Review Scene: Mark Seymour and The Undertow, Athenaum Theatre – 21st July 2017

The theme of Mark Seymour’s current tour is all about retrospection. Based on his recent release RollBack the Stone 1986-2016, Seymour imbued us with stories, memories and political commentary all featured in a “chaotic feast” of songs covering the past thirty odd years. Backed by The Undertow and his talented daughter, Hannah, his audience lapped up every offering. Most of us have had a long term relationship with Seymour. Like other Aussie front men of his ilk he began in a wildly successful pub band and has since gone solo with varying degrees of success. Loyalty, hope that old favourites will be played and a healthy degree of trust in his ability to entertain us with new material was what his mainstay fans expected, and received.

Hunters’ fans were not disappointed and even though almost all songs were re-imagined we were taken back to those heady day of the 1980s and 90s inviting our own private retrospections. We were treated to: Everything’s On Fire, Tears of Joy, Holy Grail, When the River Runs Dry, Dog, Say Goodbye and a truly singular version of Throw Your Arms Around Mesung with his daughter, Hannah. HappilyDo You See What I See was an inclusion, brass free and adagiettobut fabulous. Seymour is a story teller, a man of lore, providing his audience with lengthy background stories before launching into his next offering. Memories included being in a Corryong kitchen with his mum, the school teacher and Clancy Brothers fan, leading to a re-acquaintance with Irish folk music. This gave birth to The Light on the Hill and indirectly My Lucky Land. Kosciuskois a song about more family memories, nature drives with his “white knuckled” father in an old Hillman, kids “scratching at each other” in the back seat, belt free and bored. This foray into intimate family memories highlights a change in Seymour, a softening and an ability to let the guard down; something disallowed thirty years ago.

Seymour is a man of causes; his commentary on, and “unwavering” criticism of, conservative politicians is a product of his left wing upbringing and his disdain for bullshit in Australian public life. One cannot go past Master of Spin without picturing the Abbotts and Bernardis of this world polluting our public domain. His celebration or commemoration of the underdog, the returned soldier, the refugee, the Frankston battler and even prison riff-raff as heard in Castlemaine were all a feature. He has had a mixed relationship with Australian Rules Football; both loving the game and embracing it creatively with Football Train but ruefully recognizing the fact that his beloved Holy Grail has been abused by its re-worked football context.

Seymour’s commitment and love of playing live is to be commended and this extensive tour covering most Australian capitals in small, accessible venues attests to this. His choice of back up is to be applauded; Cameron McKenzie’s guitar solos were warmly appreciated by the audience, as were Peter Maslen’s drumming and John Favaro’s bass. They are a tight unit and the camaraderie on stage is infectious. More stories include old live music venues such as the Razors Club, West Gate Bridge tragedies, allusions to and use of the works from Aussie poet Geoff Goodfellow and the Ettamogah Pub, a much loved cartoon from The Australasian. These all contribute to his self- appointed role as social historian. Seymour can do this: he makes it his own, he assumes we are all there with him and he is rewarded with respect and appreciation. His final words, “Goodnight and joy be with you all” see a mellowed and fully matured musician who has abandoned any ‘human frailty’ and is now most definitely secure in his own skin.