Now and then we are fortunate to experience a powerful live performance that takes your breath away. A show that lingers within your memory for a lifetime because of its sheer impact. Archie Roach’s Tell Me Why concert at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide/ Tarntanya, was one of those performances.
Created to commemorate Roach’s memoir Tell Me Why and its associated album of the same name released in 2019, this concert was also a belated celebration of the thirty-year anniversary of his seminal album Charcoal Lane (1990). It was a glorious celebration of all things Archie Roach.
After a spirited Welcome to Country by Uncle Mickey Kumatpi Marrutya O’Brien, the incomparable Roach and his band took to the stage for a two Act performance. Despite being accompanied by acclaimed musicians Stephen Magnusson (Guitars), Sam Anning (Double Bass), Erkki Veltheim (Violin), Dave Beck (Drums), Sally Dastey (special guest vocals) and maestro Paul Grabowsky (Piano/ Musical Director), Roach commanded the stage from the moment he spoke.
The adored singer and First Nations leader is a natural storyteller. Not only with the words he speaks but with those he sings. Music Arranger Grabowsky ensured Roach’s storytelling was championed in this performance. As he shared stories of his childhood, the stolen generation, his experiences in Adelaide/ Tarntanya and along the Coorong, and of his beloved Ruby Hunter, gentle music – keys and/ or guitar -complemented his words. It was subtle and serene, unassumingly ideal. It served to both underscore Roach’s stories and to revitalise his memories. Often he would break into laughter mid-sentence as he re-told a story. Or he would pause to relish in a memory. Then, he would seamlessly launch into the song related to the story and come alive, animated in performance.
Roach and his band were spellbinding as they performed Bicentennial Blues, Weeping in the Forest, Tell Me Why, Small Child, Took the Children Away, Down City Streets, Mulyawongk, Always Be Here, Nopun Kurongk, and One Song. Time felt irrelevant as we enjoyed a stage of renowned musicians creating magic and new memories together. It was so irrelevant that the show went on considerably longer than intended… of which nobody minded, of course.
Roach’s vulnerability was palpable. He bared his truth for us and allowed us to share the emotion of his experiences. His deep connection with South Australia was communicated via story and song choices. In particular, those associated with Hunter, a Ngarrindjeri woman from the Coorong, who he met as a teenager and became his life partner.
The majority of this show was a vocal love letter to Hunter, a fiercely talented and iconic Australian musician in her own right. Roach’s eternal love for “Rube” was evident through his words and actions. His emotional pause after Mulyawongk was an intensely intimate moment that had many of us shedding a tear with him. It was a testament to the endearing quality of Archie Roach and Australia’s love for him. The strength of his character, developed from decades of trauma and tragedy, prevailed after this moment, and allowed him to rise and conquer as he so often has.
“You give me the strength to carry on”, Roach heartfeltly professed to us as the entire theatre rose to their feet, applauding.
Archie Roach’s Tell Me Why concert was more than just a performance of storytelling, music, healing, and celebration. It was a once in a lifetime experience.
Live Review By Anita Kertes