It was a fortunate wind that carried this Scottish troubadour to Australia’s sunny climes in the late 1990?s, but the Great South Land became that little bit greater from the moment he landed. A boy with a dream, born in Edinburgh on November 27th 1971, the son of renowned Scottish artist Barry Broadie, and the grandson of published poet, novelist and philosopher Frederick Broadie, whose Jewish family fled Russia for Manchester after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. Karl grew up in Edinburgh and London, tapped the poet’s blood that ran so richly in his veins and channeled it into a career in music. He cut his teeth in London as a young assistant engineer, on sessions for The Fine Young Cannibals et al, but always pursued his songwriting craft and built his performing skills. Initially he utilised his Jewish ceremonial name to perform and record under, recording a self-funded and pop influenced album under that non de plume, Gershon in the late Nineties. Karl’s Jewish name roughly translates as ‘travelling musician’, and so it was he landed in the Antipodes in 1998 where his personal life soon cemented his links to this country when he and his partner Marni Jenkin celebrated the birth of their eldest son Oskar Jenkin-Broadie in 1999.
Karl moved away from pop (and from Gershon) after succumbing to a Steve Earle/Townes Van Zandt led epiphany in 2001, and recorded his first alt-country record, Nowhere Now Here, in 2002 under his own name. The album was released by industry stalwart and tastemaker Stuart Coupe on Laughing Outlaw Records and garnered enormous critical acclaim, entering the AmericanaUK chart at #1.Karl continued to create gorgeous music on a shoestring and released the wonderful follow up EP Everybody’s Gold on Stuart’s label in 2003. Karl and Marni’s follow up, Travis Jenkin-Broadie arrived a tad earlier in 2002 and the two sons in his life became his defining pride and joy.
Karl consolidated the success of his first album with the earthy tones of Black Crow Callin’, released on Universal Music Australia in 2005. The title track won Karl the Americana section of the International Songwriting Competition and the reputable reviewers at AmericanaUK duly put it in at #1 on their chart. Karl took immense pride in taking a band to the UK to tour that album, playing a series of fine shows in London, Brighton, Southhampton and Lewes before heading north to Newcastle and then over the border to his native Scotland, culminating in a show above Loch Ness for the Tartan Heart festival. Karl’s reputation continued to grow and garnered him a contract with ABC Music and his first album for them, One Million Emeralds, produced the pop tones of the single Sleepy Head and the country lilt of Count Your Blessings, a song that was nominated for a Golden Guitar at Tamworth. Karl followed that effort with an Out-takes EP called One Constellation and also earned praise from Paul Kelly for his brilliant cover of Kelly’s How To Make Gravy on the Woodsmoke iTunes only EP in 2006. and via his contract to Mushroom Publishing spent many sessions co-writing with talented people like Kim Richey, Eric Paslay and Craig Ross in Nashville.
Karl’s second album for ABC was the introspective Branches in 2009, a powerful album that spoke sadly yet eloquently of the break up and loss of a relationship. He became an independent artist after Branches, pushing his songwriting into different areas, whilst always pursuing his poetic muse. Karl toured incessantly, playing countless gigs in every part of the country and continued his co-writing sojourns to the US. He released the eclectic A-Side,B- Side Seaside album under his own steam in 2013, a testament to the enduring and endearing nature of his music and his songwriting. Karl also worked widely with younger songwriters as his natural empathy and selflessness led him into supporting new performers and producing and promoting promising new talent. He took a position as a tutor at the CMAA in 2015 and 2016, which chimed in perfectly with his easy way with people and his ability to gently nurture and encourage young artists to develop their talents and help them pursue their dreams. Karl instigated a regular Tuesday night session for songwriters at the Coogee Bunker room in 2014, which has become an institution and a beacon for original songs in Sydney, and in his honour the club has now named the stage in that room the Karl Broadie Stage.
2016 was shaping as being as busy as usual for Karl before a sudden illness revealed a terminal and inoperable cancer. This awful news galvanised the musical community, immediately stepping up to help raise much needed funds for his treatment. Two concerts saw the cream of alt-country talent step forward to support Karl and show solidarity with him, including Kasey Chambers, Catherine Britt, Brooke McClymont, Adam Harvey, Kevin Bennett, Harry Hookey, Luke O’Shea and many others too numerous to mention. The immediate response spoke volumes of the regard in which Karl was held, but the disease cruelly took Karl from his family and friends within 6 short weeks from diagnosis to death. The shockwaves in the musical community at the sudden loss of a beautiful soul and a truly gentle man have been profound and far reaching, condolences and sympathy pouring in from far and wide, but the silencing of his individual artistic voice is a tragic loss and incomprehensible to those who knew and loved him. His mother Margaret and his partner Rachel were a huge comfort to him during the difficult last weeks, and they deserve special praise, as does Marni and his two fine sons, Oskar and Travis, and given the strength of the blood of the poets that flows in their veins it’s doubtful we’ve heard the last of Karl’s poetic influences there. The dignity, style and courage Karl exhibited in his final days won’t surprise those who knew him, his gentle passing underscoring a life well lived with a final and distinguished grace note.
Karl’s legacy is etched firmly in the song fabric of this country. His effortless facility with poetry ran through his work like a river, best encapsulated in lines like this from his first EP, “Everybody’s gold, and you warm them up to shape them”. Karl spent his life subliminally warming people up and shaping them with his kindness and openness, a gentle oasis of real in a roiling sea of fake. That’s why people responded to Karl and that’s why his passing has touched so many. His authenticity and his magic is found in his music, replete with elegant imagery, spare turns of phrase, melodies that won’t leave your head and a subtle, philosophical underscore to resonate after the last chord has sounded. Karl has strummed his last chord, and the echoes stay with us, rippling sweetly out into the universe as he chases the stars for fresh stories and new tunes. Maybe if we listen closely we will hear them coming through and smile – he would have liked that.
Michael J Roberts.