Saturday, February 2, 2013

Out of the Cabinet: Shortis & Simpson

Out of the Cabinet  Shortis & Simpson at Speakers Corner, National Archives of Australia, February 2 and 3, 2013, 11am and 2pm.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
February 2

I trust this review of John Shortis’s work will not have the same dire consequences as the execrable review in Sydney of The Boiling Frog, for which John wrote the music at the original Nimrod Theatre in 1984.  He now claims that he was the cause not only of the failure of that anti-nuclear show, but also of director John Bell’s moving on, ultimately to form Bell Shakespeare, and of Nimrod moving from Nimrod Street, and its demise, to ultimately become Belvoir Theatre.

On the other hand, despite everything, in that same year, the destitute John had to be driven to work by Moya, his new employer, and love blossomed in her car, ultimately to form Shortis & Simpson, our very own and obviously much-loved at the National Archives, Canberran satirical duo.

So I suppose, objectively speaking, that John’s loss in 1984 was everyone else’s gain.  Artistically even for him, I’m sure – though he pointed out that in that year a musician’s income on average was $5000.  And it’s still the same today – for two of us, said Moya.

Over the several years that Shortis & Simpson have sung the history of the years past as the Cabinet documents are made public, one performance has grown to four.  The enthusiasm, nods of recognition, and a vote of at least 10 on the worm, evident in the applause today, showed why.

Of course the real purpose of our coming together at the National Archives of Australia was to hear Dr Jim Stokes tell the story of Government in 1984-85.  On the nuclear issue, with New Zealand denying access to US ships, since the US would not “confirm or deny” that they might be carrying nuclear weapons, and the French blowing up atolls in the Pacific, the Boiling Frog story is nothing compared with Malcolm Fraser, before the 1983 election, having secretly agreed to let the US test MX missiles – to hit the ocean about 220 kilometres east of Tasmania – while Bob Hawke managed to get the message through to Ronald Reagan that, however important the ANZUS Treaty was, public opinion might be difficult to manage if the MX test went ahead.

The test was shelved – and I found myself wondering what would have happened if an MX had fallen a little bit short and hit New Zealand.  Indeed, was the planned test meant to threaten David Lange, the NZ PM?

No wonder we needed Shortis & Simpson!

They lightened our day with clever humour, lyrics and music, but with the right degree of ‘edge’ – or more often the left – for this politically savvy audience.  They gave us the social life of those days through the popular music and songs, with I think the most amazing performance by Moya, from Leonard Cohen’s gutter-level gravelly voice to the high point of Madonna (that was after she had been rejected by Richard Attenborough when she auditioned for A Chorus Line).  And, especially for me whose hearing has never easily picked up pop song lyrics, I heard every word.  Now I know the rest of the lines of “Girls just wanna have fun!” – wonderful!