Singer-musician Paul McGovern was using the long drive between gigs to catch up on the endless music downloads when Crimson and Clover came on.
A hit for Tommy James & The Shondells back in its day, its fame was dwarfed by hits I Think We’re Alone Now and Mony Mony. But for Paul, it instantly transported him to the first time he heard it.
“I was driving through a pretty little town on the NSW South West Slopes called Wombat,” he says.
“I could see what I saw then, smell what I smelled and feel what I felt.”
The drive to and from gigs, when he gets to tap into visceral memories via the eclectic playlists, is Paul’s “happy place”.
It’s also the inspiration for his latest show, Rocking Down the Highway which hits Canberra Southern Cross Club in Woden later this month.
Alongside classic “car songs” including Listen to the Music and Horse with No Name, Paul and his band The Heart of the Matter will showcase some of the great songs for which you never get time to listen.
“There are so many great songs like that – songs that elicit strong emotional response, but which get buried,” he says.
“Every person we meet, experience we have and song we hear gives us something. When we hear them we’re transported.
“I think music takes me on that journey, surely that’s true of other people, too.”
He was proven right at a gig in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire following his rendition of Bread’s Make It With You.
“I hear that song and remember the girlfriend I had in 1981 when I was in the army. I was posted in Townsville and she was in Sydney. It was one of those ‘I’ll wait for you’ scenarios that didn’t pan out,” he says.
“The audience had no idea where I went in my mind, I was thinking ‘wouldn’t it be wonderful if she wandered up from the crowd during the intermission and we got to catch up on how life turned out for us?’.
“Instead, an elderly couple came up to me and told me they had danced to that song on their wedding day. For those three minutes, they had been 21 again.
“I love that about these kinds of songs – you never know what they might mean to someone in the audience.
“At the end of the day that’s what we do with this show – play the classic one hit wonders, but also those songs that haven’t been played to death. They’re not obvious, but when you hear them, they take you some place nice.”
Though there’s a playlist, Paul says the show is never the same two nights running. The band has learned to “run with it” he says.
“I feed off the energy I get from the audience.
“I find there’s usually a song that’s an ice breaker for the audience – it could be Hurts So Good, Slipping Away or The First Cut Is the Deepest. After that, the audience is on the journey with you.
“Sometimes the whole thing gets derailed. I’ll ask for a request and the entire setlist goes out the window.”
Rocking Down the Highway is a departure from the The Heart of the Matter’s show over the past four years, billed as “Australia’s most authentic tribute to the Eagles”.
A few of the Eagles classics remain, including Hotel California. Paul will also indulge requests for more Bryan Adams.
“I’ve been told my voice is suited to his songs, and some of them definitely fulfil the Rocking Down the Highway vision,” he says.
“His hit single Heaven is a beautiful song. It was eclipsed by biggest hit on the Reckless album – Summer of ’69 – but when I listen to Heaven, I’m 24 again, standing in the office where I heard it for the first time.
“I’m looking forward to transporting Canberra audiences this way, through the music.”
Rocking Down The Highway hits the Canberra Southern Cross Club Woden on Saturday, 22 July 2023. Tickets cost $39.90 or $85.75 for a ‘Dinner and a Show’ deal, including a two-course meal in a private dining area before the show. Dinner starts at 6 pm and the show at 8 pm – book here.