Image Courtesy of The Morrisons
The long awaited debut album from The Morrisons launched this week full of songs we’ve come to love from their live show over the last few years. James Morrisons, Jimmy Daley and Anna McInerney took some time out to run through the tracks on The Morrisons and give us an insight into the stories behind the songs.
“Cumberland Plain” – [Jimmy Daley] An old friend of mine from the mountains once told me a story about how when he was young they used to sing “Cumberland Gap” (one of my favourite old time folk songs) and change the lyrics to “leaving Balmain for the Cumberland Plain”. At that time (50’s/60’s), he told me that Sydney was changing, becoming more expensive and people who couldn’t afford it were getting forced out, much like what is going on now. Using his story as its genesis, the song deals with class divide between east and west in Sydney.
“Ruby” – [Jimmy Daley] I wrote this song a long time ago for my old band Bellyache Ben & The Steamgrass Boys. At the time I was listening a lot to the Osborne Brothers and The Country Gentleman. Those bands were so good at merging the sounds and traditions of bluegrass with pop sensibility, songs like ‘Rocky Top’, ‘Matterhorn’, ‘Fox on the Run’. It’s my favorite period of bluegrass music.
“Sugar Cane” – [Jimmy Daley] Another old one from the Steamgrass Boys days. I wrote this song when I was traveling around North Queensland. I was listening to Uncle Dave Macon – in particular his classic tune “Way Down The Old Plank Road” – and wanted to write something like that. In old-time music the hook that just goes ’round and ’round ’til your feet drop off. It’s so infectious. I love it. The claw-hammer banjo intro is a nod to Uncle Dave.
“Two Years In The Mines” – [Jimmy Daley] This song is about Gyzele Osmani, a refugee who came to Australia in 1999 during the Kosovo crisis. I have vivid memories of watching the crisis on the news as a young boy but having no idea of the gravity of what I was seeing. Gyzele’s story was the subject of an award winning essay and radio show. It’s a truly remarkable story of courage and determination in the face of terrible adversity (well worth a read). Unfortunately our own government created a significant amount of that adversity. She was held in detention in Port Headland for 7 months, with her 5 children. One of them had a broken leg and was denied adequate medical treatment. Gyzele was brought to Australia as part of our humanitarian response to the crisis and this is how we treated her, it’s absolutely disgraceful. The thing that made me really angry when I read about her story, was that our government talks about detention centres acting as deterrents to people who come here illegally, but here’s a woman who was brought here by the government under the banner of humanitarianism and she was kept in detention with all her children. It’s absolute bullshit! Thankfully though this story has a happy ending and she now lives and works in Canberra.
“Melina (Not For Long)” – [James Morrison] While in a low point in an in-between, on-again off-again, post separation/pre reparation stage relationship, I fell for a girl. She would remind me intermittently that she knew it wouldn’t be a forever relationship (although I don’t think I was aware of that at the time) because of my mess. She was right, and she was amazing.
“Whisky on the Brain” – [James Morrison] For three hours every Tuesday night for a year (2013-14), our band would wedge ourselves into the corner of Corridor in Newtown. We had to stack our instrument cases on the awning above King St to make space, and even then the room would be full with 50% band members. We would sweat, sing too loud and drink a lot, and this song is the memory.
“Route March” – [Jimmy Daley] As soon as I read Lawson’s poem “The Route March” the rhythm and melody started to form in my head, it just reads like song lyrics. A lot of his poems are like that, I’ve actually been working on a side project of writing an album of a capella music for a bunch of his poems, but knowing how long it takes me to finish stuff I’ll probably have that out in 2030.
“Good Christian Man” – [Jimmy Daley] This is a deeply personal song about doubt, self-reflection and religious contradiction, and about how in the absence of belief we try and find ways to be moral and decent to each other.
“Emmeline (Deeds Not Words)” – [Jimmy Daley] In her mid 30’s my grandmother decided she wanted to become a school teacher. She hadn’t had the opportunity to get much of an education as a child so she had to go back and do her HSC. So as a 30-year-old mother of two she donned the school uniform and did it! She then went to uni and became a primary school teacher. By this time she was married to my grandfather and thus had taken his last name, Pankhurst. The local paper did a story on her saying something like “The ghost of Emmeline Pankhurst rides again”. The surname is no coincidence either; my grandfather is a distant relation of Richard Pankhurst, Emmeline’s husband. The Pankhurst women, Emmeline, and in particular her daughter Sylvia, are some of the most important and inspirational historical figures I have ever encountered. In my mind they should occupy the same space in our cultural psyche as people like Martin Luther King and Ghandi. One thing we are really proud of is that we will be releasing the song as a single in conjunction with the UN Women Australia Group on 8th March, International Women’s Day. It will be a pay what you want thing with all the proceeds going towards UN initiatives to help disenfranchised women around the world. The theme for the day this year is “empower a woman, empower a nation”, very appropriate when speaking of Emmeline Pankhurst.
“Rabbit Skin Cheques” – [Jimmy Daley] My Grandfather grew up on a farm in Tamworth. They didn’t have much money and they also had a problem with rabbits. So he would kill the rabbits, skin them and then sell the skins to a shop in town to make some extra pocket money. What a great topic for a country song!
“Turn the Light On” – [James Morrison] This was one of our first songs, but was long forgotten and buried. After a cathartic moment walking home between recording sessions, it seemed relevant again, not as the lighthearted song about being in the doghouse, but now as a plead to not be shut out of a relationship.
“Wild Eleanor” – [Jimmy Daley] Another old one from The Steamgrass Boys, we released this as a single last year and won an award at the Australian Song Writers Association for folk/acoustic song of the year. We also played it on The Bachelor, ha. It’s been such a staple song for The Morrisons that we decided to record it again and chuck it on there. It’s very live, warts and all. That is a reflection of how we recorded the whole album really. We tried to do it as live as possible, without overdubs etc. That means you have to accept a few mistakes here and there but the spirit and intensity of your performance stays intact, which is much more important than your ego staying intact. Multi tracked, slick folk/bluegrass recordings for me miss the point of what is so powerful about this kind of music.
“Long Time Traveling” – [Jimmy Daley] I love harmony singing! It’s my favourite thing to do in music. If I could, I would sit at my computer all day every day writing, arranging and recording vocal harmonies. I wrote this song whilst traveling around China. I’m not sure where the tune came from but I’d just been humming it to myself the entire trip. The melody has a very pentatonic “asian” quality to it, perhaps it just seeped into my subconscious. We then went up to Inner Mongolia and the lyrics just poured out. It’s an incredible landscape but at the same time it’s marred by destruction and rapid urban development. Like the rest of China it’s a place of insane contrast. I remember sitting waiting for a bus and looking around me at this desolate construction site wasteland and seeing that just over the horizon cows and horses were roaming across the stunning Mongolian steppe the same way they had for centuries. The same grasslands on which Genghis Khan rode his horse. It was bizarre.
“Southern Flavour” – [Anna McInerney] A classic instrumental tune by the father of bluegrass Bill Monroe, “Southern Flavour” is a favourite of The Morrisons and has been in our set list for a long time. It wasn’t originally scheduled for the studio but the idea came up, we did a few takes and we had our album closer.