Many years have passed since those summer days
Among the fields of barley
See the children run as the sun goes down
As you lie in fields of gold. – (Sting)
I was 13 when Mum and Dad bought me my first ‘real’ guitar, a cherry red Onyx acoustic electric. Being a ‘girl guitarist’ had it’s difficulties. Most of the time sound engineers and guys in the band assumed my little red Onyx was only for show and didn’t bother turning it up in the mix. (Unfortunately to this day I still see it happening with ‘girl guitarists’). It was obvious I wasn’t ever going to be lead player but I always had a knack for rhythm and finger picking and my father encouraged me to be better than the boys.
Dad wasn’t a tall man, but he cut a distinctive figure. A pipe in the corner of his mouth, a cheeky grin, his brown hat tipped slightly downwards and due to childhood scoliosis, a gentle lean in his posture. He was a farmer and a baker so he worked extremely long hours. In the afternoons Dad would take off his bakers cap and apron and don his old brown hat and boots, feed the cattle, check the fences and do most of his farm work in the dark.
I don’t recall how I first came across the song but I do remember singing ‘Fields of Gold’ for the first time when I was about 15. I apologised to Dad for my playing and said I’d get my boyfriend to play it on stage. He wasn’t impressed. “You play prettier than any of those boys” he said, “why don’t you spend more time practising before you decide you’re not good enough hey?”. So, with keen determination I kept struggling over the next few weeks until I mastered the right hand. I was very proud of myself, as was he.
I had no idea then how much that song would come to mean to me. I would sing it around the kitchen table, at barbecues, jam sessions, it was my go-to song and it made Dad smile whenever I sang it. In 2003 I recorded the album ‘Gravity’ with my trio Bella (Myself, Kate Ballantyne and Karen O’Shea). Our producer had heard me sing ‘Fields’ at one of the many jams on the central coast and thought it would work perfectly for us. Dad was chuffed to say the least! When we listened to the final album master in the car, Dad exclaimed, “World class daughter!”, I was beaming.
Two years later, in May 2005, Dad was taken from us by cancer. I was emotionally numb for a long time and music was the only way I could feel something. On stage with Bella was my safe place, and whenever we sang ‘Fields of Gold’, a warmth would come over me as I thought about Dad. Sometimes in verse three, I swear I could catch a glimpse of him in his old brown hat, leaning against a fence, but I’d shake my head and the image would be gone, just a beautiful memory.
Fast forward to 2015 and Bella was celebrating a decade of music and saying goodbye for good. We were still firm friends, our friendship having brought us together in the first place, but after our reunion tour it was time to move on. I needed to focus on my own career and as hard as it was to admit it, the direction my music was taking didn’t include the girls. I think we all knew it was coming, I just finally had the courage to say it out loud.
We held our final ever show at the Tamworth Country Music Festival.
It was an outdoor gig at the Longyard, and it was packed! 40 degree heat, make up running, sweat dripping and emotions running high. I felt a strange mixture of excitement, sadness and guilt. The guilt because it was my decision to finally say goodbye to Bella, the excitement because we were going out with a bang not a whimper and the sadness, well that was to be expected. Every song was bittersweet. We sang with such abandon and the feeling in the crowd was electric.
‘Fields of Gold’ was always our show stopper, and we saved it til the end. Our three voices blended like treacle when we sang it, and our last show was no exception, until I broke down.
Verse three came along and until this point I hadn’t thought much about Dad, I was too focused on the sadness of the occasion, then he appeared. Not in the distance, not a faint shadow, but right up the front of the crowd. His figure as solid as anyone else in the audience, smiling with an all knowing grin, his pipe in the corner of his mouth… and suddenly my tears came like a waterfall. I couldn’t sing. I looked at the girls and they were crying too, the audience stood and most of them were crying, I thought, thanks Dad! You’ve made a right mess of all of us!
What I know now is that I needed to let go of the sadness and just be in the moment, and I’m forever grateful he came to support me through one of my toughest days.
I’m writing this in 2017, having just watched myself turn 4 chairs on national TV on The Voice Australia, singing none other than ‘Fields of Gold’. The whole experience was quite terrifying and as I stepped up on the stage there was an incredible sense of deja vu. That song, plus heightened emotions and the constant gnawing ache from the nerve pain syndrome I’ve been battling, made me doubt whether I would make it through and I wondered if I’d made the right song choice!
I took a deep breath and as I played the first notes I sank into that comfortable, safe place that I love. I know Dad was present, but this time he was standing side of stage with Mum.
Thank you Dad, for always supporting me and for always being there for me… even now.