The Mellowing of Tim Freedman

Sydney Morning Herald
by Keith Austin

THE WHITLAMS frontman Tim Freedman has a bit of a reputation as a boozer and a prickly interview. He is, as one reviewer described him, the “poet of contemporary urban Sydney, a left-wing, wine-happy, street-level egalitarian with firm Newtown roots”.

And, of course, at 43, he has been all these things. He’s also something else, something important, something defined by the empty picture frame on a bookcase in his Newtown terrace. As a life metaphor it’s hard to go past but we will. For now.

For now we’re talking about the Whitlams’ Best Of album, Truth, Beauty And A Picture Of You, and Freedman’s gigs next month at the State Theatre backed by the Symphonie Des Femmes, a 35-piece, all-female orchestra.

Freedman opens the door, tall, thin and a little haggard, fighting off a cold and hobbling around three weeks after knee surgery on an old soccer injury. The front door of the modest terrace house he bought last year after 20 years living next door opens into a lounge where a large rowing machine (exercise for the knee) sits next to a leather sofa. Beyond that there’s a piano. In between them, a single-bed mattress and blankets. The walls are covered in neatly parsed bookshelves but it’s a comfortably dishevelled space.

“Cup of tea?” Freedman asks, and then sees my gaze. “The bed’s not normally down here, in case you were wondering, it’s because of the knee surgery.”

Tea made, we settle down on the sofa in front of a fire. The floor-to-ceiling bookshelves are an arm’s length away and there are several pending piles – the “holding tank”, as he calls them. Norman Mailer’s The Castle In The Forest is among them. Well, that’s something we have in common. Alan Bennett’s Untold Stories is another. We discover a mutual fondness for John Banville.

But, pleasantries over, he doesn’t seem at ease, fidgeting, playing with that famously errant hair. So the interview process doesn’t get any more pleasant?

“Usually, you know, I get interviewed at a restaurant and they all end up, like, ‘Tim orders a bottle of red, starts having a drink, blah blah blah,’ it’s all very dull. So when you suggested to come over to my place I thought it was probably time, because we’ll end up talking about different stuff, you know.”

So why a Best Of album – and what’s the go with the Symphonie Des Femmes?

“Well, a bank hired us to sing in front of a big female orchestra and so I booked them, they played wonderfully and we all had a great time in the green room so when the [State Theatre] gigs came up I wanted to do something that would remind people of the Sydney Symphony shows we did last year.” And then, deadpan, he adds: “It’s a very pleasant working environment, and it means I not only get to cruise the audience but I can cruise the stage as well.