Little did Tim Freedman know what he would unleash.
When John Laws, radio star (from ‘60s pop radio to 2000’s radio for Pop & Nan who couldn’t stand that Alan Jones but liked a bit of ginger in their opinion), TV star (Beast to some Beauties), recording star (check a servo on your next out-of-town-drive, you may be lucky), purveyor of engine oils, poet, friend of the truckies, and owner of the fabled Golden Microphone, came up in conversation with The Whitlams songwriter recently , it triggered a memory.
Sure enough, the Wind Back Wednesday vaults revealed that in 2011 two men who might have known better but still did it, “collaborated” with Laws. Or at least his published self. It shouldn’t have worked - and you may question whether it did of course – but it can’t be denied it happened.
Here then, the tale of an experience like no other.
HERE IS A fair question anyone might ask of musicians Keith Glass and Mick Hamilton: is it genius or madness to resurrect the poetry of John Laws after 30 or 40 years and put them in songs?
"I don't know," Hamilton chuckles. "Let me put up front, it's certainly not an endorsement of his political beliefs by either of us."
Or his endorsement of certain engine oils?
"I don't know much about engine oils," he says. Though presumably he knows what I mean. "But I'm not sure I know much about poetry either."
What Hamilton and his fellow Melburnian Glass, who is currently sojourning in Alabama, do know is how to write and play music. Both have been doing it for decades and with the 15 songs on the album, The John Laws Experience, there would be no quibble about the musicianship.
The lyrics? Well, that's where some might have problems. After all, the never knowingly understated Helen Razer once described the great communicator’s poetry as "somewhere in between a particularly hormonal e.e. cummings and the smell of sick". And she liked the man.
However, the scary thing about the album for many people may be that with the most egregiously misogynist examples of the oeuvre left out, some of these poems/lyrics sound just fine. "You might be surprised to hear that a few people have listened to the album and have commented on the lyrics, saying, well, he can write a lyric can't he," says Hamilton.
The John Laws Experience started a few years ago when on a trip in United States, Glass found a copy of Love Is An Expensive Way To Die, a collection of scribblings by the man who in the early 1970s was apparently the highest selling poet in Australia as well as being a radio and occasional TV star.
Maybe it was the shock of finding the book somewhere other than a Shell restaurant on the Hume Highway or a surfeit of high sugar drinks, but Glass began to see some of these poems as lyrics, their rhythm more suited to singing than reading. Like a sore he couldn’t stop picking at, the idea wouldn’t let Glass go and he enlisted his friend Hamilton.
"It was Keith's idea originally and I wasn't particularly sold on it, I thought he was nuts," explains Hamilton. "But he sent me some demos he had done and I thought, hmm, at worst we could have a bit of fun with this. But the more I got into it with him the more I thought it would make a good project and more than a bit of fun."
The musical choices were driven by the origins of the poems in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, so there's some psychedelia and even hints of hard rock in there but not surprisingly, the most common style is country and country rock. After all Laws recorded a number of country albums himself, "singing" over backing from local musicians (in one of those strange quirks of fate, one of those was a young Mick Hamilton who happily admits that "I was trucking with John back in those days") and legend has it that every long-haul truck driver had at least one John Laws cassette in the cabin.
In any case, lines such as this from You’re Too Late, "Your daddy bought you this and that/a poodle dog, a Siamese cat/vintage wine, fillet steak/But he could not buy you heartbreak/that's bad", or the tale of loveless motel sex, Box Of Loneliness (With A John), seem tailor-made for country music don’t you think?
Had there been any concern about Laws not liking what they were doing?
"In a strange way we were almost hoping he wouldn't like it. We thought that might garner us some attention we wouldn't get otherwise,” Hamilton laughs. “But he hasn't said anything.”
When approached by the Herald, a spokeswoman for Mr Laws said he had no comment to make.
One thing Laws couldn't object to is the surprising respect shown his words. This is neither a parody album nor a comedy record. If it had been, the joke would have worn thin within a couple of songs instead of sounding like a perfectly good retro/country rock album.
"I think the more we got into it, the more we forgot it was John Laws and we were trying to lovingly recreate some music vaguely of the time," says Hamilton, who admits there may well be some strains of Stockholm Syndrome for the two men after living with the pick of 80 to 100 Laws poems so intensely.
Now though, having started at the very top of Australian poetry, it may be difficult for the men to repeat with lesser lights like Les Murray or Judith Wright.
"It's crossed our minds,” admits Hamilton. “I did suggest we could do the Max Walker Experience."
How To Hypnotise Chooks, now that is genius.
You can still hear The John Laws Experience
REVERBNATION: The John Laws Experience
APPLE MUSIC: The John Laws Experience