LONG WAY HERE
COMPOSER PROFILE Debbie Kruger
Graeham Goble doesnt mind reminiscing. In fact, he enjoys a trip down the memory lane of his vast songwriting repertoire. But hes not stuck in the past. All through a lengthy conversation about his Little River Band days and the songs that have made him one of Australias most successful international songwriters, Goble is itching to get into the studio to play some of his latest compositions.
The new work he is most excited about is Initiation Suite, a 15-minute opus that he hopes will form the basis for a film. Its nearly 30 years on from his first LRB song, Its A Long Way There, and a lifetime of experiences and songs separate the two, yet the similarities are striking. Lengthy works that break new ground. Goble is facing the new millennium with relish. Im always pushing the music in a different direction, he says.
His most successful song, Reminiscing, which LRB recorded in 1978, earns Goble a Four Million Air award from US collection society BMI this year. That means the song has been broadcast over 4 million times in America, the highest achievement for any Australian pop song internationally, putting him in an elite group of writers, according to BMI. With dance duo Madison Avenues new version of the song being released in the US, the performances are likely to increase again. Goble is elated.
A lot of musicians love Reminiscing because of the chords, the way they seem to work, they say its a brilliantly written song, Goble says. People like Frank Sinatra and John Lennon have gone on record as saying it was among their favourite songs at the time. In [Lennons lover] May Pangs book theres a whole passage about where he and May made love to Reminiscing.
The songs success, however, has at times baffled Goble. He thinks the song is less consummate than a lesser-known LRB song he wrote, Mistress of Mine. And, ironically, Reminiscing was one of his songs that his LRB band-mates were less than ardent about, so back in 1978, getting the song on the album was Gobles primary objective. Having it be a hit in the US or seeing it rise to classic status was beyond his dreams. Its quite staggering. You dont realise youve written something like that until it happens, until its history.
Gobles own history, musically speaking, was quite straightforward. He knew by his mid-teens that music was his vocation. He started playing drums in a 1940s-style party band. I didnt like piano, I wasnt very good at it, anyway. I saw on TV one night a guy playing a banjo. And I thought, gee, I really like that. So I went the next day and bought a banjo, and then I looked for a teacher. And I started to learn banjo, and wasnt very good at that either, but within the first week I wrote seven songs. As soon as I had a stringed instrument in my hands I suddenly had all these melodies.
The transition from banjo to guitar was unusual. The banjos tuned differently to guitar, so I just found my own chords. Then eventually I made myself a guitar with four strings on it and tuned it like a banjo. And then all my early songs were written on four-stringed guitar tuned to banjo."
His first major band was Mississippi, and his composition, Kings of the World, their biggest hit. Mississippi ended and Little River Band began almost simultaneously in 1975, with a song Goble had written back in 1972, Its a Long Way There, opening LRBs debut album.
The mechanics of songwriting have stayed the same from the beginning for Goble. I hear everything at once melody, lyrics, it just comes in. Theres a feeling that comes over me and I know that theres a song trying to come through. Its sort of like Im taken over or someones trying to contact me; I really believe very much that Im in some ways channeling this thing. Because when I write a song its always done very quickly, completed in 20 minutes or maybe half an hour. I never labour anything, or very rarely. The only labouring Ive ever done in songwriting might be when Ive completed a work, a song, and there might be a couple of lyrics I dont like, so sometimes I might sit with those and really put some brain power in how to fix up the lines. But for the most part it comes to me, it comes in and I can hear the whole thing finished with harmonies and everything.
Goble, who has spent most of his adult life engaged in spiritual study not religious study, he emphasizes believes that songs are created in another realm. I believe very much in spiritual realms, and I believe in things like guardian angels and the angelic realm, and my studies have taught me that when we sleep our soul leaves our body and we go up and have interaction with the spiritual realms. And I think that's where it comes from.
I also think that youre overshadowed. Great people like Beethoven and others were certainly overshadowed by higher entities. Any artist is just a channel for the expression of the higher realms. Im well aware that when Im in the writing experience I feel completely different than when Im in a normal experience. Were mere mortals, and when you realise songwriting is so powerful, its so amazing, the things that I write and that other people write. I just get amazed at some of the things I come up with. Its too marvellous. And when you look at some of the wonderful songs! I mean, Im a real fan of songs and songwriters, but Im very clear on the fact that its not all my work. Its too wonderful.
Gobles philosophies were at odds with band-mate and sometimes co-writer Beeb Birtles, whose strong fundamental religious beliefs lent themselves to lavishly harmonic LRB songs with overtly Christian themes, such as Fall From Paradise. I got roped into it and I didnt like it, I hated it, Goble says of the assumptions that he, too, was a Christian songwriter.
Birtles strongly disagreed with some of the content in Gobles songs, particularly the 1979 song Mistress of Mine. Beeb called me evil for writing it, Goble remembers. The fact that the song was simply inspired by some dialogue in a Humphrey Bogart movie eluded Birtles. Yet the result on record was something Goble is the most proud of from his LRB days. I thought that was the best thing wed ever recorded. It was Glenns best vocal.
Glenn Shorrock and Goble butted heads constantly; as with many other international bands renowned for sumptuous harmonies (think Eagles, CSNY), behind the scenes there was internal disharmony. Shorrock disliked Gobles song Lady, which has now notched up well over 2 million airplays in the US. Goble says he largely admired Shorrocks writing.
I thought that Cool Change was obviously a fantastic song, even though it was a difficult song to perform because Id sing high harmony and the chorus wasnt an easy thing. Glenns songs werent enjoyable for me to perform because the harmony parts were demanding. Like Help is on its Way, which was quite up there all the way. But the content of what they were saying, I loved. I can see why they were so good. But Glenn and I had our battles over the years. My analytical nature drove him completely mental.
In the 1980s Shorrock left LRB and with various lineup changes, including the departure of Birtles, the band became exactly what Goble had always been working towards musically. He feels it was the best band he ever played with. If you look at David Hirschfelder on keyboards and Stephen Housden on guitar, we had Stephen Prestwich on drums and then the vocal ability with John Farnham, I mean, its hard to imagine a more talented band. It was very different [to the original LRB] but the power, the amount of talent standing in that line-up, we could play and sing anything.
The hits never came, however. Farnham went solo, Shorrock returned to LRB, and in the late 1980s they recorded three more albums. But one by one all remaining members jumped ship, including Goble in 1992. The LRB of today that tours around the US includes not one original member. Theyre just a cover band, says Goble, less than pleased. Its not just our material, its every vocal arrangement, every guitar lick, its just copied. Over half the set are my songs and I dont get anything for that.
After LRB, Goble put together a group called Broken Voices to record one album, and he has since released two solo albums, Stop and Nautilus, the latter including his favourite recent composition, Restless Heart. Using session singer Steve Wade, both albums were showcases for Gobles post-LRB songwriting output, but kept him in relative obscurity. Now he has moved one step beyond, and is singing lead vocal on the material he is recording.
My love has always been rehearsing and studio work. You can do on records things that you cant do live. I can make the records now that I want to make. If Ive got a song that Ive written, I just keep working at it until I get it right. But you cant do that in a band.
The songs he is writing now reflect his long spiritual journey, as well as more earthly concerns the break-up of his 24-year first marriage, and his subsequent remarriage. His studies in numerology have influenced him to change the spelling of his first name, and a feng shui expert has been consulted in the layout of his new house and studio.
And while there is always time for reminiscing about the good and the bad, the future is what excites him. And those songwriting angels above.