It’s mid-afternoon in Brisbane and Russell Morris is nursing a cup of tea and taking some time to look back over his remarkable career. It’s quite a view from the top and that’s where Morris is sitting at the moment.
He’s just recorded a symphonic live album with orchestrations by David Hirschfelder and he’s about to take the album on the road. With a 10-piece band, and a 54-piece orchestra in tow, the tour and the record take their name from Morris’ big hit from July 1969, The Real Thing.
In recent years Morris has sold out some of this country’s most prestigious venues including the Sydney Opera House and Melbourne’s Hamer Hall. The next leg of the national tour sees Morris playing capital cities and returning to the Opera House for an encore performance.
“It’s like being carried around in an armchair,” explains Morris of his part in the live shows. “David Hirschfelder, the band and the orchestra are incredible. Their talent is far superior to mine and I’m not being falsely modest here. David is a certified genius. I’ve always dreamt of working with him.”
Starting out in Melbourne in 1966, Morris’ first hit single was recorded as an 18-year-old with his band, Somebody’s Image. Their cover of Joe South’s Hush was produced by Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum, who later went on to produce The Real Thing. Morris went on to write such seminal hits as Sweet Sweet Love and Wings of an Eagle.
No artist lasts in the game as long as Morris without bearing witness to the swings and roundabouts of a radio programmer’s whims. His situation in 2023 is a far cry from the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the zeitgeist had shifted and Morris was on the verge of bankruptcy and had to sell his house.
“I was on the road back then and leasing a truck and paying the wages for my band and crew,” he explains. “The gigs became fewer. Suddenly we were doing one or two shows a week. Money was flowing out the back door and everything collapsed. It was a house of cards. I ended up selling my house. I had to sell my guitars and amps to pay my debts … It was awful to go through.
“The band broke up and I desperately tried to get work. I made an album that sank. I did small gigs, TV ads and anything I could to stay alive. I joined Cotton Keays and Morris out of desperation. I was an old has-been playing old hits. I was happy with that, but I yearned to create something current. I had a yearning to make a credible album.”
In an astonishing career turn-around, when it looked like Morris would spend the rest of his life playing the nostalgia circuit, he released a trilogy of best-selling albums that dealt with Australia’s underbelly, history and geographical vastness.
“When Darryl (Cotton) died, and then Jim (Keays) died, a friend of mine said ‘you really should finish those blues songs you’ve been working on’.”
The album that started the critical and commercial renaissance was Shark Mouth (2012), and it resurrected Morris’ career. Telling stories of Australia in the 1920s woven with tales he had heard growing up in Melbourne, Morris was now singing about Phar Lap and Les Darcy.
Next came 2014’s Van Diemen’s Land, which recalled everything from convict prison ships to the First and Second World Wars. The Trilogy was completed with 2015’s Red Dirt – Red Heart with Morris singing about a terrain that ran from bushrangers to the Nullarbor Plain.
Firmly back in the upper echelon of the album charts, a revitalised Morris now has an extra Top 5 LP, platinum and gold records, and an ARIA Award in his collection. Grateful for the acclaim, he believes that “community radio and ABC Radio made that happen for me”.
Now he’s heading on tour to celebrate a career that’s lasted over half a century. Touring in the modern era couldn’t be more different from what it was like when The Real Thing first hit the charts.
“It was a bit chaotic in those days,” laughs Morris, who lives on the Gold Coast these days. “The shows back then only lasted half an hour. If I was coming to Brisbane, you’d have to use a local band who would learn the songs, because it was too expensive to fly my band up.
“Then I’d go to Townsville and work with another band. John Farnham, Normie Rowe, John Blanchfield and myself would all share bands. It was hit and miss. Some of the bands were fabulous and some were terrible. Now, with David Hirschfelder and the orchestra conducted by Peter Morris, it’s like I had been driving a four-cylinder car and someone has just put me in a Ferrari.”
Russell Morris, The Real Thing national tour plays at Adelaide’s Festival Theatre on November 17. russellmorris.com.au
The Real Thing – Symphonic Concert, is streaming now and will be released on CD and vinyl on October 6.
This article is republished from InReview under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.
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