6 February 2024

John Schumann is returning to Canberra - just don't expect a Redgum song

| Ian Bushnell
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band on stage

John Schumann and the Vagabond Crew will perform at the Street Theatre. Photo: Supplied.

John Schumann wants to draw a line under his time with the legendary folk-rock outfit Redgum.

Last year, he took to the road with his band of brothers, the Vagabond Crew, to present The Redgum Years, but this time around, it’s the Schumann show.

The veteran songwriter and frontman returns to Canberra on 16 February at The Street Theatre for Back Tracks, a concert of his solo work.

Schumann says The Redgum Years was the right thing to do at the time, and the sellout response vindicated that, but he doesn’t want to do that for the rest of his life.

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And he’s still got something to prove.

“Back Tracks is probably a two-hour irrefutable argument proving that I Was Only 19 wasn’t the only song I ever wrote, that I’m not a one-hit wonder,” he told Region.

It’s a song that has been good to him over the years but shouldn’t define him.

Back Tracks covers his solo catalogue of albums from Edged in Blue to Ghosts and Memories, including a couple of commissions from unlikely quarters given his radical beginnings with Redgum.

Off the back of I Was Only 19, then Chief of Army and Redgum tragic Lt Gen David Morrison wanted him to write a song about Indigenous men and women who served as part of the Anzac Centenary.

The result was On Every Anzac Day.

“It’s based in World War I and commemorates the service of blackfellas from the Boer War to the present day,” says Schumann.

The other commission was a song for police mental health called Graduation Day.

“I’ve met policemen and women who are simply inspirational: selfless, courageous and deeply human. It’s hard not to be moved by their stories,” Schumann says.

‘FIFO Road’ stems from his experience delivering mental health messages to workers in remote camps wearing “fluro shorts and rubber boots who we’re about to go down the hole”, he says.

“When I stop to think about it, they actually track all of the kinds of things that I have done in my life,” he says.

A sentimental favourite that he hadn’t performed since the 90s is ‘For the Children’, written on tour in the last days of his time with Redgum when was missing his young son, one reason why he left the band.

Schumann says he doesn’t usually write about his own personal issues, but that song has had an emotional response, especially from parents.

“People just love that song. They cry,” he said.

The response to Back Tracks has been gratifying for Schumann, who wondered if the show would take.

“Well, we filled the joint and got a standing ovation,” he says.

“Then we opened up another show a few months down the line and it sold out in four days.”

Of course, many are Redgum fans and their children, but a cohort of younger music fans also resonate with strong storytelling and expert musicianship.

“They love the stories and the songs help anchor and contextualise their own sense of what it means to be Australian,” Schumann says.

“Some of these kids are doing the round Australia thing, and then listen to something like ‘Last Frontier’, and they drive up the Stuart Highway and go out on the salt plains and go to Lake Eyre and they get it.”

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Those who saw The Redgum Years last year will know just how good a band the Vagabond Crew is. All virtuosos in their own right, they come together behind Schumann to produce an “awesome” sound.

“I’m delighted and very chuffed that I can still go out and fill a theatre with my catalogue,” Schumann says.

John Schumann and the Vagabond Crew perform Back Tracks at the Street Theatre on 16 February at 8 pm.

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