Billy Thorpe – a eulogy from Tangier

I saw Billy Thorpe play twice, back around 2006 supporting touring internationals, and there was no mistaking the man’s talent with voice and guitar, and charming, unaffected stage presence. He rose to fame with the Aztecs, a veteran of Australia’s formative rock n roll years, and he was in fine fettle still. I was particularly impressed with new material he played from a forthcoming album to be called Tangier, inspired and influenced by his time living in Morocco. And then he died, in February 2007, and Tangier was a work in progress still, and there was a real feeling that we’d not only lost a music great, but a special piece of music as well.

Fortunately, Thorpe’s family and mates have rallied and Tangier is now on the shelves. It’s a beauty, too.

There are Middle Eastern influences aplenty as songs range from Zeppelinish rock to slow-burning, percussion-led numbers and the foot-tapping, hand-twirling instrumental Gypsy. Jack Thompson adds spoken word to two, and there are plenty of strings of choiral backdrops that make this a lush, atmospheric production.

Since You’ve Been Gone, a dirge for his mother powered by acoustic guitar, organ and hand claps, carries extra weight.

Songs such as Marrakesh and Tangier, the latter with news broadcasts incorporated into the text, are clear odes to the country and its profound impact on Thorpe, while seven-minute Fatima funks it up.

Long Time, the album’s second instrumental, is a contemplative affair with guitars leading the journey that leads into the grandiose, martial In a New World, a cinematic spoken word with Thompson doing the honours.

Further adding to the album’s diversity is We Will Be There, a gospel-flavoured track that’s almost a capella, segueing beautifully into the closer, the rapturous Out of Here, a bopping track showing off Thorpe’s vocal high range.

With songs referencing angels, death and loss, Tangier carries an extra emotional level, but even stripped of that, it stands as a damn fine album. It serves as a fitting farewell that shows us not only what we’ve lost, but what we gained from a life lived large.

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