ECHIDNAS AND WHALES FLOAT BRENDAN'S BOAT
“Digging myself in so you can't get to me/ I lost my way, I know where I want to be/ I can stay just as long as it takes/ I'm lost in a sea, I don't need your help to me/ I'll just nestle here in mother earth/ put my head deep down in the dirt/ until I feel at ease/ and there's nothing to hold me/ lift my head and be on my way.” - Lost My Way - Brendan McMahon.
When Ferny Creek singer-songwriter Brendan McMahon visited Havana he was so impressed by the late Ernest Hemingway's shrine in historic Ambos Mundos he wrote Hotel Hemingway.
But a frightened echidna that he freed from a Rowville paddock in Melbourne 's eastern suburbs inspired his fourth album's entrée song Lost My Way.
The son of a former stock and station agent at Kapunda near the Barossa Valley also paid tribute to a steer named Morris in the same paddock on his previous disc that preceded fourth album In The Moment, released in November.
“Lost My Way is about an echidna who walked into our backyard where we back on to a reserve,” McMahon, 56, told Nu Country TV on the eve of summer gigs to promote his music.
“It happened twice. It was very hard to free him. I went to pick him up. I had a couple of pairs of gloves on but he just burrowed down into the ground. I stood there for a while. When echidnas are spooked they stay dead-still and burrow into the ground until they get moving again after about five minutes. So I grabbed my note book and started writing down the story. I waited for him to move and stop clawing into my wife's rose bush so I could pick him up and take him back into the bush.”
Rowville may not be Nashville but also inspired Brendan's tribute to his bovine pal Morris.
“We back onto a reserve where horses graze,” McMahon revealed of a fertile font for his music.
“Sometimes when the grass gets long they bring calves in there to fatten them up - they always have a shepherd cow or steer with them. So Morris comes over to the back fence and I always feed him long grass out of the back yard. We got quite friendly. I would give him a scratch behind the ear. He had a sad look in his eyes so I thought I would give him a name - Morris just came to me.”
World traveller McMahon also swam with whales - not in Rowville - but Tahiti for another new song No Rush Today.
“I was in Tahiti three or four years ago after being New Zealand at a conference,” McMahon explained.
“I always take my travel guitar with me when I get down time I write, looking at the water and strumming my guitar. Part of that song relates to diving and swimming with hump-back whales. We went outside the island on a boat in a search for whales. I jumped in the water and tried to swim along with them.”
FERTILE FAMILY FUELLED SONGS AND VIDEOS
“On my way to a brand-new life, nothing to hold me/ I just might take a chance” - I Am - Brendan McMahon
“We had a little bit of time when we didn't see eye to eye for a few reasons,” he said.
“But we got it all together - it's been great ever since. I've heard similar stories from friends of mine who were in similar situations - a catalyst for getting over any issues that may have been there, moving forward and getting on with it. My daughter would have been mid-late teens, she is now 31.”
There was a belated bonus.
“She did like the video for the song,” McMahon confessed of the clip scheduled for Nu Country TV on Saturday December 21.
Another bonus was guest vocals by Amber Ferraro from Melbourne disco-house band Honey.
“The thought came to me to have Amber sing the lead on one of the lines of the third chorus, she did such an amazing job that I asked if she would sing the whole chorus,” McMahon recalled.
“Totally a spur of the moment decision that ended up taking the song to a whole new level.”
Equally personal was pathos primed album finale Hold On.
“It's performed as an upbeat song but I wrote that for my wife. It relates to her mother who has dementia - Alzheimers,” McMahon explained.
“It's a song of support - she is 77. It's a horrible disease.”
McMahon also mines melancholia on new song Scars Of The Past.
“I have a very good friend who looks after foster kids,” McMahon revealed.
“The story is related to that experience with a particular foster child in Melbourne. A couple of years down the track that same girl has finished up in rehab. She's off track now.”
More whimsical was Rescue Me that precedes Scars of The Past and Hold On in the album sequencing.
“Rescue Me is figurative, rather than literal,” Brendan explained.
“When I was writing Rescue Me I was thinking about what it would like to be the middle carriage on a train. I thought if the train has a mind how come I'm in the middle – how do I escape? How come I can't be in the front or back so I can see where I'm going. That was the inspiration - it was a bit bizarre.”
Steve Vertigan produced In The Moment at Soggy Dog studio at Upwey in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges.
Reality rooted songs are his strong suit with musicians diverse as Flying Circus co-founder Sam See, a Melbourne Symphony Orchestra trio and vocalists Ferraro and Belinda Parsons.
On a previous disc he wrote Mother about the family matriarch who bought him his first guitar when he was 15 but died aged just 54 in 1990.
McMahon honours her legacy by playing electric and acoustic guitar, mandolin and banjo on his album.
SAS COMMANDO TRIBUTE
“Tell me, now, how I'm supposed to live” - Doctor - Brendan McMahon.
“When we got there I didn't know much about Hemingway. I walked into the foyer there was this metal cage lift - about 100 years old easily. It took us up to the roof top. I learned from the concierge there was a room that they had left as a museum to Hemingway. It was where he used to stay in and write some of his books. He wrote three books while he was in Cuba . They kept it as it was when he used to rent the room out - his typewriter and some photos of him, Fidel Castro and his fishing rods. It was kind of a shrine to him. The first American boat was coming in while we were there.”
It's a far cry from his childhood in rural Kapunda, 80 kilometres from Adelaide.
“We lived in the town,” Brendan recalled.
“My dad was a stock and station agent. I used to travel with him when he visited farms. He worked for Southern Farmers . They got bought out by Dalgety's and Better Farms . It was the only job my dad had - he worked there for 40 years.”