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Spotlight on Perry Keyes

Riverside Theatre’s artist in residence, Perry Keyes is set to perform his new music theatre work The Soft Blue Sky. Ahead of this we take a look back on his life, music and achievements.

Perry grew up in the inner city working class area of Sydney known as Redfern. He grew up in a home populated by various uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents. Every Saturday morning his grandmother would do the house work whilst playing the likes of Ray Charles and Roy Orbison at a volume loud enough to spill out onto the neighbouring streets, lined with tightly-packed terraced houses, warehouses and textile factories.

When he was 12, he got his first guitar from the local pawn shop and within six months he’d written his first song. It was during his first year at high school that his family moved to the neighbouring area of Waterloo, with its high-rise Department of Housing blocks. It was within this environment that Perry formed the band The Stolen Holdens in 1989. Musically inspired by the likes of The Clash and Elvis Costello and lyrically taking his cue from artists like Lou Reed and Bruce Springsteen, Keyes and The Stolen Holdens developed a small but loyal following in the local Sydney music scene.

The band faded by the early 90’s and Perry re-emerged in 2003, playing solo sets featuring songs that would make up the bulk of his debut double album Meter – released in 2005 to critical acclaim and numerous years end best-of lists.

His next album The Last Ghost Train Home was received with even greater acclaim upon its release in 2007. It went on to be short-listed for the Australian Music Prize and was named the ABC Radio National Album of the Year.

Johnny Ray’s Downtown contains 16 tracks that once again draw on Perry’s local environment – the marginalised, often neglected and rapidly decaying inner city areas of Sydney – for their inspiration. These are songs about growing up, or trying to grow up, in the face of an environment that often suggests that the mere thought of getting past your late adolescence is hoping for more than what’s actually on offer.

With Sunnyholt the focus shifts west to the outer Sydney suburbs where Perry’s family travelled in the late 1960s and 1970s only to find an environment devoid of infrastructure and struggling to birth a community.

The Soft Blue Sky is Perry’s new music theatre work that centres on post-industrial urban migration in Sydney in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Underscoring the work of this remarkable artist will be visuals of moving and still images created by photographer/ filmmaker Johnny Barker. Performed to a sell-out audience at the Sydney Festival in 2015, don’t miss your opportunity to see this show at Riverside on 11 October. Click here fore more info or to book.

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