By popular demand, John Schumann & The Vagabond Crew will perform this Saturday at The Gov. Recently voted the most popular South Australia band in the 1980s by readers of The Advertiser and The Sunday Mail, in many ways Redgum helped changed the face of Australian music. History belongs to the eastern states but the fact remains Redgum was in the vanguard of social and political songs – before artists like Midnight Oil and Paul Kelly. The Redgum Years is a concert of songs and stories. It’s for all those people who bought the records, came to the Redgum gigs, sat on the floor, listened and gave the songs life. And for their kids too. The legendary John Schumann gives music fans an insight what to expect on Saturday.
How much are you looking forward to playing this weekend with your band The Vagabond Crew at The Gov?
We are all very much looking forward to playing the gig. The Covid pandemic means that gigs have been few and far between. It is the nature of musicians that we want to play. That’s what we do. It’s very difficult – at times heart breaking – to have gigs blow out all over the country on account of the pandemic.
The last two years have been incredibly tough on everyone in the music industry. Have you seen anything quite like this in your career?
I calculate that I’ve been writing, recording and playing music live for over 40 years now. I can’t remember it ever being like this. In the late 80s and early 90s there were some economically depressed periods where gigs were a bit thin on the ground. But nothing like this.
Do you feel more optimistic now that things will start to bounce back?
I alternate between being mindlessly optimistic and grimly realistic. We just shrug our shoulders, open our palms skyward and tell each other “it is what it is”.
Do you think you’ll be a little more nervous heading in to show knowing how much fans would be looking forward to this?
No, I don’t think we’ll be nervous. We are very grateful to those people who have put their Covid fears aside to come and see us. Ticket sales are pretty slow everywhere and we are very fortunate that people have supported us by buying tickets in the knowledge that it could all go to crap. The Gov is very Covid aware. The big new outdoor area means that the whole back wall can be open and there will be a lot of fresh air. Of course, the number of people we can have in the venue is limited and the people at The Gov are very careful to ensure appropriate social distancing.
What can fans expect to hear this Saturday?
As I said, the Redgum Years is a concert set of classic Redgum songs that earned us a very significant national following. People used to come into a pub and if there was room half the people would sit on the floor. Often I would direct the audience from the stage before we started playing so that the people down the front would sit on the carpet which allowed those at the back a much better view. It was very much appreciated by the audience – but not so much by the publicans. They’d never seen anything like it!
What do you think it is about the music of Redgum that keeps resonating with fans?
I think Redgum’s appeal – and the Vagabond Crew’s appeal (remember I’ve been in the Vagabond Crew for seven years longer than I was in Redgum) is the Australian stories, the Australian place names and the fact that we sing like Australians. You won’t ever die wondering what we think.
Are you pleased to see the generational shift with your fan base?
I am always delighted to meet our younger fans. Often they would have been little kids when Redgum was flying high. Poor little buggers were force-fed Redgum music from cassettes in the car as their parents ran errands. Interestingly, they came to the songs in their own way, in their own time. As adults, they can see why their parents were fans.
Reflecting on your career what are some of the highlights that will always stand out for you?
There were so many highlights – way too many to remember, frankly. Headlining the Midtfyns Festival in Denmark, playing to 70,000 people sticks out a bit. Playing in Ireland at the height of The Troubles is also very strong memory. I really enjoyed doing some big festivals in the eastern states with my friend Shane Howard. However, I think the most moving memory is playing I Was Only 19 to 1000 homesick Australian men and women from the ADF in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan, in 2011
Are there any plans for new music this year?
I got a couple of song writing projects in mind but we’ll just have to wait and see how things pan out. I love writing and recording songs with the band but it’s a little bit heart breaking that people don’t buy CD’s any more. They just download the tracks they like on Spotify and we get .005 percent per play. Recording songs doesn’t make a whole lot of financial sense. At my age I don’t want to get rich, but I would like my costs recouped!
Interview By Rob Lyon
Catch John Schuman & The Vagabond Crew at The Gov on Saturday 26 February. Tickets from The Gov…