Why Angie Hart? Why Benezra? What’s a commission? All good questions, fictional internet interrogator. To start at the end, each year the GDS commission program helps create new works by a range of writers, performers, visual and multimedia artists. These are ambitious creations, something to be set apart from the standard.
We support two to three new performance commissions per year, with the aim of producing long-form pieces or suites of work from 8 to 20 minutes in length. The idea is first to produce new work by artists who we believe are exceptional, and secondly to allow those artists to concentrate on something of greater scope than they might usually consider. While slam poetry has performers focused on two-minute time limits and single-gimmick pieces, we want to go in the opposite direction, encouraging writers to take the long view and develop complexity.
The performance commissions are debuted at GDS launches and recorded live, then studio versions of the pieces are recorded for the next CD edition.
For our 2012 Melbourne Writers Festival launch of GDS #33, our two commissioned pieces come from Angie Hart and Benezra. So how does a spoken word show end up featuring the singer who rose to prominence fronting the band Frente! in the early 90s? Another good question.
Earlier this year, I spent my car trips for some months working my way through GDS’s 13-year back catalogue of CDs, getting to know our history. One cold crisp Melbourne night, the wistful plucking of a guitar was accompanied by a raspy voice saying “When I look back on that time, I see myself as being out of control.” It was Adam Gibson, of the band Modern Giant, whose song ‘The Band Has Broken Up’ became a surprise indie-radio hit. On my stereo, they were playing a song called ‘Angie Hart’.
When I say song, Adam’s work is really spoken word, backed by excellent pop-tinged rock. ‘Angie Hart’ took me in – a sweet, sad, funny, nostalgic story about a younger man living in Sydney, dreaming of moving to a romanticised Melbourne. In this mystical city, he reasoned, Angie Hart would have to be his friend. As the song unspooled and released me, I looked at the edition it was in – GDS #21. That issue had been assembled ten years earlier, at the end of 2002. The song was looking back another decade and more, to the embers of 2001. Ten years on from ten years on, I thought, it’s time for the final instalment.
Why not find Angie Hart, and see if she wants to write a reply?
The short version is that we did, and she did, and she has, and we’re delighted. Adam will also attend from Sydney, along with Simon Holmes, the guitarist from the Hummingbirds immortalised by Gibson in ‘The Band Has Broken Up.’ This means that, as well as Adam and Angie each playing some of their other work, we can hear the original ‘Angie Hart’, side by side with the response that it inspired. We couldn’t be looking forward to it one bit more than we already are.
Have a listen to Adam Gibson with Modern Giant – ‘Angie Hart’ studio version.
Benezra’s is also a tale of Melbourne migration. While Adam Gibson was writing his songs, Ben too was developing into a spoken word artist of note in what was then a vibrant Sydney scene. He wrote densely-packed and intricate verses, with a sense of hip-hop rhythm and rhyme, but the literary depth and dexterity of a depressed Russian novelist. His meaning could be cryptic, but his verbal constructions were so striking and his delivery so assured that audiences were swept up regardless. Told in a deep, gravel-packed voice, his poems were growl and whisper, always compelling.
Have a listen to Benezra’s ‘Skeleton of a Postman’, from GDS #32.
So adept was his wordplay that Ben had a guest verse on the debut album from Astronomy Class, the side project for Ozi Batla of The Herd. But rather than following on with hip-hop, he found the blues calling him. For some years he traded spoken word for songwriting and guitar, and formed The Broadside Push, sitting somewhere between blues, folk, gypsy rock and murder ballads. Ben’s stories are hammered out among a high-energy mix of double bass, mandolin, harmonica and guitar.
But his writing projects have continued out of the public eye, and when the opportunity arose to come full circle back to a spoken word stage, potentially bringing some musical and prose-writing elements to the performance, Ben was glad to take it up.
Both of these extra special commissions have been being worked on for months, and will have their world debuts at our #33 launch this Sunday night, September 2. It’s our privilege to launch them too, and we’d love to have you along for the momentous occasion.
In the meantime, have a listen to a Benezra live set from Wordplay.
Sunday September 2
The Toff in Town (Swanston St, Melbourne)
Free #33 book & CD with entry (normally $29.90)