Mullum Music Festival | 14–17 Nov
Lucie Thorne has made an extraordinary new concept album. Kitty & Frank traces the wild true stories of young frontier woman Kitty Walsh and her lover, the charismatic bandit and bushranger, Frank Gardiner. The story had Lucie from hello!
‘I first heard the wild true tales of Kitty and Frank on Blind Freddy’s Bushrangers tours with Craig Lawler – Craig regaled us with all these incredible stories of the 1850’s and I was captivated! I didn’t know anything about Frank Gardiner or Kitty and her sisters, so I was entranced. I got one of those immediate lightning bolt feelings, I knew I was going to write a song for these two lovers, and from Kitty’s perspective – it’s a wild story with an almost Shakespearean pitch!’, says Lucie.
‘I drove back to Melbourne and that first song formed itself in my fun little songwriter’s mind! I thought – done! There’s the song. And then the story wouldn’t leave my brain, so I wrote another one. Then nothing for ages…’
It was a little later down the track that Lucie decided she wanted to write more about these outlawed lovers.
‘I reached out to Craig, he’s a bushranger nerd, so he got excited. I did research too – there was shitloads about Frank, but nothing about Kitty. It’s so hard to know women’s stories because our received written history is so patriarchal. The mentions she gets are usually character assassination about her being a wanton hussy.
‘So this is when the idea morphed into a concept album – because there was very little about any of the women. I went to a writer’s retreat and I went, okay, let’s get to work and see what you can turn this into! I knew the arc – I wanted to make a record where I told the story chronologically.’
So in a nutshell… this is the story;
‘Kitty and both her sisters were married off in their teens, and they lived on the Lachlan River before gold was discovered. In 1860 gold is discovered either side of where they were living. Within 12 months the population went from 200 to 20000. This was an amazing gold rush scene! One new resident was Frank Gardiner – fresh out of jail. Kitty and Frank meet, fall in love, and they have this wild romance. All the coppers are after Frank and he is turning into a successful bushranger. They run away together and make it to Rockhampton and set themselves up with a fresh life, as Mr and Mrs Christie, running a general supplies store, and they live this straight life.
‘They live happily for 18 months but Frank gets recognised, and shipped off to Darlinghurst prison – sentenced to 32 years. Kitty can’t visit because she’s another man’s wife. She goes to New Zealand with a man who is drunk and abusive, and within 6 months of being there she shoots herself with Frank’s gun. It was his parting gift to her. Frank ends up being released after 10 years. He ends up in San Francisco running a bar called the Twilight Star Saloon. Kitty was dead by her mid 20s.’
This is a tragic romantic story that now inhabits a sonic world.
‘There are many things within the songs; there are lots of actual historical events or places that I have woven into the lyrics, but I am not writing an historical essay – and because there is so little about women’s experience, I ran this imaginative experiment and flipped the lens and wrote from her perspective. Only about 3 songs on the album are in Frank’s voice.’
In the process of giving Kitty a voice, Lucie gave herself one too. Instead of composing and playing the guitar – her comfortable ‘go to’ instrument – she composed and played on a keyboard, something she had to then learn to take to the studio, and then to the stage!
‘Something incredibly freeing and liberating happened approaching these new songs on a new instrument’ says Lucie.
‘For all the records I have made so far – where I wrote songs, played them on the road, knocked them out, and then put them on an album – this time, I sent it to my dream team (Hamish Stuart, Chris Abrahams and Dave Symes). We spent a couple of days throwing ideas around, and then went in and tracked both sessions live to tape. It was a risky approach and in some ways it doesn’t get much fresher than that for me! There is so much love and trust and affection for those beautiful players!’
For Lucie, there’s been a sense of vulnerability taking on a new instrument.
‘After I made the album, I had to work out how to deliver it as a show. I have been practising – even playing the scales. My 43-year-old brain doesn’t form neural pathways that easily anymore, and practise works! I am happy to say we’re half-way through the tour and it’s going really well. I’m no longer terrified. It makes me appreciate how long I have been playing the guitar – because I don’t have to think!’
Lucie Thorne plays Kitty & Frank at Mulllum Music Festival,14–17 November. Tix and program info on mullummusicfestival.com