The 2012 Australasian Worldwide Music Expo (AWME) kicked off tonight with legendary Aussie country singer Archie Roach premiering tunes from his latest album Into The Bloodstream with the help of a few special guests.
A packed Playhouse Theatre sat patiently through the obligatory opening speeches from AWME organisers and sponsors – most of which were genuinely heartfelt, with the exception of Jeanette Powell who had a bit of an “I endorse this event and/or product” kind of vibe – before the thirteen piece band finally entered the stage, with Archie the last to walk to his stool where he would remain for the performance.
Tonight, much was made about Roach’s rough trot in life in the last few years. He had suffered a stroke in 2010 and had major surgery to remove a tumour in his lung in 2011. All of this was after his beloved wife Ruby Hunter passed away. When Archie spoke of her tonight his shaky voice would pause while he collected his thoughts leaving the thousand or so hearts in the audience to skip a beat, such was the adulation they felt for him. “I’ve got someone else to walk through life with now,” he told the crowd. “But I know Ruby is looking down on me.”
It was this rough trot, however, that inspired one of Roach’s most personal albums to date. Into The Bloodstream is a collection of songs about hope – the voice of a man looking for a way to expel his misery through any avenue available, but in tonight’s performance we weren’t watching a broken man – we were watching a new man.
The new man came through in songs like We Won’t Cry which saw Roach joined on stage by Paul Kelly, while the song Big Black Train saw the baritone section of the versatile choir (which was led by Lou Bennett of The Black Arm Band and Tiddas) take control and kick the gig into gear. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house during his 1990 song They Took The Children Away or the new one Mulyawongk which Roach explained was about the river calling the spirit of Ruby Hunter back.
All of these songs were given that little bit extra by the stunning visuals of Australian landscapes and photographs pieced together by Tim Cole projected onto the enormous screen behind the band. Tonight in the damp streets of Melbourne’s inner city, those of us in the right place at the right time were treated to an outback sunrise as the sun outside was nearing its final approach to the horizon.
Song To Sing brought the show to a close, featuring the entire gospel choir and a good ten or so extra singers all adorning the aboriginal flag across their chests. Australia’s deadliest actor Uncle Jack Charles showed off his somewhat hilarious dance moves – the same moves that feature in the video to that same song. Those moves must have inspired Archie, because for the first time he leapt out of his chair and danced the song away himself.
Before leaving the stage he confided in the crowd saying that he felt his career was over. He didn’t think this album would be made. Judging by the deafening applause and universal standing ovation given by the crowd, I’m not the only one who is thankful that it was.
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Check out Archie Roach playing Mulyawongk in the Noise11 studios below:
And while you’re there, here is the clip to Song to Sing featuring Uncle Jack Charles’ dancing: