Concert for Karl – 17th April 2016
It wasn’t supposed to be like this, it was supposed to be a rousing, “get better soon mate, we’re all with you” moment, a fund raiser organised to help out a sick friend. Things changed. Having been overtaken by tragedy has meant some time has elapsed between the Concert for Karl and this meandering musing, but first some context is in order…. back, baby, back in time.
The first week of March 2016 brought with it the gut wrenching news that one of my closest friends, Karl Broadie, had been diagnosed with a most aggressive cancer and that the prognosis was bleak to say the least. Within days of digesting this troubling news I reached out (with the help of mutual friends like Skip Beaumont-Edmunds and Geoff Bell) to a raft of artists, all friends or peers of Karl to put on a series of fundraisers and to provide some practical support. The first of the concerts was held at The Bunker, in Coogee Diggers in late March, and the second at Rooty Hill RSL in April. John Krsulja also asked to organise a third one in Nundle and Leyce Simmonds stepped up to wrangle the talent for what would be the final fundraiser.
The context of the first two events could not have been more different – at Coogee we had hope, and a weakened Karl sat through the entire 4 hour show to soak up the love and affection sent his way by a myriad of performers, but at Rooty Hill the circumstances were darkly and irrevocably changed. The cancer had done the bulk of the damage and Karl was in the last hours of his fight for life as the curtain went up. I was fortunate enough to share what was probably Karl’s last good day just 3 days prior, and was able to run through the proposed concert in detail with him, outlining just who was playing and singing and the scale of the concert, so he could see in his mind’s eye what would happen, including the finale which I had intended to be a surprise for him. He was troublingly weak, but grinning from ear to ear and shaking his head in mute astonishment at the prospect of so many of his friends singing for him. He’d seen it, now all we had to do was do it.
The speed of his deterioration was not widely known, firstly because it happened so quickly and secondly because people were kindly giving the family space to deal with the logistics of fighting the disease. In the blink of an eye, barely a week, we went from little hope to no hope, and sadly I had to share that shocking news with the over 300 people in attendance before the show commenced. “This is news I don’t want to pass on and news you won’t want to hear, but the cancer has progressed so rapidly that Karl has days or hours to live, he is pretty much in a sleep now that he will not wake up from.” I then told the crowd that we should shed our tears, but as Karl wrote – “Come let the tears flow, we all need to, some day you’ll look back and smile, I hope you believe that” and that we should take him at his word, that we were now celebrating his life and singing him across the great divide, starting the first phase of looking after his legacy. The room seemed to take a collective gasp, the mood immediately changed to one of sombre realisation and reflection on the deeper meaning of this gathering of the clan. It was now up to us as a collective to find some positivity in the darkness.
Pete Denahy and Celeste Clabburn then came on to host the event and introduced two of Karl’s friends, Katie Brianna and Caitlin Harnett, to sing one of his songs, Drink The Whole Bottle Down. Karl had nurtured and championed both young women in their careers, and it was one of my great pleasures to join them (unexpectedly) to start the show as they gave a great version of a fine song from Karl’s album Branches. Another fine young talent, Harry Hookey, then came on to do Long Long Way, a gem from Karl’s album Black Crow Callin’, and he nailed it with only a trusty acoustic guitar, harmonica and a Dylan-esque vocal that perfectly suited the troubadour tradition that both Dylan and Karl sprang from. Karl often raved about Harry, delighting that they both drank from the same singer-songwriter well, and the impressive and commanding rendition delivered here would have done Karl proud, the torch has been passed.
Country music stalwart and all around good bloke Adam Harvey then helped to keep the mood light with a good humoured, rollicking set that perfectly showcased his rich tenor and the white hot band, led by maestro James Gillard on bass. James put together a superb unit, Glen Wilson on drums, Rod Motbey on guitar and the superb Vaughn Jones on keys. A trio of Karl’s oldest friends fronted up next, road warrior Den Hanrahan (banjo), ex-pat Canadian Adam Young (guitar) and yours truly (accordion) and burned our way through a suitably ragged version of Karl’s classic song Black Crow Callin’. That song won Karl the Americana section of the International Songwriting Competition in 2005, and no wonder – it’s a perfectly written folk song, world class from start to finish. It was one of the pleasures of my life to join those boys in singing it together and we were superbly aided by the sweet acoustic bass tones of Michael Rix.
Catharine Britt, visibly struggling with the difficult situation (and doubly affected given her own battle with cancer) stepped up with a beautifully considered set, making a heartfelt and deep statement by including her Elton John duet, Is This Where We Both Say Goodbye, an heroic inclusion considering the circumstances. Her set was the perfect balance of emotion and art. A brief auction was held where Pete Denahy managed to extract a neat $2000 for a donated Fender acoustic (Thanks Kevin Bennett and Fender) signed by all the performers and a raffle that featured a donated and signed guitar from absent friend Troy Casser-Daley.
The show launched into the final phase with a romping acoustic version of Karl’s Golden Guitar nominated song, Count Your Blessings, delivered by Adam Eckersley and Brooke McClymont (with able help from guitarist Duncan Toombs) and then with a stunning rendering of Karl’s lovely ballad If She Calls, by Jasmine Rae. Luke O’Shea brought his usual warmth and heart to Karl’s songs Fishing Rod Song and It Lasts, performed beautifully with the full band, pulling in the room to respond to the communal catharsis on offer.
The inimitable Kasey Chambers arrived to take us out, with Harry Hookey in tow, and performed superb versions of her hits The Captain and Not Pretty Enough, before Harry led a rousing version of a song he co-wrote with Karl called You Can Count on Me. I was fortunate enough to join them on that song and the room was basking in the communal glow of performers giving so much love and spirit for the cause, that at that moment it seemed the gathering was experiencing something beyond a concert, it felt important and connecting, cathartic and healing. After a wonderful set, the expansively generous and beautiful Kasey then allowed me a moment to sing one of Karl’s songs.
I had not intended to sing, it seemed indulgent given the superb talent on offer, but I’d been struggling in dealing with the entire scenario the day before, indeed wondering if Karl would still be alive on Sunday. I was also grieving for his impending death, thinking about the nature of loss and also wondering what I would tell the friends and others coming to the show to support him? It was then Karl gave me another gift, I started listening to and then playing to myself one of his songs. The song that came through was special for many reasons, a superb song about loss, called Hope Is A Thief, and Karl wrote it in 2015 for his mother following the loss of her dear partner, Alva. I’d played it several times with Karl, and knew from the first time I heard it that he’d written a classic ( I tell people it’s the best song Townes Van Zant never wrote).
So I had decided, at the last minute, that someone should play that song at the concert, but in the dozen times I’d played and sang it to myself on the Saturday, I couldn’t get through it without crying. Before the show I told Kasey of the dilemma, that I felt the song should be done but I didn’t know if I’d get through it. She instinctively picked the right moment for it in the show and generously offered to learn a harmony for the chorus and to stand with me while I did it. So when the moment arrived I called Karl’s and my good mate Archie Petrie to the stage, another Scot, and he brought his fiddle, so together and unrehearsed, we had a crack and I made it through. Thanks you Kasey for your love and support, thank you Archie for the fiddle and the kilt!
I then delivered a long set of thanks (to the sound of Going Home from the classic Scottish film Local Hero) to the many people who had made the day possible, to Mal Lancaster at Rooty Hill for providing the venue and sound FREE! – To Lyn Taylor for organising the merchandise, to Justine Moyle for organising the filming, and to all the friends and supporters (too numerous to mention here) for giving time and effort to the cause. We then called back all the performers and did a song laden with meaning, Bob Dylan’s I Shall Be Released.
I knew when I chose that song for the finale weeks prior that there was a chance Karl would either be gone, or close to it, but we both loved Dylan and The Band so much, I knew it had to be this one. Playing and sharing that song with the people on stage will remain one of the indelible and sublime experiences of my life, we sang it with gusto and we sent waves of love across the miles to Karl in his hospital bed. He must have felt it, it felt magnificent and transcendent, and we held that mood as The Hawkesbury-Nepean Pipe Band came on and played Scotland The Brave and Loch Lomond to pipe us out.
Needless to say the bagpipes didn’t leave a dry eye in the house, and capped off what was an astonishing musical tribute to our friend, and a memorable human ritual of love and support for a wounded comrade. Just as The Bunker concert before was a great demonstration of communal regard for Karl, this event reached areas of emotional depth that elevated it beyond a mere musical experience. Humanity is at its best when it is giving and generous, when it is embracing and empathetic, and so it was this day. Karl is now gone, and the hole he’s left is significant, it feels surreal and wrong, but nevertheless it is so and it’s hard for those of us left behind to ponder just how we got here so fast.
Vale Karl Broadie, you’ve left an indelible mark, it was a privilege to call you friend, to share stages with you all over this country, and in England and especially Scotland, the land you loved. We love you, we miss you, we’re leaving on a light.
Micky Blue Eyes