From Whitlams to Now: Tracing the Journey with Tim Freedman
In town for an intimate solo show at the Union Chapel in London, Tim Freedman takes time out with GEORGE KATRALIS to talk schooners of scotch at the Sandringham, and the remarkable career that has followed.
It is those significant events of your life that stick strongest in your memory.
That first kiss. A special birthday. Your last day of school. For some (like myself) this list will include your first over 18’s gig.
For me, I was lucky enough to see a band as synonymous to Sydney’s Inner West as vintage fashion, the Enmore Theatre or the 24-hour Oporto. None other than a band topping the list of Australian greats: The Whitlams.
Their humble beginnings can be traced back to Saturday afternoon acoustic sessions at the now iconic Sandringham Hotel – playing to that mixed early 90’s crowd of grunge heads riding off the back of the Nirvana fandom, alongside the regular pub-dwelling Newtown drunkards.
It was in this mix that the Whitlams, then a 3 piece band consisting of founding members Tim Freedman, Stevie Plunder and Andy Lewis, took to the rather dimly lit stage.
As Tim Freedman tells Australian Times: “We turned up on the scene with no drums, three part harmonies and schooners of scotch.” Enough at least to take the first steps on a 20 year career that has seen Tim produce six Whitlams studio albums, one new (and his first) solo album, receive countless Aria awards and gain recognition as one of Australia’s best and most talented songwriters.
When asked about those early days with the band, and the subsequent rise up to fame, Tim recalls:
“From the start we were different. We did residencies and put in the hours. It was an old fashioned apprenticeship. Just before addiction takes hold is a golden minute.”
A concept which in this day and age of get famous quick shows like X-Factor and Idol may seem foreign to many in the music industry. For the Whitlams, there was no such shortcut to the top.
Not long after enjoying their first bit of radio success with their 1996 song “I make hamburgers”, founding member Stevie Plunder was found dead on Australia Day from what was believed to be an act of suicide.
After a few months break and a new member’s recruitment drive, the band released their most successful album to date, Eternal Nightcap, only to have to say goodbye a few years later to another founding member in Andy Lewis. His struggle with a gambling addiction in the months leading up to his death is well documented by Tim in one of The Whitlams greatest hits “Blow Up the Pokies”.
These dramatic changes in lineage from the time of the bands inception until now has required Tim Freedman to become the ‘face’ and driving force behind the Whitlams as leader, sole songwriter and vocalist.
When asked whether he felt this made the band less of a collaborative effort and more a Tim Freedman project under the moniker of ‘the Whitlams’, Tim replied:
“Every line up has its weaknesses and strengths. The original lads were great black stump musicians who could pick harmonies out of the air and give you confidence in a song before it was completely finished. The lads from the last decade have chops and turn up on time. I may have to work on the harmonies a bit more but it sure is nice knowing we’re not going to miss the plane.”
Fast forward 20 years and six albums later, and Tim has decided it’s time to give The Whitlams songs a rest. “They needed it” he laughs. The result – his first solo album, Australian Idle, he calls “self-consciously 70’s”. A piano driven pop record that regular readers will know I have relished listening to.
The songs don’t seem to stray too far lyrically from the sensibilities and rhyming couplets known well to Whitlams fans, but musically this solo effort takes a different turn. Moving away from the recent guitar folk and jazz cellar sounds heard brilliantly on songs like “Buy Now Pay Later” or “You Sound like Louis Burdett”, Australian Idle sees Tim take a step back in time to revisit the piano movements of earlier years.
Tim first went solo in 2005 with an intimate acoustic show at the Basement in Sydney, recapping all of his Whitlams classics in one sitting for a small but fortunate crowd.
“It was a revelation because I realised that playing the songs as they started, at the piano with a single voice, was just as effective as giving them the heft of a full band. With the solo shows I hope it’s like you’ve walked in on someone singing in their bedroom. I do short version of songs and limit the repetition.”
Now it is 2012, and Tim is going solo again, this time at the Union Chapel in London – a town Tim is very excited to come back too.
“I’ve given up trying to be a world wide artist, but I can play in London and know there will be a good crowd . I have relatives in London, my father was born in Finchley. Like many good republicans I remain an anglophile.”
So what can we expect from the man who has brought us so many classic Australian songs and represented us so well to a world audience?
“I may pile on the couplets.”
And that’s good enough for me.
Tim Freedman will play his solo show ‘Fireside Chat’ at the Union Chapel on Friday 5 October 2012.
For the full interview with Tim Freedman go to Tim Freedman talks to Australian Times.