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Fred Smith

Fred SmithFred Smith is not your run-of-the-mill artist. He may have started his craft as an act at comedy clubs, but things took a far more serious turn when his job as an Australian diplomat broke down the door to his songwriting. CHRIS HAVERCROFT spoke to Smith about his impending shows with Liz Frencham at the Albany Town Hall on Thursday, December 5, and MosArts Camelot Theatre on Friday-Saturday, December 6-7.

With Fred Smith being featured on Australian Story recently, he has increased his profile exponentially, so there is no better time for him to take his songs to a wider audience and see how things fly.

With his album, Into My Room, a collaborative effort with vocalist, Liz Frencham, celebrating its 10th anniversary, the start appeared to be aligned for a celebration. Smith will be joined on the road with Frenchman and they will be playing the aforementioned album in full.

“We have recently started to enjoy playing our albums in their entirety,” says Smith of the Into My Room shows. “It gives us opportunity to tell a cohesive story over the course of a set.  In Albany and Perth we will be focussing on two albums released in the early naughties that were much loved by people who heard them: Into My Room and Bagarap Empires, but otherwise not too well-known.

“With my newfound profile, I’m in a position to shine some light on these albums and happy about that because the songs are strong.  It’s the tenth anniversary of the Into My Room album and the 10th anniversary of the conclusion of Australia’s involvement in the Bougainville Peace Process, which is the focus of the Bagarap Empires CD, so it’s a good excuse to do something I have wanted to do for a while.”

Into My Room is an album written from a female perspective. While Smith admits this is an audacious thing for a male writer to do, he was “flexing muscles of empathy” and figures that can’t be a bad thing. The writing of these tunes led Smith to become acquainted with Frenchman and an enduring musical collaboration has followed.

With his diverse experiences all over the world due to working as a diplomat, Smith has plenty of grist for the mill. His albums are generally quite thematic and reflect the experiences that Smith has been living through during the songs’ gestation. His recent-lived experience include some years spent in Afghanistan.

“I have a job at the Foreign Affairs Department (DFAT). I’ve been working there on and off since 1996.  In 2009, they decided to send diplomats to Southern Afghanistan and I put my hand up. I’ve spent two of the last four years there. It was a fascinating experience living on a military base in a tribally competitive, fundamentally Islamic, war-traumatised society. For all that, I met some great people and have a handful of friendships with both Australian soldiers and Afghan guys that I hope will endure. The Afghans are great people, except the ones who are trying to kill you.

“Music is a powerful tool for shaping the way people think and feel about things. It touches people on so many levels. People say they have learned more in my two-hour show on Afghanistan then from 12 years of TV coverage. You can cover a lot quickly and engage a wide spectrum of the senses.  I suppose that’s why people use it in advertising!”

Pic: Gavin Freeborn

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