Monday, August 9, 2021

Under the Influence


John Shortis, Moya Simpson, Keith Potger
Under the Influence

Under the InfluenceShortis & Simpson, with special guest Keith Potger, in a tribute to the musical inflences of the founding member of The Seekers.  Technical operator: Elizabeth Hawkes.

At Contentious Character Winery, Wamboin NSW, Sat-Sun August 7-8 2021.  Shortis & Simpson’s next guest, Covid willing, will be Karen Middleton, March 25 2022 at the National Press Club.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
August 8

In my day, which means 1964 when The Seekers landed in London and 'Morning Town Ride' went to No 1 for weeks on end, I thought they were perfectly politically correct.  Very nice people.  But Keith Potger, songwriter and arranger, Under the Influence of Shortis & Simpson, proves quite otherwise.  Rewriting spirituals and Australian folksongs showed a penchant for humour and picking up on the social zeitgeist; but the implications of his limericks are something apocryphal – even beyond John Shortis’ efforts.

What a relief for those of us so lucky to travel on the day out of the Federal Territory into the not currently 'Covid 19 Affected' Queanbeyan Palerang Regional area of New South Wales.  Humming along quietly, so as not to disturb the others 1.5 metres away with my rather shaky harmonies, 'All My Trials' began to fade away, 'California Dreaming' took me for that 'Morning Town Ride', while the story of Dusty Springfield and her brother Tom Springfield made me look forward to the day when 'The Carnival is Over'.

Is it OK to be nostalgic?  Everyone else seems to be hankering for ‘going back to normal’.  But I just enjoyed going back to the past when every Country & Western singer/guitarist was named Hank – at least according to Keith.  Except him, of course.

You could say Contentious Character was the right venue for Under the Influence.  Plenty of good food and wine, and a fascinating history of a colonial kind.  Moya, like me, just came from England but with a different accent.  Potger’s people went from Germany/Holland to Ceylon (that’s Sri Lanka where the tea comes from) centuries ago, and escaped Britain granting them independence by migrating to Australia when Keith was 6 or so.  To Melbourne, that is: the centre of Australian folk music – once again, according to him.

Religion plays a role in this show: John, Catholic; Moya halfway between agnostic and atheist; and Keith, Calathumpian.  The cultural mix of the Penguin Book of Australian Folk Songs, American songs like ‘The Saints Go Marching In’ as spiritual and jazz, Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘Stardust’ (even I played that on my harmonica) with special focus on Pete Seeger of The Weavers, as well as C&W titles like ‘I Kissed Her on the Lips And Left Her Behind For You’ all turned into the story of The Seekers' songs, listed over 8 printed pages on Wikipedia, from 1963 to ‘You’re My Spirit” by Potger and Athol Guy for the 1993 25 Year Reunion.

From Keith’s first group at school (The Trinamics); through the influence of The Four Lads (remember ‘Moments to Remember'); The Jordanaires’ harmonising when backing Elvis Presley; his father playing banjo/ukulele (think of George Formby); his group, The Escorts, getting on TV!; and finally The Seekers with Athol Guy, Bruce Woodley and Ken Ray – who was replaced by jazz singer Judith Durham (with Moya reprising Durham’s first song with The Seekers: the spiritual ‘My Lord What a Morning’) – this is a fascinating show full of history, musical appreciation, memory, witty humour, including the iconic Australian limerick:

There once was an eminent Seeker
Who fancied himself as a streaker,
‘Cross the MCG grass, all willy and arse,
He ran, while the crowd called….
(all in unison) ‘Eureka’!

and nostalgia for days when even in spite of the likelihood of nuclear war we could still go for a ‘Morning Town Ride’, the song written by the author of ‘What Have They Done To The Rain?’ and ‘Little Boxes’; brought to The Seekers by Keith Potger and taken to No 1.

The Seekers 1965