Review by Dieter Bajzek.
The riderless horse was led through the streets of Australian towns to the beat of a military drum… “The Empire needs you! Who will fill the saddle?” This unique combination of over 30 songs and poems from the time, arranged and performed by Chloe & Jason, provides a rare insight into a young nation’s experience of the First World War, both in the trenches and on the home front. After all, no-one knows better than those who were there. “Yet another very interesting and specialized CD release from the prolific and talented Australian folk duo Chloe and Jason Roweth (also known as “-Us Net Them”). Having had the pleasure of reviewing some of their earlier albums – As Good As New, Sleepers, and Coming in from the Old (with the band Collector) – I am not surprised at the amount of work and research that has gone into this CD. As the title suggests, this is obviously a specialised collection of around 30 songs arid short poems from the time of World War One, brought together here with much dedication and insight by Chloe and Jason – that is, researched, collected, arranged and performed. What may seem to many of us an undertaking with rather limited musical potential, turns – in the hands of this duo – into a fascinating illustration of Australians at war (19141918 or so). This is a kind of history lesson with songs and poems, mostly as they were created and/or sung at that time by people who had to live (and die) through that terrible and futile war. We are reminded of (true) stories illustrating the tragic and pointless loss of a mother’s son and a child’s father. But we are also shown the realization that our “enemies” are people just like us, in a song where a soldier has to bury the body of a Turk and finds a photo of that person’s son who will not see his father again either. There are also a few songs composed more recently, using old poetry from that time, like the beautiful and haunting `The Route March” by Cathie O’Sullivan. Sometimes the simple beauty or cheerful character of a song almost belies the deeper and tragic story within that song, and there are several parody songs, as were sung by soldiers at the time. We all know that it is often humour that helps us to get through desperate times, and that’s no more obvious and needed than in times of war. It’s just a pity that we still have not learned from our history. Congratulations though to Chloe and Jason for producing this fine album and reminding us in a subtle, sincere, and musical way of the horrors of war.”
About the artist: Chloe and Jason share a passion for Australian folklore and bush music, and take great satistfaction from breathing new life into forgotten songs. Always a captivating concert experience, Chloe and Jason present a striking mix of strong original songs, old-style ballads, well known bush song, and lively dance tunes, accompanied by some fascinating background on where the items come from, and the performers who played them. A real highlight for me at this year’s National Folk Festival was the presentation of ‘The Riderless Horse’ by Jason and Chloe Roweth. It was the third time I have seen this presentation in the past few years at different festivals and it gets better each time. It is an, at times, harrowing account of the First World War through the songs, poems and diary entries of the soldiers who were there. It begins with the riderless horse used as a recruiting gimmick and quickly gets us into the big adventure as we join in singing ‘Tipperary’ and ‘Pack Up Your Troubles’. The humorous songs have you laughing and singing along. Highlights of these are the ‘Charlie Chaplin ditty’, Bill Case’s ‘Army Song’, ‘Ragtime Army’ and the irreverent ‘Dinky Di.’ There was also a terrific comedy medley including ‘Hiding in the Ammunition Van’ and ‘Madameoiselle From Armentieres’. The bulk of the show brings us back to the realities of life for the soldiers in that horrible conflict. Chloe has a voice which is quite unique (the only comparison which comes to mind is how Judith Durham’s voice soared over the rest of the Seekers). She uses that voice to bring the audience to tears with songs such as ‘Hic Jacet’ (written in 1916 by Tom Wilson, a Gallipoli veteran) which is probably the most powerful anti-war song I’ve ever heard. ‘Suvla Bay’ and ‘Just As The Sun Went Down’ are also heart-rending when sung by Chloe. ‘The Sleeper Cutter’s Camp (written by Dan Sheahan of ‘Pub With No Beer’ fame while fighting in France) and Henry Lawson’s ‘Scots of the Riverina’ were also memorable. These are just a few of the highlights from this hour and a half performance. There were many more. Jason and Chloe have been performing this tribute for several years now and many will have seen it. If you haven’t, then check out a festival program where Jason and Chloe Roweth are on the program and do yourself a favour. You won’t be disappointed. They really throw themselves into the performance and at times are quite emotional. At the end, they both look totally drained as it takes so much emotion to present it. Jason and Chloe are of the younger generation and it does them credit that they have researched and compiled such a moving tribute to the diggers using their own words and songs for the most part. Our folklore and folk songs are in great hands with performers such as these taking such an interest. There were many other highlights at this year’s National but this was my favourite, especially as it coincided with ANZAC Day this year. The Riderless Horse CD is available from the Trad&Now Catalogue T&N Vol10 No5