Maggie Somerville – Roller-coaster


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SKU: TN2524-83 Category:


Maggie Somerville – Roller Coaster

CD review by Tony Smith

TN2524-83 – $15

TN160 Dec 23

This album of sixteen tracks runs for 70 minutes and is generously lengthy by today’s standards.

As usual with Maggie Somerville’s work, the sleeve notes provide comprehensive lyrics, acknowledgement of sources and thanks to performers and the technical team.

For support on a range of folk instruments and vocals, Maggie thanks musicians Maureen Beggs, Janine Lancaster, Dave Alloway, Ian Mitchell, Terry Harris, Kathy Tyson, Jeanette Gillespie, Katie Cottrill, Elodie Adams, Joan Mundy, Colleen Brown, Michael Parker, Richard Moore, Steve Bullock, Meredith Capp, Kevin Parsell, Joy Petersen, Maree Buttler, Bill Buttler, Jacquie Simpson, Catriona Milne, Maureen Campion, Alexandra Mavridis and Gronya Somerville.

Not to be outdone, Maggie herself sings and plays guitar, mandolin, whistle, harmonica, piano accordion, ukulele, electric organ, glockenspiel, bodhran, percussion and whistling! Phew!

Somerville dedicates this  album to her husband and parents, all of whom died while the project was in the making, and to her ‘three beautiful children’.

These songs have their highs and lows.

‘The Waiting Game’ describes and expresses the emotional roller coaster Somerville found herself on.

While there is much sadness, there are some uplifting tracks as well.

The song ‘Journey’, about a pregnancy and waiting for the miraculous moment when a new person arrives outside the mother, is perhaps the pick of the bunch.

It was ‘born’ shortly before the birth of her second child.

‘And long is the waiting, the anticipating/ The mysteries ahead and the battles to fight/ The losing and winning is only beginning/ Your journey from darkness to light’.

Accordion opens the gentle waltz, ‘Waratah Bay’, which is a reminder of how remedial nature can be.

The song expresses love of country at a time when the need for respect for the environment has never been greater.

Also about a natural wonder, ‘Hepburn Spa’ is sung a capella in madrigal style with fine harmonies.

The song uses a kind of onomatopoeia as we hear the ‘bubble bubble’ and the ‘frothy frothy foam’.

‘Back to Ireland’ has appropriate instruments, whistle, fiddle and uilleann pipes, and tells of the genetic memory we can have for a place never before visited.

A chorus in Gaelic is a nice touch, but full translation of this would be good.

The song has a catchy tune and would be a festival hit.

The first of several dance tracks, ‘Benjamin’s Polka/ Weekend Away’ uses a clever device of interplay between whistle and bodhran.

‘Meeting Isabella’, ‘Gronya’s Waltz’, ‘Yabby Catcher/ Foster Jig/ Purple Jenny’ and ‘Dreamy Peter’ are all excellent instrumentals highlighting the Australian bush dance with appropriate arrangements of fiddle, mandolin and piano.

‘Softly the Waters’ is dedicated to Tristan, who lived 1990-93 and touches on the guilt parents feel at the death of a child.

‘A Better Way’ of giving birth promises breathing exercises in the chorus and has a calypso feel which adds variety to the music.

‘You Taught Me How to Whistle’ is a tribute to Somerville’s father.

‘Tsunami’ describes the tragedy of 2006.

The tune and presentation are surprisingly gentle for such a tragic event, but perhaps this increases the shock.

‘An Ordinary Cat’ and ‘Julian’s Lullaby’ for a wakeful little boy add further to the domestic feeling of the album.

While Maggie Somerville notes the emotional roller coaster she was on during the writing and production of these songs and tunes, musically there is great variety in their presentations.

The instrumentals are particularly accomplished with enjoyable melodies and perfect arrangements, especially for the ‘bush dance’ genre.


The urge to produce a CD actually began in the mid-1990s when I realised that I had quite a lot of original songs and tunes that were going nowhere. A couple of my very early songs had been performed in the early ‘80s with Bruce & Jill Watson in our band ‘The Squatters’, but that band had long since broken up. I actually recorded one more recent song in the late ‘90s, ‘Hepburn Spa’, with five or six other women, with an album in mind. However, the sudden death of my partner in 1998 led to an incredible loss of momentum, with sole parenting, legal battles and grief counselling taking over for years. Some sporadic recording took place with Kevin Parsell, but it wasn’t until Bruce Watson recommended Steve Bullock (now President of the Victorian Folk Music Club) in the mid 2000s that I began to record in earnest.

The opening track was obvious. Having in 2000 bought a rundown but gorgeous little old miner’s cottage in South Gippsland from a friend, the kids and I all fell in love with nearby Waratah Bay. I had expected to have to drive to the Prom continually in summer, but we discovered closer beaches such as Sandy Point, Walkerville and, particularly, Waratah Bay – which of course led to my first song on the album. Amusingly in hindsight, being totally out of touch with the folk scene then, I somehow managed to play piano accordion well enough for recording purposes though I could/can barely play the instrument. It was fun searching for bird calls from South Gippsland as well as beach sound effects to start and finish the song, and I was rapt to later win first prize in a song-writing competition for ‘Waratah Bay’.

Parenthood naturally motivated many songs. Believing that every child I had was my last, ‘Journey’ is the story of my second pregnancy, with its inevitable hopes and fears that every woman seems to feel at certain stages, and ‘A Better Way’ describes the reality shock of childbirth, with audience participation in the breathing exercises instead of the traditional chorus – great fun to perform! My last track, ‘Julian’s Lullaby’, was initially written as just a waltz, but I found myself putting words to it for my firstborn child. Then the heartbreaking loss of a child in the early ‘90s for an old friend of mine led to ‘Softly the Waters’ which I sang on the first anniversary of the three-year-old’s tragic death. On a more positive note, ‘Gronya’s Waltz’ is a simple little tune featuring piano and violin (neither played by me!) to celebrate the arrival of my last child, born in 1995.

The only a cappella song on the album is the chirpy ‘Hepburn Spa’, mentioned above, which wrote itself in the car after my first visit to the spa with my two pre-schoolers – “Bubble bubble bubble bubble….” – a wonderful day indeed! The track following this, ‘Back to Ireland’, was inspired by travel much further away: to trace my roots back to Ireland in the ‘70s and ‘80s, with an amazing sense of déjà vu as I found myself drawn back again and again to this magical country that I immediately felt at home in. I was determined to include every possible Irish instrument in the song, with guitar and bass behind fiddle, tin whistle, Uillean (Irish) pipes, mandolin and, at the last minute, Steve Bullock on bodhran (Irish drum).

Some of my other songs on ‘Roller-Coaster’ seem to be a mixture of highs and lows, such as ‘Tsunami’ which describes the 2004 Boxing Day disaster that killed so many yet inspired so much heartfelt support. (I had actually recorded this song earlier as a single to raise funds to send to tsunami relief.) ‘An Ordinary Cat’, complete with sound effects, explores my love of cats from their destructive kitten phase to their later sad demise – a song my vet friend Jane could never hear without tears! Similarly, ‘The Waiting Game’ looks at the despair and hope experienced by carers of drug addicts, while ‘You Taught Me How to Whistle’, written in the last two weeks of my father’s life, is a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

The remaining items on the album are four sets of tunes written over the years. By far the oldest one, ‘Benjamin’s Polka’, was written in the early ‘80s as a sort of musical experiment. I had just bought two bodhrans in Ireland, one for me and one for my fellow band member, Benjamin, and I had this idea of creating a question and answer tune featuring tin whistle and bodhran, with both instruments swapping roles during the tune. I then added a second tune, ‘Weekend Away’, with the pair working well and performed by ‘The Squatters’ many times before eventually being recorded later, with violin, guitar and bass added. My tune ‘Dreamy Peter’ came about soon after my partner’s sudden death in 1998 when, amid the trauma and grief, I kept hearing this tune in my head until finally, about two years later, I penned and recorded it and was persuaded by Kevin to feature my inherited gift of whistling in it. Discovering you have a grandchild you didn’t really know about is fairly mind-blowing, and ‘Meeting Isabella’ hopefully expresses my great joy at first meeting young Bella. The remaining medley of tunes (‘Yabby Catcher/Purple Jenny/Foster Jig’) resulted from my first attempt to write some jigs, which to my delighted surprise have been used for the Gumtree Quadrille at a couple of Woolshed Balls – what a buzz to see a whole hall of people dancing to my tunes! A feeling of overwhelming relief swept over me on completion of this first album, although I knew a second solo CD must follow one day to accommodate a couple of songs that didn’t quite make it onto ‘Roller-Coaster’. Time would tell………

Additional information

Weight .200 kg
Dimensions 22 × 16 × .50 cm


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