Saturday, 14 March 2015

Underrated Live Albums #4: Redgum - "Caught In The Act"

Where the hell are Redgum these days when we need them?

In an age where politicians in this country are either embarrassing, uninspiring or just batshit-boring, we need Redgum more than ever. We need a band not afraid to poke fun at the party political, satirise the policies and lampoon the people who stride the corridors of power and who are supposed to lead the nation through its struggles.

Some would argue that we can take our pollies to task quite nicely on our own, thanks to the Twittersphere (ever seen the #auspol thread lately?). But when Redgum started out there were very few Australian acts who dared to be so outspoken on sensitive issues, call the government out in direct terms and to write songs that sing of the plight of the downtrodden and the forgotten.

Redgum's one and only live album was released in 1983, recorded in front of a rambunctious crowd at the Rose, Shamrock and Thistle Hotel in Rozelle in Sydney. The band are alive, playing their hearts out and give the crowd everything they have. Their songs are pointed and forthright, the monologues are at turns sardonic and funny, and the live recording is superbly recorded.

The problem however, is that after many years after its release, it can be a little bit difficult to work out what they are talking about. You see, Redgum's problem was that not only did they sing about topics that are still a problem today, they spoke about issues affecting the people of the time. This instantly dates the album and it makes it somewhat harder to relate to years down the track. In fact, the first statement on the record ties it inextricably to 1983 before a note of music has even been played. John Schumann starts out by greeting the crowd and says

Ladies and Gentleman, we haven't seen you since the March the 5th result...

Now, when I purchased my own second hand vinyl copy of this album in 2005, I hadn't heard the record since the mid-1980s. I couldn't remember what the hell happened on March the 5th that year, let alone what was the major news story of the day. Upon further reflection, the "March the 5th result" was when the then current federal Liberal government led by Malcolm Fraser lost the election by a landslide to the Labor party, led by Mr Charisma himself, Bob Hawke. Mr Hawke himself would come in for his own piece of satire a few years after this one, so really the Liberal party are mostly the targets of the barbs on this one.

Two of the songs on this album stretch out over 9 minutes and are padded out with some humourous and amusing shaggy dog stories. Each song here is preceded with a short explanatory note from the band for listeners to get an idea what the song is about, as all good folk groups do. Topics include the horrors of war ("I Was Only 19"), the selling out of our country's natural resources out from underneath us ("Lear Jets Over Kulgera", "Nuclear Cop"), the upper class "born to rule" mentality certain sectors of the community have ("Beaumont Rag), apathy ("It Doesn't Matter To Me"), corporate greed ("Caught In The Act"), rampant consumerism ("Fabulon"), poverty ("Brown Rice and Kerosene", "Where Ya Gonna Run To") and even some optimism for a brighter future ("The Long Run").

There is plenty of great music here and plenty of topical songs that are still relevant to the political debate today, especially a song like "Nuclear Cop" or "It Doesn't Matter To Me". It is a lot of fun for a topical album. There's plenty of laughs and plenty of tears along the way too. If nothing else, the gentle listener will get a better understanding of Australian geography and it would be wise to keep a detailed map handy to work out where places like Beaumont, Nareen, Kingoonya, Puckapunyal, Cairns, Canungra, Kulgera, Pine Gap, Hawker, Pimba, Wyalla, The Diamantina River and many others.

It is also worth noting that the version of "I Was Only 19 (A Walk In The Light Green)" is NOT the #1 hit single studio version, but rather a live version from the same concert. The single version is available on a number of compilation albums, the best of which is "The Essential Redgum".

The CD version of the album contains all 15 tracks but the original vinyl version which is still common and fairly cheap, but it had a strange format. Using the CD track list as a reference point, the original LP had tracks 1-5 on side one, track 6 as the A-side of a "bonus" 7-inch single, tracks 7-8 on the b-side of the single and tracks 9-15 on the second side of the LP. For the sake of continuity, that is the sequence that the album should be played in. However, on the second-hand market, the LP is easy to come by but it is usually without the bonus single. The orphaned "Caught In The Act" single with "Stewie" and "Lear Jets Over Kulgera" on the b-side is also fairly common if your LP doesn't have a copy, but any and all prospective buyers should be aware that you really need to have both.

Or, you could just listen to it here on Spotify below. Enjoy!

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