The best tunes you’ll ever hear.
GATHERING material from Australia’s most- loved artists was no easy task for New Zealander Murray Thom.
In fact, it took the music enthusiast two years to create The Great Australian Songbook, a package that includes a double CD and collectors’ book of precious memorabilia from artists including Cold Chisel, Icehouse, Midnight Oil, Delta Goodrem, Jet and Empire of the Sun.
‘‘ We never set a release date when we started,’’ Thom says.
‘‘ It was always going to be finished when everyone came on board. Artists don’t respond to deadlines, so we basically had to wait.’’
Rolf Harris was the first artist to come on board, painting the artwork that is now the package cover.
From there, Thom and his team approached the 39 other artists – split into two to encompass musicians from this century and the last.
The package feels almost like a school project, with artists submitting pieces.
From a hand- written letter from Olivia Newton- John to Steven Kilbey’s artwork for his classic Under The Milky Way and Nick Cave’s scribbled lyrics pieced together with paper art for Where The Wild Roses Grow, it’s a rich experience to work your way through the book while listening to the accompanying music.
The art adds a new dimension to the experience, Thom says.
‘‘ It’s basically a celebration of art and music,’’ he says.
A particularly beautiful piece comes from ARIA Award- winning indigenous performer Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, who supplied his song, Djarimirri, with the lyrics written in Braille in his Aboriginal language of Yolngu over a picture of his mother.
‘‘ It’s a tactile experience,’’ Thom says.
‘‘ Artists want to express the song and the craft of songwriting and this gave them another ability to do that.’’
Other artists featured include Kylie Minogue, John Farnham, Pete Murray, Missy Higgins and Sarah Blasko. Gotye also managed to get his hit, Somebody That I Used To Know, on to the selection.
Like any compilation, the artists earn royalties from sales of the pack.
For those not wanting to fork out the $ 89.95 for the collectors’ pack, a double CD is also on sale for about $ 30.
Some initially found the concept of a New Zealand company creating The Great Australian Songbook a little odd. But after meeting Thom and his team, it quickly became obvious this concept could be applied to any country in the world.
The Great New Zealand Songbook – featuring works from artists Dave Dobbyn, Split Enz, Evermore – quickly became a bestseller after being released three years ago and has spawned another edition.
Thom is now in discussions for similar formats in the US and the UK and believes it could be rolled out internationally.
With that in mind, Thom is looking at a raft of other opportunities. These include a national Great Australian Songbook exhibition, showcasing the original artworks and memorabilia included in the book. A live tour is also possible, along with TV documentaries based on the project.
‘‘ There’s a lot we can do around Australia Day next year,’’ Thom says.
‘‘ We would love to do an exhibition where you’ve got the spreads in all their glory and people can take their time enjoying them.’’
And like New Zealand, there could be further editions of The Great Australian Songbook. ‘‘ Is this all the Australian music? No way. We think there will be demand for a follow- up,’’ he says.