“I’M a long way from anywhere,” singer-songwriter Fred Smith tells me by phone from Esperance, in WA, on tour with his hit show “Dust of Uruzgan”.
Smith’s always a long way from anywhere. A few days before that, he was chatting from Kalgoorlie. For years as a diplomat, he was embedded with Australian forces at Tarin Kowt in Afghanistan, Bougainville and the Solomon Islands.
But “CityNews” is happy to report that Smith is now home in O’Connor, as photographer Gary Schafer’s picture, taken on a brilliant spring morning, verifies.
And by no coincidence, “Home” is the title of Smith’s new 14-track CD, launching at The Street Theatre later this month and dealing with the mixed emotions experienced when coming back from a world of turmoil to the apparent peace of home.
The CD, described by Smith’s auntie as “gentler” than his Afghanistan songs, mostly looks at life on a smaller scale. There’s an ode to a friend in “Illawarra Rose,” personal reflections in “Women in My Life” and above all, a tender love song to his eight-month-old baby daughter Olympia in “Beautiful Girl”.
When we meet in O’Connor, Smith’s suitcase is still at the front door. He’s just in from a 50-date national tour funded by country arts entities and reports: “The show was a complete account of our involvement in Afghanistan, so people responded well.
“I’ve still got a part-time day job with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who give me a bit of leave to do these tours,” he explains as he balances Olympia on one knee.
So what’s it like to be home?
Well, it’s a case of going from one crisis zone to another in a way.
“It’s still about frontier, but my new album is more about the domestic frontier… there comes a time when you have to settle down,” he says.
Canberra has not normally been his main source of inspiration, but now there are two or three songs based here.
“I think that’s a good thing, what this record is about is more feeling of home, about coming home and calming down and growing up – though at 44, people say I’ve left it a bit late,” he says.
Smith is well aware that, while “Dust of Uruzgan” (which saw him likened to Eric Bogle and John Schumann) was “very enticing to the media”, this new album is more personal.
Not entirely, though. He wrote the last number, “Derapet”, after receiving a letter from a soldier in Brisbane who was having a hard time transitioning back into Australian life.
So how’s that transitioning been for Smith?
“It’s certainly novel, I love it, I didn’t expect it to be so delightful,” he says.
His wife, Maryanne, is evidently relieved to have him back and as he says: “The difficulty of being away is more for the family than for the person on the ground, managing the risks.
“My new album is definitely, gentler softer. My aunt says that my Afghanistan music was harsher but this is gentler… I think it’s got quite an acoustic, folk feel to it.”
“Home,” album launch show, The Street Theatre, 8pm, Saturday, September 27, bookings to thestreet.org.au or 6247 1223. The album is available at Songland Music, Cooleman Court, or at fredsmith.com.au