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
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
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
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
"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
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
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.