When you walk into the Opera House’s Concert Hall, the last thing you expect to hear is: “I have never seen so many middle-aged men in Hawaiian shirts!” But then, this was not your average Sunday afternoon of classical music programming at The House. Instead, it was a celebration of the timeless, Morning Of The Earth soundtrack, a thoroughly enjoyable trip down nostalgia lane to a simpler, sunburnt land of forty years ago.
Morning Of The Earth was a seminal surf film produced by Albert Falzon that was released at the tail end of hippie culture. People were looking for alternate ways of living and it was a time when young people actually cared enough to rebel against things like war and Australians realised that despite our healthy surf culture, we didn’t have our very own Jan & Dean or the Beach Boys. It wasn’t the first film of it’s kind and certainly not the last, but what made it special was the soundtrack because with no actual spoken dialogue, the songs and their lyrics had to assist in painting a portrait of free expression and escapism intertwined with natural beauty and our very own good vibrations.
This evening’s proceedings were punctuated with stirring footage that included excerpts from the film plus some new material. The bulk of it was quintessentially Australian scenes of buff, bronzed and sun-bleached surfies riding waves (like wow wipeout) and when they weren’t getting gnarly they were making and shaping their own boards and growing their own food. There was also some swimming with dolphins, whales and even mermaids! Equally real and surreal, the only constant was the flowing and ever-changing blue sea and of course the night’s centerpiece, the musical soundtrack.
The performers included two of the original composers of the work- Brian Cadd and Tim Gaze (Tamam Shud). The pair were accompanied by numerous guests, including: Mike Rudd (Spectrum), Lior, Gyan and Sally Campbell, among others. It was a revolving line-up of both cast and instruments that featured: guitar, drum, bass, keyboards and nyckelharpa.
The music just brims with sunlight, like the collective discographies of The Go-Betweens and The Triffids. Just as these bands produced this sound with great ease and aplomb, so too did M.O.T.E’s contributors in capturing the spirit of our great land through multifaceted feelings and vibrations. The title track saw Lior, a man not even born when the film was produced showcasing his energetic versatility by singing a rather exquisite version of the masterpiece.
From here it was time for the girls to take over the lead vocals during “Getting Back”. It’s a song that could’ve been as much by Dolly Parton as Judy Collins, due to its country feel meets folk-pop style. It was an altogether pleasant track and this continued into “Dream Chant” where its lyrics were an ode to visions and delusion and the music at times resembled something by Fleetwood Mac.
Australia’s biggest surf act, Tamam Shud wrote “Bali Waters” back in the day. Tonight it was just as cinematic as ever, an instrumental that called to mind our free land girt by sea and balmy summer evenings under dusky skies. It’s also one that could’ve been included in the score to Titanic because there was just the right amount of grandiose opulence on offer while “Sure Feels Good” was a feel good shuffle, pure and simple.
After an interval there was a brief interlude where we got our first and only taste of the surfers actually talking and offering their perspectives in some vox pops. But before we knew it, it was back to the swell season of sounds. The second half featured some of the soundtrack’s strongest and best-loved material with “Making It On Your Own” sounding like it could’ve influenced Coldplay’s “Clocks” and then there was the double whammy of “Simple Ben” and “Open Up Your Heart”. The latter two hits really resonate with people and encapsulate the feelings of friendship and the beauty of nature that permeates this free, soulful and joyous music. It’s a formula that clearly works because to this day there are the likes of Jack Johnson, Donavon Frankenreiter and Mat McHugh attempting their own versions, albeit ones in a more contemporary frame.
The musicians are an accomplished and talented lot, having played a seamless show with note-perfect recreations of the original songs, so much so that I could wax as lyrical as the boards for some time yet but won’t. Instead, let’s say that Brian Cadd proved an absolute highlight and delight to watch. The guy deserves his own talk show because his self-deprecating humour was extremely funny (it included an admission that he had an ambulance waiting before the break and that he would be entering rehab straight after the show). Caddy was on fire and it wasn’t because he’d been basking in the sun for too long.
The show concluded with sections of the audience delivering a standing ovation. We had reflected for almost two hours on the idealism and simplicity of the time and reacquainted ourselves with the earth, particularly the sun, sea and sky. It was an almost spiritual harmony dotted with old and new memories, sentiments and feelings about people and places (particularly the clean sand of the North Coast, Bali and Hawaii). Morning Of The Earth’s country-soul and psychedelic rock sounds had opened up our hearts and minds to a classic set full of rewards through an affectionate rekindling of down-to-earth glory days on the beach and some rosy-eyed optimism of this deceptively simple-looking and gratifying pastime. Just like some gnarly surf, we left the Hall with wide smiles, happily riding along one large crest of a wave.
Originally published on 6 February 2012 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/morning-of-the-earth-sydney-opera-house-05-02-2012
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