Laconic Fred turns on the emotion

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Singer Fred Smith.

Music / Fred Smith, “Warries” CD launch. The Street Theatre, April 24. Reviewed by IAN McLEAN

THERE were belly laughs, tears, solemn reflections and moving poignancy during this marvellous concert performed by Fred Smith, Canberra’s own amazingly gifted storyteller and singer/songwriter.

He possesses the driest of wits and the most natural and genuinely laconic Australian presentation style, qualities that captured his sell-out audience immediately.

Although billed as the launch of his new CD, “Warries”, only scant-though-clever promotion was paid to this new release.

Smith’s primary aim was definitely focused on providing an outstanding evening of entertainment via a thoughtfully structured program of previously released material and clever new ditties, heart-wrenching ballads and a tribute to the iconic Australian poet, Henry Lawson.

In keeping with his laid-back approach, the concert opened in a totally unassuming manner with Smith and his tight little band (headed up by another Canberra musical legend – folk guitarist and fiddler Dave O’Neill) with a sensitive “Open Country” followed immediately with the mood-changing “Ding Dang Dong”, a mix of rhythm, rhyme and recent Australian history with George Pell and his fall from grace to the fore.

To politics and “Mr Potato Head”, a clever look at our revolving door of prime ministers as well as the failed attempt by Peter Dutton to achieve similar leadership status. This song, as were all during the concert, was enhanced with relevant and telling photographs projected on to a rear screen.

Off to France and “Far Away”, a yarn about a guy with pants worn high and how somehow that trait ended up with him becoming a hero before the Henry Lawson “Scotts of the Riverina”, a sad tale of family disruption after a boy leaves his family farm in Gundagai to fight in World War I. Act 1 rounded out with the beautiful “Say a Prayer” and the boisterous “Blue Guitar”, both providing quaint interpretations of the Solomon Islands World War II history.

After interval concentration shifted to peacekeeping missions in Bougainville, Solomons and Uruzgan province of Afghanistan, all areas where Fred, as a member of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, utilised music to great effect to both aid the peace process through interaction with the local populace and to boost morale of Australian troops through concert performances.

Emotional stories “Sweet Anne Marie”, “When She Cries” and “You and Me” were contrasted with a bright little jingle Fred wrote for a Bougainville radio station before the end of the Bougainville operation was portrayed with moving visual accompaniment in “Independence Park”.

From the outstanding “Dust of Uruzgan” CD came the “Sapper’s Lullaby”, the horrid story which details the effects of improvised explosive devices and then a previously unheard song, another personal and heart-wrenching story of an Australian soldier, “Derapet”.

The concert ended happily with Fred’s hit ditty about an odd habit of Dutch military counterparts. It also features on “Dust of Uruzgan” and is worth the price of the CD on its own! This show begins a tour with dates and locations on the website fredsmith.com.au. Ring mates and friends and tell them to get to the show, it should not be missed!

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