I have written many posts about Allan Caswell. I have reviewed his concerts, his albums, his singles, and award ceremonies where he has been honoured. I have written articles about his milestones and I have defended and supported him by writing articles that point out the facts. Doing all of that stuff is a labour of love, and a payback for all of the joy, fabulous music and the lessons that he has taught me.
This review will be a little bit different. Reviewing a book, particularly and autobiography, falls into a different category. I have reviewed Beccy Cole’s and Troy Cassar-Daley’s books and now it is Allan’s turn. Allan is a straight shooter. We are probably as close to friends as a Legend and a fan can be, and I am deeply honoured and flattered that is the case. Allan knows that what you see is what you get with me too, and I think that is why it works.
That’s what makes Allan work. He calls a spade a spade, or rather a guitar a guitar and he tells you his version of the truth always. He told me recently and he mentions it in the book that Beccy’s approach inspired him. I think that it is only way to do it. I recently told the kids at the place that I work that the difference between an autobiography and a biography is that an autobiography is something that the subject writes about themselves and a biography is something that someone writes about someone else. I also told them that a good way to remember it is that an autobiography comes Automatically to the writer because it is their story. I prefer autobiographies. I would rather hear it from the horse’s mouth. When someone else writes about someone they may not tell the truth…and maybe just rely on gossip. True, some autobiographies may not be honest either, as you are probably more inclined to write about the good bits rather than other things……and as part of a line in one of my fave Caswell songs….or not.
Folks like Beccy, Troy and Allan are not backwards in coming forwards when it comes to the things that are important. Whether it is in their songs, their acceptance speeches or in their books. There is really no point in writing your story if it isn’t really your story. We will leave Allan’s amazing brother Brian to write the fiction.
So, when you consider that Allan Caswell has had a career that spans about 50 years, and he has lived a full and well acclaimed life, what do you write about in 261 pages including appendix and what do you leave out?
Jane Fonda, who is turning 82 this year, has divided her life into acts, like an actress would, and it has worked for her when she is writing. She can always add some more acts if she lives til 100.
Allan has a lot more to do.
Let us consider what he has done already, though. Pre-Australia, the lad from the North of England, had a pretty full life, travelling Europe with his family, following a rule that I love and can relate to, basically to try and do everything, even before you can afford to do it.
His Mum, Jean, whom I have had the good fortune to meet and we have been Facebook friends for a while, seems to be the steady influence in the Caswell family. His Dad was in showbusiness and selected grandparents were too, so there was probably not much choice. Allan and his brother, Brian, joined his Dad from a young age. Of course it was a great time to be in London, in the 60’s. The Liverpool influence is still obviously there though, to this day. Allan loves most sports, and we have a love/hate relationship in that area!
I don’t like to divulge too much in book reviews. It is like telling folks Who done it. I like to leave some surprises. Considering that Allan has spent most of his life in Australia and as he says, he is therefore “An Australian by choice”, most of this book focusses on his time in Australia with some mentions of England, Europe and Nashville.
When you consider the diverse range of artists that Allan has written with over the years: young, old and in between and representatives of all 79 types of country music, and then some outside that circle, you will realise how broad a paddock Allan covers.
His fans vary in age too, from the very young (his fans who love his children’s songs) to young songwriters and legends who are long gone, to some of the best songwriters in Australia and New Zealand who just want to write a song with this bearded genius.
I can hear Allan talking as I read the words of a book which took me about an hour and a half to read. Being a Caswell fan since about 1979, (the year that a certain song that he wrote was launched that has paid for a few Jacks), I know a fair bit about this man. There were things that I didn’t know about his early life that are in the book, though. He has been very diplomatic about some of the heavier times, and I can respect that. That stuff is done and dusted and sorted now and you move on.
I think that like the red wine that Allan and I like to have a sip or two of, he is getting better with age and wiser. His best work has been released in the last dozen years or so. I remember when he won best new talent at the Golden Guitars in 1980 – my pa and I had our ears glued to the radio, 2TM and listened to the broadcast, from just down the road. My pa said “Thank God for something different” and I nodded.
The Caswells seem to be a close knit family. Despite the fact that Allan has been married 4 times, and divorced 3 times, everyone seems to get along and the kids all do too. Marian has been a rock and a great “change-up” in his life and that fact with the addition of the beard and a lot of amazing songwriters who keep making things fresh and hopeful with him have made this chapter of his life much more comfortable and productive.
Allan keeps saying….last album, but I don’t think that he will ever retire. There is so much more to write about and so many more people to teach and inspire. I review albums every week of my life, mainly Aussies and a few Kiwis. Just about all of them have a Caswell co-write on them…..which of course was one of the most common lines at Tamworth this year and most years: “This is a song that I wrote with Allan Caswell”. Every artist says that with pride.
It surprises me how little songwriters in this country are celebrated, especially in country music. We have some of the very best. Mike Carr, Lachlan Bryan, Michael Carpenter, Michael Waugh (yes, Allan, I agree, the most humble songwriter that I have ever met and probably one of the best), Shane Nicholson, Fanny Lumsden, Amber Lawrence, Aleyce Simmonds, The Weeping Willows, Andrew Swift, Cathy Dobson, Darren Colston, Luke O’Shea, Matt Scullion, Jen Mize and many, many, more. If you look at the list in the Appendix that Allan has provided, you will note some of these in there and many more.
I had the pleasure recently of going to one of Allan’s songwriting sessions and the age and the styles of the artists were varied and enthusiastic. Everyone wants to learn from someone who knows how to do it right.
Allan says in the book that his talent is a gift. I agree with that, to a point, and it definitely is a gift to us. He’s honest about what he thinks of the business of country music, voices his disappointments and gives his careful opinions in this book. He focuses on those who he have supported him, those whom he loves and those who he admires He does not rubbish people, or name names when it comes to difficult moments, there is a lot more love in this book than there is pointing the finger or venting at things and folks that may have wronged him.
At the same time, there are issues that he does not tippy toe around. He is straight and honest about his thoughts. Allan Caswell is a man who knows who is, accepts responsibility and appreciates those who have travelled with him on the ride.
As a fan, I admire his story, his words and music and the way that he “fights the good fight”, and the fact that he does not just do that for himself, but for those who will carry on long after us.
The fans and the fellow songwriters and most importantly, his family, are very lucky to have him in our lives. Here’s to many more chapters, Sir Allan.