The Queensland Tiger has embarked on a trilogy of albums based of the works of one of Australia’s great poets. Henry Lawson (the poet in song) Vol. 3 features some of the classic poems of Henry Lawson’s later life. This is not the poetry of the young social rebel, but the older mature man, accepting life as it is, relating his feelings and observations truly.
Many of the poems are tragic, with themes like life in the outback (“Past Carin’” , and “The Never Never Land” ) , the plight of young women in the bush : ( “The Sliprails and the Spur” , “The Bush Girl”, and “ Break O’Day ” ) and loss and death: ( “Do They Think that I do not Know”, “The Route March” and “Scots of the Riverina” ). In his last poem, “On the Night Train” , Lawson foresees his own death. These poems were published in the last twenty three years of Lawson’s life, and the songs are in roughly in that order.
Many of these poems show Lawson’s close association with the Australian bush. But in fact, in 1899, Lawson went to England with his wife, Bertha, from where he returned in 1902. After his return, he unfortunately separated from his wife. They already had two children, James Joseph ( known as “ Jim “ born 1898 ) and Bertha Marie Louise ( known as ”Barta” born 1900 - see track 9 ). In the following years, Lawson spent most of his time in Sydney, often in difficult circumstances, sometimes in jail, even being admitted to a mental hospital. Although his output was nothing like it had been in his earlier years, he could still write brilliantly, and his love of the Australian Bush, and his fellow Australians, never left him. When he died in 1922, he was given a state funeral, the first ever given by the state of New South Wales, and he was buried at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney.
One song : “Second Class Wait Here “ , is about the class struggle, which is more typical of the young Lawson, recalling the time when he first arrived in Sydney and worked as a coach builder. However, most of these poems are set in the bush and the outback, describing its hardships, its isolation and cruelty, but also its beauty. Lawson paints some unforgettable images, and while his tone can be bitter, his observations are sharp and telling.
But there are some lighter moments, too. For example, “The Shearer’s Dream” and “ Gypsy Too” … the latter being written because Lawson believed he had gypsy blood on his mother’s side.
These songs are keyboard arrangements , with mainly string accompaniment. In order to faithfully represent the original work, this artist’s approach is to arrange the song so nearly every line is sung : in most cases, we get the whole poem. The tunes were all written by others.
Five of them are by jazz musician Ade Monsbourgh, as sung by the late Shirley Jacobs on her 1972 album , “A voice from the city : a tribute to Henry Lawson” . Other tunes are by Chris Kempster, Steve Ashley, Bruce Woodley, Royston Nicholas, Priscilla Herdman, Noel Watson, Ian MacDougall and Slim Dusty.
One featured accompanist on this album is international viola player Mikhail Bugaev, whose poetic style complements the tragic feeling of the verses. Accompanists on other songs are cellist Natasha Jaffe, violinist and backing vocalist Jessie Morgan, and multi instrumentalist Lillian Penner.
Lastly, why is this Volume 3 ? Because Volume 1 and Volume 2 are, unfortunately, not yet finished ! But since this artist now brings out about an album a year, it will not be too long before they are released. This is The Queensland Tiger’s second album of Australian Folk : a follow-up to his first, “Convicts and Bushrangers”