There was a time, back in the day, when I used to walk down to the beach with a friend and we would sing Jack Johnson’s entire ‘Brushfire Fairytales’ album verbatim and not really think anything of it. Such was the heady brilliance of those halcyon days that the idea that people might think us strange, as we yelped, off-key no doubt, to ‘Sexy Plexi’ and ‘Mudfootball’ didn’t even enter the frame. Instead, on days when the heat would rise out of the asphalt and dance around our skinny legs, teasing us to take off the too-large wifebeaters we sported thinking we were hot shit, we would sing Jack’s album back to front and start over again when we reached ‘It’s All Understood’ only to join our mates down on the sand and pretend nothing had ever happened. It didn’t seem so much as a choice at the time as the natural thing to do being young, carefree and sweltering under the mid-summer sun. Just how every word of every song became so internalised that they sprung forth on those sizzling days, taking the edge off the UV, is something I never questioned. ‘Brushfire Fairytales’ quietly, seamlessly, became part of my being on those days.
There were others that were thrown up as potential competitors. Having bonded over our love for Jack, I would suggest Dispatch to my friend, he would mention The Beautiful Girls and we were equally rapt with Donovan Frankenreiter and G. Love when they appeared live onstage alongside the hero of those lazy school holiday afternoons. But as much as I got into Dispatch and dug Donovan, The Beautiful Girls, with Mat McHugh as frontman, were a different story altogether. It might have been their unshakable Australian roots (the kind that didn’t conform with my vision of roots), their deliberately subversive moniker or the of the band when all that I craved at the time was simplicity and relaxation, but The Beautiful Girls never cut it for me. In a world of music populated by blissed-out surfer dudes who took everything with a grain of sand, The Beautiful Girls seemed impostors, riffing on the shoulders of surfer-rock giants.
I was, as ‘Go Don’t Stop’ makes abundantly clear, terrifically wrong. But it was too late before I realised my error. The Beautiful Girls, constantly subject to a fluctuating line-up, officially disbanded earlier this year and now the closest we can get to their uncomplicated, salty tunes is former frontman Mat McHugh who is already two albums and a recently released EP deep into his own solo career. In the meantime, multi-instrumentalist Xavier Rudd (a name bandied about in the early teenage years) has led scores of other acts demonstrating that Australia (all surf, sand, nonchalance) probably boasts the most fertile soil for growing stellar blues and roots artists. ‘Go Don’t Stop’ is the kind of song that, had I heard nine or ten years ago, would doubtless have featured on the beach-walk mixtape. Without the input of and complexities brought by other band members, McHugh shines in solo mode with brushed drums, rich bass and sparse keys the only thing between us, Mat and his guitar. There is some serious talent involved in penning a song this pared back. The essentials have to be done right or the whole thing falls over in a heap of half-baked lyrics and naive strumming. No such concerns here. McHugh is a seasoned veteran and ‘Go Don’t Stop’ has just the right subtle dynamics and impossibly warm vibe to capture the imagination of any blues and roots beachcomber.
Mat McHugh – Go Don’t Stop