Girls in Our Town (The Other Newcastle Song) (B Hudson) – Margret RoadKnight 1976
Acclaimed folk/jazz/blues singer Margret RoadKnight began her career in Melbourne’s jazz-folk clubs in the early 60’s, she was a regular performer at Frank Traynor’s jazz club after she replaced Judith Durham who had left to join the Seekers. Her vocal inspirations were Nina Simone, Odetta, and Harry Belafonte, she released her eponymous debut album in 1976 and has been a respected and uniquely talented international performer for five decades.
A sensitive interpreter of songs, RoadKnight possesses a striking and expressive alto voice and equally striking appearance at 195cms tall, and in her youth, a halo of afro-style curls.
She is a gifted storyteller and her interpretation of Girls in Our Town, a track lifted from her eponymous album, and previously recorded by the composer Bob Hudson on his 1975 album The Newcastle Song; evokes a melancholic and haunting ambience which underscores the narrow and soulless trajectory for teenage girls in country towns. School dropouts working in factories or shops, with limited career and cultural opportunities, teenage pregnancies, and enduring the brutal chauvinism of their male counterparts – this was Bob Hudson’s Newcastle (NSW), and he wrote about his home- town from the perspective of the women there.
“Girls in our town they leave school at fifteen/ Work at the counter or behind the machine/ And spend all their money on making the scene/ They plan on going to England.”
Musically the song is a sparse ballad, different versions anchor the melody on piano or acoustic and electric guitars with flute and tambourine accompaniment, RoadKnight’s vocals are often quite forward in the mix so that at times it has an a capella feel to it, emphasizing her soulful interpretation of the lyrics and the vulnerability and sombreness which inhabits the song.
Hudson’s lyrics are full of wry observations of the social mores, mating habits, vanity, and promiscuity of teenage girls in country towns- “Girls in our town are too good for the pill, but if you keep asking they probably will/Sometimes they like you and just for the thrill/ And explain it awaaaay in the morning.”
The song was a minor hit in Australia (#53), Melbourne DJ Stan Rofe loved the song and put in on low rotation there, where it climbed into the top 20 and earned RoadKnight an appearance on Countdown.
Despite a general lack of chart success, the song has assumed the status of an under-appreciated and timeless classic, appearing on various compilations of Australian songs, and in the 1990’s RoadKnight formed an a capella quartet with Jamie Birmingham, Mara Kiek, and Moya Simpson, and they called themselves Girls in Our Town. The subtitle to the song, is a reference to the comedy monologue by Bob Hudson known as the Newcastle Song which depicts the exploits of young Novocastrian Normie, as he cruises Hunter Street, the main “drag” in Newcastle, on a Saturday night (#1 ’75).This song has continued to resonate with the public, it inspired a photographic exhibition and in 2014 the evocative and beguiling novel Girls in Our Town by Dianne Dempsey.
Girls in Our Town has been compared to Boy in Ohio by Phil Ochs (US 1970) and although the musical structure of the two songs are similar, Ochs lyrical ode to Columbus (Ohio) was nostalgic, affectionate, and wistful, while Hudson’s threnody for economically and culturally impoverished Australian country towns like Newcastle, was more acerbic, probing, and insightful, it was a narrative burnished by the masterly vocal interpretation of Margret RoadKnight.