Truth, Beauty and Getting Through

MAG
by Ed. Nimmervoll

As the guiding spirit of The Whitlams, Tim Freedman knows success can be both a blessing and a curse. Ed. Nimmervoll mines the history of the band as Freedman releases a career retrospect.

The story of The Whitlams is one of stellar successes and cavernous lows. Of the 20 musicians to carry The Whitlams’ name, only Tim Freedman has seen the whole journey. Two musicians – founding members Steve Plunder and Andy Lewis – literally didn’t survive: both took their lives in separate incidents. As Freedman has prepared Truth, Beauty and A Picture of You – the band’s career retrospective – he’s re-visited a lot of memories. “I feel like I’m walking back from the Russian front,” he tells MAG “I’ve just made it back to Paris, and a lot of people I went to Russia with didn’t make it.” To tell the whole story of The Whitlams’ 16-year career over six albums on Truth, Beauty and A Picture of You, Freedman had to go outside the singles.

“There had to be a second Stevie Plunder song,” he says, “I found Shining [from Undeniably The Whitlams] representative of that era. It’s got his little themes of death and destruction. And The Curse Stops Here, a song I wrote in reaction to Andy’s death in 2000. They’re the ones that I always had to put on the radio, to tell the story.” Initially a side project, Freedman says The Whitlams were “reacting to the fact that no-one was singing songs in the classic mode, influenced by Bob Dylan, Jonathan Richman or Randy Newman.” Sydney was then full of loud, brash guitar pop bands; The Whitlams were a contrast that evolved into a full-time concern because “we could all fit in a Kingswood!” Freedman says with a laugh.

Remembering early years, Freedman recalls working hard, but playing harder. “We were young and drank a lot, we were full of the devil. We had a lot of laughs and did 150 gigs a year. I have very fond memories. The dark side was that we worked ourselves into the ground, which didn’t do anything for Stevie’s drink and drug problem. He’d have been better off if he hadn’t met someone who worked so hard: me. Sometimes I feel like I was dragging a couple of drunks around the country. They more than pulled their weight musically, but I had to be a taskmaster. Stevie was an enormously creative guitarist. Andy was so fluid: a glorious bass player. If he’d hung around, he’d be playing on 30 albums a year.”

On the back of the iconic No Aphrodisiac, Eternal Nightcap sold 200,000 copies. Independently released and self-financed, it put the band in a powerful position. But, it was a tough time. “it was a hard period, people kept leaving” Freedman explains. “I was recording in spurts, between tours. I thought that’s the way new songs came together, the old fashioned way. We made the album on the smell of an oily rag.

“I had to get some of these dark songs out of my cupboard to move on. It was a statement of what I’d been through. I had no expectations for it.”

Truth, Beauty and A Picture of You rounds off The Whitlams’ story with performances of recent songs Keep The Light On and The Road Is Lost with the Queensland and Sydney Symphony Orchestras.

The Whitlams are supporting the release of Truth, Beauty and A Picture of You with orchestra shows. “It wasn’t my idea,” Freedman confesses. “I never imagined we would warrant such treatment, but the W.A.S.O commissioned it in 2004. They do these big outdoor concerts in King’s Park (Perth). I waited for any opportunity to do it again, which happened last year.” It’s also another reward for Freedman. “it feels like the end of the journey for a song. They can’t make it any further. They start off being doodled on an upright piano and end up in a concert hall with 80-plus musicians.”

Other songs on the retrospective, like Out The Back and There’s No-One (from Torch The Moon and Love This Cityrespectively) represents the latter years, when Freeman found himself with the band he’d wished for in earlier times. Today’s members – Jak Housden, Warwick Hornby and Terepai Richmond, who Freedman describes as “creative, flexible and stable” – have now been in the band longest, barring Freedman himself. Beyond the retrospective and coming tour, Freedman is planning solo activity. “I’ll release something under my name next year, and give the type of album The Whitlams make – quite produced long records which tell a lot of stories – a rest. I’ll come back and make something with The Whitlams in the future.”