David Johnson has been embedded in Fremantle’s music for around thirty years, during that time probably playing with every musician he’s met. Dave is a humble and generous soul who over the decades has shared his love of music with all walks of life. Last Thursday at Freo.Social, it seemed as if all the characters from Dave’s life had turned out to witness the triumphal launch of his long overdue album INEQUALITY BLVD. In this company who better to MC than Phoebe Corke.
First up, blues jazz singer and proud Ngarluma woman Lois Olney invoked a soulful contemplative mood, sensitively accompanied by Dave (guitar/vocals) and Phoebe Corke (violin). The magnetic, natural and spontaneous rapport between Lois and Dave was immediately apparent; Corke’s strings seamlessly evocative. Lois’ patient, measured delivery and rich soulful voice may render lyrics almost superfluous but her powerful closing cover of Summertime was quite unforgettable.
True to his social conscience, Dave then handed over the stage to Alison Xamon representing CARAD and the room fell silent as she invited a deeper listening to those who are too often silenced. Read more about the work of CARAD here.
Next up Helen Townsend and Shannon Smith performed an energetic set interlaced with more than a little humour and country savvy setting up each song. Helen and Shannon harmonised to perfection, eventually inviting soon-to-depart prolific UK keys man Phil Richardson aboard. Not long home from the US, Townsend projected glowing confidence and professionalism that radiated out into the crowd.
Now, was Horatio T Birdbath invited onto the stage or not? Who cares. What a man. Look him up at fremantlestuff.info
Now for the headliner. Dave Johnson dropped anchor at centre stage alongside a mysterious brightly coloured jacket that he would later wear. Around these two, a halo of local legends; Phoebe Corke (violin and viola), Luke Dux (electric), Elliot Smith (drums), John Wilson (basses) and ‘Tone’ Burke (keys). Their opener, the title track from Dave’s 2016 album On A Clear Day was a proclamation. You can hear the influence of Paul Kelly coming through in this one. Usher in Merle Fyshwick on spooky bowed ‘bunnings saw’ and the mood turned ominous for Fear and Anxiety; absolutely on-point. Soon Rose Parker would add her vocal enchantments and Ian Simpson a rollicking banjo; and while the ensemble was loaded with instrumentation and voices, the music never felt cluttered, as all are magnificent listeners and Dave knew precisely when to add in and pull back.
The title track, INEQUALITY BLVD, covered a range of issues such as juvenile detention, intergenerational incarceration and the widening gap between disadvantage and wealth. It could’ve been stripped from today’s headlines, demonstrating Dave’s knowledge and experience in this area, with his original ‘Nauru’ particularly powerful, its chorus so fragile and melancholic that the rooms’ heart ached in time with the refrain. The keys, violin and Rose Parker’s vocals meshed beautifully behind this song, which exposes the trauma of seeking asylum and the punishing powerlessness of detention centres.
Dave finished with a spirited cover of Goanna’s hit Solid Rock; the perfect end to a perfect evening. Dave’s roots busking outside Freo’s Timezone with Libby may seem long gone now, but that unmistakable authentic voice remains; no pretension, all heart.