Radio Sketches is a collection of songs originally conceived as part of an intriguing weekly radio challenge on Melbourne’s much-loved independent station, 3RRR-FM. Every week, the ringlet-crested broadcasting colossus, Jon von Goes, would throw down the gauntlet to Charles Jenkins (along with Jon’s coterie of regular guests: a veritable who’s who of the Melbourne music scene) with a new theme for a song. Often a single word; rarely anything easy or obvious. Each of the players would then have just five days to have a song ready for broadcast.
As Jenkins explains, “We’d get the email from Jon on Tuesday, I’d aim to have something written by Thursday, record on Friday, before sending it to Jon on Saturday for Sunday’s show.”
“At first,” said Jenkins, “I’d ransack my back-catalogue for something I could shoehorn into the theme. If the search was fruitless, I’d write something new to suit. Eventually, I found myself enjoying the process so much that I’d write a new song – even if I had an old song that would work.”
While many writers would see such a brutal timeline as torture, Jenkins lapped it up. “It’s a beautiful thing; I’d be less fussy, as I’d have no time to be fussy; no time to dwell and ponder and edit slowly, like before. The show provides the two essentials a songwriter needs: an idea and a deadline.”
“The songs I liked most, I sent to Davey, Douglas Lee or Pete, who added all the instrumentation and voices you hear – blasting them into space.” And it’s a galaxy of melodic riches, with ballads that sparkle and guide the way, blazing rockers the size of planets, and mini-epics like comets that burn bright then fade, but leave you really feeling something.
Jenkins has the wireless glowing white-hot early with Ray Winstone (the theme was ‘Ray’). He asked a UK pal to flick it over to the great man himself, who adored it, responding from a film-set in Lithuania with “Love it! Made me laugh and was very flattering at the same time. Thank the boys for me and wish ’em all the best”.
Next up Float Away, (theme: ‘Inflatable Things‘) a Tamla Motown-flavoured doozy whose gorgeous wall of sound was built brick-by-brick by Robertson. Jenkins says he didn’t set out to make an uplifting song to help us all kick 2021 out the door; it just turned out that way.
The writing of Waterfall (theme: ‘Water’), was buoyed by a week of hot baths and songwriting as Artist in Residence at the Peninsula Hot Springs, its melody bubbling along; overflowing with optimism.
Psychedelic logic and stonking great slabs of glam-rock blow space in the calendar for Maypril (theme: Invented Words) with Davey Lane unleashing his production and musical mastery for those of us who’ve worn our T-Rex and Raspberries albums down to the bone.
Just to upset the apple-cart: a song that didn’t follow the formula. My Darlin’ Gal was a song commissioned to celebrate a 65-year romance, the protagonists, as childhood sweethearts, meeting after dark against their parents’ wishes by rowing along the creek they both lived on. Inspired by a sheaf of letters recovered from a dusty trunk in an attic, it soars upon the angelic vocals of Suzannah Espie, Jenkins’s gifted friend and frequent collaborator.
Jenkins always knows exactly how much to reveal. In Calling her Name (theme: Name), we never discover hers. Instead, the yearning melody and exquisite poetry of the lyric help us paint our own picture of the object of the singer’s devotion, as all the most evocative love songs do.
The theme of ‘Dinner Dates’ gave rise to the aural feast that is Augustine Aubergine, with Lane laying out a moreish spread of guitars amid a glorious clatter of pans, to accompany such lyrical confections as ‘Dinner dates that never worked, would often crumble before dessert’.
Starting life as a song for ‘This Place’ as part of the Darebin Music Feast, Separation Street takes a nondescript Northcote rat-run and elevates it into a mind-expanding metaphor for the bittersweet possibilities of reunification, in an epic pop-rock fantasy. Doug Robertson magically conjured up a Maori choir and assorted surfer-boy harmonies, while Boom Crash Opera’s Peter Farnan played a cornucopia of instruments that tremble, jangle and fly.
Do The Collapse (theme: Collapse) showcases Jenkins’s unrivalled ability to turn longing and hopelessness into something wonderful, with a beautiful, plaintive vocal and lines like, ‘With your demons by your side, when all your nightmares come alive, when the wisdom of the ages slips outta town… you do the collapse’, somehow making sense of it all.
Created for 3RRR’s radiothon (theme: It’s your Station), the song Here I Am I’m All Yours channels the devotion a battalion of listeners have for their much-loved Melbourne station into something even more grand; by turns deeply intimate and universal.
Reba, (theme: HOSPITALITY) written for the staff of The Retreat Hotel, home of Jenkins’s near-legendary Monday night residencies, has a classic-sounding melody and singalongable chorus set to make this, as Jenkins might say with a wink, “Another in a long line of chart-toppers”.
Lover on the losing side (theme: Time) closes the record with a gorgeous acoustic lament from Jenkins, in the vein of his two recent albums featuring only nylon string guitar and voice . But this time, the melody’s augmented with swelling strings and harmonies from Robertson, that reinforce the long–term gains sometimes made by being on the losing team. ‘You’ve joined a special club where the membership is strong; You’d be surprised by how many of us know the team’s song.’
In all, Radio Sketches is a collection of raw uncut diamonds; songs that fall like rain from the heart and the pen; ideas that have been bottled in the heat of the moment so their essence and truth are intact and fresh, vital and heartfelt. The kind of thing Charles Jenkins always does so well.
– Andrew M. Bartlett, St Kilda Sentinel.
"To just have my name on the front of this record is a bit rich, for were it not for the brilliant talents of Douglas Lee Robertson, Davey Lane and Pete Farnan, this record would not exist. Great friends and wonderful musicians who brought these songs to life. I'm a lucky bugger to know them. Neither would this record exist were it not for the invitation from the wonderful Jon von Goes to take part in his weekly radio show. It's been an honour.”
— Charles, October, 2021
- Float Away #
- Ray Winstone *
- Waterfall #
- The Brand New Month of Maypril *
- My Darlin’ Gal # (with Suzannah Espie)
- Do The Collapse
- Augustine Aubergine*
- Separation Street ^
- Here I Am I’m All Yours*
- Calling Your Name*(still to come)
- Reba (Knock Off Drink) #
- Lover On The Losing Side #
Produced, performed and recorded by #Douglas Lee Robertson, *Davey Lane, & ^Peter Farnan
Mastered by Colin Wynne Artwork by Ash Oswald Front Cover photo by Steve Cook.
All songs written by Charles Jenkins except Augustine Aubergine (Jenkins/Andrew Bartlett) and Reba (Knock Off Drinks) (Jenkins/Robertson).