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Icing on the Cake: David Bridie
Interview by Mike Gee

David Bridie's latest PR photo pictures a serious man with a wry smile and direct eyes peering forcefully and directly at the onlooker. There's a quiet depth and distinct knowledge in the eyes and a hint of a man who knows what the darker corners of the soul are about.

It does him justice. For Bridie the man is very much all of these things, and more. Perhaps, it misses his renegade sense of humour and his ability to fit into virtually any situation. Maybe, it doesn't do justice to how wide open are the lands both inner and outer that Bridie roams as a songwriter, producer and Australian. But it's close enough.

And David Bridie is one hell of a songwriter. Line him up with Neil Finn, Ed Kuepper, Tim Finn at his most adroit and Paul Kelly and you've got the very best these Southern lands have to offer. Like them all, his ability far exceeds words. Bridie's the kind of guy who can make you weep, laugh, swallow hard, smile at the sun, fall in love and know just how rich - and poor - life is. He's a mass of yin and yang thrown in a vault of word, rhyme, cadence, dissonance and assonace, sense and sensation. The collision of spirituality with utter stark reality.

Bridie has painted so many pictures over the past 13 years through songs that wind their way through the Australian psyche, made a close relative of those who have cared to listen to the delicate tapestries and atmospheres (a better word here than ambience) of Not Drowning Waving and My Friend The Chocolate Cake. Real fans will have explored also the soundscapes he's crafted with fellow NDW mainstay John Phillips as the soundtrack to films and documentaries, a collection of which is the marvellous "Projects".

Then there's Bridie the producer who's worked with the Aboriginal musicians at CAAMA in Australia's dry heart of Alice Springs, Papua New Guinea's legendary George Telek, Archie Roach, Christine Anu and Monique Brumby.

Keeps himself busy does our David. Now he's doing the rare, taking to the stage for a couple of solo shows before winding up the blender on Chocolate Cake and heading overseas again to the Edinburgh, WOMAD and Phoenix festivals. He's also, as ever, a close observer of the Australian way, and he's sickened by much of what he sees. Sick and tired of the Howard, Hanson, Borbridge, Kennett, Court, Fischer axis that threatens to boot this once "lucky country" back into the dark ages.

"We were sitting back two years ago thinking 'what an advanced country we are', after coming to terms with all this stuff - and how wrong we were," he says. Then along came Hanson. "Along came a lot of things. Before Pauline Hanson, Queensland didn't elect a Labor person in the last election because of Mabo.

"But Western Australian and Queensland have their own agenda because they have this bent on mining - it's a licence for quick money in both States."

You have feel sorry for the Aboriginal people though. At a time when their spirits were so high with Mabo and Wik, now we have Federal and State Governments intent on plunging us back to what is virtually apartheid.

"Yeah, Australia no longer has South Africa to feel good about," Brdie says thoughtfully. " In fact, to overseas countries, Australia is now down in that area. I'm sure the international court is an area Aboriginal politicians will take all this should the Federal Government continue with it's current actions.

"But overturning High Court legislation is a pretty major thing. I can't see them being able to do that. No matter how much Tim Fischer wants to rant and rave. it'll be pretty difficult for them to overturn the Mabo legislation.

"I think the reason the National party is coming out so strong on this stuff is because of Handon, because they are scared of losing their vote, and that's happening, as it is to some degree with Howard and his Liberals."

Brdie's never been short of conviction when it comes to the social, political and cultural development of Australia. He's been as a big and open a critic of Australian radio and it's lack of support for homegrown music (except at a very commercial level) as he is of the machinations of the nation's so-called leaders.

His music has always embraced best the very heartbeat of Australia, the urban lifestyle, the country tradition and dilemma, the day-to-day realities, hopes, fears and dreams of people. Bridie wanting and longing one moment can be Bridie cutting with a cynical blade at suppression, ignorance and intolerance the next.

"This is about politics and this about wanting to use pastoral land for mining or other types of farming when they need to ... Oh, I don't know. It's ridiculous, all the scare politics and stuff.

"As a final word on it, I do think there is a real lack of people coming out and saying sensible things. The Opposition can't do anything at the moment because nobody's listening to them: it's the year after they got thrashed and they're probably right in not coming out with anything. But there is a real and great need for people to start coming out and making sense."

And that's what Bridie is doing. It makes particular sense to see him doing a few shows with just a piano for accompaniment, away from the Chocolate Cake organic and acoustic collective that so knowingly embraces and enhances his work.

In the months that have passed since the last Chocolate Cake album, the associated tour, and an overseas venture to the Edinurgh Festival where they sold out 11 of 16 nights and scurried away with a swag of outstanding reviews, Bridie has been his usual eclectic and busy self.

Much of the time has been taken up producing the new and worldly George Telek gem (which will have its own focus when Telek visits for a couple of shows at the end of the month). Then there were two soundtracks he scored with partner John Phillips - for the big budget US made The Myth Of Fingerprints starring Roy Scheider, Gwyneth Paltrow's mum and Julianne Moore, and a documentary on Eddie Mabo that he's most excited about.

"It's really special, the best documentary I've ever worked on," he enthuses. It's a big wrap considering the critically-acclaimed list he and Phillips already have touched musically. "This guy Trevor Graham produced it. He spent five years with Eddie before his death so he was obviously very close to his family, and he was able to follow it through afterwards. It really is a very moving piece of cinema and will be shown on the ABC later this year. It's a must-see piece."

A must-listen piece will be the second "Projects" compilation which he and Phillips finished mixing down only last week. Look for it and a live Chocolate Cake set - recorded on the '96 tour - later in the year.

And don't miss Bridie solo if you get the chance. Americans will have the pleasure later in the year when he plays a couple of show case gigs in major cities on the way back from the Chocolate Cake's British and European commitments. It is necessary, though, to ask, 'what brought this on, David?'

He umms and errs like Bridie always does when he has to talk about his own music and eventually says, "A few things. I did a couple of solo shows last year in Melbourne during a Chocolate Cake break. As scary as it was, I actually found it quite enjoyable and quite a useful process in building songs up because it's just yourself - and when it's just yourself it hones the focus back in on the song and the emotion of the song and the voice and the playing.

"I obviously do a lot of writing - just piano and vocal - so it's good for bringing that out. I like the intimacy of the solo shows and it really is a good way of getting new songs up because there's nothing like having a deadline for making a fool of yourself in front of people to get my butt into gear and finish off some of the whole load of songs I have that are about two-thirds complete."

It also allows him to revisit the songs of the late and sadly missed Not Drowning Waving whose work he has little chance to perform these days and to give a live air to a couple of the soundtrack pieces that form such an important pulse in the body of his work.

David Bridie, eclectic, serious, happy, warm, angry and confused like the rest of us, has the pen drawn again. His sketch pad of life continues.

May 1997