the opening speech and more photos

Posted: September 6, 2016 by Mo Crow in art exhibitions, It's Crow Time
Tags: , , , , ,

Petr Cox opening the Crow Show
Our good friend Pete Cox curator of pop culture at the Powerhouse Museum opened the Crow Show at Artsite on Sunday with this fine speech;

“It’s crow time. Thanks for inviting me to open the crow show. It’s a real honour.

I go back a fair way with Rod and Mo. They have been together pretty much since I have known them. They have always been creative people and good friends of mine.

It was Penel who introduced us. Before that, Penel used to visit Rod’s place in Eastwood and Mo would come down from Nimbin with her artwork trying to sell it. Mo showed great commitment to the alternative lifestyle until she was about 30 when her commitment to her art won out and she moved to Sydney to study at Sydney College of the Arts in the 1980s. Her lifestyle has remained alternative but in a more urban setting.

Mo makes beautiful books and pictures. She is a tireless visual artist, illustrator, bookbinder, glass engraver, horticulturalist. She ventures deep into every detailed crack and crevice, every feather and tendril.

Cooking with Cats was the beautiful book Rod & Mo put out a book in 2003. Like The illustrated Lyrics of Old Man Crow, Cooking with Cats had incredible illustrations by Mo and text by Rod. The drawings illustrated Rod’s interactions with that most spoilt of felines, the indestructible Ariel P. Cat. One thing that struck me was Mo’s ability to draw the cat from unusual angles, from above, from below, from a diagonal view. How does she do that? Seeing familiar things from new perspectives. That’s what artists do.

Rod’s text was hilarious. The recipes said things like ‘Just before the burning smell, toss the pancake’. There was the story of the day Ariel ate the discarded corn cob but we won’t go into that.

Rod is … Well this exhibition is part of Sydney Fringe Festival and Rod has always been lurking on the fringe of the pub music scene. I have seen photos of him on stage from the 1970s where he looks like a cross between Eno in Roxy Music and Riff Raff from The Rocky Horror Show.

I remember Christmas Eve. It must have been 1978. I was with friends in the city and we went to a pub to hear a new wave ska band called The Klerks. It might have been the Sussex Hotel. After that we crossed the road to check out the band in another pub. They were playing a full-on fast punk version of ‘Silent Night’. We thought it was great, maybe slightly scary. I didn’t forget the singer, or his nihilistic re-casting of the old Christmas carol.

A few years later the brilliant and charismatic Chris Clarke, whom I also met through Penel, introduced me to a guy he always referred to as Roderick. It took me a while to figure out that this Roderick dude was the punk who sang ‘Silent Night’.

In the Powerhouse Museum’s collection is a set of handbills, one from each week of 1978 listing the bands playing at the Civic Hotel. This was the height of the pub rock boom, so a typical week at the Civic might have on Monday night Flowers (before they became Icehouse), Cold Chisel on Tuesday night, Midnight Oil on Wednesday night, Mental as Anything were always there on Thursday nights, On the weekends the Civic hired less famous bands and this name Sourpuss frequently appears there on the handbills. This was Roderick’s band, the one that played ‘Silent Night’. He was lurking on the fringe of the pub rock scene, and you will note the emerging feline tendencies in the name Sourpuss.

Things got even fringeier in the mid 90s when Rod, Chris and I formed a semi-acoustic pop blues trio called CPR. Chris and Rod were drawn together as musical opposites. At the Bald Rock Hotel, we played cover versions of 1960s pop songs to please the crowd, but the main reason Rod was there was to perform his own songs, which we did, in a fairly uncompromising way. When I say uncompromising I mean, well, the Welsh are famous for contrary behaviour. Artistically, he pleases himself. Art requires a kind of honesty. It has to please the artist before it can mean something or be any good. Any sort of pretension results in mediocrity. Pleasing the audience is a mere side effect. They can take it or leave it as far as Rod is concerned. That’s his integrity: Can’t be sold, can’t be bought.

So at the Bald Rock we sang songs he had written like ‘I Got the Blues’, ‘Beauty’, ‘Paradise’, ‘A Life of Crime’, ‘Sweet Mary-Anne’, ‘Evaline’, ‘Fly Away’. He wrote a song called ‘Turn the Page’ in which one verse was about locals who came to see us, and not in a flattering way. Rod didn’t care. He cared about putting across his songs.

As the 21st century turned Rod would sometimes turn up at Dennis Aubrey’s Songwriter’s Night and play his new songs. Some people put their musical ambitions on the back burner and it is easy to lose them if they fall behind the stove. Not Rod – he was always writing.

As Old Man Crow, he would play all originals, no covers at all, accompanied by the beautiful bass playing of Nick Hope and the drumming of Paul, Willem or Stan. He made some recordings with Dave Hatch on drums. I’ve got about six of his home-made CDs in my collection at home: ‘Naked’, ‘So Far’, ‘acouplalovesongs’ (EP), ‘The Ballad of Liz and Daz ‘(a single so rare it’s not in the book), ‘G’Day Let’s Play’, ‘A Simple Life’, ‘Crow at the Crossroads’
There are about ten songs in The Illustrated Lyrics that I don’t have and haven’t heard.

I realise that I never bothered to tell Rod how good I think his songs are or tried to explain what they mean to me.

First, the songs are crafted in quite a cinematic way. They create a visual scenario. That’s why Mo is able to illustrate them. Rod and Mo can shake up a familiar scene and make us see it differently. He creates little motion pictures in ‘Walking Home with Mr Bones’, ‘A Simple Life’ and  ‘Sunday In Newtown’.

Or songs like ‘Postcard’ where he sets the scene saying:
I got a room on the beach, coffee down the street, fish in the harbour, life’s sweet.”

In ‘I Got a Reason’ he says:
There’s crows on the power poles, picking at the wires
People burning their houses down and warming their hands on the fires”

I love the precise details that make ‘The Floral Arrangement’ Rod’s funniest song. My favourite line is:
I bought a six pack for the plastic, the red and green looks fantastic.”
And of course the VB six-pack appears in Mo’s illustration.

The songs offer visual observations about the various urban characters who inhabit them.

The songs are smart and clever. I love the way in ‘Take a Ride’ he rhymes ‘cupboard’ with the words ‘up but’.

Mo’s drawings display succinct observations and pithy domestic details, transformed by her imagination. These are not literal interpretations of the lyrics. For a start there aren’t quite so many crows in the song lyrics. The crows have a kind of allegorical relationship to the people in the songs.

These songs are postcards from dangerous places. ‘Ghosts’ is one such song. He sings “I met an old friend” and the guy replies that he has been to this bad place and seen all things.…
The songs take place in an imperfect, kind of amoral world
They make love up in Heaven, down here we’re making something else.”

This world has caused some characters to become “harder than diamonds”. Some are on the road to incarceration like Neil (‘We all knew Neil’)  and they all break the law, as well they must. ‘A Life of Crime’ recasts the maxim that ‘To live outside the law you must be honest’ as “The only thing for an honest man is a life of crime”

This is the world we live in, a world falling apart:
where the preacher is a sinner and the copper is a thief,”

In songs like ‘Looking For You’ it is a place of past mistakes and broken dreams. It’s:
“where friends are true and lives are short
and the plans they made together didn’t turn out like she thought.”

These are postcards from places like the Crossroads Hotel where:
You pay in blood for your room and board” (what a killer line).
The musical structure helps paint the picture. The middle eight of ‘Crossroads Hotel’ builds your anxiety as the chords descend further than you think they can go, then unexpectedly come back up again.

This is steely music. There is nothing ornamental about these tunes. These are sheet metal songs that echo unpolished truth.

They are not pessimistic or anti-social or cynical. There is a flip side and it’s the Crow’s ability to write gorgeous, yearning ballads.

There is a sense of desire in ‘Postcard’, put across with a minimum of vocal energy expended. Rod’s got a good voice but he’s a great vocalist. He has this deadpan delivery that is very real. It’s economical.

There’s a lot of empathy in these songs. That’s how he imagines these characters and situations, based on his experiences. It’s not so much about Rod expressing his own feelings but creating music that calls up thoughts and emotions and pleasures in those of us who listen to it.

There’s empathy in ‘Fly Away’. For such a short song it is rich in possible interpretations. It is a tender lullaby that hints of a seamy underworld. A tale of promiscuity, drugs and lies, and a tragedy is unfolding. It is addressed to a woman who has been doing some bad things and is in legal trouble and as the chords rise in a crescendo the singer comforts her, saying “Close your eyes, fly away”, presumably in some opiated way. He knows she will anyway.

Rod sees the beautiful among the chaos and the entropy. Beauty is almost a character in the songs. She is glimpsed as you rattle the door of your cage
From the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of Beauty’s stocking.”

“Beauty         I see it all around
Beauty        while a whipping’s coming down”

Cooking with Cats was more than a book, it was a beautiful compact artefact. Each of the 17 copies of An Illuminated Book of Cats with its colour illustrations and Coptic binding, was like The Book of Kells. Something beautiful to hold in your hand. And that’s what Rod’s songs are. They are beautiful audio artifacts.

The Illustrated Lyrics of Old Man Crow is even more than an artefact. It’s a monument. It is a colossal piece of work, a lifetime of work.  It’s Rod and Mo’s legacy.

In the end, all any of us can hope to leave behind in this world are the beautiful things we create and the memories held by those who knew us. I want to thank Rod and Mo for the beautiful things they create and look forward to them creating more memories in the coming years.

Congratulations Mo, congratulations Rod for your beautiful  collaboration. A little while ago I was asked to write a few words for Artsite Gallery’s web page. I don’t know if they got put up on the site, but with these words I’d like to declare open The Illustrated Lyrics of Old Man Crow. So here you go, Roderick:

About Rod Morgan …

Like Leonard Cohen with a Les Paul, Rod ‘Old Man Crow’ Morgan is an artist who possesses a gritty magnetism. He is singer, songwriter, guitarist and lots of other things.

The Crow puts across his music with punch and poise and finger-picking precision.

Rod is a three minute storyteller. His songs are funny, world weary, lusty and bemused, caustic and tender. Some are brand new. Others are marked by dents, scratches and other signs of heavy wear. When you hear his cast-iron voice convey those battered tales, you’d better believe it. I love the way Mo has visualised them.

Let the crow fly.”

Old Man CrowOld Man Crow
Nick HopeNick Hope
image2-1the music
opening thanks to everyone for coming along
photos courtesy of Carol Cantrell

  1. dinahmow says:

    What a lovely opener! And a mention of Cohen- Rod, you’re in some mighty fine company! Well done, both of you.

  2. coloremartine says:

    I’m so glad you posted this Mo, it makes me understand a bit more.

    And he said what i liked so much from …something else… They make love up in Heaven, down here we’re making something else……….
    Still…….i wish i could have been there, but i have your beautiful book and the music to listen to, as often as i want, thank you………….

  3. Judy Martin says:

    Thanks for including the entire speech – there is much admiration and respect in those words.

    Congratulations on everything – Mo – you looked so beautiful in that frock. x

  4. Carol says:

    That was such a great speech, Mo, I’m so pleased you’ve put it in. Pete’s real affection for you both shines through. And you did look wonderful in that frock…

  5. margaret johnson says:

    Great words for a great couple!! OXOX

  6. Eliene says:

    I was wondering whether you were still on cloud 9, floating or were now grounded……thank goodness for the pull of the earth eh………and I agree with the other ladies. So nice to see you in a dress…me, I don’t wear them often either……but you looked fabulous Mo. And the man, always special and always gorgeous. Big hugs all around.

  7. Eliene says:

    I forgot to say, what an honest speech. He obviously knows you both pretty well.
    Goddamn Mo, I wish I could have been there. My loss!

  8. vdbolyard says:

    wow. this is good work.

  9. beth says:

    Oh this is such a grand and loving speech. So good to see the opening photos, almost feels like being there. And how great your brother could be there.

  10. What a beautiful tribute from someone who obviously knows and admires you both so well! Congratulations!

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