By Ian Nott
The Rise and Fall of Saint George is a musical triumph for music and sound composer Paul Mac and lyricist Lachlan Philpott. These two socially conscious and artistically talented men have collaborated to produce a music concert that includes queer fun and hope for the future. It is a concert very much tinged with sadness and revisits some horrible and confronting episodes that occurred during the period of the plebiscite on marriage equality in the year 2017, a difficult time for Australian society, especially the LBGTIQ+ community.
The project is not a jukebox compilation of George Michael’s hits but an intriguing one-hour journey surrounding a mural of George which was painted by artist Scottie Marsh after being commissioned by Paul Mac. Paul had a spare exterior wall to his house that fronted a railway line in Newtown, Sydney and he thought a mural would be a good way to honour and remember George after we heard of his death on Christmas Day, 2016.
The mural depicts George as a saint holding a joint and he is suitably adorned with a rainbow coloured halo and is dressed in priest garments. For eleven months it loomed large, becoming a talking point for train commuters and passers-by and a real community image for the residents of Newton and beyond.
But following the Yes result in November 2017, the mural and Paul’s house was the target of extreme right-wing Christian groups and the mural was white washed twice and then destroyed by being covered in black paint by a vandal who was later convicted, fined and ordered to do community service work.
The Rise and Fall of St George, through text and lyrics, delves into the damaging effect this political process of the marriage equality vote did for the Australian community, not to mention the hatred that erupted. Mac lays electronic music tracks and combines snippets of recorded conversations from off the streets, grabs from television debates, samples of politicians’ addresses to Parliament to revisit this time period and perhaps to reiterate that political progress is hard fought and what is achieved should never be taken for granted. This project is important if just for this – to highlight that the attainment of political acceptance for the LGBITQ+ community regarding marriage was arduous and it took many courageous people to stand up to bigotry and to stand against the skewed interpretations of the Bible for the Yes vote to be realised.
The project brought together several featured singers, a large choir and Paul himself to present the text and lyrics which described this trying time pre and post the decision regarding marriage equality in Australia. It was like attending a rainbow-coloured church service with electronic night club beats. The order of service being guided by high priest Mac who was stationed in front of a grand piano for the duration of the performance, setting off the electronic music from his nearby laptop, offering some of the narration and also playing the piano. It was a beautiful amalgam of very different musical forms celebrating LGBTIQ+ life.
The choir, shOUT Youth Chorus featuring members of the Melbourne Gay and Lesbian Chorus, Just Holler and Newlands choirs together Arts Centre Melbourne staff choristers, was enthusiastic with clear diction and was elegantly conducted by Emily Irvine. The featured artists were Andrew Bukenya, Joyride, Ngaiire, Brendan Maclean, HANDSOME, Marcus Whale and Jacqui Dark who all took turns in singing Mac’s tracks elaborating on the scenarios that sprung from the defacement of the mural.
The first track of the evening, Eleven, (11 months, 11 things we like about George and 11 hours) was sung by Joyride who set the scene for an evening of excellent singing and political exploration.
The track “Will you take my Hand” was a highlight. Sung by HANDSOME who filled the Hamer Hall brilliantly with a remarkable voice that is a cross between Bjork and Adele? But there is no need for a comparison, HANDSOME is passionate and focused and an amazing performer in their own right.
Jacqui Dark’s operatic voice hauntingly embodied the persona of the perpetrator of the defacement and Dark also acted out the voices and opinions of those opposing marriage equality. She then sang an uplifting track, 60/40, giving the audience a bit of a lift after revisiting some of the darkness in the plebiscite episode.
The Rise and Fall of St George is a collage of very different musical types all coming cohesively together to explore a period that still haunts those who can clearly remember of who bore the brunt of it. The audience was haunted, saddened and uplifted. The final song which used George’s famous lyric “You gotta Have faith” was a message for all of us and a fitting end to an excellent Midsumma Festival night. And a fitting end to the order of service!