I guess I was 18 or 19 when I first heard Steve Foster play. I used to attend the lunchtime concerts held in Union Hall at Adelaide Uni. They were usually band gigs, but Steve played a couple of shows there on his own. I was smitten on first take. I had been playing guitar for a while, learning the same few chords that most beginners latch on to and I thought my guitar playing was pretty average.
Steve had just released his Coming Home in a Jar album, and most of the songs I heard him play at these Union Hall concerts were from that album. They were strong songs – catchy and meaningful. And by and large simple. Steve used chords I played, and didn’t use any fancy picking. He just strummed. And the songs and his delivery of them were beautiful.
It was a moment when I thought “you know, I could do this. I know those chords, I can strum, and I have a reasonable singing voice. “ It was a moment I’d never forget. I learnt a couple of Steve’s songs and had great pleasure over the years telling people who liked them that they were written by Steve Foster, the Adelaide Steve Foster. (There is a much more famous Stephen Foster – the American songwriter responsible for a great many famous songs like Oh Susanna and Camptown Races.)
Steve left Adelaide for Melbourne and ports beyond in an attempt to make the big time and for whatever reason he didn’t quite get there. He should have – he got close – but that’s a story for others to tell. In my eyes he was certainly good enough.
Fast forward to 2016 and the Adelaide Fringe. Steve was back in Adelaide and performed his Dylan & Donovan: The Prophet, The Poet & The Sorcerers’ Apprentice at the Semaphore RSL Club. It was a wonderful show. As I wrote at the time, it was a real treat to hear that beautiful musical soul sing and play and tell his stories again.
Some months later Steve contacted me. He wanted to meet for coffee and thank me for my review – he figured it had gone some way to getting him invited to the Edinburgh Fringe. I hope it was that way. If so, it would be some repayment for the enormous influence Steve had had on my musical development. I was really pleased to be able to tell him firsthand about the impact his Union Hall concerts had had on me. I told him how he had unknowingly helped me believe in my musical self.
Steve was to do another show featuring songs of the sea in this year’s Fringe but alas it won’t be happening. Steve died yesterday. One of Adelaide’s finest voices will sing no more. Thank you dear man. Rest in peace Steve.