Jeremy Rose read The Fatal Shore, Robert Hughes’ seminal account of Australia’s invasion, colonisation and transformation into a penal colony, in 2012. He was struck by the brutal reality faced by prisoners shipped over from the continent, as well as by the Indigenous population, and eventually found a way to engage with that dark history through music.
Iron in the Blood is a series of scenes performed by Rose and the Earshift Orchestra, underscoring narrated excerpts of Hughes’ work, read by actors Philip Quast and William Zappa. The excerpts give an overview of the struggle of the convicts, as well as the cruelty of British officers and lawmakers. The descriptions of the treatment of the original population – particularly the genocide of Tasmania’s Aboriginals – are harrowing.
Musically, Iron in the Blood is an eclectic experience. Tracks draw on more conventional jazz idioms, while art music traits are present too, including sonic landscapes with dislocated, chromatic harmonies and extended instrumental effects. Some of the most intriguing features are the extended, frantic, improvised solos, often underscoring the most disturbing parts of the narration.
Individual performances and sound are excellent, and the narrations are enjoyable both on a theatrical and educational level. Rose has really honoured this awful chapter in our country’s history.
The Earshift Orchestra are:
Evan Antwell-Harris, Scott McConnachie, Michael Agenicos, Matt Keegan, Paul Cutlan, Patrick McMullin, Callum G’Froerer, Charles Casson, Nick Garbett, Mike Raper, James MacAulay, Eleanor Shearer, Colin Burrows, Joseph O’Connor, Ben Hauptmann, Thomas Botting and Danny Fischer.