WHENEVER someone mentions the Newcastle Knights, passionate South Sydney fan and musician Perry Keyes remembers that faithful day in November 2000 when 80,000 people marched in protest to keep the Rabbitohs in the NRL.
Among the sea of cardinal and myrtle were busloads of Knights fans, there to defend another rugby league club with a similar working-class ethos.
“One of my lasting memories of Newcastle is their support for the Rabbitohs when everything turned to shit,” Keyes says. “I think a lot of Souths fans are aware of that too and have a soft spot for the Knights.”
Nearly two decades later Souths are an NRL powerhouse and have long called ANZ Stadium at Homebush home, however, Keyes still articulates the stories of traditional Rabbitohs suburbs Redfern and Waterloo in his heartland brand of folk-rock.
His latest album Jim Salmon’s Lament is a no-holds barred collection of songs, inspired by a family who grew up alongside Keyes on the uncompromising streets of Waterloo.
They paint a world of drug dealers, alcohol, domestic violence, hard labour, and most vividly, a family trying to get through their lives.
“My dad died three years ago and he was a particular kind of bloke from the inner-city,” the 52-year-old Keyes says. “He loved a punt, a beer and boxing and I just thought about how those types of men were disappearing and then I started focusing in on a family.
“I drew a lot from my own family as well. A lot of the songs are centred around a family I knew growing up. The brother and sister were friends of mine.
“I got on a roll writing about the dad and started writing songs about the daughter and the mum. It’s not so literal that you can’t move it around, otherwise you’d have four songs not 10.”
Keyes is in magnificent form lyrically on Jim Salmon’s Lament. But the real show-stopper is the Girl In The Crystal Cylinder Hoodie, inspired by Keyes catching a teenage girl and boy shooting up heroin next to a laundry mat three years ago.
The girls tells Keyes not to worry, “I’ll clean my mess when I’m done.”
“It’s funny, if you grow up in this kind of environment it’s amazing how much stuff you almost take for granted,” he says. “Somebody not from here might be quite shocked by it, but people here might walk past and think it’s just something that’s happening like people watering their lawn.”
For better or worse, gentrification in inner-city Sydney has priced out most working-class families. Keyes remains a resident of Waterloo and passionate about its culture.
“It’s a robust kind of place, you can’t just pretend you’re living someone else, it’s there for you every day,” he says. “If you’ve lived in the same part of town your whole life, you wear it like a comfortable old shirt.
“If I was to be metaphoric, it might have a few buttons missing, but it still fits you.”
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