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Reviews

CD Review by Jim Low for the Folk Australia Website

It is always a wonderful experience to discover new music that immediately excites you. When that excitement continues to grow with each new listen, then you know you have found something really special. This is indeed the case with Ben Scott’s recent CD Sydney Cove Project.

As well as vocals, Scott plays guitar, banjo, mandolin, whistles and bodhran.
Kathryn Bain’s sensitive and expressive singing voice plays an intrinsic part on the CD. The sound is further enriched by the talents of Rita Woolhouse (cello), Garthe Jones (mandolin) and Chris Gillespie (guitar and double bass).

This new song collection deliberately confines itself to songs dealing with the initial years of European arrival and settlement in Australia. As the liner notes state, “These songs are an attempt to fill a gap in Australian folk music”.

Relying heavily on contemporary written sources, Ben Scott has carefully crafted eleven fine songs. Use of primary source material may suggest to some a restrictive approach to the song writing process and outcome. Nothing could be further from the truth. It gives greater credibility to the portrayal of events and personalities as interpreted by Scott. The skilful inclusion in some of the song lyrics, of quotations from these primary documents, adds considerably to the dramatic dimension in each song. And the occasional roughness in attempting to fit some of the phrasing comfortably with the melody, for this ear anyway, was not a problem.

There is also room for the songwriter to infer legitimate, possible outcomes where evidence is scant or ambiguous. For example, the song Patyegorang cleverly plays with the notion of a relationship between William Dawes and a young Aboriginal woman. The use of Dawes’ recording of indigenous language allows Scott to develop further the possible relationship in a very intriguing way. The tune accompanying this song is both attractive and evocative. This is inspiring song writing.

The CD starts with the catchy Black and White Ball, subtly introducing in the narrative some of the themes to be explored in later songs. A Child For A Hat relates how relationships between the new arrivals and the indigenous population were confounded by blatant ignorance, cultural difference and misunderstanding. The awkward situation faced by Clarke in following an order is dramatically portrayed in this song.

The jaunty Where’s Rose Hill, Where? relates the events of a seemingly innocent exploration party led by Watkin Tench. By the subtle inclusion of a descriptive or narrative detail, Scott makes us aware of some serious, future problems.

This last song is an indication of how important it is to listen closely to the lyrics of all the songs in this collection. And the gentle and thoughtful arrangements of the instrumentation allow the vocals to be clearly heard. Although the song lyrics do not come with the CD, they can be found at sydneycoveproject.com.au

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this refreshing and inspiring collection of songs. Perhaps, if I was pushed to select a couple of favourites, I would include Patyegorang and Bennelong. The way character is revealed in both these songs is just so compelling, plus the tasteful beauty of their melodies. But then I feel obliged to mention the beauty of Sandstone and Saltwater and the riveting exploits in Pemulwy, set to an elegant melody. And so it goes on.

Congratulations to Ben Scott and all who were involved in the production of this wonderful CD. How enriching to have such interesting, inventive songs that make our history that much more accessible and meaningful.

Other CD Reviews

Review by Ian Paulin for indie-cds.com 2005

“This is a collection of important, historical songs, well played, which illuminates an unsung time in Australia’s early colonial history with great insight and style. Ben Scott’s determined effort to record a long ignored time in Australian history works very well. These intensely interesting songs, thoughtfully written, create a highly accessible documentary of the first years of colonial occupation in Australia.

We are confronted, as the first fleet arrivals must have been with an alien land and the shock this must bring to a new people in a strange world. This suite recognizes with great dignity this countries original Aboriginal owners and their reluctant experience of being overwhelmed by a country and a culture they were powerless to resist, yet resisted anyway. It also observes delicate and intimate thoughts, even fears of the new colonists. Notable in this process is the contour in experience of Ralph Clark who journeys (over three songs) from a bewildered new arrival to a hard-bitten pragmatist, who is willing to do what he’s asked simply to survive in the “New World” of Oz. From the rebel songs of the Irish to the haunting recognition of Aboriginal characters such as “Bennelong” (which reveals a people technologically simple but culturally and intellectually highly sophisticated), Scott and his co-creators weave an accurate but attractive blend of music and information. Such works are extremely difficult to balance. Any work of art that is also documentary by nature can suffer from gelding the art in service of the concept. There is no such fault in this fine work. The playing is as informative as the lyrics and the vocals of Ben Scott and Kate Bain, whilst they have charm, are intelligently evocative of the style of the times they reflect. For the folk historian this is an essential work your collection cannot do without. For the music enthusiast, there is plenty to hold your interest from the first to the last bar!

Standout Tracks.: – (4) A Child for a Hat, (2) Patyegorang and (9) Bennelong (with its lyrics including words from a letter by Bennelong, himself) are very fine.

Review by Margaret Bradford, Sutherland Folk Club for Cornstalk Magazine 2005

Inspiring stuff this! That a young artist such as Ben Scott can take the time and effort to produce a completely original collection of songs about early settlement of Australia, so accurately and skillfully portrayed on the CD. The Sydney Cove project fills a gap in Australian Folk Music. Excellent background to the story/songs are provided on the CD insert.

There are few existing musical works which reflect the first few years of settlement in such detail and simplicity; years that were so crucial in shaping the future of Australia.

I can see this as a wonderful resource for schools to use with Australian History.

Not only has Ben chosen to research first hand material found in the works of Tim Flannery’s “The Birth of Sydney”, Inga Clendinnen’s “Dancing with Strangers” and Watkin Tench’s, “A Narrative of the Expedition of Botany Bay” but he has presented it in an extremely listenable mode. I enjoyed particularly the direct Australian accent which flows well and naturally with the theme of the superbly tuneful songs. Because I find history so fascinating I devoured these books soon after their release and like Ben enjoyed finding out so much first hand material that had until recently laid in the archives untouched.

With Kate Bain on vocals, Chris Gillespie on guitar and double base, Garthe Jones on mandolin and backing vocals and Rita Woolhouse on cello, Ben has managed to weave into The Sydney Cove Project the incongruous mixture of humanity, goodwill, ignorance, curiosity and ingrained racism that seemed to be common to many of the first fleeters and the indigenous
population. In this way he has captured some of the feelings these early settlers would have experienced the homesickness, fears, and sufferings of such a tough existence. It’s amazing that many of these incredible events are only now coming to light as a result of this clash of cultures.

A worthwhile addition to any Australian folk Music collection. Get them to your club. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

“Having studied a bit of Australian history I enjoyed it immensely. I loved the openness, clarity and honesty of the performance. The way the stories are told in a very warm open, clear style makes for easy yet compulsive listening. “

– Margaret Bradford, Sutherland Folk Club

“Ben Scott’s original songs are opening up a way of looking at the relationship between Aboriginal and early settler that only a small number of of academic historians were previously aware of” – “they offer a fresh and interesting perspective on the nature of race relations in the early settlement.”

– Dr Paddy Cavanagh – Coordinator – B.Ed (SIS) Program, Australian Catholic University

“I found the songs very poignant and moving”, “a very impressive body of work”

– Margaret Fagan

“Ben Scott sings in an easy to listen to style, but with feeling, and with an excellent guitar accompaniment. He is a musician trained in a number of instruments, and has a deep, musical cultural background”

– Denis Kevans, Australias Poet Lorikeet

“beautiful and emotive songs that prompt interest and discussion with the audience”

– Christine Davies, Blackheath Folk Club

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