Robbie Dunn: an Irishman in Brisbane
|A number of years ago while I was living in Brisbane, I stumbled across a CD at my local library entitled Just Another Day, by an Irish singer/songwriter called Robbie Dunn. I had a quick peek through the track listing and discovered tunes such as There’s No Place Quite Like Brisbane, Redland Bay and Old Brisbane Town. It didn’t take long for me to realise that I was holding in my hands the holy grail of what Australia By Song is all about – an entire album dedicated to an Aussie city! I always find it inspiring whenever I hear someone reveal their love of this country through song, especially in cases where the artist is foreign to our shores.Raised in Dublin but currently living in the Queensland capital, Robbie is an old-hand at the music scene, and balances his music work along with his family life and also his career as a professional chef. I recently had a chat with Robbie about his background and his music, and it is evident that he’s equally as passionate about his Irish heritage, as he is for his current life as an adopted Aussie.|
Hi Robbie, and thanks for chatting to Australia By Song. Firstly, I was wondering when – and why – you make the move from your hometown of Dublin all the way to Australia?
I came to Brisbane Australia in 1985. I ran away from Dublin. We were seriously drinking and drugging ourselves to death. Our band the “Dublin Balladeers” were very popular, we played nearly 7 nights a week and maybe a couple of daytime gigs during the weekend. Throw in that funny stuff you smoke and a few tabs and you get the picture. It was a treadmill I found hard to get off. You can kill yourself having a good time in Dublin (or “party central,” as they call it). Bring a spare liver if you are going there. It’s the biggest open air asylum in the world where the inmates run the show.
We were sort of like the Pogues and the Commitments all mixed up. The boys were brilliant musicians and they were also great craic, as we say. I did the BBC thing and we were offered tours in the UK all set up for us but we could not get out of the pubs in Dublin. I was running my catering company as well so it was all a bit insane. Throw in the fishing, football, stockcar racing etc. and life was one big party.
We had a death in the family in ’84 and it made me stop and think. I then decided that Australia sounded far enough away from the drinking and I applied to come here. No one would believe me at the time – they kept telling me, “you have everything, why are you leaving?” But it was like a big hand pushing me out of the womb, so I said I was going for two years, and I am still here, although I have been back 11 times so far. I also did a lot of research into Celtic spirituality, which is really Pantheism.
Pantheism does sound like a very interesting and holistic way of life. So, what do you miss the most about Ireland, and what do you find are the benefits of the Brisbane lifestyle?
The main thing I love about Ireland is being with my mates. Over there I am just known as “Dunner,” the stories abound and the laughs we have are fantastic. I was so fortunate to have grown up in such a wonderful country, and to have been born and bred in Dublin was an honour. To stand in Croke Park with 80,000 people at the all-Ireland Gaelic football final singing Molly Malone is the closest to heaven any Dubliner can get. I loved the smell of the sea, the fishing, the Dublin Mountains, but what I do not miss is the weather and that’s why I love Brisbane.
It’s early morning and I am sitting on the veranda of my house in Brisbane, Australia. Sunlight filters through the waving palms and Lilly Pilly’s are in the garden. There is a gentle breeze blowing in across the sparkling waters of Moreton Bay. The air is filled with the scent of Jacaranda trees in full bloom; there is a constant drone of the cicada in the background. It’s intermingled with the scents of a thousand flowering plants and trees, as they show off their vibrant colours in their efforts to attract the butterflies and honey bees that gorge themselves on the sweetness of nature. Parrots sip the nectar from the gumnut tree that hangs over the edge of the fence squawking and chattering in a seemingly endless cacophony of sound as they do so. The half-eaten mangoes dropped by the fruit bats the night before litter the ground under the forty year old mango tree at the top of the garden. It’s paradise here in Brisbane and it’s my place. In fact, the first Archbishop of Brisbane was an Irishman called Robert Dunn – the same name as myself – so it must be a second coming. I tried to leave many times but I am bound to the place.
It’s nice to know Brisbane has that staying power! Tell me a bit more about your music career in general – what inspires you, and how long have you been writing and performing?
I grew up in a musical family. Everyone in my family sang; it was like growing up in a cabaret show. No matter where we went we had a sing-song, or a “Hooley” as we Irish call it. My mother was the leader of the band, and along with my uncles, aunties, cousins and assorted hangers-on, we could be talking 50 people or maybe more. My mother Rose Thomas could sniff out a piano player from 50 paces. So I cannot remember a time when I did not sing or perform. I sang in various little bands as I grew up.
On the writing side, I started out of the blue at 28 years old, much to my surprise. Before long I was soon on Irish radio and the BBC in England. Life inspires me. I have put some of my deeper material on Jango Radio for people to listen to. Like a lot of other Irish people, I was badly abused by the Catholic Church so there is no shortage of material to write about. As the shrink once said to me, “If it was not for the Catholic Church, my waiting room would be empty.” So I am a recovering ex-Catholic. But I write about anything, and I have written a lot of funny songs which I really enjoy performing.
You wrote and recorded a 12 track album called Just Another Day, based entirely on Brisbane. Where did you get the idea to record such an album, and what are your favourite of the songs?
I did not set out to write an album about Brisbane – it evolved. We were playing nearly every night and the songs just came to me over a period of time. I see the beauty and the wonder of Brisbane and of course the tragedy too. The song Down And Out In Paradise is one of my favorites; also There’s No Place Quite Like Brisbane and Brisbane, The River City which I co-wrote with Martin McMahon, who wrote the bestseller book I Cry For My People.
I think my Brisbane album will receive more acclaim as the years go by. I have sold thousands of copies so far. I feel it captures the city well. Brisbane is changing from being a big country town to a major city so it has a lot of growing pains. As writer, we play a very important part in recording the events that transpire in a city or a nations history.
A number of years ago you wrote a song called I Always Feel At Home In The Country, which I understand has recently received some further attention during the 2011 Brisbane flood appeal. How did this song come to mind, and how were you affected by the floods?
It was great song to write because I feel it captures the essence of Australia and the people who bind the country together. When I was on the road traveling I became conscious of the all roads and bridges that were built by our fore-bearers. We are so fortunate to live the lives we do today. Australia is a great country; if you are willing to work you can achieve anything you want. I saw the floods coming – we had months of rain and it was inevitable what was going to happen. I mean, they built the factories and houses on the floodplains. The river has been flooding there for thousands of years. However, the floods in Toowoomba and in Grantham were totally out of the blue, and were tragic.
I Always Feel At Home In The Country:
Stepping back to Ireland for a few minutes, what are your favorite Irish songs and artists?
My number one Irish song is one from Liam Weldon, the great Irish Seanchai (storyteller), and the song is called Via Extasia. Liam was a mentor to me, and his message was one of peace and love. I met Liam in Tailors Hall in Dublin, he ran the sessions there. It totally changed the direction of my life. He saw gifts in me I did not know I had. (Liam Weldon’s album, Dark Horse On The Wind, is available on iTunes)
Some of my other favourite Irish songs include The Patriot Game, Four Greens Fields and The Town I Love So Well.
Where is the best place for people to discover your own music?
Some of my music is available to listen to on Jango Radio, or if you would like to buy my music then you are welcome to contact me direct by email on rivercityrecords (at) optusnet.com.au. My website is www.robbiedunn.com.
Thanks again for speaking with Australia By Song, Robbie. One final question though: for any Irish ex-pats in the River City, or any Aussies searching for some authentic craic, which pub in Brisbane pours the best Guinness?!
I wrote the song There’s A Hooley On In The Irish Bar Tonight about Gilhooleys in the city. We had brilliant nights there, the place would be packed, the drink flowing, and the boys and girls would think they were in Riverdance. I am very fortunate to have had the life I’ve had.
* * * * *
So there you have it! Robbie Dunn: a gentleman as Aussie as he is Irish. Do check out some his music; most of his tunes have a quintessentially happy Irish folk feel to them, and if you’re in Brisbane then you may be lucky enough to see him perform or catch one of his interactive live cooking shows.
Right now I’m reminiscing the days I lived in sunny Queensland myself – all I’m missing is the
schooner of XXXX pint of Guinness. As Robbie says, there really is no place quite like Brisbane
Dyan Tai – Why Sydney?
It’s always a happy moment for me whenever I discover a song that embodies the idea behind Australia By Song, and I was recently fortunate enough to come across a bright, fresh piece of electro-pop dedicated to the fine capital of New South Wales, with the very inquisitive title of Why Sydney?
Written by Malaysian-born, Sydney-based singer/songwriter, Dyan Tai, Why Sydney is dedicated to those who reside within the vibrant walls of this city, but haven’t been quite so lucky when it comes to their quest for love. It was the winner of the 2010 Sydneyvision Song Contest, and the brilliant film clip – featuring easily-recognisable locations such as the Opera House, Luna Park and Chinatown – rightfully took out the “Best Music Video” award at the 2010 Citylove Music Song Competition.
(I really love those graffitied laneways too!)
I had a quick chat with Dyan about the song as well as a few other Sydney related matters:
What inspired you to write Why Sydney?
The amount of people in Sydney who are lonely and single, even though they might the the richest or the most glamorous people I’ve ever met.
How do you feel about living in Sydney today, and does it differ very much from your home country of Malaysia?
I love Sydney. It’s really diverse – there are so many different colours and so many different flavas. I grew up in a tropical country so my first winter here was almost unbearable but I love it now. The only thing I dislike is how everything closes at 5pm. In Malaysian shopping malls, cafes and retail shops open til late, about 10-11pm, so the city is always lively, which is quite different to Sydney.
What’s your favourite suburb or part of the city to hang out in, and why?
My ultimate favourite is Newtown, where I live. I don’t feel out of place here when I do my hair up or getting breakfast in pyjamas after a massive night out.
I love Newtown too, it’s the best suburb for sure! So, where is the best place on the web for people to hear/buy your music?
Head to www.dyantai.com. You can also find a link there to my Facebook for updates and free downloads.
So check it out! There are a few other upbeat electro songs at his Facebook page available to download for free, including Part Time Lovers (feat. RJB), We Don’t Have To, and A Song For Linda, all recorded with his three-piece band.
Dyan Tai is definitely somebody to keep a close eye on – and I do hope he finds the answer to his question, Why Sydney? soon
The Middle East – I Want That You Are Always Happy
Yesterday saw the release of the delightful second album from folk/indie outfit The Middle East. They’re one of the few bands I know of that hail from my hometown of Townsville, and although I’d been aware of their presence for a few years, they really caught my attention after I was lucky enough to witness an incredible live gig of theirs at the 2010 Sydney Laneway Festival. Their storytelling, performance and musicianship struck a resonance with me and made me proud to be a Townsvillian.
I’ve been anticipating their next release for quite some time not only because of the Townsville connection, but also because it follows their superb EP from 2008, The Recordings Of The Middle East, which featured the beautiful and highly memorable masterpiece, Blood. It’s one of those songs where every time you hear it, you end up whistling the hook line to yourself for the rest of the day, without fail. Do yourself a favour and listen to it here if you haven’t before:
So I headed on down to my local record store today to grab a copy of the new LP – and lo and behold – I discover that of the thirteen listed tracks, not one but TWO of them are dedicated to Aussie locations. Which means I get to blog about it here at Australia By Song!
The first of these tracks to appear is an ambient instrumental piece entitled Sydney To Newcastle. It comprises of a poignant solo piano with a field recording of the upcoming train station announcements between the two cities, overdubbed ever so lightly in the background. I have made the three hour journey by train from Sydney to Newcastle myself once before, about a year ago, and sitting here listening to the piece, eyes closed with headphones on, really does transport me to the scenic wonder that I experienced whilst on that trip. The recording itself is set around the Central Coast suburbs of Ourimbah, Tuggerah and Wyong (situated around the halfway mark on the way to Newcastle), however I cannot help but recall the area a few stops beforehand, between the lush Hawkesbury River and the lakeside town of Woy Woy.
The majority of the commute by train is gorgeous though, and you can listen to the Middle East’s interpretation of it below:
Sydney To Newcastle then melds magically into the next track, Mount Morgan. Situated about 40km south-west of Rockhampton, the song’s namesake is an historic and once-bustling mining town, the population of which has dramatically declined following the early gold rush days and the cease of mining production in 1981 after nearly 100 years. The town today still obtains a unique country charm, and although a shadow of its former self when it comes to the mining trade, it remains a popular tourist destination and boasts one of the world’s largest man-made holes (albeit full of noxious acid).
The Middle East’s tribute to Mount Morgan takes quite the melancholic musical viewpoint. On playing the track, an amalgamation of sounds soon materialize, beginning with the haunting introduction of beautifully crafted harmonica, guitar, banjo and vocal harmonies chanted over a bushlike soundscape, and then exploding into what may well be the most soul-stirringly epic portion of the entire production.
I have found a version of the song performed along with Hunger Song, recorded live for a radio station at the SXSW festival in 2010. It’s well worth a watch, although it does posses a slightly different dynamic to that experienced in the studio recording.
Other highlights of the album include the popular first single, Jesus Came To My Birthday Party (which I admittedly picked as being a Noah & The Whale song when I first heard it many months ago), and the epic 8 minute closer, Deep Water (I’m a sucker for long songs). In my opinion, however, the standout track is the toe-tapping Land Of The Bloody Unknown, featuring the most memorable of the melodies on the album. It sticks in my mind in that same joyful way the hook for Blood does.
I Want That You Are Always Happy is available now from iTunes and all good record stores, and be sure to catch the always happy Townsvillians on their much-anticipated tour around Australia in June 2011:
Friday 3rd June – Tanks Arts Centre, Cairns
Saturday 4th June – Riverway Arts Centre, Townsville
Wednesday 8th June – Fly By Night, Fremantle
Friday 10th June – Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, Adelaide
Saturday 11th June – Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Monday 13th June – Karova Lounge, Ballarat
Wednesday 15th June – The Old Museum, Brisbane
Thursday 16th June – Joe’s Waterhole, Eumindi
Friday 17th June – Metro Theatre, Sydney
Sunday 19th June – Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle
The Middle East – I Want That You Are Always Happy track listing:
1. Black Death 1349
Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under
Hello and welcome to the new-look Australia By Song! Big thanks to Miss Megs for doing a damn fine job with the artwork and layout. This is the first installment of what will hopefully become many blog posts promoting the great music out there that pays tribute to our country.
Here at Australia By Song HQ, I get a little bit excited whenever I hear about a newly released song that namechecks a location around our fine land, especially if the recording artist is not local to our shores. So it’s with great pleasure that I write today about Bostonian singer/songwriter Amanda Palmer, who has succeeded in not only releasing a track named after the country itself, but a whole album dedicated to the land Down Under, not to mention our Kiwi friends across the Tasman as well.
It was 2004 when I first came across Amanda’s work, as part of her punk cabaret duo alongside Brian Viglione, the Dresden Dolls. I had only just begun listening to Triple J, and I specifically remember Coin-Operated Boy as being the first song that stood out to me on this newfound non-commercial radio station. I could only describe it as being eccentric – completely different to any other song I’d heard before – and it quickly cemented itself as one of my favourite tunes of the year. I’ve kept a slight interest in Amanda’s career ever since then, but it wasn’t until the release of Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under back in January of this year that I began to fully appreciate her incomparable musical talent.
The majority of the tracks that appear on her aptly-entitled second solo LP were recorded live at the Sydney Opera House in 2010, many featuring special guests and hilarious on-stage banter. On more than one occasion this banter pertains to her morbid dislike of Vegemite (aka “The Black Death”) – and there’s even an awesome impromptu audience singalong of the Happy Little Vegemite song!
A couple of studio recordings make for an interesting and upbeat break between her concert performances, namely the first single Map Of Tasmania, featuring British electronic act the Young Punx. You’ll understand the innuendo behind the title if you’re an Aussie, but who better than Amanda Palmer to educate the rest of world about said colloquialism, thanks to her true kaleidoscopic and risque style:
The gorgeous heartfelt tribute to Australia appears early on in the album, and upon hearing it I am left with the impression that foreigners to our terrain really do think of us as an alluring island on the other side of the world, a visit of which offers the opportunity to break out of your shell and discover the person you wish you could be back in your homeland. Or, perhaps the person somebody else wishes you could be:
I could tiptoe on a tightrope made of fear and looking down
See all the people, do they see me, I can wave or I could carry
All the dishes that they gave me that are keeping me steady
Or I could go to Australia
And carry a bowie knife
And wear my hair like Hepburn parted on the side
Equally as beautiful, but doubly as haunting, is Amanda’s studio recording of a song written by Kiwi musician Peter Jefferies, On An Unknown Beach. Far from the joviality of most of the other tracks that comprise the LP, this is a song about a lone and melancholy man who finds himself on a secluded beach somewhere in New Zealand, contemplating what he sees (and doesn’t see) around him. You can read more about the story behind the song at Amanda’s blog, and I highly recommend watching her video clip, which was admittedly filmed on a beach in Texas but is meant to signify the New Zealand shoreline mentioned in the song:
Back to the fun & games of her usual buoyant self, and still on the Kiwi theme, it’s hard to go past the solo acoustic ukelele rendition of her disparagingly cute testimonial to all things Wellington. Before she begins the song, she states “it was written as a challenge because I had just written Map Of Tasmania, which is a great song, but someone from New Zealand was like ‘where’s our fucking song?’ ” Considering she only had 20 minutes to pen the lyrics, and that she was experiencing… err.. women’s problems at the time, you can only imagine the outcome!
Other highlights of the album include the burlesque & carnivorous Formidable Marinade (featuring Mikelangelo and Lance Horne), a curious enquiry as to whether Doctor Oz and his Australian medical ways will assist in restoring good health, and a superb encore of Nick Cave’s classic The Ship Song:
Altogether, I vote we should adopt Amanda as one of our own, and I encourage you to check out the album if you haven’t done so already. You can find the CD in all good record stores, but you can actually purchase a download of the WHOLE ALBUM at her very own website for as little as US $0.69! Although, it’s worth a lot more than that.
The only thing I regret throughout this whole process of discovering the true genius behind the voice is that I missed her Australia Day Opera House show earlier this year. Next time she Goes Down Under, I will be there for sure.
1. Makin’ Whoopee
Your Town, Your Song Competition
I had a chat with Miranda Tetlow from ABC Radio Alice Sptings this morning – you can listen to it here!
We talked briefly about the history of Australia By Song and why I created it, as well as the launch of the ABC’s Your Town, Your Song competition, which is a nationwide search for lyrics that celebrate our towns and locations. If anybody is interested in penning a song about their home town, now is the time to do it and you could win some star treatment at the 2011 Tamworth Country Music Festival. For more information, check out the Your Town, Your Song competition entry page – entries are open until the 30th of September 2010 so start penning those lyrics now!