by Tom Smith
For me the most important thing about music and song writing is creating community. I have spent periods of my life feeling quite isolated. In 2013 after 12 years in Brisbane having convinced myself I was excluded from the local music community, I realised I was in fact very lucky to know many musicians who turned out to be so generous and supportive they recorded versions of my songs for what became the ‘You Do It I Can’t Be Bothered’ project.
Listen to the album while reading the text.
I’d just been living for a year doing story telling workshops and writing songs with students and families at Yiyili Aboriginal Community School in the Kimberleys in Western Australia. Sometimes I’d become frustrated with how long the process took before stories and knowledge could be shared. There are often many complicated relationships and cultural protocols to be followed however. Eventually it dawned on me that being a part of this process is as much an honour and a privilege as being able to present the actual finished song itself.
Back in Brisbane and still not conscious of how this revelation would have massive personal implications, I half-jokingly put up a post on social media asking if anyone wanted to have the songs I’d written over the years from my own personal experience – they were of no use to me anymore! The post was headed ‘You do it, I can’t be bothered!’ At best I was hoping for a few ‘likes’ and maybe a commiserative comment or two.
Word got around and friends and former collaborators started offering to choose a song from my untouched backlog and record a version. Before we knew it we had a 25 song album and I’d put my first release up on Bandcamp.
As a result of the confidence that followed I have now arrived after 10 more years at a productive peak recording and playing live again and am so lucky to work with so many brilliant and sympathetic collaborators.
The Songs of Tom Smith is based in Brisbane with a large pool of musicians to form pick up bands with across 4 Australian cities. At the moment I’m planning to spend some time in UK and Europe in 2023 and attempt to repeat this model of a different band for every city I visit.
After years of prolific song writing on haphazard themes, in the last few years my process has been much more deliberate. I choose a theme, create a character, a live show around it and then release the results as an album.
Community Music projects
Reinvigorated by working in Yiyili Aboriginal Community and the ‘You Do It I Can’t Be Bothered’ project, I began ‘Whoopee-Do Crew’ as a community song writing collective here in Brisbane in 2014. I had written a batch of songs with various clients I was working with as a disability support worker and thought it would be a good idea to bring them all together to meet each other, sing each others’ songs and share stories.
Currently I have pulled back my involvement but Whoopee-Do Crew still meet and perform weekly in a community public space here in Brisbane and are in demand for community events throughout the year. We released the album ‘All the People Cheer Me Up’ in 2020.
I’ve been lucky enough to conduct song writing workshops in contexts such as Aged Care, Indigenous communities, schools, mental health, disability and with homeless people helping them celebrate their stories and transform them into songs of survival and inspiration.
2 thoughts on “Finding A Community”
fascinating to read the evolutionary process of your body of work. Ive told you before Tom that not only do you right fascinating songs I’ve always been impressed by the way you bring people together and manage to somehow get three different bands to play the same gig of three different sets. and you’re prolific.
thanks Dino. I’d love to read your story too. You should write one for this blog!