April 08, 2010

Martin Doherty/Leigh Birkett
Dare To Struggle, Dare To Win

Having produced and put two charity albums together myself - Green Indians (RR110658CD) and Reaction (RR080686CD), I fully understand the sheer amount of blood, sweat and toil involved. And while one can initially come away with a sense of enormous achievement and emotional cleansing, it’s not long before such quintessential feelings subside into that of hollow fulfilment and expectation.

That Dare To Struggle, Dare To Win has (clearly) been compiled with a huge amount of love, respect and dignity, is to be applauded.

Even before having been heard.

Indeed, these twenty tracks - twelve songs and eight spoken words - are the works of Martin Doherty and Leigh Birkett; and have been put together in honour of Union Leader and highly influential figure in Australian social politics, John Cummins (1948 – 2006).

Most of the material is of an organic and folk leaning persuasion, the likes of which espouse straight talking over bollocks, crystal clear morality over myopic economics. Songs such as Rita McNeill’s ‘It’s A Working Man I Am,’ Tom Paxton’s ‘They Couldn’t Take The Union (From Your Soul)’ and Ewan McColl’s ‘England’s Motorway,’ are as poignant in their regaling of hardship and petulant greed, as they are (musically) resoundingly sparse.

Moreover, while the traditional ‘The Ballad of Jim Larkin’ may be a little confusing and a tad too expansive with regards wanting to be all things to all men, it’s the succinct beauty of a track such as ‘Shearers On The Wallaby,’ that truly anchors the album amid the subject for that which it was intended.

On the former, Doherty sings: ‘’They shot McDerlott and Pearse and Plunkett,/They shot MacDonagh and Tom Clarke the brave,/From bleak Kilmainham, they took Kent’s body/To Arbour Hill and a quick lime grave./But last of all of the seven heroes,/I sing the name of James Connolly,/The voice of justice, the voice of freedom,/He gave his life that we might be free.’’ Now unless one knows ones’ Irish history, such lyrics are perhaps a little too dense and too wide off the mark to be fundamentally taken on board. Whereas ‘Shearers On The Wallaby’ finds the same singer hitting home nigh immediately with the simplistic, yet far more plausible: ‘’I’m a shearer on the drink again,/With no shoes upon my feet.’’

Judging by the spoken word excerpts scattered throughout, one gets the feeling John Cummins was a man without complication - hence one of the printed lines in the sleeve: ‘’When you find an easy way, don’t keep it a secret.’’

As such, the more candid songs on this album are the more powerful.

Either way, Dare To Struggle, Dare To Win is a sincere and powerful piece of work. It’s a recording which deserves all the attention it gets – even if only to shed light on the dictum: ‘’judge people by their form.’’

David Marx

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