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Archie Roach


Archie Roach will perform Live At The Quarry Amphitheatre this Friday, December 13, supported by Gina Williams & Guy Ghouse. BOB GORDON speaks with the acclaimed and treasured Australian singer/songwriter.

The long journey of the career singer/songwriter may often be difficult, but it’s usually interesting, with plenty of opportunity for firsts.

For Archie Roach another ‘first’ came recently, when he supported the great Leonard Cohen at some A Day On The Green shows in the Hunter Valley and Geelong.

“Oh it was great,” he quietly enthuses. “At the Geelong show I got a chance to meet him. We had a bit of yarn there. It was good; he got up and said some lovely things about us before he did his show.”

Cohen is certainly an inspirational songwriter to many. And there are others who have helped Roach along his creative path.

“There’s been so many great songwriters,” he says, reaching back into his thoughts and inspirations. “Over the years there’s been a few inspirations along the way… like Hank Williams. One of my favourite singers from not long ago was Teddy Hawkins. Certainly Australian writers like Paul Kelly. And Slim Dusty; he wrote some great songs.”

Roach recently released a 4-CD retrospective, Creation. There’s 61 songs across the release, spanning remasters, live tracks and demo recordings. Putting it together and hearing some of those early recordings again provided some pause for thought.

“It was amazing,” he says. “One song in particular called Hungover I’d almost forgotten. That one really registered, as well as a couple of song demos we’d done. And there were some live recordings; you hear them and, I s’pose, they don’t have the refinement or polish of studio-produced tracks. I think the rawness of them is pretty unique, I actually like that. Doing them live there’s no going back and getting your best vocal or instrumental down, it’s just honest.

“And the demos, before they were embellished, they’re just the guts of it. It was good to hear them again like that.”

Roach has since performed some Creation-focussed shows. Yet while the songs retrace his history, Roach says that in performance of them…

“… I’m much more in the moment. The thing about revisiting these songs again is that they’ve grown and matured. You’re more sure of them and I s’pose you reinterpret them again. It’s more like you realise how they should have been interpreted in the first place.”

Does he tend to write songs when he feels like it now, or more from a workman-like perspective?

“Going through the back catalogue, there’s songs that just seemed to be around, just going through my memories,” Roach recalls. “Now it’s more actually sitting down and thinking a bit more as to what I want to write about. I sit down and make a bit more of an effort to get a song from out of the page.”

Roach has been really pleased with the reception to his 2012 LP, Bloodstream, especially given the hardship – his wife Ruby Hunter passed away and he suffered a stroke – he endured in the lead-up to it.

“Yeah,” he quietly considers. “I was just so grateful to perform those songs with a band and later on with a choir, then strings and horns. What I intended to do with that album, was helped by things like that in terms of the healing quality of it.”

At the recent Deadly Awards, Roach received several nods, including a Lifetime Achievement award. He doesn’t do music for awards obviously, but acknowledges that it’s nice to get some recognition after working so hard for so long.

“Oh yeah, sometimes I don’t know what to say at some of those things,” he states shyly, “when there’s an award or someone’s acknowledging what you’ve done through the years. It’s quite humbling. You don’t expect it.

“That’s the great thing about what we do, it’s what you get back from people. You find that music is not all one-way, it’s a two-way street.”

With a New Year ahead, Roach has no firm plans by the sounds, but certainly lots to do.

“I hope to get another album happening and maybe write songs to sing as duets with other people. I’ll take it as it comes, but while it’s good doing albums and concerts, I always like to do things for the wider community, for whatever purpose.”

Pic: James Henry

Archie Roach plays Live At The Quarry Amphitheatre this Friday, December 13, supported by Gina Williams & Guy Ghouse. 

Get your tickets here.

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