BMA interview by Jen Seyderhelm
More than two decades ago, I moved from my insular life in Sydney to Gunnedah in regional NSW. While I had some knowledge of what would be described as country music, my new home gave me a thorough introduction. It was in Gunnedah that I first heard Graeme Connors.
As the years passed, and I moved to Mudgee, then up over the border to Gympie and Toowoomba, I would walk through these beautiful towns and, unbidden, Graeme’s A Little Further North Each Year would wander through my head, the beat of my footsteps as percussive accompaniment.
That song, released in 1988 during one of the peaks of Australian music, is undoubtedly his best known and most iconic. It was a 14-year journey to that point. In 1974, on the cusp of adulthood, Graeme would play local venues around school hours in his home of Mackay, QLD. It was here that he met his wife, Lyn.
Via a couple of gigs supporting Sherbert (a “promising young fellow called “Gary
Connors”’, extolled a review at the time, Graeme says), he was noticed by Festival Records and offered the support act for Kris Kristofferson’s 1974 tour of Australia.
Kris saw something in Connors, and supported him to produce his first album, And When Morning Comes. It was a solid first outing, but Graeme himself notes that he wasn’t yet settled in his skin. He was still finding his sense of self; something that would come roaring into the light later.
“From 1984 to 1988 I’d stopped performing and moved into publishing for Rondor Music,” Graeme recalls. “I’d never had that song that is “you”; I’d never had that!
“I’d co-written Hot Town for Jon English and a couple of songs for Slim Dusty,” he continues. “I got to that point where I thought it was time to leave Sydney. We’ve been making a fair to good living. We owned a house. But I felt like I’d missed my point.
“I loved performing, and it was gone.
“While I was working at the publisher,” Graeme continues, “I would get up at 5:30 in the morning and write these songs, ostensibly for our children. I wanted to tell them about my life, because they only knew Sydney.
“At night, on a weekend, I would tell them outlandish tales of the tropics. It was obvious that my need to tell stories was still powerful.
“Mango Shade was the first one of these songs I wrote. At the time, I was like: ‘Who’s gonna want to hear these? I know! I’ll tell my children…’
“And so came Cyclone Season, and Let the Canefields Burn.
“I decided to go home and record them with friends, The Flying Emus and Bob Butler,” Graeme continues. “We cut it in a week, and then another week later we mixed it.
“I was going to move to the Tropics, work the islands and sell cassettes. But to my great good fortune, I was working with Diana Manson, head of ABC Music at the time, and she was putting together a large-scale music project for children and enlisted my help as a kind of consultant.
“During this time, she heard I was in the studio and asked what I had been doing. I said I’d recorded this personal album called North.
“She asked if she could listen, so I gave her a cassette. She called next morning and said:
“This is what ABC Music has been waiting for forever! We want to sign you up!”
“She cut two video clips that she got onto ABC TV before the news, nationwide, and suddenly Graeme Connors, A Little Further North Each Year, was permeating the subconscious of the entire country.”
Now celebrating a staggering 50 years in the often-perilous music business, Graeme has over 20-plus albums’ worth of songs, and is touring to celebrate.
He will also be bringing a book with him called My Lyrical Life (hence the title of the tour), compiling all the lyrics he has conjured over his career. It will be available to buy in the latter half of the year. And by the way…
It has 256 pages.
As well as prolific, Graeme has been a prodigious voice for our country. But even after all these years, there’s still work to do.
“I have an unshakeable faith that, in time, we will transcend this mindless internationalism where we’re just aping other places,” he says, of the current musical landscape.
“We’re in a real lull when it comes to telling our story. Back in the ‘80s, we had this resurgence; people wanted to hear the Australian story.
“It’ll take time. But it will happen again.”
And for those budding songwriters out there, and those in the game awhile, Graeme has some parting words of wisdom to share.
“Character is the most difficult thing to put into a song if you don’t have it,” he says. “But tell your story. You’ll get better at it. Write about where you live, what you do, how you do it. You won’t get it right from the start, but you get better from doing it.
“Remember that every child says, ‘tell me a story!’ And the story that they love is from their own backyard.
“‘That’s my garden, my back yard.”
“I find that so invigorating.”
Graeme Connors – My Lyrical Life, celebrating 50 years in the Australian Music Industry, is on at The Street Theatre on Friday, 13 October at 7:30pm. Tickets are $69 + bf via the venue.