Words by guest writer Andrew McMillan

Photos by Bob Gosford

My favourite songwriters tend write dog-eared sepia-toned three-minute postcards capturing the essence of a time and place.

Tim Freedman "Is that an 'E'?"
Tim Freedman "Is that an 'E'?"

Their ranks have now been joined by a fellow named Perry Keyes who shared a Darwin Festival bill with Tim Freedman from The Whitlams.

Perry Keyes - as Sydney as Randwick, Redfern and regrets
Perry Keyes - as Sydney as Randwick, Redfern and regrets

Dressed in black from hat to boots, he caresses an acoustic guitar and weaves wry humour through streetwise lyrics that are as Sydney as Randwick Racecourse and the harbour bridge. In opening for Tim Freedman (or Timothy Pickles as he refers to him) he sets the scene for an evening of postcards with songs like New Years Eve, Kids Day (at the Royal Easter Show) and At The Speedway and a number recalling the old boxing stadium at Rushcutters Bay.

It’s a helluva long way from the grimy streets of Sydney’s Newtown to a balmy evening beneath the stars in Darwin’s Civic Park, a transition I made more than twenty years ago. Stories about heroin and amphetamines and train stations and rugby league are rarely part of the discourse in this part of the world. Nor are baby grand pianos and the challenge of keeping one in tune.

Tim Freedman - looking for Darwin's Julia Gillard
Tim Freedman - looking for Darwin's Julia Gillard

I’ve long admired Freedman’s lyricism and piano playing, but to see him live for the first time is to step back into another age, another place. Especially when the Tardis is a venue like Darwin Festival’s Lighthouse. It’s an open-air affair with recycled corrugated iron walls painted by half a dozen artists from the Tiwi Islands. The canopy is a big-top like array of low wattage red, yellow and white lights. The stage itself is engulfed in the waft of fog machines, a surreal throwback to the pre-punk excesses of the ‘70s.

Halfway into the show, Freedman calls for a ten-minute interval, saying “The humidity here is playing havoc with the piano” and giving the piano tuner “…eight minutes to polish a turd.”

Tim Freedman to Perry Keyes - this goanna sounds like a kicked cat...
Tim Freedman to Perry Keyes - this goanna sounds like a kicked cat...

And then it was back into the groove with The Day John Sattler Broke His Jaw (strange to hear a song about rugby league in an AFL town) and a scattering of postcards – Sandringham Hotel, No Aphrodisiac, I’ll Always Keep The Light On For You (a poor man’s version of Paul Kelly’s You Can Put Your Shoes Under My Bed), Buy Now Pay Later, a demonic version of Kate Kelly and a rollicking rendition You Sound Like Louis Burdett.

Mates since they were teenagers, Freedman and Keyes have a great rapport peppered with good humour and loaded with fabulously gritty songs.