The Whitlams Black Stump Band Share ‘Kate Kelly’ Featuring Felicity Urquhart

The Whitlams Black Stump Band releases its new single, Kate Kelly, a gothic bush ballad about Ned Kelly’s little sister, Kate. The song has the intimacy of a violin and mandolin session around the campfire, with the dark energy of a Nick Cave murder ballad fluttering unnervingly through the ghost gums.

Kate Kelly – the historical figure – has always been overshadowed by her famous brother Ned, but the talented young woman was a popular public identity in her own right. She was 17 years old the day Ned was hanged in 1880, and she appeared that night in front of 1,000 paying customers at the Apollo Theatre Hall on Bourke Street, Melbourne.

In August last year, during the band’s first regional run from North Queensland to Southern Victoria, Felicity Urquhart and Josh Cunningham joined the tour from Gunnedah to Queenscliff to open on five shows. It was on these nights that they started experimenting with Urquhart joining the band on stage to sing and play the part of Kate Kelly.

They realised straight away that the addition of Urquhart’s voice gives the song an immediate emotional depth, as she becomes the female inheritor brooding over the Kelly legend. Our protagonist knows the damage that notoriety has wrought on her family, but still needs to use the Kelly name to advertise her Travelling Shows by which she supports her family.

The song was written by Tim Freedman and Northern Rivers identity Jimmy Willing, using a narrative inspired by Jean Bedford’s book, Sister Kate, a fictional retelling of the bushranger family’s legend through Kate’s eyes. They wrote it at the piano in Freedman’s house in Newtown, the site of many early Whitlams’ rehearsals. A few years later in a delightful coincidence, after Freedman had moved a short distance away, Jean Bedford moved into the very same house with her late husband, the celebrated crime writer, Peter Corris. Subsequently, the couple formed a friendship with Freedman in their shared street in Newtown.

Freedman says “The credo of the Black Stump project is to give Americana an Australian twist. We like recording songs with Australian themes and Australian senses of humour, and then play them in towns as far and wide as we can.”

The last two singles have fulfilled this mission statement by bringing Freedman’s protest song Blow Up the Pokies back onto the airwaves at a time when the issue had returned to the country’s front pages, and by enlivening the East Coast winter’s sporting culture with a story of Waterloo and Redfern waking up on Grand Final day 1970 – The Day John Sattler Broke His Jaw. Both songs settled at around No. 30 in the Countrytown Top 50 airplay chart.

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