Kev Carmody is one of Australia’s pre-eminent singer songwriters, a wordsmith whose often politically charged and socially aware lyrics early in his career found him described as “Australia’s black Bob Dylan”. Of Aboriginal and Irish heritage, both cultures famous for oral histories in song, Kev was born to be a story-teller.
His best-known composition (with Paul Kelly) is ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’, based on the story of The Gurindji Strike and Vincent Lingiari as part of the struggle for indigenous land rights and reconciliation.
Kev began writing songs in the mid 1960’s but did not record his first album until 1987.
Born in 1946 Carmody grew up on a cattle station in the Darling Downs area of south eastern Queensland. His family were drovers and stockmen who lived largely off the land, growing vegetables near the house and hunting. Apart from a younger brother he saw few children until the age of seven, mixing mostly with stockmen. Around the stockmen’s fire he learned his love for storytelling and music. When he was ten, Kev Carmody and his brother were taken from their parents and sent to a ‘Christian’ school. Without completing his senior school years he returned to hard physical rural work for the next seventeen years.
The turning point came, when at the age of 33 Kev enrolled in the Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education to study geography, history and music progressing through to PhD studies at Queensland University. To make Kev more comfortable with the oral side of his studies his lecturers allowed him to bring along his guitar to his first tutorial to allow him time to learn to write and construct an academic essay. Kev had never been into a library before and had never read a book.
Kev was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Southern Qld in 2008.
While at university Kev Carmody also took the opportunity to acquaint himself with experimental music pioneers John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Although his own music would reflect his own Murri culture, expressed in the social history song traditions of Woody Guthrie and Huddie Ledbetter, Kev was never going to be an ordinary or traditional singer-songwriter. There’s been musical imagination as well as lyrical passion.
Already in his 40s, he released his first album ‘Pillars Of Society’ in December 1987. Rolling Stone magazine described the album as “The best album ever released by an Aboriginal musician and arguably the best protest album ever made in Australia”.
Four studio albums have followed: ‘Eulogy (For A Black Person)’ (Nov 90), ‘Bloodlines’ (Jul 93), ‘Images And Illusions’ (Sep 95) ‘Mirrors’ (May 04). Kev Carmody has been a feature artist at many major Australian and international cultural festivals, including folk festivals, Aboriginal celebrations, and world music events such as Womadelaide and Womad festivals in England and Europe. He is also known for his work with youth and prison inmates.
Kev has done numerous song writing and recording workshops in communities in Western N.S.W., NT and Qld.
Kev was a recipient in 2009 of a Qld Great Award.
For several years his friend and great fan Paul Kelly harboured ambitions for a tribute album to Kev, a dream finally realized in July 2006 when Paul invited a wide assortment of artists to choose their favourite Carmody song to record. The results were released in February 2007, a double album ‘Cannot Buy My Soul’, featuring performances from pop, rock, country and rap performers on one disc, and Kev’s own renditions of the same songs on the second disc.
In January 2008 many of the artists who featured on the Cannot Buy My Soul album joined together at the State Theatre in Sydney to perform the songs they had recorded on the album as a tribute to Kev.
Similarly in August the 1st in 2009 all artists bar one joined together once again in Brisbane for the Qld Music Festival to again perform their songs from the Cannot Buy My Soul album as a Tribute to Kev.