The new double interactive CD, 'The Chess Set' (Shoestring SR 60) by Pat Drummond has been variously described as ambitious, provocative, political...even theatrical. But does it really represent a huge change in direction for the 52 year old Country/Folk singer- songwriter or is it just an extension of what has already been a fairly long and innovative journey by it's composer through Australia's national psyche. I tracked down Pat at The Pub in Tamworth during his recent visit to Country Music Capitol to find out what all the fuss was about.
Cap News: The Chess Set is obviously a big project. 2 CDs of new material, a major interactive which is actually a reasonably good sized book of editorials, graphics, lyrics, videos and reflections. You've described it as a major work. What were you hoping to achieve with all of this?
Pat: Well, I guess that I've become well known over the last fifteen years for trying to construct albums which were a snapshot of where Australia was at any given moment and seeking to do so by gathering stories of individual Australians which were particularly selected because they gave us some sense of who were as a nation and what it was that we stood for.
Cap News: So it was social history at some level?
Pat: Yes, sort of, but it was also statement of direction. Those albums were a conscious and deliberate search for the ethical base upon which Australians were attempting to build their communities and to that extent they also represented an attempt to articulate a mythology that we could jointly aspire to. That was why it was so important that I established the authenticity of the people about whom the songs were written and why I went to such great lengths to identify them and the places in which they lived in the discographies.
Cap News: But those albums were fundamentally different from The Chess Set. For a start we had only one character... The 'Local Rag' Reporter. The Chess set has two. The Black Knight and the White Knight . And they seem to view Australia from very different perspectives. What is that all about?
Pat: I suppose more than anything the Chess Set tries to look very seriously at the big divisions that have now developed among Australians as we struggle to find a set of ideals that will allow us to face this new and rather frightening century with some degree of confidence.. and on another and more personal level it explores the gulf between Anger and Acceptance that seems to mark so much of the debate.
Cap News: What do you mean by divisions?
Pat: Well, at one level, I mean the simple divergences of opinion about how we should handle issues like Globalisation, Foreign ownership, Refugees, foreign policy etc.
On quite another and more disturbing level,however, I mean the growing gulf between the traditional values that Australians have espoused in the last hundred years and what we now actually seem to be doing in our national and civic life. If you like, the growing gap between what we say we stand for and what we practice. I created the two characters in The Chess Set to be the protagonists in that debate.
Cap News: And what point of view do they each represent?
Pat: The bearded bloke in black on Vol.1 'The Age Of Dissent' is fairly angry at Australians over what he perceives is wide spread hypocrisy and self interest while the clean shaven bloke in white on Vol.2 'The Descent Of Age' has a somewhat unshakeable optimism that Australians are pretty much decent folks and that peace is most likely to be found within and by learning to accept the world the way that it is.
Cap News: Is it a Good versus Evil confrontation then? Your dark side against the light?
Pat: No, it's definitely not that . On the contrary the Black Knight consistently takes the high moral ground... even if he often does it in an overbearingly self righteous way.
No, I'd have to say that it's really more of a struggle for the soul of , not only the nation, but of Folk and Country music in general.
Cap News: Well, how does that play out the way the albums are structured.
Pat: As a Chess Game. The Dark Knight's opening gambit 'The Keepers Of the Flame" is essentially a diatribe about the way that Art and Music should aspire to loftier ideals than being a sound track for getting laid and partying. He clearly is less than impressed by the proposition that music is merely escapist entertainment. He views it as vehicle for social change and harks back nostalgically to the Protest Music of the 1960's and 70's which sought to be just that.
The White Knight claims that on the contrary, music , and in particular Country and Folk music has always chronicled social celebrations and love. Bush dances and traditional dance forms were all about social celebration. Most country music is about relationships, contemporary family life and courtship. Music is for the celebration of life. '40 Into 24' is the song that most typifies that but in 'Blame Boomers it on the Baby Boomers' he also claims that the 'bloke in black' lives too much in the past and needs to realise that the world, even in his youth, was actually no better nor worse than it currently is.
This interplay carries throughout not only the songs but also the interactive in which they debate the issues behind the songs.
Cap News: Give me some examples of how those issues are debated.
Pat: The albums are full of them. '10,000 Miles Away' is a stinging attack by the Dark Knight on the military mentality that designates the thousands of children who have been killed in Iraq as collateral damage and is a pretty full on assault on the military.
The White Knight responds with 'A River Too Wild', a song in praise of those in uniform who often lay their lives on the line in civil emergencies to safeguard the lives of innocent people and the terrible psychological price they often have to pay for that service.
In 'Exiles On The Glory Road' The Dark Knight gives the Christian Churches both barrels over the exclusivist mentality that has swung them back towards a neo-conservative, even fundamentalist, form of Christianity in recent years. It's been a big issue in Catholic and Anglican Dioceses in recent times driven by the emergence of divisive attitudes to women, gays and divorced Christians.
The White Knight responds to all of that with a tale of Christian celebration and community in 'The Circle Of The Bells'.
In the live show The Black Knight's closing argument on The Australian Character is summed up in the somewhat jaded viewpoint of 'Quality Of Light' while The White Knight leaves us with 'The Spirit of The Southern Shore' the highly idealistic closing anthem from my last solo album 'Through The Cracks'.
Cap News: O.K, well, who prevails? Which one of your erstwhile protagonists achieves the Checkmate?.
Pat: Well, neither one, I'm glad to say... because the game, like Australia itself, is a work in progress. I'll be happy, however, if they make people sit up and think a bit before they blindly accept what's going on around them.... because there are still some hard questions that need still our attention.
Why, for example, when Australians have always claimed that being 'fair Dinkum'(honest) and 'True Blue' (having Integrity) were core Australian values; do 56% of us, according to the polls, now claim that whether the Prime Minister lied to us about Iraqi War or The Children Overboard Issue is unimportant so long as interest rates stay low in the next 4 years? Those were values that I lionized in 'If A Man Is A Man' on the "Laughter Like A Shield" Album and Australians have consistently affirmed to me since then. If the polls are accurate, how did we get to where we are?
Protection Of Children was supposed to be a core Australian value and one that I had dealt with in the song "Margaret and Joe" on 'The Local Rag' CD. So why, as The Dark Knight asks in "Who Is That Refugee?" at a time, when 75% of Australians were demanding the resignation of the Governor General on the basis that he had somehow failed to protect children under his care; were 70% of Australians concurrently supporting the detention, behind razor wire, armed guards and attack dogs, of 587 refugee children who had been imprisoned without charge or a trial; without access to law or basic standards of child protection for periods of up 5 years.
The answers to those sort of questions are more illuminating about where we are going and what we really stand for when 'Push comes to Shove' than any of the political speeches either side gave in the Election debates."