Finally, on 1.3.13 – an auspicious date? – the results of a collaboration between poet Chris Mansell, and composer Andrew Batt-Rawden. Eighteen months in preparation, the premiere of the song cycle, Seven Stations, will be premiered at Conservatorium of Music, Sydney, Macquarie St Sydney (map) at 7pm.
The seven poems in praise – mostly – of Sydney take as their starting point seven inner city train stations:
Sydney Terminal (Central)
Each of the stations characterise something about the city – from a meretricious skanky puss, to Queen Vic reigning over her retailed subjects, to the invisible sharks always at the bottom of the Quay. They are playful and astringent, biting and affectionate. The mood is experimental, a little bit wild. The singers from Halcyon have voices to die for. Chronology Arts musicians, conducted by Andrew, bring their energy and knowledge of Australian contemporary music to the stage. There will be soon be an album, but a book of the original poems will be available on the night.
Town Hall is the omphalos of the city of Sydney. This is a city which, famously, adores itself – often to the irritation of other, southern, cities. Sydney adores itself, lauds itself, can hardly contain its passion for itself. ‘Town Hall’ would suggest that this is where government would take place, but the reminder of our history, Queen Victoria, is enthroned nearby in bronze, sceptre and orb in her hands, reigning instead over the shoppers swarming out of the QVB building. They seem diminutive compared to her; they seem like children at her feet. She becomes identified with the city – immovable, self-adoring, a grand coquettish presence.
The Quay All seems fine at the Quay. It is a transport hub, there’s culture, music, drama, art, but it is the Harbour which is at the centre, and there, just as in the city itself, there are invisible sharks cruising around underneath, waiting for the unwary, for all those who unwittingly risk an arm and a leg in what seems safe and beautiful.
St James This is ancient Sydney. Just as the Quay looks to see what is underneath, so does St James. Sydney has underground depths carved out of the sandstone. The more you go under, the more you go back into history. There is an elemental Sydney, much older than any of us: the trains and car parks go back there, cut deep. Perhaps this is what we are hearing – the screams and wails of the dinosaurs – when we travel on the trains.
Kings Cross is the bad girl of Sydney, or would like to think she is. The Cross has a varied history, the sophisticated émigrés, the wildness where people went to do shady deals and be teased by the decadence around them, but the Cross is changing, like an ageing beauty, she’s being left behind. She has to settle for a raffishness and, in some quarters, a hoped-for gentility.
Getting off Redfern Redfern is a part of Sydney that is steeped in story and myth – much of it not complimentary. Redfern used to be seen as somewhere that was not quite there, not quite at the culmination, not Central (thus the slang phrase ‘getting off at Redfern’ meaning not going All The Way). Redfern has changed and not changed: still a place of deep quirkiness (people really do walk their pigs, the Martian Embassy really is in Redfern Street) but also a place of deep belonging: Biami really is writ large in Redfern Park. There is a continuing history, personal and national, here.
Sydney Terminal (Central) Everything goes through Central – which, if you’re coming in from the country, is called Sydney Terminal, an ominous and exciting name suggesting a place where everything is achievable. There is hope, and, for the gormless outsider, the place seems grand and hopeful, though the real locals and the pigeons see it differently. They know what the city is made of.
Museum If you get out at Museum, you’re back in a different part of town. This Sydney is knowledgeable and knowing too much for her own good. Sydney here has its memorials and down the road the law courts. Here Sydney is no better than she should be. She’s back doing her old tricks. Beautifully dressed, apparently decorous, she’s fur coat and no knickers, she’s out to win.
The collaboration was put together by arts patron and friend of both Andrew and Chris, Charles Davidson. Co-incidentally, (or is it?) both Chris and Charles have a significant birthday on 1.3.13.
Chris Mansell‘s recent books include Spine Lingo: new and selected poems (Kardoorair, 2011), Letters (Kardoorair, 2009), Love Poems (Kardoorair, 2006), The Fickle Brat (text + audio CD) (Interactive ) and Mortifications & Lies which Kardoorair published in 2005. IP has also published a collection of short fiction called Schadenvale Road (in 2011). She won the Queensland Premier’s Award and been short-listed for the national Book Council Award and the NSW Premier’s Award.
Get there at 6.30pm to pick up tickets (book at TryBooking)