Meet Singer-Songwriter Don Morrison, Adelaide's Best Kept Secret
By Stuart Coupe.
Friends, I’ve been thinking about how to write the sleeve notes to this collection of Don Morrison’s songs for weeks now. In fact it may have been months. It’s not because I was avoiding doing them. Far from it. Every time I sat down to start I’d put on the two CDs you’re holding and start listening to the songs. And that would be the end of it. I’d be transported into the world of Don’s songs and singing, taken of on excursions into the world he so magnificently conjures up in his lyrics.
There was another factor too. I was feeling just a little embarrassed. You see, for over 40 years I’ve been listening to the finest (and sometimes not so finest) singers and songwriters. It’s a love of mine. A passion. It’s what I do. And I (thought) I knew almost all there was to know about it. I mean, I managed that other guy from Adelaide – someone called Kelly, and he gave me the OK to write a book about him.
So Mr Expert here was a little taken aback earlier this year when another mate in Adelaide told me that this guy called Don Morrison was on the lookout for someone to do some publicity work for him and was I interested.
My immediate assumption was that this Morrison chap was probably some newcomer wanting some help with his debut album. Don and I had a natter on the phone and then I started to get the picture – that he’d been writing songs for longer than I had been writing about songwriters.
Then he sent me a bunch of CDs which included the majority of the songs you have in this package. I listened to them with an increasing sense of awe. I was hearing – let’s cut to the chase – one of the finest songwriters I’d ever encountered. One astonishing song after another, covering a huge array of subjects and styles. Really the only thing that unified them all – as you’ll hear on this collection – is that they’re magnificent.
Hell, this Don character has even written a book – This Could Be Big: Forty Years At The Dag End Of The Australian Music Industry. And, guess what – that was wonderful too. I was expecting that the next thing he’d tell me was that once he’d played Centre Half Forward for the Norwood. Maybe he did and we just haven’t had that conversation yet. He certainly shares with another writer I love, Barry Dickens, a passionate love for the days of the Fitzroy footy club – back in the days when that was what they were known as. Check out Don’s song Fitzroy I’m Calling You for his take on this particular issue.
The first song I heard from Don was The Rat Plague Of ’66. It was so – well, different and captivating that I knew I was on to something. Then I immersed myself in the superb album It’s A Long Drive- Songs Of Streets, Roads And Cars. I was totally sold. Here was one of THE finest songwriters I’d ever encountered. It had just taken me 40 or so years to get there. I guess that’s OK. At least I did eventually arrive.
My Adelaide friends scoffed. They told me Don was a local legend. I knew better than to disagree with them. You don’t disagree with Adelaidians. In fact one of my favourite songs on this collection is The Leaving Song which concerns trying to get back to Adelaide after a period in England.
My point was really about why Don was new to me and why as I played his songs do other people I knew, did they have similar responses. That response was usually a version of “who is this guy – he’s amazing.”
One weekend I was playing through this collection and my partner yelled from three rooms away, “Turn it up – these songs are a brilliant.”
Packages arrived from Don. I devoured albums like Waiting. The beautiful self titled one that contains the mind-blowing Grand Junction Road, Five Men In a Car, the aforementioned The Leaving Song and so many others. Then there was Raging Thirst with Brunswick Street Strut, and Random Notes with Kensington Road (which is as fine as that other famous Adelaide song mentioning that strip of road), Bob Dylan Was Born In Adelaide, and the eight minute Conversation With The Man From EMI which I sorta would have included on this collection – but you cant have everything and it’s a superb reason to search out that album.
Don’s subject matter ranges all over the shop – as you’d want and expect from a songwriter of such talent. Musically he does the same with the songs on this album encompassing folk, country, blues, smatterings of rockabilly and rock’n’roll.
So, after months and months of immersing myself in Don’s songs and recordings I’m convinced that he really is one of the finest songwriters this country has produced. Why isn’t he a household name like that Kelly fellow, Don Walker, Mark Seymour, Deborah Conway, Shane Howard and so many others that we could both name? Maybe it’s a big of luck that didn’t go Don’s way. Maybe not having the right machinery behind him. It’s certainly not for lack of (sustained) quality and fabulous musical augmentation to flesh out those songs. The music creation caper is no different to other artistic pursuits – sometimes the chips just don’t fall the way they should. Sometimes the best footy teams don’t actually win the Grand Final.
But you know what – despite being in a Don Morrison wilderness for most of my life I’m now a paid up member of the fan club and waving the DM flag whenever I can to whoever I can. Chances are if you’re holding this CD you are too – or maybe like me you’re just starting your journey through the work of this remarkable songwriter.
Now, just go out any tell someone else about Don Morrison. Promise me you will.