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Byron Shire
December 2, 2021

The happy songs of Don Walker

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The current tour with his band The Suave Fucks sees Don Walker play selections from his box set.

Don Walker is recognised as one of the best songwriters in the country. Chief songwriter for Cold Chisel, Walker has penned some of the country’s most iconic rock songs, but alongside that he has written some truly quirky, original, mesmerising music that he has just released on his vinyl box set Blacktop featuring his entire solo catalogue – six albums!

For Walker, doing interviews is part of the job. He has this reflective way of answering questions, every word falling exactly as he requires.

‘It’s the same three or four questions each time,’ he smirks. ‘It’s up to me to come up with something that’s not boring.’

The current tour with his band The Suave Fucks sees Don and the lads play selections from his box set.

Unlike his work with Chisel his solo work isn’t as mainstream and Don laughs that ‘It’s been a long time since someone has called out for a Cold Chisel song’.

‘I am in the fortunate and unfortunate position of having heritage hits so I don’t have a set of songs that I have to do every night. For the audience there are a lot of songs we haven’t played before. And they are as new to them usually as the rest of the set.’ His trademark deprecatory tone underpins most of how Walker writes.

‘I think it’s possible that when I get up in front of a fresh audience, and I sing my first song they think Jesus I hope he doesn’t sing Flame Trees.’

Walker doesn’t write from his external surrounds so much as what goes on his head.

‘I don’t go out observing, and usually I think I am the least aware of what is going on in a room, because I dream a bit and so the stuff that is in the songs is either stories from my life or people I know or stuff that I made up based on where I come from, where I have been.’

Living in a world full of mobile devices, Walker believes that we are at risk of losing that capacity just to daydream.

‘I think it’s a big danger for everybody. We might be the last generation who had to entertain ourselves in our own heads, and that space is now completely taken up by devices.

Driving is good because you can’t use a device, and I am as much prey to device addiction than anyone except I am aware of it, but that doesn’t mean I am any stronger in resisting it; pulling out the phone gets you out of the sitting alone waiting, which has been a lot worse for women then men. If a bloke is alone in a cafe he is invisible or people look at him and think ‘loser’; if a woman is sitting in a cafe or bar she isn’t invisible.’

Walker plays music to amuse himself. ‘The goal is not to bore yourself.

‘If you have a story and you write it out and you make it rhyme it’s like people do; it’s not that interesting for anybody but you know that because it’s not that interesting for yourself. There has to be some twist or angle or extra dimension of mystery in there that makes a song breathe…’

Then Walker heckles himself with, ‘It’s sounding like bullshit even as I say it…’

One of my favourite Walker songs is Another Night In that he sang with Tex Perkins and Charlie Owens. It’s gritty. It’s edgy. It’s unapologetic. It’s basically about a guy drinking whiskey, snorting cocaine and watching pornography.

‘When I first showed that to Tex and Charlie they were incredulous that there wasn’t a moral in the third verse.

‘Tex said you mean it is just a miserable song?’

The dude doesn’t get better. He isn’t apologetic. There’s nothing to be learnt from this song, it’s not a moral tale. 

Walker doesn’t do earnest. ‘It’s the virus of the modern age,’ he says.

‘When you marry passion with stupidity, that’s what you get. And there is a lot of it.

‘I never set out to write a sad song, in fact I’ve made a conscious effort to try to be happier. In writing, because you don’t want to be miserable to people all the time, it’s easy for a songwriter to do that because that’s when feelings are intense – both in the writer and the listener; the purpose is surely to try to make the world happier. I try to do that. 

‘Once when I was young I was on a train in Siberia, and only two other people on the whole train spoke English. We were moving for days going from one town to another; everyone spoke Russian. If they had another language it would have been German.

‘One of the guards had control of a Tannoy system that ran through the train and he woke the whole train up at 7.30am with A Hard Day’s Night.

‘He played the whole album. Apart from that there was no music for the whole journey. The whole train rocked out and sang to the album, all those Russians. 

‘It was wonderful. This early album of Beatles happy songs that made the whole world happy.’

Don Walker and The Suave Fucks are joined by opening act Jimmy Dowling at Club Mullum at the Mullumbimby Ex-Services on Saturday | 7pm | Tickets $35 online www.polkadotproductions.com.au or $40 on the door.


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