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BWW Review: WILLIAM CRIGHTON – ADELAIDE FRINGE 2021 at The Spiegeltent, Garden Of Unearthly Delights

He is absolutely, uniquely Australian.

BWW Review: WILLIAM CRIGHTON – ADELAIDE FRINGE 2021 at The Spiegeltent, Garden Of Unearthly Delights Reviewed by Ray Smith, Thursday 4th March 2021.

To access the Garden of Unearthly Delights, audience members must show their ticket and also complete a Covid check-in. I did so on my way to see William Crighton's performance at the legendary Spiegeltent, where another Covid check-in was required. The venue managers are taking the Covid-19 precautions very seriously indeed, and I was informed by one of the staff that the entire venue was carefully cleaned after each performance.

It was an expectantly excited crowd that took their carefully spaced seats, all but filling the famous venue, before Crighton took to the stage and, without any announcement or introduction, launched into his first song for the evening. The spell that he cast was instantaneous and inescapable, and he had our undivided attention from the first word he uttered.

Accompanying himself on finger-picked guitar, he prowled the stage like a hunter, catching the eyes of audience members without offering any expression, nothing to betray the underlying emotion that would be revealed during this one-hour presentation of an Australia that very few people know, and even fewer feel able to discuss.

We were held by the cold, steely, merciless eyes of an history teacher like no other, as he relentlessly peeled back the smooth, shiny skin of modern Australia to reveal what lay beneath, and we simply were not allowed to turn our heads away.

Crighton's physical presence is at once engaging and menacing. His large, powerful frame, brow-shaded eyes, and black beard seem to have been pulled from a faded photograph hanging on the wall of a dilapidated shack on a riverbank in his native Riverina. The voice is strong and unapologetically Australian, as dark tales are told of no pity or remorse in an unforgiving and seemingly endless landscape, in what feels like a conversational tone that belies the careful crafting of the lyrics.

The words that Crighton writes would easily stand alone, without the insistence of his guitar work and his mesmerising singing voice, as they weave their unhurried tales in natural rhyme; "2000 clicks from the Queensland border, lyin' in a ditch out west of Wagga......"

He offers a song learned from his old friend and Australian acting legend, Jack Thompson, or Uncle Jack as he calls him. It's On was written by Don Henderson, and "Uncle Jack sang it a Capella", we were told, but Crighton accompanies the song with guitar, and relates an all too familiar tale of toxic male behaviour, where every argument is settled by a fight. "Maybe our politicians ought to settle their differences with ten rounds" Crighton postulates, "and it's on. Reason and logic are gone. Winning the fight doesn't prove that you're right. It's sad, and it's true, and it's on."

Suddenly the brutal reality of life in the Australian bush is forgotten, as Crighton sings a tender song written for his wife Julie-Anne, who, we are told, is carrying their "lockdown baby". A Morning Song, written for his two daughters, is equally gentle and loving, as the tough, and life-hardened bushman reveals his softer side, and graphically demonstrates that archetypal Australian character, the hard man with a soft heart.

Crighton retires his acoustic instrument and takes up a beaten resonator guitar, amplified to the point of feedback, hammering out riffs, as he bellows the lyrics to Fire in the Empire, threatening to lift the roof of the ancient Spiegeltent.

The second part of the set is dominated by more driving accompaniment and rockier songs, but eventually gives way to more temperate offerings as the metal-bodied resonator is tamed and controlled. The Meaning of Life is Happiness relates part of the tale of Crighton's connection with First Nations people, and the lessons that he has learned from them.

A gentle version of Eric Bogle's, The Band Played Waltzing Matilda was the best I have ever heard, as Crighton's powerful voice, and strong Australian accent lent authority to the famous lyrics.

The final offering was an unaccompanied song, begun off-mic, a simple spiritual that grounded us all once more in the now, and left us feeling like a welcome part of Crighton's personal community. He had led us into his extraordinary world. Captivated us with his yarns of the darker side of the Australian bush, and now he was letting us go again.

That he had only one show in this year's Adelaide Fringe Festival is a tragedy, but for those of us who were able to experience it, it was a gift.

He is absolutely, uniquely Australian.

Did I buy the CD? No. I bought both of them.


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