‘City’s Calling Me’ is a guided tour through the city of the heart, featuring old favourites reinvented and new gems unearthed; from Mick‘s own catalogue, as well as those of friends including Sally Kimber, Van Walker and Charles Jenkins. The album also features The Suburbs in Between, a poem by Barry Humphries, read by Brian Nankervis. Other guests include old comrade from Weddings Parties Anything days Jen Anderson, Tim Rogers and Angie Hart.
The Dutch have a type of music they call the Jordaanlied (“Jordaan song”). It is a type of levenslied (a song about life), the Dutch genre of nostalgic sentimental popular music. The Jordaanlied hails from and sings the praises of the Amsterdam neighbourhood the Jordaan which, until the 1960s, was an impoverished working-class area. The idealised place described in the Jordaanlied doesn’t really exist anymore, but the songs still do – and so does, perhaps, an elusive Jordaan of the heart.
Mick Thomas’s Roving Commissions’ new album ‘City’s Calling Me’ started life as a simple covers record, but as Melbourne’s second lockdown of 2020 took hold, it grew into something more substantial. Something that the Dutch might identify with. Mick saw his own chance to illustrate the hidden city inside all Melbournites’ – indeed all Australians’ – imaginations. With a selection of songs from some of his favourite local songwriters – Van Walker, Sally Kimber, Marcel Borrack, Charles Jenkins, and Peter Lawler(with the latter two both providing previously unreleased songs) – as well as a left field pick from local grunge rockers Legends of Motorsport, Mick had the basis for his own collection of Jordaanlied- equivalents. Of course, Mick’s own back catalogue holds swathes of suitable material so a few of his own were dusted off for reinterpretation too, including Under the Clocks, which was recorded in what would have been Grand Final week in Melbourne; “It just seemed such a sad time,” says Mick.
Before long, Mick had formulated an album to honour the city of our hearts. The inclusion of Barry Humphries‘ poem The Suburbs in Between – which came after Mick thought the album was done – iced the cake, even if it did hold back release until the new year. Mick knew of the poem, which highlights rarely spoken of Melbourne suburbs like Deepdene and Hawksburn and identified with how it spoke of those who fell between the cracks. With the help of journalist Catherine Lambert, he was able to get Humphries‘ approval to record it, and a copy of the rare complete text. With the Roving Commission providing the soundtrack, the poem was wonderfully read by Rockwiz’s resident Suburban Boy Brian Nankervis, and it provides the album with a delightful centerpiece as well as a contextual touchstone for those who need it. “I think it was worth the wait,” say Mick. “It was originally in my head as the cornerstone of the whole record.”
‘City’s Calling Me’ is the second album Mick and band recorded during lockdown – the first ‘See You On The Other Side: A Postcard From April 2020’ was very much his ISO special, an album that started as a single and opened up to something much bigger as it became clear that nothing else was opening up in a hurry. It was highlighted by the single See You When I’m Looking At You in its full length, a 9+ minute ‘chain’ recording which Mick began and to which a long list of Mick’s pals – everyone from Ben Salter to Angie Hart to Ron S. Peno – contributed in succession.
‘See You On the Other Side’ was released in June 2020, just ahead of the second lockdown. Two tracks recorded during that second lockdown, at the behest of iconic and laconic 3RRR presenter Jon Von Goes – a cover of Cold Chisel’s Forever Now with guests including Tim Rogers and Angie Hart, and a new original song eulogising Richmond’s iconic Corner Hotel – got Mick to consider another album almost immediately. Although they perhaps do not fit what became the final brief, those two tracks cheekily made the cut too. Mick explains
“My one thought when choosing the songs was that the subject matter could all be contained within the five kilometre-from-the-home lockdown restriction zone. Forever Now makes it in because it was recorded for the Triple R Radiothon (less than one K from home) and the Corner Hotel is just outside the zone, so we’ve stretched it a bit there.”
The new album’s title is from the Van Walker song High Street Bridge and was a lyric Mick had originally sung incorrectly (he erroneously sang ‘Sky is calling me’). Van picked up on this when Mick sent him an early mix for approval. ‘City’s Calling Me’ seemed an obvious title after that. Never trust internet lyric websites.
Old comrade Jen Anderson from Wedding Party Anything-days became a major contributor to the record with major string sections on The Weddings’ old The Sound of a Train and Borrack’s Regent to Ruthven. Roving Commission regular Brooke Russell sings a stunning lead vocal on Lawlor’s Captain Collingwood and Kimber’s amusing-til-you’ve-lived-it Met Police. The entire record was recorded in isolation including Dave Foley‘s drums in Aspendale, Ben Franz‘s bass in Perth, Squeezebox Wallybeaming in his keyboards from Ocean Grove, with Brooke‘s vocals and guitar from Reservoir, even down to the mix being done by Craig Pilkington from Audrey Studios working out of home, also in Reservoir.
If it seems odd that an iconic singer-songwriter would record an album of primarily other people’s songs and that an album of Melbourne songs might have such universal appeal, we’ll let Mick explain.
“Perhaps 2020 was a year when we were all forced to evaluate what was most important to us, what we could do without and what we missed the most. For me it was an easy answer: I missed playing music with other people – something I was able to approximate in isolation – and I missed being out and about in the city I have spent the last 30 year bumping around. So the city was something I was forced to reimagine as well. But it’s a city that could be anywhere in the world – insert your own place names. Because it’s the city of the heart’.”
‘City’s Calling Me’ will be released April 29 on vinyl, CD and download: out on Brickfielders Recording through Rocket Distribution and on Bandcamp.
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With Thanks to Dave Laing Publicity