Canberra diplomat and singer-songwriter Fred Smith said he was heading in a new musical direction.
Recently he won the Artist of the Year award at the ACT Arts Awards as well as a Canberra Critics Circle award for his concert, Sparrows of Kabul, a musical and personal retelling of Australia's experience in Afghanistan, where he played a major part.
He's written and recorded songs and albums inspired by his time in that country, where he helped negotiate with the various rival factions and with the organisation of the evacuation from Kabul airport.
More recently he toured Sparrows of Kabul to venues around Australia.
But while many of the songs on his new album, Look, were written while he was on home leave from his recent posting in Kabul with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, he said, "There's nothing about Afghanistan on it.
"It's time for me to to move on."
Smith said Look was an album of personal songs, dealing with such themes as love and the speed of modern life.
"The songs were mostly written over the last two or three years."
Corners of My Mind was written during one of six two-week hotel lockdowns he endured while working this fly-in-fly-out job in Kabul. "It was a reflection on the isolation many of us experienced during COVID."
There are a couple of musical tributes, to songwriter Leonard Cohen and author Helen Garner - "they're both brilliant writers" - as well as Brisbane lawyer and songwriter and John Thompson, a now-dead friend, and some lighter songs.
"Crisis is about the zeitgeist of the times, tickling it with a feather boa."
The song references some of the dramas that have taken place over the last three years, including COVID, the fall of Afghanistan and the war in Ukraine.
Despite the subject matter, Smith said it was a humorous song (it's a rumba).
Smith, 53, has written and performed songs for the last 27 years in Canberra.
"I've got a solid little fan base here," he said.
He has also, through touring and recording, built up a national profile and helped people understand more about Afghanistan, a country he's grown to like and appreciate.
"I'm going to slow down a bit next year - doing 60 or 70 shows a year was becoming exhausting."
He will, however, continue to perform in Canberra while working at DFAT.
Smith has a lifelong connection to Canberra. He was born in the old Canberra Hospital and went to Melba Primary School and Canberra Grammar School and when young spent time with his parents - who were also diplomats - overseas in Israel, India and the Philippines. For about half of his time at Canberra Grammar he was a boarder while his parents were overseas. Smith said that with his "posh accent" he didn't quite fit in with the rough Riverina boys who inhabited the boarding house and who replaced his real first name, Iain, with Fred, "to render me explicable".
While he said "no one got out of school lightly", as nicknames go, it was far from the worst.
Smith began studying economics and law at the University of Western Australia but moved back to complete the degrees at the Australian National University.
WHAT'S ON IN CANBERRA:
"I began to feel Canberra was the centre of my universe."
After graduation he followed in his father's footsteps and in 1996 was recruited to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
"It was around that time I started writing songs."
He had studied classical guitar and had performed covers of 1960s and '70s folk singers such as Bob Dylan in venues around Canberra. The songs inspired his own writing, giving him something to think about beyond "the beers and girls" that took up a lot of his time at university.
He received a $1500 Arts ACT grant to record his first album, Soapbox, in 1998 - "a combination of comic material and thinking man's drinking songs" and since then has divided his time between DFAT work, composing songs and writing books, performing and recording.Smith is the only artist to have won two National Film and Sound Archive National Folk Recording Awards, for Bagarap Empires (2002) and Urban Sea Shanties (2009).
Smith said his wife Maryanne Voyazis was very supportive of his dual career that saw him spend long periods away from her and their nine-year-old daughter. Now that he has decided to slow down, they will get to see a lot more of each other.
Canberra fans will see, and hear, more of him, too.
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