As far as career retrospectives go, you would be hard pressed to find one as ‘glorious’ as the one that Charles Jenkins has put together for this year’s Fringe.
For far too many years, Jenkins’ music has been appreciated by far too few. He is one of Australia’s greatest unsung songwriters, and the setlist on night one of his five night run offered ample proof that he has continued to produce magnificent, memorable songs for well over thirty years.
Starting off the show promptly at the scheduled start time, Jenkins began the evening with the wistfully nostalgic, Screaming Believers, which contains a long list of iconic South Australian cultural touchstones, reminding us that, whilst he is a longtime resident of Melbourne, he is still very much a local at heart.
With beautifully sympathetic accompaniment provided by his long-time friend and fellow band member, Douglas Lee Robinson, Jenkins then set about serving up, firstly, an acoustic cross-section of Mad Turks From Istanbul songs – such as the title track from their first Greasy Pop record, Cafe Istanbul, from 1987 and a terrific rendition of their glorious pop single, Holding My Breath.
Given that the show has to condense nearly three and a half decades of music into a single hour, the stories behind the songs that were interspersed throughout the set were necessarily brief in order to fit in as many songs from his classic repertoire as possible. Jenkins delivered these brief insights into his life and creative process with genial humour, and at times, some unwarranted self-deprecation, and it would have been good to hear more of these anecdotes if time had permitted.
A small selection of songs from the much-missed band, Ice Cream Hands, followed. The choices from this era were astutely made – Nipple and Dodgy – both much loved songs from the band’s catalogue and, in these acoustic incarnations, tunes that still sparked with their original appealing pop crackle.
I would have loved to have heard more Hands songs, given that the band produced six albums of sublime pop during their time together, but that would have left far too little time for songs from Jenkins’ later bands, The Zhivagos and The Amateur Historians.
The selections from this later period were all necessary inclusions. Each was a polished diamond, clearly demonstrating that, as Jenkins has grown older, his songwriting craft has become more and more refined.
The perceptive observations of contemporary Australian life in these songs, achieved without resorting to stereotype in the characters and descriptions they contain, resonate with the warm affection of recognition, and hum with a gentle humour.
It takes a quality songwriter to achieve synergy such as this and, on the quality of the songs offered to his audience in this show, Jenkins deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as those acknowledged as our Australian ‘greats’ – Paul Kelly, Neil Finn and David McComb.
Songs such as the lovely Swing Bridge, and the nostalgic paean to the Adelaide that resides in all our memories, Small Dreams, should be considered amongst that group of songs we always immediately list without thinking as our classic Oz rock canon.
Rounding off the all too short set with a song that deals with parental anxiety, Pray My Dear Daughter, Jenkins reminded us all that while, in life, some of our priorities change – thankfully other elements of our lives remain constant.
This show deserves a full house for each of the remaining shows of this short season. You will hear great songs, wonderful harmonies, terrific musicianship, a perfect sound mix and be won over by the warm, genial attitude of the two performers. All of these factors combine to make In Retrospect Glorious: A Charles Jenkins Showcase Of Career Highlights one of this year’s Fringe must-sees.
Rating: 5 stars
There are four more scheduled performances of In Retrospect Glorious: A Charles Jenkins Showcase Of Career Highlights in the Phoenix Room (in the basement of the Masonic Lodge), 254 North Terrace, Adelaide, on the 20, 21, 22 & 23 February, at 8:00pm.
You can get tickets to see the show HERE.