Redgum are an important band in the history of Australian music, responsible for political folk-rock that had an actual influence on the politics of the time. They are best remembered for their protest song "I Was Only Nineteen (A Walk in the Light Green)," which underwent something of a popular revival during Australia's participation in the second Iraq war. The band formed at Adelaide's Flinders University in 1975 while the members were attending the same politics and art class. The three students, John Schumann (vocals, guitar), Michael Atkinson (guitar, piano, vocals, mandolin), and Verity Truman (flute, saxophone, tin whistle, vocals) volunteered to submit a musical piece for their group assignment. The political songs they performed were so popular with their classmates that they found themselves immediately fielding calls to play at parties, political rallies, and pubs -- though they hadn't even decided on a name yet. Fellow Flinders University student Chris Timms joined them on violin and the then four-piece settled on the name Redgum.
Their first album, If You Don't Fight You Lose, debuted in 1978. It was recorded after a radio station told the band that approximately 200 people were requesting they make copies of the early demo recording they had been broadcasting. Each bandmember continued to work and study while performing on weekends and holidays until after the release of their popular second album, Virgin Ground, in 1981 convinced them to make the band a full-time priority. Tom Stehlik (drums) and Dave Flett (bass) joined the band, while Chris Timms left to be replaced by Hugh McDonald (violin, bass, guitar, vocals). It was their live album Caught in the Act, released in 1983, that made Redgum a national and enduring sensation. Its single, "I Was Only Nineteen (A Walk in the Light Green," went to number one. The song's frank depiction of the experiences of a Vietnam veteran, based on the story of Schumann's brother-in-law, made many Australians rethink their positions and within a year there was a Royal Commission into the use of Agent Orange and other chemicals by the Australian military. Royalties from the song were donated to the Vietnam Veterans of Australia Association.
By 1984 Flett and Stehlik had left the band. Brian Czempinski took over for Stehlik on drums, and Michael Spicer (piano) and Stephen Cooney (didgeridoo, bass, mandolin, banjo) were added to the lineup for their next album, Frontline. In 1986, at the height of their fame, lead singer Schumann left to sign with CBS as a solo act and thereafter enter politics. The group carried on in his absence, releasing the Midnight Sun album later that year. Atkinson left in 1987 and the group disbanded permanently in 1990 without recording anything further. In 2005 Redgum's music became unexpectedly popular and relevant to a new generation when political hip-hop act the Herd began performing their own interpretation of "I Was Only 19" at their concerts, eventually recording an acoustic version featuring Schumann as a guest for the re-release of their album The Sun Never Sets. ~ Jody Macgregor