BMC eLIST - July 2013 Supplement - Sad News -
Gary Shearston passed away on 1 July 2013 in the Armidale Hospital after suffering a stroke at his home (near Tenterfield, NSW)
GARY SHEARSTON, Australian singer and songwriter, was a leading figure of the folk music revival of the 1960s. He has an enduring legacy in his meticulously researched versions of old 'bush' songs (folk songs), which have long been source material for younger performers. In his own younger years he was a popular singer with chart success in Australia (especially Sydney) and had his own TV show, Just Folk. As he matured, Gary achieved international success as a songwriter (including Sometime Lovin' performed by Peter, Paul and Mary) and as a recording artist (his distinctive version of Cole Porter's I Get A Kick Out Of You was a worldwide hit in 1974).
Over the years his music absorbed and adapted a diverse range of elements including Australian Aboriginal and West Indian reggae (before either was popular with mainstream western audiences). He wrote songs with influences that ranged from Irish traditional to Japanese, and released an album with jazz arrangements that perplexed his folkie and pop music fans. Since returning to live in Australia in 1989 Gary was often placed in the country music genre and he showed that he was equal to the best in that style too. In 1990 his iconic song Shopping On A Saturday was recognised with the Tamworth Songwriters' Association's award for Bush Ballad of the Year.
Gary Shearston thwarts attempts to categorise his musical style because he never stuck to just one, but we can say that over an active recording life of some 50 years he wrote, sang and recorded wonderfully evocative and distinctively Australian original songs. In his 50s, an age when he might have started taking it easier, Gary followed his faith and became a hard-working grass-roots Christian minister in country New South Wales. When he finally retired in 2007 he again threw himself into songwriting. Many of these 'new' songs reflect on a life full of twists and turns and the characters he's known along the way. And, as always, his heart is on his sleeve, for all to see (or hear)
Bruce Elder on Gary Shearston
“Gary Shearston was the closest Australia ever came to producing a local version of Bob Dylan. Not only was he an influential singer of traditional folk songs during the 1960s heyday of the folk boom but he was also a hugely gifted songwriter, a radical re-interpreter of the folk tradition (who else thought of using reggae as a backing for Australian songs as early as 1974?) and, if you need any further evidence, had he not been banned from travelling to the United States due to his involvement in the anti-Vietnam movement, he would have ended up being managed by Dylan's manager, Albert Grossman.
Grossman invited Shearston to go to the States. US Immigration locked him out. So Shearston ended up in London in the early 1970s where, signed to Charisma Records (famous for a catalogue which included Genesis and Van Der Graaf Generator) he scored a hit with an unadorned version of Cole Porter's I Get A Kick Out of You.
By any measure Shearston's career has been an enviable journey. From Jim Carter's Troubadour folk club in Sydney to London then back to Australia where, having written a novel, he recorded the remarkable Aussie Blue before joining the Anglican clergy. He preached in both the Riverina and on the North Coast and, at one point, wryly observed that he could now be called "the Reverend Gary Shearston" like the great African-American folk bluesman, the Reverend Gary Davis.
This 42-track double CD has been long overdue. It brings together the essence of Shearston's remarkable career. All the bases are covered. Starting with his haunting and melancholy reading of The Springtime It Brings On The Shearing it includes a range of sublime interpretations of traditional Australian folk songs, all recorded in 1965, before moving effortlessly to sensitive readings of Don Henderson's witty The Basic Wage Dream and Oodgeroo Noonuccal's passionate We Want Freedom. Shearston's early forays into songwriting – Who Can Say? and Don't Wave To Me Too Long – hover somewhere between Dylan and Donovan. They lead, quite naturally, to the extraordinary collection of self-composed songs on his two masterpieces – Dingo and Aussie Blue. Baiame, about an enduring love of Australia, is still one of the great expatriate songs. It floats on an ocean of nostalgic feeling and, quirkily, is backed by a stuttering and wildly eccentric reggae rhythm.
The difference between Shearston and Dylan is essentially cultural. Dylan's influences were Woody Guthrie and the poetry of the Beat Generation. Shearston is unashamedly Australian. He is a modern Henry Lawson whose music is infused with a "love of country" that makes it unique to this continent. He has felt the rhythms rising from the land and has turned them into timeless music.”
(Bruce Elder, Sydney Morning Herald)
Memories of Gary from early members
I have attached two photos which show part of the front and rear of a 1964 Gary Shearston album. To me it was probably the first and best album of its time. (Chris Woodland 9/7/13)
That was certainly a good LP from Gary. We had all his LPs at home in Greenacre ... in the 1960s ... Dad was quite a fan of Gary's singing & songs! I remember that Dad had bought a copy of it around the time when Dad, Eric and myself were all getting along to the BMC meetings in the Fellowship of Australian Writers' rooms ... in the old MUIOOF Building, Clarence St, Wynyard. I still have that copy in my collection (... and, probably, photos of the record sleeve ...) - but not signed messages from Gary - another 2 decades down the track!
I remember Gary Shearston coming along to the BMC ... mostly on :"Beer & Cheese" Nights (more formal song structure and mostly self-catered supper and beverages.) Gary was usually accompanied by his chromatic mouthorgan player of that time - Richard Brooks.
Gary was influenced by Duke Tritton. I think the young/ new folk singers of the late1960-70s felt that Duke Tritton gave them some credibility. There was lots of discussion about being a folk or traditional singer and what did 'folk' mean? Gary was genuine and wanted to make a living as a singer- songwriter. He performed at the big concerts which travelled round Australia and invited Duke Tritton along.
Dale Dengate 20/07/2013
Dave De Hugard
I sent him an invitation for our 50th Anniversary, but he wasn't able to make it, and sent back an apology. Sandra
BMC had a small memorial session for Gary (photo of Paul Jensen by Sandra Nixon)
and joined with Stuart McCarthy of Undercover Music for a larger celebration.
Photos 1-20 by Bob Bolton of the slideshow & some performers
5. Warren Fahey
6. Warren Fahey
7. Paul Jensen
8. Paul Jensen
10. Pat Drummond
11. Pat Drummond
12. Pat Drummond
13. Pat Drummond
21. Session - Eddy Sampson
22. Max Elbourne, Tom Bridges
27. Jeannie Lewis
30. President Sharyn Mattern, Stuart McCarthy of Undercover Music, Secretary Sandra Nixon.