Singer, songwriter, author and diplomat are just a few words that describe Fred Smith.
Fred, who’ll launch his latest album “Look” at Wollongong’s City Diggers on Friday, has been described in reviews as both an outstanding musician and outstanding writer.
Much of his recent work has been influenced by his experiences living and working in Afghanistan.
He was the first Australian diplomat to be sent to work with Australian soldiers in Uruzgan Province in 2009 and among the last to leave in 2013.
While there he wrote songs and put on regular concerts playing with bands comprising Australian, US and Dutch soldiers as well as Afghan interpreters.
In 2020, Fred went back to Afghanistan and when Kabul fell under Taliban control, he worked from Kabul International Airport on Australia’s mission to evacuate passport and visa holders.
Although many of the songs were written at a time when Fred was working in or on Afghanistan, he describes his latest album as “a collection of songs that are not about Afghanistan”.
“They are about the stuff of our lives and the world we live in: the speed of modern life, love, isolation, and the internet in a world that seems to be lurching forward by a rolling series of crises,” he said.
The album features a range of feels, from pop to rumba to bluegrass, as well as a couple of gentle ballads.
“There’s a squiggly thread in the absurd running through the recording, absurdity the only sensible response to being human,” he said.
“And that’s the bottom line with this recording: it’s a good one for humans.”
Following his first trip to Afghanistan, Fred released the songs he had written there on the album, “Dust of Uruzgan”.
It received rave reviews and earned him comparisons to the great Australian balladeers Eric Bogle, Don Walker, and John Schumann. The title track was covered by Lee Kernaghan on his top-selling “Spirit of the Anzacs” album.
Not content with just writing songs, Fred also wrote a book, The Dust of Uruzgan, which the Australian War Memorial described as “the first comprehensive insider account of Australia’s deep involvement” in Afghanistan.
“Dust of Uruzgan recounts the struggles, setbacks and successes of a contingent of Australian soldiers, diplomats and aid workers trying to make a difference in the midst of a hellhole, where truth and clarity were often buried and where 40 young Australian soldiers perished in the dust of Uruzgan,” it said.
Fred’s second book, The Sparrows of Kabul, will soon be available. It’s a personal account of his experiences working on the evacuation of Kabul following the collapse of the Afghan republic in August 2021.
On his return to Australia, Fred wrote a 90,000-word first draft of the book while quarantining from COVID-19 in an Adelaide hotel.
“Despite the many challenges during the evacuation mission, the Australian team managed to get 4100 people out, most of whom are now living in Australia,” Fred said.
“Their girls and boys are going to school and having swimming lessons. We’ve changed people’s lives. This is a story worth telling.”
The launch of “Look” is on Friday 1 September at 7 pm, at City Diggers in Wollongong. For bookings, click here.