Adam Gibson & the Ark-Ark Birds 'Australia Restless'

Adam Gibson & The Ark-Ark Birds - Australia Restless
Adam Gibson & The Ark-Ark Birds - Australia Restless

It feels good to be writing about two Australian spoken word long-play releases in the same week. And particularly good to be writing about a release from a storyteller who  tells the heart of this country, and who is taking storytelling to a whole new level.

Adam Gibson is a Sydney-based journalist, writer, performer, lyricist, musician and artist, a prolific and reliably eloquent storyteller that I’ve been blessed to know and to listen to for many years. He’s been performing stories with folk/rock music for over a decade - first up with Modern Giant, then in 2008 releasing his debut album with the Aerial Maps, In the Blinding Sunlight - an accomplished series of short audio films travelling through “a place of forgotten coastal towns, of people missing somewhere in the bright expanse, of lives lived under the blinding sunlight of Australia.”They followed that up with The Sunset Park, a “song cycle” written while Adam traveled across the country from the Western Australian coast to Queensland. Both albums were widely acclaimed, and deservedly so.

“There’s a restlessness in the heart of many Australians; a need to move, to shift, to see different scenes, new horizons, better places ..... Lured by the road or simply influenced by the great weight of our land, we strike out for sunlit fields, small town pubs, empty beaches, the black miles of bitumen. It’s an urge to feel the land, to know it. It’s a psychological yearning: I call it ‘Australia Restless’ … and I have it bad.”

This album is the most solidly musical yet, a complete vision and journey. Co-written with his brother Simon Gibson and produced by former Hummingbirds main man Simon Holmes, the album plays like a full-length film, sound, voice and imagery coalescing. Adam told me recently, “I am approaching things as though my stuff were conventional ‘songs’ and letting the audience worry about whether they’re concerned if I don’t sing but rather speak.” To me this is the key to Adam’s enduring accessibility as an Australian storyteller. He is able to inhabit the ‘rock’ world that’s pretty intrinsic to the heart of this country, telling stories that could maybe only express themselves through that filter. Comparisons to Paul Kelly are spot on – it doesn’t matter whether these stories/songs are sung or spoken, in large part because Adam’s delivery is so lyrical.

So putting aside that (really kind of boring) question of whether these are songs or poems, Australia Restless should rightly become an Australian classic. These stories are emotional documentaries of life on this enormous island, written by a very involved observer, from within the heart of the story itself. Adam talks to us from“obscure towns linked by empty roads”, from red horizons seen through dusty windscreens, from lonely beach dunes and rowdy outback bars. But none of these stories are ‘travel tales.’ These are visceral, often heavily lived lives, told by an unashamedly sentimental narrator, touched with a wry humour. The Years When Nobody Cared is extraordinary storytelling, whimsical and poignant without ever tripping into romanticism. Uladulla is heart breaking. Ode to a Cup of Tea is just sweet as hell. My personal pick of the tracks is The Ark-Ark Birds (featured on La Danza Poetica tonight), haunted by the call and the character of the crows who “tear the air to shreds” ... not only because crows are my favourite bird, sacred to Aboriginal nations (in the Kulin Nation, Victoria, where I live, he is known as Waa or Waarn, who protects the waterways) but also because I can’t quite get a handle on this story. Something about it haunts me, the way some places in Australia do.

Australian Restless should be listened to, I suggest, in the ‘traditional’ way of the LP – in a full sitting, maybe in headphones, maybe on a long drive. Maybe if you’re away and homesick for Australia, I Will Always Go Seeking Water should be on your go-to playlist (along with anything by Not Drowning, Waving..) Maybe if you want to reach into this country, further in from the coastal cities, and get to a deeper story, you should take the whole ride. This may in fact be “the great Australian novel” as an album.

* Adam and the Ark-Ark Birds are launching the album this month:
First stop, Brisbane – May 9, the Junk Bar, Ashgrove, supported by Mexico City (duo). Tickets:
Second stop: Melbourne, May 16, the Yarra Hotel, Abbotsford, support the Danny Walsh Banned. Tickets: FREE !!
Third stop: Sydney, May 17, The Vanguard, Newtown, supported by Mick Thomas. Tickets:…/adam-gibsons-album-la…/12926