James Griffin is an Australian Singer/Songwriter, Poet and Spoken Word performer. His forty year career ranges from solo acoustic work through New Wave and Alt Rock with bands, The Agents and James Griffin and the Subterraneans. Along the way James has also co-written award winning and top-ten hits with other artists including The Black Sorrows hit, Snakeskin Shoes (with Joe Camilleri) and the Golden Guitar winning, Changi Banjo (with country star, Lee Kernaghan), and written and hosted, for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), many TV and radio programs about music, books and writing.
In the summer James discovered a box full of lost tapes from the ‘70s in a shed in rural Victoria: songs part remembered but believed gone; songs forgotten, now back in town; songs never released, plus original master tapes of Vinyl albums and CDs long deleted by vanished record labels...
Now James is releasing all those songs, from his first ever recording (live on the radio) in 1973 through his many musical lives since.... and telling the stories here, in his on-line journal: Forgotten Tapes and Lost Songs from the Rusting Shed of Disappeared Guitars
This collection of current affairs based snapshots and filmic narratives is the seventh release from James’s newly unearthed, previously unreleased archive, Lost Songs from the Rusting Shed of Disappeared Guitars.
When 2JJ invited James to write and record a series of new songs for a weekly news review program called Out Takes, the idea was that each week, for three months, he would deliver a personal, alternative response to the news....via satires, commentaries, comedies based on the headlines....aiming to entertain listeners by having fun with the absurdities, pomposities, half-truths and misdirection so common in public affairs. A bit like being a cartoonist, except with music and lyrics.
James wrote about a dozen Out Takes songs but only six recordings still exist: the tracks now on Bad News, Bad News:
Some are timely reminders of key events whose reverberations have shaped Australia since, some are like postcards from another time....but some are surprisingly current and alive in the world of the 21st Century, like short films triggered by events ‘then’ but which still speak to the daily dramas of life ‘now’.
You Can’t Walk Around In A Crowd, the album’s opening song, resonates with all these qualities:
"I still perform this one. I feel it speaks to any first world democracy in times of escalating cultural and political disharmony. I wrote it as a response to the Bjelke-Petersen Queensland government’s silly and vicious attempts to stop political protest marches in ‘77/’78. It’s a kind of lamentation in defense of democratic freedoms....but the additional headline about a bridegroom’s death by honeymoon car (the bride was at the wheel) plus a story on the self-immolation of a man on the dole (and those events juxtaposed against trivial ads for perfume and fashion on the same pages) seem to push it out beyond being ‘just a protest song’ into somewhere more elusive, open ended and maybe even eternal. I hope so anyway..."
This vivid, poetic, captivating portrait of inner-city bohemian life is the sixth release from James's newly unearthed, previously unreleased archive, Lost Songs from the Rusting Shed of Disappeared Guitars.
From a seminal mid-‘70s communal house in inner Sydney James composed many of the songs that helped establish his reputation as a songwriter and performer. Some got taped then but others survived only as lyrics and chord changes on scraps of paper....so for this album we've recorded some of those ‘paper' songs now....to complete Redfern Nights and to finally share these musical autobiographies, comic vignettes, odes to friends, and meditations on how one might be in the world.
"So I went into Hothouse studio in St. Kilda and made six tracks the same way I'd been recorded in ‘76, '77....very fast, one take straight down, like playing live....so all this was written between '75 and ‘77 but the recordings and performances are a mix of then and now....and I must say I'm relieved and excited by how immediate the songs still feel....
"All these stories are set in the streets, venues, bars, coffee lounges of inner city Sydney: French's Tavern, the Limerick Castle, the Paris Theatre, the Kirk Gallery, Cleveland Street, Crown Street, Johnny's Fish Café, the Roxy, Taylor Square, Oxford Street, No-Name's, the Stanley Palmer Culture Palace, Kings Cross, Darlinghurst Road, Victoria Street, the Piccolo Bar....and so-on....love songs, songs of loss and longing, cheerful songs, melancholy songs; songs about books I'd read, people I'd met....stories of friendship, memory, meetings, partings...and some lighthearted songs about trying to make sense of life's complicated and confusing dance....
"The first two tracks are good places to start....Where's The Party is a little comedy about hipness and hedonism , set in French's Tavern in Oxford Street....where, as the chorus suggests, on any night, anyone at the bar might've said:
"Hello, how are you? Cool I hope Tell me where the party is, tell me where's the dope"
This seven track album is the fifth release from James’s newly unearthed, previously unreleased archive, Lost Songs from the Rusting Shed of Disappeared Guitars.
Recorded in Studio 221 for an on-air concert in 1976, for a program series 2JJ was making about radical music artists, the Roll Your Own Band was the core of James’s musical/cabaret/comedy/spoken-word/poetry collective, The Roll Your Own Ragtime Cabaret
"There were a lot of ideas, lyrical, political, philosophical, theatrical, personal and conceptual, driving the Cabaret, all competing for space. But now, in 2018, the first thing I’d say/do is respectfully invite you to consider finding time to listen to the actual music, the playing, just once....the interweaving notes of Peter Coutanche (slide guitar), Jane Butler (piano) and Robert Howard (double bass), the instinctive, organic, textural, raga-like sound poems they created, are something quite special.
"Although I wrote and sang the songs, played rhythm guitar and a little harmonica, to be honest, I didn’t hear the unique mystery of that collective sound then, didn’t know it was that good when it was happening....but no wonder people came to see the show. The song, Melbourne, I Suppose You Think You’ve Won is a good example of what I’m trying to describe here.
"And track 2, I Smoke Money is a pretty good starting point for another window into that style....and also into the surreal, absurd, magic realist comedy I was aiming for lyrically....the narrator laments that all his friends are smoking too much dope, leaving him with only his parrot for company.... the parrot then recommends smoking money as the best escape....because of course, in a consumer society, money is the greatest drug of all...and it’s legal....so all together now with the Roll Your Own Ragtime Cabaret:
I smoke money, la da da da da da
It’s the only green thing I inhale
I smoke money, la da da da da da
I like it and I do not end in jail
"Later on in the song, now set in Brisbane, the police come round, dig holes in the back yard, but find no dope and are told that all that is smoked in this house is money....and so-on....then we meet Skid-Row Frank, learn that the poor get busted, the rich get stoned....and in the end nothing, not French cigarettes, not brand X, not Mullumbimby rat-shit hash, not even rolling your own, can ever compare to the sheer smoking pleasure of putting on your slippers and lighting up your cash...."
This captivating handful of five road songs, satires, comedies, and social commentary is the fourth release from James's newly unearthed, previously unreleased archive, Lost Songs from the Rusting Shed of Disappeared Guitars.
These tracks, plus The Property Master and the Moon are the surviving aural record of a restless year James spent travelling back and forth between Canberra, Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and his hometown of Corryong in 1974-75...performing on the street, in house concerts, in wine-bars, folk clubs, and coffee shops, at rent parties...sleeping on the floors of friends, friends of friends, and strangers who became friends, before finally settling in Sydney in early '75.
"I grew up influenced by the countercultural, anti-war, anti-establishment and bohemian ideas of the '60s and early '70's and then got fascinated by avant-garde art, dada, surrealism, the theatre of the absurd and, particularly, situationism...all of which often aimed to mock, satirise, and generally make comedy of bourgeois, TV driven, consumer culture...a lot of big words there, I know...but luckily there was a more down to earth end of that mix because we'd also fallen in love with jazz and blues based jug band music from the 1920's and '30s...and a lot of those songs were comedy songs...and I guess that's all a long way of saying my friends and I wanted to have fun by making fun of the world we'd grown up in but didn't want to join....
"On this album the song, 20th Century Blues sort of encapsulates all that...the narrator wakes up drowning in American popular culture, runs from the TV onto the street into a surreal, hallucinatory movie involving Kentucky-fried chicken, a violent street party, brain washing, body armour, airport security, whisky, Hare Krishnas, Marihuana, LSD, Strontium 90, the hydrogen bomb...and the great relief of having friends who'd rather have fun than do what they're told....
This eighteen minute music theatre performance piece is the third release from James's recently rediscovered, previously unreleased, archive, Lost Songs from the Rusting Shed of Disappeared Guitars.
Inspired by a cartoon cut from the back page of a 1974 edition of the Nation Review magazine, the early 70's cinema popularity of the films of Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers, a time when art house cinemas regularly re-ran Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, when opportunity shop worlds provided approximations of the 1920s and '30s fashions of The Great Gatsby and Bonnie and Clyde, James created a cycle of song, poem and spoken word that portrays and questions the dreams forged by nostalgia for a time...any time...before the one we live in now...whenever 'now' may be.
"I really don't know where this came from exactly, from which muse. It puzzles me still. People did seem to like it though. Anyway, in '74 I lived in Brisbane for a while, the Bjelke-Peterson years, we got raided regularly by the drug squad looking for marihuana, visited by travelers on the hippy trails to Nimbin and North Queensland, and in there somewhere I found this cartoon by the film-maker, Garry Patterson, of a down-at-heel tramp staring at the moon through a window...and below the broken floor, in space, what seemed to be the earth floating below. Melancholy...romantic...other worldly...I loved it. So I cut it out, stuck it on the wall. It's fragile now but I still have that original page. Somehow it triggered the Property Master. I wrote a few lines in Brisbane, already had a poem I'd written in Canberra early that autumn, wrote the rest in Sydney later in the year, September, October, recorded it in one take in Canberra in December '74, when it was still very new. I think it was recorded in the morning because, to me, the opening movement sounds like I'm still waking up....which amuses me because I always thought of this suite as a nocturne.... a music suite written to be played early in the evening, evoking the night and nighttime things...but what it really evokes for me now are those old, soft, autumn and spring nights in inner city Sydney when I owned only one pair of shoes...."
Singing Songs About the View is the second collection from James's archival release project, Lost Songs from the Rusting Shed of Disappeared Guitars.
This 8 track acoustic folk album, an early journey into alt country, contemporary balladry and punk folk, was recorded one weekend in December 1973, in a weatherboard room in a heritage listed former military physical training facility in Canberra, when James was 20. An accidentally ironic location, considering the anti-war, anti-establishment stance of his repertoire then.
With a band of friends and friends of friends on cello, flute, harmonica and three acoustic guitars James recorded songs about windows, friendship and frost, the sky in the river, about city streets and talking and the darkness of dreams, about smoking, walking and mystery. About open doors, restless allegiances and drinking. About love affairs, rain and slow cracks in glass...and the ever-changing view....
"I wrote these when I was I was 18, 19, 20 years old. I'd read a lot of poetry, listened to a lot of ballads and was teaching myself to dream out loud. It seems like a miracle now that these songs were ever recorded...and even more miraculous that I've still got them. Some of the lyrics were published in poetry anthologies and magazines of the time, so I had copies of those, but many of the musical settings had vanished from my memory....and some of the songs had completely disappeared. It's good to have them back though. I'm enjoying hearing these dreamscapes and stories from this other, distant, strangely different, yet intimately familiar sounding version of myself...and am including some into my live repertoire. And, of course, I'm hoping they might speak to you, now, in some way too....so I do hope you enjoy them...and good luck with that ever-changing view...."
Singing Songs About the View is available from James's Store
All tracks available digitally from Apple Music, Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Deezer, Pandora, You Tube Music, Tidal, Groove Music (Microsoft)
Seven Songs is the first collection from James's new archival release project, Lost Songs from the Rusting Shed of Disappeared Guitars.
"I'm really excited by this first tape. I found it just this year. It was just a 5 inch reel, unlabeled, in a brown paper bag. Nobody, not me, not anyone, had heard it since 1973. I'd totally forgotten recording any of this.... that there even was a tape.... and half the songs I have no recollection of writing.... or I had only a dim memory and a sense of loss.... nothing else, not even scribbled pages of lyrics. I was only 20 years old when I recorded these and the performances are very rough but for me, there's a kind of promise about the songs themselves.... they feel solid, they have intent, and I'm glad I've decided to share them...."
'Ever the consummate storyteller, James Griffin knows how to craft a setting and weave a tale. He draws upon life as he has experienced it, spices it with a sense of occasion, and then presents it wrapped within a unique brand of eloquent urban folk...'
Brett Leigh Dicks, Beat Magazine
After four years performing and recording with the Subterraneans, James put that band on hold and recorded Black Crow Road. The aim was to make an intimate, acoustic, almost ambient album woven around vivid lyrical pictures and stories, sung or spoken within simple, catchy and hypnotic musical settings. The music is created from an unusual synthesis of alt- rock, folk and minimalist avant-garde sounds and textures.
Songs for a Season at Ghost Town Bridge is a combined CD and book of songs and prose poems. Through a mix of anecdotal magic realism, love stories, chance meetings and lives travelling off the rails, James has created a meditation that is at once humorous, ironic and serious and which offers a sophisticated, contemporary vision of the wide streets and corrugated iron of rural Australia.