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Interview with Tim Freedman

Tim Freedman plays Lismore City Hall on Thursday 12 November

Tim Freedman and The Ballad of Bertie Kidd

This has been the most unexpected year. The pandemic has brought the music industry to its knees. With musicians just starting to leave the cocoon of the covid sabbatical, Tim Freedman is one of the acts playing venues again thanks to the Great Southern Nights initiative, although Tim believes the government support has been slow and tempered with a bias.

‘The support is slow in coming and keeps going to people who are established. The government needs to be saving places like Enmore Theatre – when we come back, we need to know the venues exist.’

Entertainment contributes more to GDP than mining and sport. It’s not a hobby. How will this impact on the music industry?

‘How strong are we? How resilient has everyone managed to be?,’ asks Tim.

‘The strong will survive, they usually do. I think there is a culture war going on here, it’s happened in the universities and in the arts sector – the government doesn’t respect artists and academics, they trot out the old warhorse. Howard always thought “Why bother about them? They aren’t the ones who vote for us.” It’s never been shown to be truer.’

Tim hits the stage to launch the first new song written with The Whitlams in 14 years: The Ballad of Bertie Kidd.

‘I was attracted to the story for the slapstick nature: these fellas get told to put their balaclavas on, on the way to a robbery, and because they put them on so early the police clock them, and they get charged with conspiracy to commit an armed robbery. I thought, that’s hilarious! Then I found out the ringleader was this very imposing and threatening fellow called Bert the Blue Eyed Killer. I finished the song in November last year and played it at Camelot in Marrickville, and the fella who told me the story said, “You probably need to change the name from Bert Kidd because he’s pretty serious, and if you write a song that makes him out to be a bit of a dufus or a clutz, he might not appreciate it”.’

‘I thought, I have one shot, so I rang his biographer; Bert was let out of jail two years ago, Peter Dutton thought he was so dangerous he tried to get him deported at the age of 85 – he emigrated to Australia at 14 and hadn’t been back to the UK since. One of the reasons we don’t know a lot about Bert is that none of the crims ever talked about him because they were scared of him. When he was in Pentridge, he was next to Ivan Milat, and Ivan refused to walk around the yard with Bert because he thought Bert would kill him.’

So Tim asked the biographer if he knew about the robbery with the balaclavas in Gosford? ‘He said “No”, so he rang Bert, and [Bert] said “Hmm, that one didn’t go down the way I wanted it to!” The biographer played [the song] down the phone and he said “Yeah, go for it!” We filmed him last week in Launceston for the clip.’

The song is a six-minute epic that tells the story of a robbery gone wrong.

‘It’s a funny tale, very Australian, it’s got slapstick and menace, it’s about that moment when you are going inside, when you think, “Can mum visit?,”’ laughs Tim.

Even our local choir got to feature.

‘Dustyesky came to assist – in the chorus there is this line “some men when they are drinking they mistake their thoughts for thinking” and we thought, [it needs] a male choir. I was recording at Rockinghorse and thought of Glenn Wright, and he bought eight of his comrades into the studio – they come with their own brand of vodka. They make it sound like a Russian Tooheys ad.’

Tim is looking forward to returning to the region, the place he first toured, nearly 30 years ago.

I am very fond of Byron – the Whitlams’ first gig out of town was at the Rails in 1992 – I didn’t realise how special it was, we turned up and the double bass came out of the Kingswood, the next night we would play on the floor of the Great Northern – out the back when it was a tin shed.’

Tim Freedman plays Lismore City Hall on Thursday 12 November (lismorecityhall.com.au) and the Byron Centre on Saturday 14 November (byroncentre.com.au)


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