On the one hand, the new single by Mick Thomas’ Roving Commission is a catchy, swinging roots country tune about watching Melbourne alt-country darling Sal Kimber perform. On the other, it is something much more. Something existential even.
“I Heard Sally Singing” takes listeners back to the night of the final gig before lockdown at Northcote’s Merri Creek Tavern – a venue Mick Thomas co-owns and manages.
The song is taken from See You On The Other Side – A Postcard from April 2020, an album Mick and band wrote and recorded in lockdown, and which was released in mid-June. Right now, after a brief conditional reopening in July, the outlook for the Merri Creek Tavern – indeed the entire city of Melbourne – is bleaker than ever, giving the song a new resonance, deeper and perhaps sadder than when people first heard it.
The song also reflects on the live music experience and reminds us – Melbournians at least – of what we’re currently missing. It speaks of the ability for live music to transport (‘for an hour and quarter then the world was put to right’), and to do that despite its ephemeral nature (‘for we may never meet again – where we are bound it’s hard to say’). It also reflects on the intimacy of a small live venue (‘a solo built for two’ – Sal was heavily pregnant at the time) and the sense of place afforded by the live music experience (‘down on the 86’, which of course refers to the tramline). In so many ways, it is a song for our times.
“I Heard Sally Singing” is the third single to be released off the new album. The first single, “Mint Condition”, was released while the album was really just an idea – the song was written and recorded a few months previous for a short-form drama series of the same name starring Sibylla Budd, Bernard Curry and Gary Sweet, which was launched via Vimeo by Boilermaker Productions in early May.
The second single, “See You When I’m Looking At You”, was the song around which the album was built. Beginning as a verse and chorus by Thomas, it grew to nine minutes in length as numerous old friends including Angie Hart from Frente, Nick Barker, Vikki Thorn from the Waifs and Ron S. Peno from Died Pretty each added verses of their own. Its initial release on Mick’s Bandcamp page was to benefit the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre in Footscray.
Adelaide broadcaster Michael Hunter of 3D Radio’s Roots & Branches program has described the song as “one of the most beautiful, bittersweet songs I’ve ever heard – in both form and concept. I don’t think the virus itself deserves a theme song, but the combined humanity and hope it has brought out in most of us certainly do, and this might well be it.”
The release of “I Heard Sally Singing” follows the exciting announcement that Mick and the Roving commission will be playing next year’s Bluesfest, alongside the first performance by Mick’s legendary band Weddings Parties Anything since 2012. It also follows the release of Stuart Coupe’s book Paul Kelly: The Man, The Music and The Life In Between, which includes insight into a musical relationship between Thomas and Kelly that began back in the ’80s.
A film clip for “I Heard Sally Singing” will be in your inbox in about two weeks. Shot on location at the Merri Creek Tavern (where else?), the clip is the first music video being made by Mint Condition co-creator Gareth Calverley and his production company Boilermaker.
“I Heard Sally Singing” is released via Micks’ Bandcamp and all digital platform’s today. It is available with newly recorded B-side “At the Corner”, a song written in honour of another beloved Melbourne music venue, the Corner Hotel. The song was written and recorded for this year’s virtual edition of the City of Yarra’s Leaps & Bounds Festival and first aired on presenter David Heard’s also-loved ‘Acid Country’ program on Melbourne’s 3PBS-FM.