craft / “Mark Making: Bench”, Craft ACT, until August 25. Reviewed by MEREDITH HINCHLIFFE.
COUNTRY music singer-songwriter, Darren Coggan, has become a household name in Canberra and Queanbeyan over recent years for his long-running show, “Peace Train, The Cat Stevens Story”, but he’s changed tack.
Coggan will be at The Street Theatre soon with his newest show, “Fire & Rain – The James Taylor Songbook”.
“The show is only new, but it is gathering momentum, it’s only early days but it’s exciting to present these beautiful songs,” Coggan told “CityNews”.
He’s shorn the flowing locks of British-born Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam and assumed the more sober persona of American singer-songwriter and guitarist, James Taylor, who composed and performed in the complex world that followed the Kennedy assassination, the disbanding of the Beatles and the deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.
Central to Coggan’s show is the title song, “Fire and Rain”, released on the cusp of that new era in 1970. “Lord knows when the cold wind blows it’ll turn your head around,” Taylor wrote in a tuneful anthem to longing and loneliness.
A part of US music royalty, Taylor made his first number one record when he recorded Carole King’s classic song “You’ve Got a Friend” and was married for 11 years to composer Carly Simon, who very possibly wrote her most famous song “You’re So Vain” about him.
Questions about Taylor’s personal life will be canvassed by Coggan in his characteristic mix of narration and music.
He’s no novice in talk and theatre. Coggan has appeared in “Grease – The Mega Musical” and “Shout” as well as “Country Kids” for the Babies Proms series at the Opera House. The affable host of Foxtel’s “Out & About – The Great Aussie Pub Tour,” he is also a presenter on “Sydney Weekender” for Network 7.
But audiences need not fear, the boy from Wagga Wagga who became a Golden Guitar and Celtic Music awardee always places the music first. Under the watchful eye of his musical director and sister Naomi, he promises that audiences will get to hear favourites such as “How Sweet it Is to Be Loved by You”, “Country Road”, “Carolina In My Mind”, “You’ve Got a Friend” and, of course, “Fire & Rain”.
“I always come out and meet people after the show and they can’t help suggesting other artists, but overwhelmingly the one that kept coming up was James Taylor,” he says.
It’s certainly a change in mood for him.
“James Taylor’s music shows how he was,” Coggan says.
“I discovered that he was incredibly sensitive – he had a way of reaching the thoughts and emotions of the time.”
But the show has the positive underlying message that we have the ability to make changes in our lives, and Coggan theorises that songwriting was almost therapeutic for him.
“He had a really dark side, which I didn’t know about until I started researching… he had mental illness challenges, a very frail, emotional man,” says Coggan.
“I always start my projects with the same nucleus, usually in Wagga, people I can trust…honesty and truth are important and Naomi knows me incredibly well.”
But Naomi has three children and a full-time job at Wagga Base Hospital, so she can’t tour. Instead Coggan will use his own band featuring young Tamworth pianist Daniel Murray. He’ll be joined on stage by vocalist Meredith Adams, who will play Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and Carole King and other female voices in Taylor’s life.
Meantime, the Cat Stevens show is never far from his mind. It’s enjoyed a sell-out in the Opera House Concert Hall and has all around Australia. He even met the great man in London after Yusuf/Cat’s nephew saw Coggan in what he calls “a simplistic Cat Stevens tribute” show in Melbourne and alerted his uncle.
“The full show was written after I met Yusuf in 2017… I came back from London inspired by the stories he told me.”
“But it’s time to park the ‘peace train’ for a while,” he says, “it’s been part my life for the last 10 years but I felt it had run its natural course.”
Only last year he took it on a “coals-to-Newcastle” venture to standing ovations in 18 major concert halls around the UK. You can bet it won’t stay parked for very long.
Darren Coggan “Fire & Rain – The James Taylor Songbook”, The Street Theatre, Saturday, April 7. Bookings to thestreet.org.au or 6247 1223.