Forming Carus and the True Believers in Perth back in 1995, after three albums Thompson went solo in 2008 and has since himself released three studio albums and a live collection., Shakespeare Avenue is his fourth and, reflecting its folk edge, finds him in illustrious company. Having opened on four of Seth Lakeman’s UK tours, not only does Lakeman contribute violin, viola and tenor guitar, but brother Sean is aboard too, contributing guitars, bass, keyboards and percussion as well as producing the album at Round The Ben Recording in Dartmoor, as indeed is Sean’s wife and musical partner Kathryn Roberts on vocals.
The album taking its name from the street in Bath where Thompson’s late grandfather lived prior to emigrating, it’s a generally upbeat affair populated with songs that underline Thompson’s storytelling strengths as well as being veined with political and social commentary. Case in point is the album opener, ‘Ship To Come In’ which, set to a strummed guitar, tinkling keys and percussive puttering shuffle, he sings of “the longest war that’s never been won” and how “it’s a rich man’s world that thinks it knows it all”, although the line “these are dangerous days to try to make it home” takes on a perhaps more pertinent resonance in these corona times.
Built around a simple circling guitar line, ‘End Of The Day’ is about taking time to reflect on how you’ve lived your life (“we all look for a sign we did the right thing”), about reaching our to others (“I saw you last night needing to talk”) and of taking time for each other (“every dawn I’m yours and you’re mine”). Then, introduced with handclaps, ‘Avondale Heights To Sunshine’ offers the first narrative, a fictional – but recognisable – tale of a divorced suburban father wishing he could get away, cross the valley to the other side and find a new life, but of being tied to where he is and how “there ain’t nothing coming, all you deserve is what you got”.
A similar theme informs ‘Shoulder’, except this one, an attack on the Australian government, is about refugees “waiting for nothing/For a country to grow a heart”, the lyrics referencing the cardboard cities on the outskirts of Melbourne and Manus Island where the Regional Processing Centre was set up in 2001 as one of several offshore Australian immigration detention facilities for, refugees from West Papua, closed in 2008 and then reopened in 2012 with an announcement the following year that those it held would never be allowed to resettle in Australia.
Continuing the Australian connection, ‘Yagan’ is a historical narrative about the 18th century West Australian indigenous leader, one of the Noongar people and the son of respected Aboriginal elder Midgegooroo, he played a key part in early resistance to British colonial settlement and rule in the area surrounding what is now Perth. The song relates how, invited to join them on a kangaroo hunt, he was shot dead in 1833 by teenage brothers William and James Keats, his head being taken to England and displayed at the Royal Institute in Liverpool until 1964, before being buried in Everton cemetery. “It’s time they came home”, sings Thompson, although, in fact, Yagan’s head was actually exhumed and returned for burial in 1990.
As mentioned, the title track, another gentle fingerpicked number, has a family backdrop, sung here in his grandfather’s voice as he prepares to leave his home and bid farewell to England, a pint at the local and the BBC for a new life in Australia.
Amping up the instrumentation and introducing a strong folk rock note with its cascading rousing chorus line, ‘Unless We Go Now’, co-written with Greg Arnold, is again about getting up and taking chances and risks rather than stagnating in the safety of the status quo, of not being one of those “standing still while the world/Turns before their eyes” but of breaking the ties that bind and letting your heart roar like a lion.
Featuring guitar tap percussion and a laid back James Taylor feel, it’s back to real-life figures with ‘Dylan Voller’, another Aboriginal-Australian who, breaking another child’s arm while in kindergarten, spent most of his young life in juvenile detention centres , being beaten and tear-gassed, before being moved to an adult prison in 2017 after being jailed for aggravated robbery in 2014, being involved in over 200 incidents, including assault and self-harm. However, when footage of him wearing spit hood and shackled to a restraining chair within the Alice Springs correctional centre was featured on a TV documentary, the outrage prompted the Prime Minister to announce a royal commission into the treatment in youth detention systems in the Northern Territory.
Love’s bruises and riding whatever waves life brings wrap up the album with, first, the fiddle-accompanied sea imagery of ‘Land’s End’, a romantic cliche vision of standing on the cliffs looking out at sea and into the emptinesss of space lamenting love lost because “we are who are not who we should be”. And then, on a more upbeat closing note, comes the fingerpicked, steady rhythm of ‘You See Through’, where he encourages to “take this road where it runs”, a testament to, I’d presume, his wife who sees through the illusions and stands tough and tall in the face of adversity.
It’s an unassuming but quietly accomplished and engaging album which, given the presence of folk names better known in this hemisphere, should go a considerable way to spreading his too.
Artist’s website: www.carusthompson.com
‘Ship To Come In’ – official video: