Graeme Connors' Muster connection
IN A perfect world, Graeme Connors really would have a seaside cabin in the mountains with views over Sydney Harbour – and so would we all.
His new song, In My Perfect World (one of 12 tracks on his new album, At the Speed of Life) is a story of impossible dreams and a love that wins out in the end.
But there is a sad edge to the album and a particular poignancy to the fact that it is to be launched next Saturday at the Gympie Region's Optus Country Music Muster.
Connors takes the main stage at 6.15pm and may well mention its dedication to the Muster's own Marylou Goodall, who died recently, after a long illness.
“I don't make a habit of dedicating my work to people,” he explains in our telephone interview. “But I have a lot of regard for Marylou and what she's contributed to the Muster.”
The Muster's former entertainment co-ordinator, Mrs Goodall first joined the Muster in 1985 when she and her late husband Chris hired circus tents for the event, as well as energetically volunteering.
“We all know she was unwell for some time but she was a real stalwart and made me admire her," Graeme said.
“I heard she was doing poorly and rang her. She said she'd miss being at the Muster.
“You try to be positive and tell people they can rally and keep going a bit longer, but she couldn't hang on any longer.”
He has a long association with the Muster but says he has trouble picking out one particular moment.
“It's so hard with the Muster because in the early days I remember always being so nervous, because it's a big show.
“We were riding a wave and things were going well. You'd do a quick sound check and then do your show.”
Connors was always, he said, too busy and nervous to do more than concentrate on his part of the show.
“Only in recent years have I been relaxed enough to really enjoy the Muster for what it is,” he said.
“What it is” included “the energy of the audience and the people in the front row with their faces lit up”.
“We've done it in the rain, wind and dry.”
Connors remains almost boyishly enthusiastic about his music and the life that goes with it, despite all that national and overseas touring over a career which has now featured 16 albums all up.
Carried away with the moment, I take a little risk and tell him I thought of Jimmy Buffet when I heard some tracks from the album, which has now taken up semi-permanent residency in my car stereo.
Some of the songs seem to fit the same Buffet pleasure receptors in the country music brain, and it is hard not to picture rich red sunsets at beer o'clock on yachts all over the world.
“But,” I add, “I hear it was Kris Kristofferson who was the big influence.”
Well, I'm partly right apparently. It is just a slightly longer story than that.
“Kris Kristofferson was a very early influence on me (to the point of producing Connors' first album).
“I toured with him and he introduced me to John Prine's music. That introduced me to Steve Goodman and he introduced me to Jimmy Buffet.”
Jimmy Buffet classics like Banana Republic and Woman Goin' Crazy on Caroline St are Steve Goodman originals, he tells me.
Like all the best ballads, the songs on Speed of Life tend to tell stories, some of them true or partly so.
“The Mouth of the River is a direct rendering of historical incidents,” he said.
It certainly is. It tells a subtle story of sadness and guilt and is based on a massacre of Chinese and Aboriginals on the Palmer River more than a century ago.
“Mosquitoville is based on historic events that I extrapolate further. Soldiers is a political comment about the age old problem of fighting in a never-ending war for peace.
“The Mighty Joe Rollino is straight out of The New York Times."
As the words say, his death really was recorded in a handful of lines on Page 14.
It was a nice irony – at 104 years of age, the carnival performer billed as the strongest man in the world, bent pennies in his teeth and trained his body and his mind to overcome physical barriers like pain, weakness and, for many years, death itself.
He was still doing his five-mile morning walk, part of the intense discipline that kept him alive, when it actually caused his death. He was run over by a car.
“It was chance, not time, that got Joe in the end,” the song says.
The album came out of Queensland's summer of disaster and in a way it proves that there can be a good side to almost everything.
“We had all that weather and cyclones and floods," Connors says.
“Obviously touring was disrupted and we were doing special spirit or fundraising concerts, so that gave me the chance to write songs and go for it.
“It was a lovely album to write.
“It has a real flow to it and it gave me renewed confidence.”
And all that will be a big help as Connors faces up to an intense and different year ahead.
“We're doing some unusual events, like a trip to Norfolk Is for a country music festival.
“Then we're going as a touring group on a boat cruise across Europe, via canals, from Amsterdam to Budapest.
“It's a 17-day trip for country music fans who want to have a trip and interact with the performers.”
It is a new and fairly imaginative way to turn boats into performance venues and follows a successful country music Pacific cruise.
“They had a few good bands and it's now being organised to go to all kinds of places,” he said.
Feeling confident after my half-successful observation about Jimmy Buffet, I tell him music must be harder than it looks, because it looks pretty easy.
“People might say the same about journalism,” he comes back instantly, “having lunch until the end of the day and then working for about and hour and going home”.
I tell him that was the good old days.
“Everyone else's job looks easy,” he said, “until you see what goes on behind the scenes.”
And Graeme Connors would know all about that, having recently become involved in helping his son Adam, a chef, start up a new restaurant in Mackay, where he lives.