A day in the life of Australian musician Archie Roach

Archie Roach with Paul Kelly, after winning an ARIA for his debut album circa 1991.
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Archie Roach with Paul Kelly, after winning an ARIA for his debut album circa 1991.

Each week, we ask a high-profile person to share a photo memory. One of Australia's most treasured musicians and advocate for Aboriginal rights Archie Roach is pictured with Australian music legend Paul Kelly, after winning an ARIA for his debut album, Charcoal Lane, in 1991. Kelly produced the album, and launched Roach's music career, which spans the better part of three decades.

I met Paul many years ago now, in the late 80s. We were doing Building Bridges concerts in Sydney on Bondi Beach - they were concerts where indigenous and non-indigenous musicians would get together and play.

He heard one of my songs that I'd been singing around called 'Took The Children Away', about the Stolen Generations - the first nations people of Australia, the Aboriginal people. It was brilliant. People welcomed it and people just loved the shows. It was just good to be able to get up and perform with Paul and the Messengers and bands like Crowded House and stuff like that. It was received very well. I thought it was a great idea to bring people together. Music is one of those mediums that's able to do that.

Unbeknownst to me, Paul actually started covering that song around some of his shows.

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Australian musician Archie Roach is playing at WOMAD in March.
Scott Barbour/Getty

Australian musician Archie Roach is playing at WOMAD in March.

We were rehearsing at his studios in Ultimo, in inner-city Sydney. He said oh I've got this song I want to sing to you Archie, come into the room and have a listen. He started playing and I wasn't sure what it was because it was his own arrangement of the song. But then he started singing and it was my song. I was like, wow. It took me surprise - I was pretty pleased with what he'd done. That's how we got to meet.

By and by we finally got together and Paul said this is my record people, my record company wants to do an album of songs - have you got an album's worth of songs? I said, I'll have to check. That's how it all started, we finally got the songs together and went to the studio back in '89, '90.

I'd never been in a recording studio before and I wasn't quite sure how... it was all new to me. This was back in the day with the old reel-to-reel. This was one of the last vinyl albums produced in the country. But it was good. I think I relied more on him - I wasn't quite sure what was going on. I took Paul's lead in the studio. But it was all good as far as I was concerned.

When I first met Paul, I wasn't quite sure who he was. But when I started travelling with him, and he started doing songs, I said, you're the guy that sings this. I just knew most of his songs, because you'd hear them all the time on the radio. Back in those days he was just brilliant. Not that they aren't now but in his back logs, he's got all these beautiful songs.

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We did a 10-day tour of New Zealand, both islands - just me and him. I thought it was a great time, travelling within him and having a look at the beautiful country - it was just incredible. It was my first time in New Zealand.

I went to the Waitomo Caves and saw the glow worms, it's beautiful. You look up in this cave and it just looked like looking up into the night sky.

We don't see each other all that much these days I suppose, but when we do it's always a good time. We have that quality of time, rather than quantity of time. He's somebody who's always been.. you'll never forget the way he helped you back in the day you know, putting your music out.

Paul is quiet in a way, he doesn't let you know much about what's going on, he keeps things close to his chest. he's an enigmatic sort of guy, you're not sure what's going on in his mind. he's lovely to be with, he's good company. He has a conversation - he's not who just talks for the sake of talking.

We haven't done anything together for a while. On my album before this one, he sung on one of the tracks and he actually helped write it as well. But we never sort of, get together and jam like we used to.

Archie Roach will perform at WOMAD, March 17-19 in New Plymouth. Roach's 10th studio album, Let Love Rule, is out now.

 - Stuff

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