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Acclaimed songwriter Fred Smith ‘looks’ ahead to Newcastle album launch

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If you’ve never heard of musician Fred Smith before, then here’s your chance to find out what all the fuss is about.

Praised by critics, with The Sunday Age’s Warwick McFadyen describing him as “one of the country’s most literate, humorous, intelligent and empathic songwriters”, the talented performer will return to Newcastle this month to launch his latest album, Look.

He’ll grace the stage at the Gallipoli Legion Club in Hamilton on Friday 23 February.

It’s a venue Smith’s quite familiar with after he entertained at a fundraiser, for the local Afghan community, at the Beaumont Street premises a couple of years ago.

Critically-acclaimed singer Fred Smith will perform at the Gallipoli Legion Club in Hamilton this month. Photo: Geoffrey Dunn

“It is a favourite spot for me,” he said.

“We did a concert there – about the Australian experience in Afghanistan – for Michelle Faithfull, whom I’m sure most people know in the area.

“So, it seemed like a suitable place to do that.

“There are also quite a number of our former interpreters now living in Newcastle.

“They all showed up in force, about 20 of them… and they got up on stage at the end and sang.

“It was quite a night.

“So, I’m looking forward to coming back.

“It’s always a good audience up in Newcastle; they’re warm and quite smart.

“We’ve got a strong following there.”

Back in 2008, Sydney Morning Herald critic Bruce Elder wrote: “It is about time Australia caught up with Fred Smith. This remarkable singer-songwriter – who at various times reveals influences that range from Paul Kelly via Lou Reed to Loudon Wainwright III to Leonard Cohen – keeps releasing amazingly accomplished albums”.

And, he’s been a favourite on the Australian festival circuit for years, much-loved for his gentle wit, gift for story and melody, and sublime collaborations with Liz Frencham and The Spooky Men’s Chorale.

Slowly, but surely, the rest of the nation is catching up with him.

He was the subject of an Australian Story feature about his work in Afghanistan and on peace keeping operations in the war-torn islands of the South Pacific.

We did a concert there – about the Australian experience in Afghanistan – for Michelle Faithfull, whom I’m sure most people know in the area.

Fred Smith

His book, The Dust of Uruzgan, was published by Allen and Unwin in 2016 to critical acclaim.

Smith’s 2020 album, Domestic, earned rave reviews, too.

In 2022/23, he toured Sparrows of Kabul, around Australia and his memoir of the same name was published by Puncher and Wattmann.

Now, his latest offering, Look, is about to take him to the next level.

The CD marks a new beginning for Smith, who describes the recording as “a collection of songs that are not about Afghanistan”.

“I spent the past 12 years touring over there,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.

“In that time, I’ve released two books and two albums about Afghanistan and telling that story.

“So, this is me moving on from that.

“It’s time to show people what I’m capable of outside of that sphere.

“The songs are about the stuff of our lives and the world we live in: the speed of modern life, love, isolation and the internet in a realm that seems to be lurching forward by a rolling series of crises.

“It also centres on what it is to be human in the second-to-third decade of the 21st century.”

Newcastle bound musician Fred Smith. Photo: Geoffrey Dunn

Look offers a warm blend of mirth and meaning and would fit well in your kitchen.

There are odes to the artist’s influences: Leonard Cohen, Helen Garner and a deceased Brisbane lawyer-folksinger and friend, John Thompson.

These walk a nice line between tribute and piss-take.

Mortality and introspection weave it through and are masterfully handled, too, served with trademark Smith wry bread.

He toys with a range of feels on the album from pop to rumba to bluegrass.

But, there are a couple of gentle ballads, such as Come and Say Goodnight and Corners of My Mind.

“Their intimacy reminds us why every generation rediscovers folk,” Smith said.

“There’s a squiggly thread in the absurd running through the recording.

“However, at the end of the day, I just love songs and love telling stories.

“It’s one of the only things I’m good at.

“And, that’s the bottom line with this recording: it’s a good one for humans.”

Bookings for the 23 February gig can be made via https://www.trybooking.com/CNJOO

Alternatively, have a listen to the entire album at https://fredsmith2.bandcamp.com/album/look-3 

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