River Dreaming
Payinthi (Prospect Town Hall)
Friday, 18 February at 8pm
Adelaide Fringe

A River of Reconciliation

Story telling whether through word or song has been with a part of the human psyche for millennia.

Without story there would be no culture.

Putting words to song has always been a natural fit and a most powerful way to convey a message and emotion all in one.

This synergy of spoken word, songwriting and performance with a compelling theme of reconciliation is behind the Fringe show River Dreaming.

Adelaide-based musician, Nhunggabarra, Kooma and Muruwari artist Glenn Skuthorpe has combined with Orroroo’s A.B “Ben” Eggleton, known as the “Bard of the Scrub”, to create a magical soundscape reflecting their joint love of story telling.

For Eggleton, River Dreaming is not the first time his poetry has been put to music. In 2016 he worked with Tarlee musician Geoff Drummond to produce a complementary CD to his first book Bard from the Scrub.

However, River Dreaming is a dream come true for Eggleton. The genesis of the production dating back to January 2021 when he collaborated with Adelaide-based musician Chris Goodall, of Chris Goodall Music to compose music and lyrics to create an initial work, Fourty Thousand Secrets.

Goodall and Eggleton further collaborated to produce a video of Eggleton’s poem My River of Dreams with Goodall’s music. This music became a song River of Dreams, with vocals and music by Goodall with Eggleton providing backup vocals.

It was then at a 2021 Valentine Day’s show at Norton Summit, organised by Sue and Shaun Delaney of Sinclair Gully’s Winery that Skuthorpe came across the “Bard from the Scrub”. It was manager and promoter Emma Rennie who came up with the River Dreaming title.

It seems that the recognition of the poet in both Skuthorpe and Eggleton was instant.

“I have always loved poetry and English literature, particularly William Blake, Oscar Wilde and John Keats,” said Skuthorpe. “So when I heard I first heard Ben, it was such an Australian voice and so beautiful, it really resonated with me.

“I knew immediately that we could do something together, put some music to his words, let it flow through and we have proceeded to where we are now.”

Both Skuthorpe and Eggleton are known individually for producing emotive work, evoking the wide open plains, deep blue sky and meandering river ways of the Australian countryside, illustrating their deep connection to this continent.

Combining this creativity just makes the message more powerful.

They are both river men, the Bokhara River runs through Skuthorpe’s hometown of Goodooga in New South Wales, while Eggleton hails from the River Murray town of Robinvale, Victoria. You might be able to take the boys away from the river but it is clear that it remains a vital part of their essence.

In Goodooga the river was a central part of growing up and has resulted in being a theme in much of my work

Glenn Skuthorpe

It flows. From the opening chords you are immediately taken to the river bank, you can sense and feel the light dappling across the water and the wind rustling through the trees as Eggleton breaks into his opening poem Ghost Moon Shadows, written especially for this show. There is a sense of timeliness. The river has been here long before us and will continue (hopefully) long after. This is just a brief snapshot of time.

In putting together his music to Eggleton’s words, in collaboration with bassist Doug Petherick, Lainie Jamieson (keyboards) and Dave Branton (drums); Skuthorpe was conscious of capturing the essence of Eggleton’s poetry.

“What we tried to accomplish and actually I think we did accomplish was to ensure the music truly reflected what the story was all about,” he said.

“When you sit behind a very good poet it makes the job so much easier.”

– Fontella Koleff

River Dreaming
Sinclair’s Gully Winery, Norton Summit – Friday 18 March at 7.30pm
Eliza Hall at Payinthi (Prospect Town Hall), Sunday, 20 March at 7.30pm