I wasn’t aware of it, we were just doing it.”
James Reyne has always appeared to be a complex person; well-spoken, intelligent, thoughtful, possibly a bit feisty. What about the 20-year old James Reyne?
“I was at the Victorian College of the Arts Drama School and it was about then that we all had to make a decision, are we going to do our tertiary courses or are we going to do this band thing? I guess it wasn’t so much ‘serious’ but we figured, ‘I guess you’ve got to make a decision and if you’re going to do it you have to dedicate yourself to it’.”
“But the 20-year old was, I dunno, pretty happy-go-lucky. He had a big mouth.”
Was he confident?
“I guess relatively confident, but if I saw what I thought was a ‘real’ band or anybody from a real band somewhere down the street, (I thought) they were a cut above me. I never thought I’d be breathing that rarefied air. I just thought ‘those guys must have an extra gene’.”
“Joe Camilleri. I’d see The Falcons all the time, I’d see The Sports, I’d see The Pelaco Brothers and Joe and Steve Cummings were in The Pelaco Brothers.”
“Where we grew up on the Mornington Peninsula, in summertime they used to have bands come down and play in the boat clubs down there. Every club had a boat house that they’d put a stage in and bands would play in there,”
“In my last year of school I used to go to a place called Reefer Cabaret in Melbourne at a place called the Ormond Hall and I remember I loved Arial, I loved Spectrum, Chain – I loved all those great 70s Australian bands. I remember going to the Myer Music Bowl when Thorpey (Billy Thorpe) had 200,000 people there. I was a fan of all that stuff. I remember seeing Skyhooks before Shirley (Strachan) joined. I was aware of Shirley, I didn’t know him, but I was aware of him because there was a surf band that played around where we grew up called Frame and Shirley was the singer of that band. He was such a personality, everybody was aware of him.”
“It was certainly a very unique time and a very formative time for Australian music, for Australian rock and roll and pop music. This is pre-Countdown and any of that stuff and there were so many great bands around; The Dingoes, Carson – I was a huge fan of Broderick Smith. What an incredible presence on stage, incredible singer and harmonica player. He was in a band called Carson, sort of boogie/blues band, and then they went and formed The Dingoes,”
“I used to see as many Dingoes shows as I could. There’s a pub in Prahran called the Station Hotel, I used to go to the Station Hotel quite a lot and they’d have Saturday afternoon sessions where The Dingoes would often play. That would just devolve into fantastic mayhem.”
I’ve interviewed James Reyne a few times over the last 20-plus years and I’ve never quite felt convinced that he’s entirely at peace with his back catalogue of wonderful work. I have often wondered if he perhaps underestimates the importance of his music to his fans. Is this why it’s taken so long to get Anthology together?
“Well, it’s actually got very little to do with me! A record company merger meant that the new label realised that the Australian Crawl back catalogue wasn’t available digitally, and although they can kind of do whatever they want because they own the masters, they asked if I wanted to do it and bring it up to date. I paid for my more recent solo records so I made a list of about 50 or 60 songs, cut it back down to about 40. And good on them. They’ve put the solo stuff on there, the ones that people would know, but it’s a good cross-section of all of it right up to the most recent stuff. Why did it take so long? I never thought of it! It’s just the story so far, I’ll keep making records.”
But has he been dissatisfied with the big machine of the music industry?
“I’m not so naive as to think that’s just the nature of how it works. You’re there as long as they need you and then you’re not and that’s fine and that’s the way it works. No, it’s not dissatisfaction, a lot of my amusement or ammunition I can get for song writing is just human beings. So aspirational but so easily impressed. People get so easily impressed with all sorts of things, not just the entertainment industry,”
“But I think we’re all aware now with the media generally people are drip-fed what they’re supposed to be hearing and seem to lap it up. And adopt these opinions! They read a crappy headline and that becomes their opinion and they know all about it! Well, no, you don’t. You haven’t studied the situation in the Middle East. You don’t know.”
“In terms of the entertainment industry I find a lot of fodder in the way people are so easily impressed and so aspirational about all this silliness.”
In a time when independence is increasingly a healthy option for artists and creatives of all sorts, does James Reyne feel there is a disconnect between the work of an artist and what a corporate entity only sees as ‘product’?
“I think the role of the big, big record companies is getting less and changing. Certainly changing, they’re less significant in the scheme of things. They’re still there and still part of it but I think the disconnect between art and commerce is always going to be there.”
And yet independence is creating a healthy relationship between the artist and the audience, particularly via crowd funding – Kate Miller-Heidke being a good case in point. Kate says that crowd funding O’ Vertigo cuts out the middle man and brings her back into a relationship with the people who love her music.
“That’s right. I think the response was so good she raised more than she needed, which shows how loyal her fan base is. I didn’t understand it when it first started happening, but I do now. I think it’s a very viable development.”
“The last four solo records I’ve made I’ve paid for myself and then licensed them to a distribution company – it gets quite expensive and you’re never really going to make your money back.”
“I still love writing, I write more now than I ever have and I think I write better because it’s a craft and I’ve been doing it longer, I apply myself more to it now than I ever have.”
“I’d like to think I’m a songwriter who is always learning, trying to get better and trying to improve the craft. I’m quite self-critical. I’ve also written a few other things but I won’t talk about them because I’ve learnt that you jinx them until these things get up and running!”
James Reyne’s career has also included varying degrees of success as an actor – harking back to his tertiary studies at the Victoria College of Arts Drama School. Is there more he wants to do other than music?
“Oh plenty! I’ve got about five things bubbling along at the moment. A few times people have said, ‘James, you’ve got to write the book’. I’m not going to write the book! The world doesn’t need another rock autobiography and I think unless you can write the real book and name names,” James laughs, “you’re going to get the pasteurised version of something of nothing ….” Who wants to hear that stuff? It’s boring. It’s been done. That’s not to say anything bad about anyone who has written a rock biography, because some of them I know and they’re lovely people. Mark Seymour wrote a great one. I loved Mark’s (book). He’s a friend and a good writer.”
On a roll, the tongue remains firmly in cheek.
“I always wanted to do ‘Australian Crawl The Musical’ and you either do it as a really bad kids’ play and get kids to play it with terrible home-made props or you do the most stonkingly gay thing you’ve ever seen with a chorus of boys in tight board shorts! We could do that!”
I suspect I’d be happy to see either version and after interview number whatever over a couple of decades, James Reyne actually sounds more genuinely comfortable in his own skin than he ever has.