Howard Schumann

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Shane Howard (Goanna) and John Schumann (Redgum) bring their combined talents and iconic music to Laurieton United Services Club on December 8. Don’t miss this duo performing “Songs That Changed Our Country” …

You’ve both shaped such iconic moments in Australian Music history, with I was Only 19 and Solid Rock. Tell us about these songs and the times in your lives when they were written/ released …

Shane I’d grown up in South West Victoria amidst the “wreckage” of colonial imposition and the consequences of the theft of Australia by England.

I journeyed to Uluru in 1981 to see if culture had survived in this country. I found what I was looking for and witnessed a powerful “inma”, ceremonial dance and song at the Rock. My experiences there sharpened my sense of historical injustice and awoke in me an anger at the dispossession and entrenched racism. I also awoke to the deep sense of Aboriginal spirituality and cosmology. But, I had no power then. All I could do was write a song. I didn’t realise then how it would command such a presence in the Australian consciousness. 

For me, Solid Rock has become such a towering presence, that it almost overshadows the other 300 songs I’ve written. It’s defined people’s understanding of me and it has changed my life as well, for the better. I’m immensely proud of a song I feel came “through” me, not necessarily “from” me. It threw me headfirst into Aboriginal Australia 36 years ago, and it’s been a continuing journey that has enriched my life and deepened my understanding of this remarkable country we live in. I still love to sing it and every time I do, I’m never quite sure where it’s going to take me. You can’t half sing it; you have to “give your spirit” and give in to it fully.

John I wrote I was only 19 in late 1982 after a long, rambling conversation with my brother-in-law, Mick Storen, who was deployed to Vietnam in 1969 as a member of 6RAR. Mick was courageous enough to step outside what was then the closed circle of Vietnam veterans and tell his story to a singer songwriter in a left-wing folk-rock band and hope that it would be okay.

Literally days after it was released, Denny and I got married and left on our honeymoon, which comprised three months backpacking through Indonesia. I didn’t even know how successful the song had been until we got to Jakarta and went to the Jakarta Post Office to pick our mail up.

Even though the song was attributed to Redgum, the only person in the band who actually played on the track was Hugh McDonald – the others didn’t want to record it, because they didn’t think it was going to work!

Redgum had actually decided to call it quits just before 19 was released as a single. Our swansong album was to be Caught in the Act. However, because of 19, Caught in the Act pre-sold enough copies to achieve gold record status before it had even been pressed. So, we stayed together for another three years or so before I left.

How did you come together musically?

Shane John and I met back in the heady days of Goanna and Redgum in the early 1980s. This came together formally when we were both on the bill for the Stop The Drop concert at the Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne in 1983. I’d just returned from the Franklin River, following Bob Brown’s invitation and written Let The Franklin Flow to protest the proposed damming of that extraordinarily beautiful, wild river. Before Goanna played, I asked John if he and the Redgum band would like to join us on stage. He didn’t hesitate. 

That moment was the first time the song was performed in public, and the recording went on to be the single we released. We’ve had an ongoing connection since then and see ourselves as “brothers in arms”, advocating for a more decent country and world.

There are lots of connections. We shared the same Engineer and Producer for Solid Rock and I was Only 19, Trevor Lucas and Tony Buettel. Trevor had been in the English folk rock band Fairport Convention, and he understood how to take songs that had a folk or acoustic sensibility and translate them into a band structure. 

From the moment I first heard 19, I
recognised its brilliance and that it was an instant classic of Australian folklore. John and I are different kinds of writers, but we essentially come at the world from a similar trajectory. We each have a strong sense of self and ego, but self interest or commercial outcomes are not our motivating forces. 

John I’ve always been drawn to Shane’s writing – different to mine, but we come from similar backgrounds, have similar concerns and we wallow in similar sensibilities. The first thing we did together was in 1983 at Stop the Drop at the Myer Music Bowl performing Shane’s song, Let the Franklin Flow. (This bloke wandered into our dressing room wearing a hat with what was, clearly, a blinder of a song. Over and above wishing I had written it, I thought to myself, “Who wears a hat?”)

Over the years we’d run into each other and stayed in touch over the phone. In 2005 I invited Shane to join me on my Lawson album – and then in 2015 I invited him to sing with me on On Every ANZAC Day – a song I wrote as a tribute to Indigenous men and women who have served Australia in the ADF over the years. 

 We’ve been threatening to do some performances together for about 15 years but, last May in Adelaide, the planets actually aligned and we did our first show. Everybody absolutely loved it – importantly, we did too! We co-wrote and recorded Times like These for that show. I really enjoyed the process – to-ing and fro-ing with ideas, lines, images etc. We hope to do more writing and recording together in the future, but our lives are so busy, we have to take things one day at a time! Shane lives on a very beautiful part of the Victorian coast. My idea is to go down there for a week or two, hang out on the beach, do a bit of fishing, drink a few beers –  and see what we come up with. I haven’t shared this plan with him yet. 

You’re bringing your show, Songs That Changed Our Country, to Laurieton United Services Club. What are some of the songs fans can expect – and tell us a bit about the show in your own words.

Shane Times Like These was our first collaboration as writers. These sorts of projects can often go wrong and not work out. Not so for us. We flew into it. I’ll never die wondering what John thinks. He’s frank and fearless, and I’m not backward in taking a forward step either. It was a ripping contest of ideas, and ultimately rewarding. John casts a critical eye on political affairs, and I delight in his equally eloquent and ascerbic turn of phrase in songs like 19, The Long Run, Bali, Borrowed Ground. I also love the collaboration on Faces in the Street that we recorded on John’s Lawson album, some years ago. A song like If I Close My Eyes reveals John’s abiding concern for our country’s harsh fragility.

John The set list is still taking shape. People, however, can rest secure in the knowledge that there will be Redgum songs, Goanna songs, songs from our solo years and songs that we’ve done together. And, a couple of interesting covers! As opposed to other artists who go out together, we actually swap lines and verses in each other’s songs: I get to have a crack at Solid Rock, Talk of the Town and Razor’s Edge – Shane gets to have a crack at 19, Bali and The Long Run. I think we bring a fresh perspective to each other’s songs – and I do know the 2017 Adelaide audience found it exhilarating! 

Thanks John and Shane.

See Shane Howard and John Schumann with their show, Songs That Changed Our Country at Laurieton United Services Club. December 8 – Doors 7:30pm / Show 8pm.

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