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After 15 years with no new work, Freedman finds the Kidd in him

Culture

After being forced to postpone The Whitlams’ Queensland tour earlier this year, frontman Tim Freedman is returning north of the Tweed next week for a series of intimate solo shows.

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The tour kicks off at Currumbin Soundlounge before hitting Toowoomba, Ipswich, Noosaville and Brisbane Powerhouse and in addition to his piano, Freedman will also be bringing the first new Whitlams material in almost 15 years, with the band releasing a new single, the ‘Ballad of Bertie Kidd’, last month.

Freedman said he felt fortunate to have experienced such career longevity, with Whitlams songs such as ‘No Aphrodisiac’, ‘Blow Up the Pokies’ and ‘Thank You (For Loving Me at my Worst)’ still radio staples more than two decades after their release.

“I’m always curious as to why it’s happening,” Freedman told InQueensland. “I think a lot of the people that come to see me to be honest is return business – people that came and had a great night in 2001 or 1999 or 2008. We did work really, really hard for probably 15 years and put out six albums and our fans really love the band, that’s all I can say.”

“They’ve all got different reasons I suppose, but sometimes it’s because of the lyrics, sometimes it’s because of the subject matter and sometimes because the rhythm section got them moving in some sweaty pub when they were 23 and it was the days of wine and roses.

“I suppose it’s all sorts of things but I think it’s probably just our reward for having never taken success for granted and always having worked hard to put on a good show.”

Based on a story relayed to Freedman in a pub, the Whitlams’ new single tells the purported story of a failed heist involving infamous Australian criminal Robert “Bertie” Kidd in the late 1980s.

“Bertie’s a very real character,” Freedman said. “He’s not particularly well known in the mainstream, because the sort of crims that write books and talk to journalists that knew him were frightened of him.”

Kidd has served time in jail for crimes including money forgery in the late 1960s, the robbery of a safe at Sydney’s Maroubra Bay Hotel, the attempted robbery of a Brisbane chemical company in the 1997 that included a subsequent shootout with a plain-clothes policeman.

Kidd was also a suspect in a plethora of other crimes and was acquitted 19 times.  Now aged 86, he is living a quiet life in Launceston four years after finishing his most recent stint in prison, after he was jailed at age 71 for his role in a series of armed robberies and home invasions of exclusive Sydney properties in Manly and Burraneer Bay.

“He had a very imposing reputation as someone you didn’t cross and he was a very successful career criminal – safecracking and he fixed a lot of horse races too, apparently,” Freedman added, saying Kidd was reputedly an instigator of the infamous Fine Cotton ring-in scandal “before that went pear-shaped and he withdrew from it”.

The events of the story that made up the Whitlams’ song, as relayed to Freedman, took place on the NSW Central Coast in 1988, and involve Kidd and his hapless co-conspirators, a stolen Sigma, and an attempted heist on a collection of Pro Hart and Ken Done masterpieces.

“The song, as it was told to me, is about an incident in which things didn’t go quite right for Bert and [his accomplices] were pulled over by police in Gosford before they even got to the art gallery they were going to rob, reputedly because the balaclavas were too obvious – it’s a sort of slapstick crime caper,” Freedman said.

“It wasn’t till later I realised what an imposing history Bert had because it was after I wrote the song that I read volume one of his biography. We reached out to him and he actually appears in our film clip.”

The first part of a biography on Kidd’s life, The Audacious Kidd – a collaboration with author Simon Kidd – was released early this year.

“I’ve never spoken to Bert, I just go through his biographer, and he asked Bert about this incident – I think the author was surprised that he didn’t know about it since he interviewed him for hundreds of hours,” Freedman said.

“But Bert was such a sort of cunning and imaginative criminal, that this sort of little stuff-up didn’t really feature on his radar when he looked back on his life … even though he has to come to terms with it now because it’s a song.”

Freedman said 2020 had been a year of up and downs, with the Whitlams almost selling out the entirety of their more than 30-date Australian tour prior to the implementation of COVID-19 restrictions.

“It was incredibly frustrating,” he said. “In terms of Brisbane, we went on sale in February and we’d already gotten to selling out the third Triffid show.

“Everything shut down three weeks after we went on sale but we were sort of lucky that we’d already almost three quarters sold out the tour and we’re also lucky that only about five to 10 per cent of people asked for refunds.

“We’re really, really grateful to the ticket-buying public that realised that we needed to have the artists have the safety of knowing that there are gigs to do at the end of the lockdown, so everyone that kept their tickets did a great thing because we felt safe, even though we were unable to play as a band for 12 months, we knew that we had something to look forward to – financially and creatively.”

In the meantime, Freedman is looking forward to coming north for his solo tour.

“I know there’s a lot of pain in the arts industry but I have trouble generalising because I can play in the band, or solo, or with orchestras, I’m really sort of flexible as what I can do.

“As soon as there was a little bit of sunlight through the window, I had 35 shows booked, and it’s just me driving around with a piano in the backseat, just like the old days, really, you know you do what you can do. So it’s been a very different type of year for me but to be honest I quite enjoyed it.”

For tour dates and tickets for Tim Freedman’s solo tour and the Whitlams’ rescheduled 20201 dates, visit the Whitlams website.

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