MILESAGO - Industry
Music industry executive, promoter, agent, manager, 1960s-present
In a largely faceless industry, Michael Gudinski has held a unique position for more than twenty-five years, and form many years he was probably the only Australian record company executive known by name to the general public. Much of this recognition was due to his achievements, which are indeed many and considerable, but some of his visibility is unquestionably due to his relentless self-promotion as the "Founder of the Australian Music Industry".
Gudinki's prime motivation seems to be a "player" -- to be rich, successful and influential, to be and to be seen as a high flyer and he can certainly be satisfied that he has achieved those ambitions. Now a multi-millionaire, his many successful business interests include Mushroom Records, Mushroom Music (Mushroom's hugely profitable publishing arm), Mushroom Pictures, booking agencies Premier Artists (Melbourne) and The Harbour Agency (Sydney) and international tour promoters The Frontier Touring Company. He is co-owner (with longtime partner Frank Stivala) of Melbourne's Mercury Lounge. He also owns a 25% interest in the Ausstereo network's radio production company ausstereo mcm and is a board member of other prominent organisations including St Kilda football club. As reported in immedia a few weeks ago, Frontier's clothing division, Frontier Touring Clothing Company, has recently bought an undisclosed share (rumoured to be 15%) in Rod Williams' successful surf-wear company Hot Tuna, of which Gudinski becomes a non-executive director.
A detailed examination of Gudinski's career is long overdue, and it is certainly remarkable that, considering his influence over Australian music, nobody has yet written a exhaustive critical biography, nor has the man himself published his own memoirs -- doubly ironic when one considers the many flimsy "biographies" of pop stars who have achieved far less. Gudinski's enormous influence over the Australian music scene, and his near-total dominance of the east coast booking industry, through Consolidated Rock in the early Seventies, then the Harbour-Premier axis, also merit critical scrutiny.
Certainly, Michael's career is a great success story by any standard. Born in Melbourne in 1952, he was the son of Russian-Jewish immigrant parents who came to Australia in 1948. He had his first taste of the music industry as a teenager at Melbourne High School, where he became friends with future musicians including members of Madder Lake. It was here that he began booking bands for school dances.
By 1969, aged only 17, he had branched out, organising gigs at Melbourne halls and booking alternative acts like Chain, The Aztecs and Wendy Saddington. At that time most public halls in Melbourne had to be booked directly with the owners but over the next few years Gudinski's influence helped that system to change and by the early Seventies Gudinski's agency had a virtual stranglehold on Melbourne venue bookings. Indeed, his partner Michael Browning now admits that ConRock's control of Melbourne bookings would probably be illegal under today's regulations.
Gudinski first came to wider public and industry prominence when he took over as the manager of Australian blues-rock legends Chain. As the booking business flourished, Gudinski began to expand his horizons. He founded the Consolidated Rock agency in Melbourne in 1971 with another longtime Ray Evans and Michael Browning (later the manager of AC/DC). This "super-agency" was formed by the merger of three former independent booking agencies -- Gudinski's own agency, AMBO (the Australian Musician's Booking Agency) created by Jeff Joseph, Darryl Sambell and Gary Spry in the late 60s, and the shortlived but important Drum agency, set up by Glenn Wheatley and The Masters Apprentices in early 1970.
It's safe to say that Gudinski is a controversial figure. He has been sharply criticised by some former associates, most of whom will readily attest to his abrasive and sometimes abusive business style. As mentioned above, one significant area of Michael's business operations that has sometimes come in for sharp criticism -- but has probably never been critically examined in any detail -- is the virtual monopoly he gained over the east coast music scene in the 70s and 80s through Mushroom and Premier/Harbour.
In this respect, his methods and approach were no doubt strongly influenced by the emerging model of the vertical integration of management, booking, recording and publishing pioneered by American entrepreneurs like Albert Grossman (Dylan), David Geffen (Neil Young, Jackson Browne, etc) and Jon Landau (Springsteen), a system examined in detail for the first time in Fred Goodman's landmark treatise on the American music industry The Mansion On The Hill (Vintage Books, 1998).
The next and perhaps the single most significant event in Gudinski's business career was the Sunbury rock festival in January 1972. founding of Mushroom Records and Mushroom Music in late 1972. The company's inaugural release, issued in April 1973, was typically ambitious -- a sprawling triple-album live set recorded at that year's Sunbury Festival. It was quickly followed by more classic releases -- Mackenzie Theory's Out Of The Blue (Australia's first all-instrumental rock album), Madder Lake's Stillpoint
Once established, the Premier-Harbour-Frontier-Mushroom group found itself in the enviable position of having almost total control over many of their leading acts and over many of the venues in which those acts played, typified by acts like Chain and Renee Geyer.
Both were signed to Mushroom for recording. Chain was managed by Michael himself, Geyer by Michael's other partner Ray Evans. Both acts were signed to Gudinski's Mushroom Music for publishing, and both acts, like many others in Melbourne, were booked by ConRock (and its successor Premier Artists) which was originally co-managed by Gudinski, Evans, Michael Chugg and Frank Stivala.
This vertical integration worked well if you were in "the good books" but if the relationship soured a performer could find it hard going, as acts like Madder Lake discovered to their cost. After their acrimonious split from Mushroom in 1974, lead singer Mick Fettes says that there were several occasions on which they tried unsuccessfully to get bookings at Melbourne venues, According to Mick they were told by some venue managers that they would love to book the group, but that they dared not incur the wrath of Premier, who booked the vast majority of bands in Melbourne at that time, and that they feared being blacklisted by Premier if they booked a band that was in Gudinski's "bad books".
For the first three years Mushroom battled to stay afloat. Many of the recordings they issued are now regarded as classics -- The Dingoes' self-titled debut LP, Mackenzie Theory's innovative Out Of The Blue, the first Australian all-instrumental rock LP, yadda yadda
By the end of 1974 Mushroom was struggling to survive. Although critically lauded, few of their records sold in significant quantities and as radio playlists and formats narrowed to cater to the emerging new generation of pop fans, Mushroom's mostly progressively styled, album-based and adult-oriented acts found themselves locked out of airplay on Australian radio. Without radio promotion, there was almost no chance of major sales or hit records.
Salvation came from two unexpected sources. In late 1974 former Go-Set writer-editor Ian "Molly" Meldrum and TV producers Michael Shrimpton and Rob Weekes devised a new half-hour pop TV show which they pitched to the ABC. It was successful and the new series, COUNTDOWN, premiered in November.
The timing could scarcely have been better for all concerned. After a relatively slow start, the ABC surprisingly got behind the show and in Januray 1975 it was shifted from its original timeslot on Saturdays at 5pm to the prime position of Sundays at 6pm. This move was ti
Mushroom had many great successes, but as The Age's Peter Wilmoth has pointed out, the company also missed out on some golden opportunities over the last three decades. In the mid-70s they knocked back Cold Chisel, although Gudinski fairly insists that this was not really his fault, since Jimmy Barnes had not rejoined the group at the time that he heard their demo. In the early 80s they twice rejected Men At Work, a decision they no doubt bitterly regretted after the band's massive success in many countries, including the USA.
In the '90s, though they tried mightily, Mushroom failed in its bid to woo silverchair to the label. At the time time silverchair were the hottest unsigned act in the country and the huge success of their independent debut single triggered a feeding frenzy as rival labels fought tooth and nail to sign up the Newcastle grungemeisters. Despite fierce competition, the band opted for the proven global clout of the Japanese-owned Sony label and signed to its subsidiary Murmur. Many have opined that a major reason for this decision was that sliverchair's management were wary of Mushroom's "chew 'em up and spit 'em out" reputation -- a criticism that echoed by many former Mushroom acts. In Peter Wilmoth's 1999 Age interview, Gudinski was dismissive, implying that Sony had more or less tricked the young band into signing with them:
The facade Gudinski erected for himself as the golden-haired boy of Australian rock began to crumble in the late '90s, although he continues to enjoy a high profile as a successful businessman and entrepreneur.
The first serious cracks appeaared in March 1997. Shortly after the appointment to the Mushroom boardof James Murdoch (younger son of media magnate Rupert), Gudinski abruptly terminated Mushroom's 25-year distribution partnership with Festival -- a decision that cost Festival dearly and resulted in the retenchment of 45% of its staff, according to SMH journalist David Higgins. It also led to the resignation of long-serving Festival MD Alan Hely.
Gudinski had been looking for a new partner for some time, partly at the urging of some of his artists. "The market conditions have changed and Festival aren't as big as they were," he was quoted at the time.
Interviewed by David Higgins in 2001, Alan Hely recalled:
Also in 1999, to the dismay of many, Gudinksi ended an era of Australian music when he sold his controlling 51% share in Mushroom to Festival Records. Many people (the author included) were dismayed by his actions and by what the evident hypocrisy of his explanation for the sale.
There might have been a lot less criticism of the deal had it not been for the fact that over the preceding months Gudinksi had been one of the leading spokespeople for a music industry campaign to oppose the federal government's proposed changes to the parallel importation laws governing CDs. These regulations had long prevented retailers from importing records directly from overseas sources and forced them to deal through local record companies, a practice which the ACCC considered anti-competitive and a major cause of Australia's notoriously high CD prices. Indeed, in 2002 two major record companies were found guilty of unfair trading due to their attempts coerce retailers into importing only through them.
When the sale was made public, Gudinski tried to put a brave face on it, claiming that his sale of Mushroom was an act of protest against the changes to the law (which had been passed only days before) but his statement was widely criticised as being a cynical response, and that he was far more concerned about deflecting possible criticism of the sale than he was about parallel importing. Certainly it's hard to see how he could possibly expect the public, let alone the industry, to accept his sell-out of Australia's only major independent label to a huge multinational as an act of protest.
Certainly feelings ran high at the time. In the author's own experience, an email sent to Mushroom's Melbourne office to protest the sale elicited an abusive response from a Mushroom staffer (Quote: "Opinion are like arseholes - everybody's got one."). Regrettably, these proved to be famous last words, and the ironic postscript was that within a year Mushroom's entire Melbourne operation was closed down, most of the Mushroom staff were made redundant, and the few that remained were transferred north to Festival's HQ in Sydney.
Having spent the previous quarter of a century tirelessly building and promoting Mushroom as the independent Australian label, Gudinski sold out for a huge sum (reported to be at least AU$40 million) to the world's largest and most powerful multinational media conglomerate, News Corporation.
This had two particularly unwelcome effects -- it handed the last major Australian-owned label to a foreign proprietor (Murdoch and his family are all U.S. citizens) and it added to the growing concentration of media ownership by delivering Mushroom into the waiting arms of Festival Records, which has been a wholly-owned subsidiary of News Corp since 1960. Clearly, News had its eyes on Mushroom's lucrative artist roster -- which included megastar pop princess Kylie Minogue and a huge back catalogue -- for some time, since Festival had acquired a 49% share in Mushroom in the early '90s.
Michael Gudinski, the founder of Australia's Ultimate Songs
By Paul Cashmere
Rock and Roll is a tough game our good friend Richard Cartwright recently stated in his book Platinum. We can throw up a lot of song titles like It's a Long Way To The Top If You Want To Rock and Roll to equally emphasis the cliché.
Fact is, there are a few people out there that have built a life and an empire on a passion for rock and roll.
Michael Gudinski is the founder of the Australian Music Industry. Sure, there was Australian rock and roll before Michael but he was the first man to have the vision of it's global future.
Prior to the creation of Mushroom Records, having a 'career' in Australian music wasn't all that different from a game of spin the bottle. Mushroom became the glue that gave the creative side of the industry a stab at making a business out of their talents.
But, hey, that was 25 years ago and Gudinski has moved on to a new level were he can go back to passion for passions sake.
One of those chores was putting together Australia's Ultimate Songs into one space, the 5CD set AUS.
He spoke with Undercover Executive Producer, Paul Cashmere
PC>We have a man with us today who has probably had more Australian hits than anybody in history. Yet he has never put his voice to vinyl or CD. Michael Gudinski, founder of Mushroom records, now of Liberation records. Welcome along to undercover.com.au
MG> Fantastic, good to be here. Very close to the office.
PC> Yes it is.
MG> Leisurely stroll over.
PC> The box set that has just been released is Australia's Ultimate Songs. 100 songs on here. The question I'd like to ask you is how do you compile down to 100, because there are thousands that have come out over the last 25 to 30 years.
MG> Well I guess the first decision we made was to make sure we only had one song from each act because otherwise we would of had six INXS songs and six Cold Chisel songs and four Split Enz songs and four or five Skyhooks songs. So we limited it like that. Really there are a few things, it's caused a bit of controversy and there are a few people saying this song should of been but that was always going to happen anyway But look, if it's that successful and that much demand I guess we can always do 101 to 200.
PC> Yeah but what about even deciding that you were going to have only one song per artist. How do you then get that one song from a catalogue of Split Enz for instance.
MG> Look it's not easy and without hiding anything away the thing was it had a lot to do with commercial success. We weren't looking at obscure songs. We weren't looking at what might of been the most strong lyrical song. We were looking at what's the most recognizable and the most classic song from the act. With Split Enz, as many classic songs they had, I Got You was defiantly the one that stood way above all that so it was a pretty easy decision. We've had quite a few people involved in the decision making process and we bounced it off the Austereo radio Programers and then we threw it on Channel 7 on New Years Eve and got a bit of feedback from there. But ultimately what I'd like to do is stage the whole thing as one massive concert and see if we can take it one step further than the Mushroom 25th. But that will take a lot of planning and that will be a long way off yet.
PC> That sounds like a three day weekend instead of just a one off concert.
MG> It's all down to sponsorship. If someone puts the money up I'll be happy to run a three day concert. In fact, I'd love it.
PC> It's interesting looking at the caliber of artists there and particularly going back to the early days of Australian artists and rock and roll. Some of these even predate even when you were in this industry.
MG> A lot of the 60's stuff that I actually bought as a fan and I went to see when I was still at school and stuff. The great thing about all of that stuff even with all the great technology... Still a great song is a great song and some of those 60's songs even if they were recorded in little valve studios and four tracks or whatever they still stand up today. Things like the Easybeats and the Loved Ones and those bands. Hearing them now I think it's very valid, particularly those early songs that were not available on CD. I thought at the end of the century it was a really good time to get the encyclopedia of Australian music and it's something that we've tried to package that will stand the test of time. You know, your grandson or someone, your kid might pick it up and go wow that's what it was all about. If that achieves that I'll be happy.
PC> We can release the second 100 at that point.
MG> We'll leave that to someone else maybe.
PC> You mention the Loved Ones there. Trivia question, what's the relationship between Barry Humphries (Dame Edna Everage) and Jerry Humphries (The Loved Ones).
MG> Everyone asks me that question and I knew the answer one time and I've forgotten the answer. They're either brothers, cousins or not related.
MG> I think they're actually brothers. But I'm not completely sure. Jerry Humphries, a lot of young people watching wouldn't have a clue, was the guy that wrote the song The Loved One that INXS recorded. He used to actually work in the props department down the road in Channel 7. Back then you might of been one of the great Australian bands but you still had a day job and Jerry was just fantastic. I haven't heard of him, he was one of the Compares on the Mushroom Evolution 10th Anniversary Concert and I haven't heard of him for years but I'm sure he'd still... he just had a magic charm. Hutchence and him, there was a touch of Jerry in Hutchence. It was a fitting band for them to pick a cover of. There is another couple of great songs, they only ever had one album. One which will be in the Chopper Read movie because it's vintage time period and it will stand out when people see that movie that song will really stand out and I wouldn't be surprised if a modern act records one or two other Loved Ones songs. Great artists.
PC> Do you recall what was in the chart when you started Mushroom? What was the music like that was around at the time?
MG> A lot of Australian music around at the time just before we started were a lot of the Fable (label) stuff that was pretty successful and it was a lot more poppy. A lot of the stuff I liked. There was a lot things like the Bootleg Family Band and Brian Cadd and Liv Maeson. That was a sort of cycle and a lot of the stuff I liked that were more edgy like The Loved Ones. I loved the Easybeats, Purple Hearts from Brisbane. So many bands that actually, a lot of them never even put out an album, or even had an album. Healing Force was a band that I was involved in that perhaps should of been on this. They had one incredible song called Golden Miles. The main reason the Mushroom record label started was because most of the big companies around at that time didn't even bother signing Australian music. They were just here as an outpost to push all the International music which was fair enough but it wasn't really fair enough for a lot of us sitting here in Australia trying to get the business happening and a couple of the bands that I managed were getting so messed around by existing record companies that is why we started Mushroom. It wasn't because we thought this was going to be a 25 years later coming that we could sell to News Limited or that it was going to be such a money making proposition. It was purely out of the necessity to have control over our careers.
PC> Did you see the need to create an industry at the point though? Or were you just a music fan that got lucky?
MG> It's a bit of both really I saw there were a lot of needs in the industry and in anything you have to have a bit of luck and good timing. We had a bit of naive commitment in the sense that mostly all set to go broke but we just kept powering on and plowing on and eventually it started to make sense. Certainly the fact that there was very little support for Australian music at the time, and Australian music was thought of as the Holden car at the time. That was when the import was the hot thing and people would go to an import shop to buy an import and Australian music was looked at as second rate. I think that certainly in recent times, that is a thing of the past. Australian music stands up anywhere in the world. I think that's great. It's like our sports people, fantastic.PC> When you started there was a sense of a Sydney scene and a Melbourne scene. Melbourne has had it's own super bands such as Madder Lake and Sydney could have like the Radiators. We don't have that anymore. Is that something we're missing now out of the industry?
MG> Look, I think Melbourne still has a very strong music scene, and a better live scene than Sydney. I think that's why so many acts have come out of Melbourne or have moved to base themselves in Melbourne. It's always been very competitive between Melbourne and Sydney, perhaps less so these days because of the whole tyranny of distance has come a lot closer. The main thing was a lot of existing companies back then maybe didn't even record albums and certainly they were fly by nighters. One thing when we started Mushroom was we wanted to be around for a while, and we'd like to think that we could pay our artists royalties which no matter how creative you are, how good you are, if you can't pay your bills at the end of the day, you're shit.
PC> You must remember the great old days of radio when you could actually walk in, with a piece of new music and walk straight into the studio and play it. Radio has changed somewhat dramatically as well hasn't it?
MG> You could walk into some stations and they'd play it. I can remember times when you'd walk into some stations and they wouldn't even listen to it. Australian content was about 5% then and a lot of it was made up by classic old songs. The whole relationship between radio and Australian music has obviously improved, there is obviously a lot acts that could get more support on radio. To this day, perhaps the format, with the amount of money that people pay for licenses, it's so competitive that perhaps with the new licenses there will be a little bit more room, Perhaps some more Australian music will get exposed and I just think it would be great if there was an all Australian station. Just like a Triple J but the government would put on air. It wouldn't cost a lot of money. There would be people volunteering to work for it. Just give the people the opportunity that want to hear Australian music. They can switch on and good luck to them.
PC> At what point in Australia did the industry become an industry?
MG> I guess that really started to happen towards the later part of the 70's and the early part of the 80's. That's about when we all started to travel overseas and there was a lot of interest in Australia. Acts started to come out here, International acts touring. All of a sudden Australia became more than an outback post. It became a very popular place to go to. A lot of international acts coming here would talk about musicians from over there and I guess really it was the later part of the 70's when it became a business. It was very much an underground and fly by night business in the late 60's and I think it's a good thing that it has changed and doesn't mean there can't be lots of little independent companies around. There needs to be, there has got to be, some togetherness and responsibility. It was all a little bit nightclubby, backyardy, sleazy back in the 60's. Sounds appealing but it wasn't too appealing when I got thrown out of the house by my parents.
PC> In the year 2000 can there be another Michael Gudinski? Can someone come along and do it again?
MG> There have been plenty of people who have done more than I have done in different fields. I think that there are people now in the new technology area doing similar things and moving into new areas and forging ahead. I think it was at a time when I basically got onto a wave of something I believed in. It was fun to me and just hung onto that wave. I don't know a lot about a lot of things but I know a lot about Australian music and music in general and the whole music industry obviously. I've been in it all my life. I know about a losing St. Kilda football team. But aside from those areas that I've really concentrated on I feel that it's become my life. I think that if you get in at the right level and your hearts at the right spot, as long as your making sense of something, it will eventually work for you and that's the only thing I can say to encourage people and say look if you really believe in something you need to be a leader or a starter more than a follower. Startling liberation music now I'm not trying to recreate Mushroom and set up another whole big empire. I've already done that. This is designed to work with Australian talent but work with on a closer more creative level and take back to what it used to be. It really became a bit too much like, I mean complaints, I timed everything right with big business rather than being involved creative end and developing new talent. I hope I can do a bit more of that over the next couple of years.
PC> We'll see some new talent on Liberation?
MG> Yes, defiantly The thing is these days you need to develop acts for a year, two years before... some of these more alternative bands you build the whole thing up. With a lot of different styles of music you can actually get it right and take your time, stylize, develop the act, record the act, write with different people and just come straight out the box and have a huge hit record. Which for a lot of styles of music can really work. We're really taking our time. There might be acts that we develop for a year to 18 months and if we don't feel right about it we'll let them go. I don't want to get back into the situation where it becomes like a machine and you've got to put out so many CDs a week and you've got to follow up this. Your working, you know your not running the business yourself, the business is running you.
PC> Well I guess looking at the acts that you did break over the years, is there any one particular moment where you thought this has suddenly become something huge? Kylie (Minogue) for instance in the UK.
MG> I think Kylie in the UK was just a phenomenon. I think a lot of people in Australia to this day still don't realize how big she was there. I mean she was the next biggest thing to Princess Di. She had one album that sold two million copies just in the UK. I mean I've had enormous success in the UK in recent times with Garbage who is one of the best bands I've ever worked with and their biggest album in the UK has done 600,000. I mean it's a big difference. If Kylie had the work ethic that Madonna had, and had we really gone after it in America with Stock, Aiken and Waterman... They were making too much money in England and Europe. They didn't want to mess the formula around. I think if we'd gone to America and Kylie had cracked America, Mushroom would of become a world wide label like Jive, like any of the labels that have gone that step above. I think because we really never cracked America the financial pressure was there. Anyone that has their own business knows that the financial pressure can be good in a lot of ways but it can really eat away at you. When you have a huge organization your trying to run and you've got a big part of the world called America, you know whether it was Split Enz, we got so close so many times. You can tell by the anguish in my voice, it just wasn't to be. And then Men At Work who I knocked back twice. But look, that's something perhaps we will do in the next few years. But I'm not going to stop until I crack America.
PC> One of the ones that I thought must of gotten away from you in the early days was Cold Chisel because they signed with Warner instead of Mushroom.
MG> The true story, contrary to what Jimmy Barnes has said is that he was not the singer in the band when I got the demo and I'm sticking to that story. It was ironic that we ended up working together. Jimmy himself was that close. We had a number one song on American radio and it never quite happened. Certainly Chisel was one that Jimmy never let me forget that we let go.
PC> Well you got them back eventually.
MG> We got him back, and we certainly did get Chisel back. Great to see them back in action, I think Jimmy has got to take a little bit of a step back now and take a bit of a look at what he's doing but he's just come back from Thailand and he's looking better than ever. We'll be mates right through.
PC> Was that a one off? That new Chisel album?
MG> Yeah, I think you'll find it will be a while before there will be anymore Chisel recordings.
PC> Let's talk about some of the favorite tracks on the album. There must be a couple of things that excite you still when you hear them.
MG> The whole thing is exciting because it's such an array of Australian music. Like I say, some of the early tracks sound so great today and to hear a Taxiride or a Killing Heidi up against the Masters Apprentices, it's more than just specific tracks, it's really the history of the soundtrack of our lives. So many people with so many different songs on it are going man when that song was on the radio I was in love with this girl or it's amazing how songs have got a special spot that they remember something to do with that song. It happens with me. So many people tell me that and really on this there is going to be a lot of songs that people go oh I vaguely remember that and as soon as they put it on they're going to go oh yeah. I'm just proud to have something that represents so much Australian music and hopefully it's going to open the doors. I'm really excited about things. There is everything from Christie Allen to Nick Cave.
PC> You can't get anymore diverse than that on one label.
MG> The one thing about Mushroom which I think is pretty unique is that in recent years there are so many labels that have been very stylized on a certain type of music and have really kept to a genre. One thing about Mushroom was that I was never, although I was honestly never a big country music fan, I must admit I'm warming a bit to it. As far as music went, there was really no Bible and we went for all different styles. I think we're one of the few labels in the world, apart from the few mega labels that have been able to do that and get away with it for all that time.
PC> Yep well it's Australia's Ultimate Songs and it looks a bit like that.
MG> That package itself is really good. You've got great notes on each track that sort of go through it. It's something that will sit on the family shelves and before you know it the younger brother or the younger sister or the next will be listening to it as well.
PC> Well congratulations for the 25 years and here's the album. Thanks to Michael Gudinski for popping into undercover.com.au
MG> It's a pleasure.
Australia in the Global Context
IN 1960 the first truly global Australian pop hit single was launched. It reached No.7 on the UK Top 10, spent eight weeks in the charts and then three years later climbed to No.3 on the American charts. It sold a million copies and globally defined us for a decade. If anybody knew anything about Australia, they knew the lyrics and the imagery of Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport, sung by Rolf Harris.
Hit the fast forward button and watch the digital display move forward to 2/7/99. The place is the South Bank arts complex on the Thames in central London. The two week Meltdown Arts Festival has just taken place, featuring Nina Simone, Arvo Part, Suicide, Barry Humphries, readings of work by Samuel Beckett, photographic exhibitions, live art performances and films by Powell and Pressburg.
It's the fastest selling Meltdown since the Festival's inception and it's the talk of the art world, featured in all the quality press, mainly because it's a two week journey into the taste and mind of the one man curating the entire event. He is a man from Melbourne, whose early works were described as'the anus of culture' but who now strides the international stage: Nick Cave. I signed Nick Cave to Mushroom Records in 1978 and still represent him as a publisher.
Rolf Harris-Nick Cave. It seems a long journey. Rolf Harris' song was a success because as a cartoonist he drew a little cartoon about a far off land hardly anyone would visit. It took Australiana to the world.
On the other hand there is next to nothing distinctively Australian about Nick Cave. He is an internationally successful and respected icon because he meets the international standards for contemporary icons. He is enigmatic, his visual image is powerful; his flair for publicity is dramatic; over twenty years his talent has created a respected body of work; his place in contemporary culture is acknowledged and his creations tell people the world over something about themselves.
The same can be said for innumerable Australian artists and their global success. Savage Garden, Kylie Minogue, Baz Luhrman, Cate Blanchett silverchair and INXS. They may have Australian DNA inherent in their work, but they are internationally successful because they meet the international standards that are somewhat nebulously set for global domination.
Back in the 80s I signed Uncanny X Men to Mushroom Records. Here in Australia they achieved great success, but in all honesty I knew their music wouldn't travel well and I never expected global success for the band. Even today there are acts that only make sense in their homeland.
However now more than ever Australian artists must, and in most cases do, aspire to the global parameters' be they pop divas, dancing queens, gothic enigmas or tattooed love gods. This isn't just to attain international success. This is to attain success here in Australia.
Creative people, new technology, information, commodities and ideas now pour into this country. The tyranny of distance is a thing of the past. Cheap air flights, satellite TV, the Net, email, MP3, even the humble backpacker all open Australia to international trends and standards and the Australian public know if local artists are measuring up.
In all honesty I'd have to say that outside of Australia's indigenous artists there really has never been a homegrown sound, a musical groundswell that is distinctively Australian, easily recognised the world over. From Johnny O'Keefe to silverchair our popular music has been massively derived from the American and British artists we have been listening to and looking at. In truth the Australian music scene has been under the spell of globalisation since its inception. You could go as far as to say it is a product of globalisation, an example of how, since the 50s, we have been taking the international standard as the local standard.
But this is even truer now than it has ever been. Contemporary culture is continually manipulated; absorbing, modifying and hybridizing incoming information. The global flow of ideas and technology impacts on public and artist alike. A simple example: the opportunities for practical, global partnerships are greater than ever before. The British newspaper The Independent recently wrote about Nick Cave's collaboration with German artist Blixa Bargeld, claiming that as a result of the relationship Nick'gained roots with a larger European context. It helped him immeasurably' Blixa was a passport to an idea'.
New technologies are also a passport for our artists. It has never been easier to get our artists and their work to the world. Just to give you one example, with MP3 a video or a song can be emailed to the world. At a recent music retailers' conference an artist played live. The performance was digitally recorded and available to be downloaded off the Net, with no loss in sound quality, only minutes after the last guitar chord had stopped ringing in the conference room. That's how instant and direct it can be.
New technology will help us break acts here in Australia and internationally. In the past there's been a narrow range of routes to choose in promoting our artists. A handful of radio programmers and record company bosses have determined what music will be heard. Now the Net can beam innumerable radio stations around the world and operate as a marketplace for all manner of niche and popular musical forms. The gatekeepers at radio can be circumvented and the public can get direct access to more music' more Australian music' than ever before.
I can only look back to some of the bands I have worked with and smart over the fact that we didn't have the e-revolution back then. Imagine Skyhooks with their own web page, with all their visual and musical creativity what a blast that would had been. Back in the 70s we were the victims of distance' by the time we got Skyhooks overseas the moment had passed. If we'd had the immediacy, color and vitality of the new technology we'd have been kings of the world.
But elements of this new technology and of the globalisation it represents can turn around and bite us.
Copyright is one example, and it's a potential nightmare. Technology is running way ahead of legislation. One example: A record company loads the work of an artist on to the Net. A fan legally downloads a track on to his or her home computer. Who gets the publishing royalty that is due? The publisher who represents the artist in the country where the site is based, or the publisher in the country where the fan lives' In many cases people are rushing ahead and utilizing the new technology without resolving these problems, others are reluctant to use these new opportunities until the legal world catches up.
But the negative possibilities of globalisation go past the legal and impact on the social. Globalisation is potentially a new form of colonization. For example, it won't be long until multi-national record companies, maybe even film companies, use the technology revolution to load their new releases on to the Net and the consumer downloads them direct to their home computer or entertainment center. Where to for the local Australian record store, record company, radio station or cinema.
The impact could be huge. Without direct sales of major international releases local record company funds would dry up and inevitably the first thing to be axed would be spending on the development of local Australian talent.
Parallel importing could have the same impact. It's a sign of globalisation, the dismantling of trade barriers and financial deregulation. Its great for the CD manufacturers in Indonesia but a curse on the local industry and the local artist because any drop in local revenue will first and foremost mean a drop in investment in local talent.
A similar effect could occur if the multi-nationals decide that there is no financial incentive in fostering local talent here in Australia. Its quite possible that bean counters in Los Angeles could choose to maximise profit by directing their international offices to focusing on nothing more than the tried and true, money spinning international artists. It happened in the 70s when they invested next to nothing in local music here in Australia. Mushroom was all but alone in supporting local talent. Now that a mere five companies dominate the global music industry the business environment is there for it to happen again.
With such a small number of companies dominating the music industry only a small number of people are in a position to determine which values are emphasised in music' and which are lost. Globalisation could instill strict guidelines that stifle diversity and encourage a worldwide monoculture.
But on the other hand perhaps all the advances in technology, the global flow of ideas and the intersecting flight paths of creative will result in people across the world becoming increasingly aware of our common human experience.
Maybe there is some hope to be found in the fact that in amongst all the avant garde photographs, live German art performances and New York electronica at Meltdown, Nick Cave still found space for Rolf Harris to perform I Can't Get No Satisfaction and Stairway to Heaven, complete with wobbleboard.
Like many baby-boomers, Michael Gudinski was seduced by the power of rock and roll.
In every city in Australia there was a fringe community that comprised of musicians, hotels, roadies, journos, import record retailers and, most importantly, music fans. There was virtually no 'mainstream' media coverage, and record companies often didn't even bother to license albums for release into the Australian market because they saw no demand for them. Ray Evans, Michael Gudinski and Michael Chugg saw the opportunity.
As Ray Evans says: "We wanted to create an Australian independent label that was able to consolidate the direction and development of the bands at the time. We wanted to do it out of necessity. We found the word "Australian" wasn't a priority in the multi-nationals' point of view." Michael Gudinski came up with the name Mushroom. Ray Evans again: "It evolved out of the period. And that being very underground, and the fact that we were growing and had to breakthrough... "Mushroom" was the perfect title."
For over 25 years now, Mushroom has carried the aspirations of Australian musicians. In 1993 Gary Ashley, Michael Gudinski's second in command for 23 years, set up the London office, and was responsible for the signing of Garbage. At the same time Mushroom went into partnership with Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, facilitating the expansion in the UK where the label is now a major player in the hugely competitive music scene.
Korda Marshall currently heads the Mushroom UK operation and brought his 'Infectious' label to the Mushroom Group of Companies. In mid-1990's Mushroom concentrated on expanding their Australian and UK operations into other international territories.
Mushroom artists are currently distributed by BMG International through all territories (excluding Australia, the UK and North America). The most successful worldwide acts to date have been Peter Andre and Garbage - in excess of seven million albums worldwide.
Abriged and Adapted from "The Mushroom Story - 25 Years of Mushroom Records"
by Dave Warner. Published by Harper Collins
The Mushroom Connection
In 1972 young music entrepreneur Michael Gudinski took a punt when he started the Melbourne-based Mushroom Records to record innovative Australian artists.
He formed a relationship with Festival Records that would prove enduring and hugely successful. Gudinski discovered and recorded the artists, Festival handled manufacturing and distribution and the two worked together on promotion and marketing.
This section looks at Mushrooms successes. In the early days, Skyhooks first album Living in the 70s sold a quarter of a million copies, becoming the biggest-selling Australian album at the time. In the 1980s Mushroom Records turned Split Enz, Jimmy Barnes, Paul Kelly and Kylie Minogue into major stars. 1990s successes included Yothu Yindi, Frente and Peter Andre.
MICHAEL GUDINSKI (Co-Producer)
Michael Gudinski is, unquestionably, the most successful entrepreneur in the Australian music industry. Mushroom Records and Mushroom Music, both founded by Gudinski, recently celebrated their 25th anniversaries. To date, there have been over 400 Australian artists signed and recorded by the Mushroom Group of Companies including pop diva Kylie Minogue. Their releases have so far exceeded 8,000.
Mushroom Music alone is the number one publisher of Australian music and the most successful independent publishing company in the country.
The son of Russian immigrants, who came to Australia in 1948, Gudinski had his first taste of the music industry as a teenager at Melbourne High School, where he initiated booking bands for school dances. He came to prominence as manager of Australian rock legends Chain, and the infamous band, Skyhooks whose 'Living in the Seventies' album remained in local charts for a record-breaking 56 weeks.
To coincide with Mushroom's 25th year, Gudinski chose to sell his remaining share in Mushroom Records to News Limited; a move that has enabled him to concentrate on his extensive slate of music and media interests, particularly Mushroom Pictures. He has recently launched the new record label, Liberation Music.
MGM (MICHAEL GUDINSKI MANAGEMENT)
9 Dundas Lane
Albert Park VIC 3206
Phone: (03) 9695 7808
Fax: (03) 9695 7819
Managing director: Michael Gudinski
General manager: Ian Smith
Assistant: Suzanne De Silva
Artists managed: Diesel, Jimmy Barnes Ian Smith; Annie Crummer, Daryl Braithwaite, Supergroove Jane West
63-79 Miller Street
Pyrmont NSW 2009
Phone: (02) 9552 3444
Fax: (02) 9660 4142
Artists managed: The Badloves, Leonardo's Bride, Nikka Costa - Norman Parkhill
"Highway flew to Melbourne at the end of the year and found a manager almost immediately. He was Michael Gudinski, who was well placed in the Melbourne music industry. He was the same Michael Gudinski who would later go on to form Mushroom Records. He organised some good gigs and they were soon playing to large audiences at the Myponga and Sunbury festivals. They continued to play well, but their style of music was different to most of the other groups that were playing at the same time. While they did manage to gather a small following of fans, it wasn't enough, and Gudinski was unable to secure them a recording contract. Always on the road with little time for rehearsal and songwriting, they soon began to lose interest. Highway disbanded in mid-1972."
MUSHROOM HITS THE QUARTER CENTURY - FROM COUNTER CULTURE TO ESTABLISHMENT
I can remember in 1970 (yes I am very, very old) when I was in a rock group in Australia, when I first met Michael Gudinski, then a 17 year old pimply spotted teenager who'd just dropped out of high school.
Gudinski wanted to enter the music business and he had already demonstrated the enterprising side of his character by organising alternative teenage dances in suburban Melbourne town halls. They were truly alternative because he was the only entrepreneur at that time who was willing to risk his money for blues concert featuring hard hitting alternative rock bands.
He used to book bands like Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs and Chain and Wendy Saddington - not too far a cry from Guns 'n'Roses and a myriad of the world's top rock performers that he has since booked for Australian concert halls.
In an effort to gain experience of being on the road with a rock band, the young naive Gudinski volunteered to be the Valentines' roadie on one of our interstate tours to Adelaide.
He carried the equipment, drove us to the gig, fetched our drinks, and did all the humble things that a roadie used to do in those pioneering days of Australian rock. Even though he was only 17 at the time, the experience was seen as a step down in status for the budding dance promoter.
But he did it for the experience.
When it came to party time after the show, Michael freaked out at the amount of booze, birds and bongs that proliferated the seedy motel room that night, and first thing the next morning he left us, caught a cab, rushed to the airport and flew home to Melbourne, disgusted at our rock'n'roll behaviour. Needless to say it did not take long for young Michael to get into the swing of that lifestyle - at least that's what I'm told.
Twenty eight years later, and Michael Gudinski has become a legend in Australian music, and this year celebrates the 25th year of record label, Mushroom Records, once his proud independent possession but recently purchased by Rupert Murdoch for a reported $AUST40 million. Gudinski was already a millionaire, but the sale of his company has ensured his financial future one would imagine.
The Australian music industry this year has been awash with a series of celebrations for Gudinski's triumphant career, and at the end of November a book galvanising the history of the label will be released.
Written by Dave Warner, formerly from Mushroom act Dave Warner and the Suburbs, 'Twenty Five Years Of Mushroom' celebrates the incredible history of this independent label, and in the process, presents a very big chunk of the history of Australian rock'n'roll. Of course it is only one point of view, and that is Mushroom's.
The book itself, like Gudinski, is a little self congratulatory, but nevertheless takes us through the course that took the original label of the Oz music counter culture of the day to the heights of multi million dollar conformity with Murdoch.
"They wanted a celebration of the label and to as much as possible talk about all the artists that were on the label", Warner said this week. "I love reference books myself and I wanted a complete discography of everyone who'd been on the label."
As a time capsule of Oz music history the book does a reasonable job, although obviously it is very slanted towards Mushroom Records, and it is interesting that with the exception of Kylie Minogue and Peter Andre and Garbage in recent times, none of the Mushroom acts ever made a dent internationally.
The booked is laced with quotes from Mushroom heavyweights such as Jimmy Barnes, James Freud, Mark Seymour, Skyhooks and Billy Thorpe and clearly places, although perhaps slightly over importantly, Mushroom's place in Australia's cultural history.
"Mushroom really was anti-establishment in those days", says Australian rock legend Billy Thorpe. "There really was a difference then (in the early 70s) between mainstream and underground music. There was no Triple J national radio, there was no-one playing the music. Mushroom bands like Madder Lake, Ayers Rock and Skyhooks represented something more than just music, they represented the first time Australian youth heard their own voice and got to hear a whole counter-culture. Mushroom did have street credibility then. It lost it as it became bigger. But who does have it now?"
Despite author Warner's personal involvement both with the label (as a recording artist up to 1981), and this book, he also says the label's days of credibility are long gone. But he stresses that Mushroom's legacy is still alive and kicking. "I think people who didn't come into music via the late 60s and 70s, and who didn't know what the scene was like before Mushroom, would have little idea how much the local music scene owes to the label. To them Mushroom is just a big label that had Jimmy Barnes and Kylie Minogue".
Mushroom Records were the label, of all multi nationals in Australia, that could best afford to sign Australian rock legends Cold Chisel to the label, subsequently making all parties millionaires again in the process - as if any of them needed another quid. Presumably. But hey, who knows ?
Michael Gudinski Vice President, St Kilda Football Club
Michael is the Frontier Touring Company's Managing Director and owns the new Liberation music label. Michael also owns Mushroom Pictures and Mushroom Music Publishing.
He was the founder of Mushroom Records, the most successful Australian, independent record company. He sold the company to News Corp in 1998.
Michael joined the Board in October 1999.
Record boss Gudinski: I caused Oz film renaissance
Posted by Ben on Saturday June 09, @12:05PM
from the in their own words dept.
Mushroom Pictures chairman Michael Gudinski reckons he's "started a Renaissance" in Australian film. The Liberation/Frontier/etc boss is interviewed, along with offsider Martin Fabinyi, for this month's AFR Boss magazine. Every month the magazine runs a in-their-own-words piece called Dual Drivers, where business partners talk about themselves, each other and their business. Why it's not called Dual Airbags is something of a mystery.
But Gudinski and Fabinyi had plenty of interesting things to say. As well as the usual Gudinski non sequiturs -- "the culture of our buiness is to make it a lot more business friendly than, say, a big corporation" - he manages to take credit for the revival of the Australian film business: "At the time we formed Mushroom Pictures, Australian movies were in a rut. I felt there was a lot of room for more, an I believed in local film talents. It sounds arrogant but I think since Mushroom pictures started we have fillled a gap and started a Renaissance in films here."
Gudinski now sees the litigation-ridden News Ltd buyout of Mushroom Records (now folded into Festival Mushroom) as an "opportunity" - just don't mention the war: "Once News Ltd bought Mushroom Records, it gave me the opportunity to look at investing in other areas."
And, in a not particularly shocking revelation, he admits to banging tables and being brash: "Martin looks to me as an overseer, a visionary, the big picture person. I come into the room, I bang that table and I'm brash."
Fabinyi, on the other hand, is a little more circumspect. Of the early success of his record company, Regular, he says: "I don't think Michael was too pleased. But Mushroom was very much a Melbourne company and Regular a Sydney company. We had a lot of respect for each other and eventually Michael realised we were different."
He's proud of Mushroom Pictures acheivements, it seems - which include "...Cut, a horror spoof that was the second-biggest box office for an Australian film in France." Does anyone know what the biggest is?
And he reckons Gudinski's American contacts help no end - you know, the ones Gudinski used to break all those Mushroom acts in the US. Ahem. Fabinyi: "It's hard to get released in the US, let alone make money. But Michael's reputation and contacts mean we can talk to everyone who matters."
And the man who presided over the Molly Ringwald-starring Cut has one criticism of the Australian film business: "We're making too many films for an international audience. That, by definition, usually fails. The film industry is just like the record industry. You can't make music for an international market; you must first make it for your local market. If it works internationally, that's a bonus."
Let's go back, let's go back
By PETER WILMOTH
IT'S time to say goodbye, farewell, amen. Well, nearly. Before Michael Gudinski finally checks in his Access All Areas pass there's a concert at the MCG to organise and that's why he's walking around Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, in huge circles yabbering into his mobile phone to Renee Geyer.
"Renee!'' he bellows. "You know what I want, don't you?"
What he wants is for her to perform at a news conference to announce the humbly named Concert of the Century at the MCG. It's a favor. After all, they go back, Gudinski and Renee. Way back to the early '70s and a shared house in Toorak Road, South Yarra, in which Ian "Molly'' Meldrum and Gudinski's first business partner, Ray Evans, also lived.
The house was a microcosm of what was later to become known as "the industry": Geyer the performer, Evans and Gudinski the managers and label chief, and Meldrum the media guru. They could have taken on the world from the kitchen table which, in a way, they did.
"There was always one of us having a party," Gudinski remembers. "Renee tells a story that when KFC and Bodega champagne were cheap we'd be able to have a full party for 150 people for $200.
"Although we had some fiery times in the old days and I never thought that I'd work with her again, I'm proud she's back on the label," Gudinski says. "She's got to be the greatest Australian female singer of all time. Without any doubt."
Gudinski's relationship with Geyer - indeed his relationship with many people in music - is a neat summation of the growth of Mushroom Records and its connection over 25 years with the Australian music industry: wild times, brawls, verbal punch-ups, vows to never work with each other again, patching things up, and then letting fly with the sort of glowing praise that would bring a blush to a publicist's cheek.
Twenty-five years ago, Michael Gudinski was a hirsute, enthusiastic 21-year-old who dreamed of creating an Australian rock industry with bands that felt sufficiently free of the cultural cringe to write lyrics about their own country and city.
At 18 - "loud, gregarious, pushy, I guess, but in a nice way" - Gudinski had started out promoting school dances at Ormond Hall in Prahran, but was soon a mover and shaker in the nascent world of Australian pop, putting on pop shows at town halls in St Kilda, Box Hill, Broadmeadows and Caulfield. He liked the buzz of crowds turning up to see a show he'd organised. He worked a phone better than anyone else. He was a hard guy to say no to. He had found a career.
"I was still at school, me and a few mates running it," he remembers. "It was really the spirit and atmosphere of that whole situation which got me motivated to get into music. Most important thing was that it was good fun, and that's something that's been as important to me as making money. I worked out when I was at school I always wanted to have a job that was fun. It was a good way to meet girls as well."
Gudinski set about searching for and recording bands that excited him. "I loved the music around then in the mid to late '60s. I never understood why the Australian artists didn't get more acceptability."
Gudinski had no real career plan - "I had some fantasies of being a lawyer" - but record executive sounded pretty impressive and certainly more fun. "It was pretty naive and pretty reckless," he says of Mushroom's beginnings. "I guess it's probably good that I wasn't an accountant or a real business person because I probably would have given up before I started."
Indeed, from its inception Mushroom has endured dramatic swings in its fortunes. Just when it looked like the wave would crash over the converted warehouse in Albert Park -- through the death of pub rock and the rise of recorded dance, the emergence of a vast array of musical styles to challenge rock and pop, Countdown ending its 13-year reign and commercial radio developing inflexible formats -- along would come an act that saved the company's bacon, such as the Hooks in 1974.
In the late '80s, that savior came in the unlikely form of a diminutive Neighbors star, Melbourne's own Singing Budgie.
"It was extreme satisfaction," Gudinski says of Mushroom artist Kylie Minogue's success in the UK. "For years I'd been taking great bands to England. No matter who the band was, the critics would find a way to tear them apart. It was ironic that a label so synonymous with rock should break through in England with such a pop princess. She was worth millions of dollars to Mushroom."
The label had started off in 1972 recording '60s rock acts such as the McKenzie Theory and Madder Lake, who had enjoyed some success. But it wasn't until 1974, when Gudinski signed a Carlton and Eltham-based group called Skyhooks that the company's fortunes were to change. Their album Living In The '70s was full of great songs about local topics. It captured the lurid color and rascalism of the era. And, much to Gudinski's pleasure, it sold by the truckload.
"It was like a dream come true," Gudinski remembers. "Financially we were pretty messed up. Living In The '70s just came out of the blue. It was like a stone gathering momentum. They were flamboyant, they were outrageous, they were original. Music became a household thing, not just for certain age groups.
"It put the label on the map, took a bit of pressure off and let us look toward the future."
In other words, it made Michael Gudinski. The rock entrepreneur was on his way.
And the hits kept coming from all sorts of artists: Queen of Pop acts in tight satin (Christie Allen), heavy credibility acts in singlets (Hunters and Collectors), retro acts in fake fur (Ol' 55), teen scream acts in codpieces and parachute trousers (Uncanny X-Men, Kids in the Kitchen), arty acts (Split Enz), suburban Bundy-and-Coke acts (Jimmy Barnes) and an array of interesting performers with strong commercial appeal: Sports, Jo Jo Zep, Ferrets, Black Sorrows, Vika and Linda. It was a musical Shangri-la where anyone with a bit of talent had a shot at the big time.
It hasn't always gone Mushroom's way. In 1994, the label lost out to Sony subsidiary Murmur in its bid to sign Newcastle teen sensations silverchair, who went on to have huge success in Australia and crack the US charts. Apart from missing out on the pre-eminent success story from another era - Men At Work - it has been the worst miss of Gudinski's career.
"It was unfortunate," he says. "I was happy (we) were the first company onto them. There's nothing worse than when you're not even in the ball park. (But) we misjudged the game. I didn't think things like limos and all that were part of the game plan for a young band. We didn't have the limos, Sony did. I was wrong. The telling factor was that they were Pearl Jam fans (a Sony act), and when Sony came along, they outgunned us. Had silverchair happened it would have had us right in among that area of music."
Critics suggested that in the '90s Mushroom had reached middle-age in more ways than one, that the once edgy label had lost credibility on the street. Further, the word was that Gudinski, more interested in his industry hang-out at the casino, the Mercury Lounge, and rubbing shoulders with Madonna and Bob Dylan, was losing interest in the day-to-day grind of running a record company in a tough economic climate.
Was his hand off the tiller? "Yeah," he admits. "I tried to give some of the people around me room to move. After we copped a bit of criticism and after that silverchair thing, a lot of people thought Mushroom had lost its strength, we moved to Sony (as Mushroom's distributors) and things hotted up.
"No label is going to stay hot 52 weeks of the year, week in, week out. The thing about Mushroom is whenever we've had our backs to the wall we've always been able to bounce back with something...
"We should have had more people signing the acts instead of just Gary (Ashley) and myself. When you've been running a company for that long... I used to say Mushroom was my real job and Frontier (the touring operation) was my fun company. We had Madonna, a lot of big tours going on and I was going on the road. Perhaps I ignored Mushroom a little bit."
It's an interesting admission from a man who has spent much of the past 25 years enthusiastically talking up his acts and his business. At gigs by Mushroom artists, it was Gudinski who, standing up the back of the room, would whoop and clap the loudest before heading over to any journalists in the room and raving about how his act was "shit hot" and how they deserved a feature article.
Gudinski has been a central figure in Australian music for a quarter of a century. As head of Mushroom, he dominated the recording, as head of Frontier Touring he scored big with tours by Guns N' Roses, Madonna and Bob Dylan and as head of Premier Harbor he had what some have seen as a stranglehold on the local concert scene. Throw in his music publishing empire and his management company and you get some picture of the power he has wielded.
An industry joke went that when he was managing his close friend Jimmy Barnes he would, as head of Barnes's record company too, have to jump across the table and negotiate with himself.
"I've got a short attention span and I like doing a lot of things," Gudinski says in his defence. "Management is the hardest thing I've done, let alone when you're managing someone who's such a good friend, and someone who is as intense and volatile as Jimmy can be.
"That line about me leaping over the desk and negotiating with myself was just such naive, cheap-shot stuff. Anyone with any brain would understand that Jimmy would have the best lawyers in the country and I would be negotiating with the lawyers."
His short attention span was never more evident than in an anecdote related by Mushroom Pictures head Martin Fabinyi to Good Weekend. "I once asked Michael if he'd read the latest draft of a script we were looking at. He said: 'I've read part of it all the way through'."
At a time when he's thinking of triumphs and regrets, he nominates the failure of Split Enz to crack the American market as one of his saddest experiences. He believed in the band, he still thinks they're wonderful, and he still can't get over it. Getting over the failure of his other great white hope, Jimmy Barnes, to crack the US was no less difficult.
"We were very close (with Split Enz). How I Got You wasn't a big hit... Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam says Split Enz and Pink Floyd were the two biggest influences on his life. Across the border in Canada they were almost Beatlesque. Huge.
"Jimmy was a bit different. By the time we got to Jimmy in America I knew a lot more. Had I known as much when I had Split Enz and Skyhooks it would have been a different story. I would have gone over a lot earlier with Skyhooks, and with Split Enz I should have gone and lived over there and managed them.
"With Jimmy, we had Geffen Records which were hot. They had Guns N' Roses, Nirvana, so much stuff. And yet ... Jimmy was known as one of the greatest voices in rock. Whether we didn't spend enough time touring there, whatever the case, it just wasn't to be. So many people to this day ask me 'Whatever happened to Jimmy Barnes?"
One Mushroom act stands out as an example of a long wait for an investment to come good: Paul Kelly. No one ever doubted his superb talents, but he was never Mushroom's biggest-selling artist. It took nearly 20 years for the ship to come in, as it recently did with Kelly's recent greatest hits album selling nearly 250,000 copies.
"The word 'development' has dropped out of the music business a lot," says Gudinski. "A lot of acts that happen very quickly don't necessarily have the long-term life. With Kelly, there were a couple of times I nearly dropped him. Mushroom was never a one-person show. (Mushroom staffer) Michelle Higgins had such passion for Paul, things like that make a difference.
"I've always had the greatest personal respect for Paul. He's a man of principle. For years I've tried to talk him into doing a best-of album, and he finally agreed to it. It came at a time when Mushroom needed a kick."
That's Michael Gudinski's idea of heaven: huge commercial success with principle thrown in for free. Doesn't get much better than that.
But among all the ups and downs, the pressure of running an independent record label without a Kylie-led capital injection became too much and in 1991 he sold half the company to Rupert Murdoch's News Limited. Last month he sold the rest of it, leaving Gudinski a very rich man and rock's most energetic entrepreneur with just a few arms of his empire left, including the nascent Mushroom Pictures.
"I'm going to get a bit more serious about the picture business. If anyone thinks I am going to rush straight back in and start another label, they're wrong. If anyone thinks I've got no interest in getting bigger and going further in the music industry, they're wrong. Never say never."
If he had been able to break an act in the US, things would have been different. Gudinski says he wouldn't have had to sell the first half of the company, let alone the second. "The fact that Mushroom had never really had key success in America was the key part of the jigsaw puzzle that really put a lot of financial pressure on us. Australia is a small country. Had we been successful in America or Germany or England the whole financial thing would have been different."
Will it be hard to let go? "I'm sure I'll go through some post-natal depression. I'm very relieved. I've got young kids growing up, I want to enjoy my life a little bit more."
That won't be difficult with the $10 million he reportedly took out of the deal. Correct figure? "Nowhere near it. Much more. I wouldn't have given up my life for not the right deal. Over the last few years it became a bit too much pressure, bit too much big business... The record business has got very very tough in Australia, no thanks to the Government (with its decision to allow parallel importing of CDs). It was an offer I couldn't refuse."
How will he be remembered? "I've received a couple of letters from people who weren't ever in my life... who said 'For years I thought you were the big ogre and I was so wrong and I feel so bad'. I don't know if it was jealousy or if I was misunderstood.
"I've had a lot of disagreements, a few serious altercations, but I can honestly say there are only two people I put on the absolute shit list, who I won't name. Other people I've had a steamy time with, one way or another, you work it out. You can stab me in the front a couple of times, you can only stab me in the back once."
His relationship with Molly Meldrum has been long and at times a little fractious.
"A very colorful relationship," smiles Gudinski. "At the moment we're getting on better than ever. Molly is a great inspiration. His undying commitment to Australian music is unsurpassed. Molly seems to have the biggest fights with his friends, which is an interesting trait. We've had a couple of shockers, and apart from one or two that lasted a few weeks, we've been able to laugh it off."
How does Gudinski see his own image? "I'd like to think fair but tough. I'd like to think anyone who's shown me loyalty, I've shown loyalty back. I used to watch lots of mafia movies when I was a youngster. Take the blood and guts out of it. That's what I've created: a family of people together.
"The reason we became so successful was that so many groups of people came and went and while we've lost a partner or two along the way, somehow ... I've been able to keep a volatile group of people together."
The MCG concert will be a dusting-off of songs that made up the soundtrack for a generation's youth.
"This is a logistical nightmare. I want it to be like living their lives in front of their eyes. It will be hit after hit. It will a farewell to me as well, I guess. It was a childhood dream of mine to fill the MCG for a concert."
There's still the famous enthusiasm. He raves about a Mushroom act, the Scottish/American Garbage. "It just shows there's a lot more to rock and roll than wild parties, sex, drugs and hanging out late," he says.
"These days a lot of bands are a lot more conscious. And they can leave all those things to us people in the business. No, seriously, a lot more artists are professional and career orientated, and that's long overdue."
Regrets? "I should have got married when I was younger, I would have loved to have had success with Barnsey in America and I regret not moving to England with Split Enz. The good thing is I'm 46, I'm not 66. There's a lot left for me."
The Concert of the Century, featuring more than 50 Mushroom artists, will be held at the MCG on Saturday 14 November. For details on tickets, Freecall 1800 017 777
What next for Mushroom Records? Kerri Simpson's new CD, The Brown Hornet...
Mushroom: What Next?
After the Concert Of The Century, what will Mushroom do to end the century? Michael Gudinski has been everywhere over the past few weeks. Can a label, seemingly so based on the personality and drive of one person, survive when that person departs? Of course, Virgin Records and Geffen survived after their founders exited, but what will Gudinski's departure mean for Mushroom and for Melbourne music? Clearly not every Mushroom act was rapt when Gudinski sold up. Some feel that if the company's not good enough for him, why should they stick around? Violetine have already left to go to Epic. Don Henley told me how devastated he was when he found out that Geffen had been sold. "You wake up one day, like I did, and your company has been sold to a foreign company. It tends to make you feel like a piece of meat, like pork bellies or soybean futures. No-one even called me. It's just a big game of corporate musical chairs. It leaves you scratching your head and wondering, 'Are all the people going to be leaving as well?' It's a bit like a family breaking up".
With parallel importing just starting to bite and the seachange at Mushroom, who knows what the local music industry is really going to be like in one year and five years time. We live in interesting times.
There's no doubt that the new Mushroom boss, Paul Dickson, is one of the best music men in the business. You just have to look at the local roster of the label he came from, Polydor. But will Mushroom stay autonomous and in Melbourne, as the label says it will? Or will it - as most pundits predict - pack up and move to Sydney and become just a part of the Festival fold? Of course, Polydor - Dickson's previous home - was also once based in Melbourne before relocating to the head office of Polygram in Sydney.
If Mushroom did leave Melbourne, what would that mean for Melbourne music? At the moment only four major labels - Warner Music, Sony, Mushroom and Shock - have a genuine A&R presence in Melbourne. If Mushroom left town, would the other labels take local A&R as seriously? There has been a feeling that some companies have Melbourne A&R simply to make sure that Mushroom doesn't dominate. Perhaps if Mushroom left, the other labels would take the opportunity to exploit the situation by beefing up their Melbourne representation. Perhaps. One thing is pretty obvious: With all of the multinationals based in Sydney and the uncertain future of Mushroom, it is not going to be easier for Melbourne acts to get record deals. In the long run, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Melbourne has the best music scene in the country (due in no small part to the number of venues and the excellence of public radio).
But nearly all of the A&R attention is on Sydney acts. With the situation the way it is, Melbourne acts should be well and truly ready for action by the time they finally manage to excite the attention of the Sydney labels. Hopefully this will mean they won't be over-hyped and under-prepared by the time they sign (as in the case of, say, The John Reed Club and Juice). The road will be harder, and longer, and, in the end, more profitable. Perhaps.
To return to the first question: What now for Mushroom? Well, the future is in their own hands. Hopefully they'll have some hits, something which has been few and far between over the last few years. Overall, it's pretty simple: If they can't have hits with two great new singles - Moler's Delicious and Deadstar's Run Baby Run - they may as well forget about any thoughts of a Sydney move. They should shut up shop.
It has been reported recently that during the past five weeks or so since the amendments, CD prices generally are not cheaper with the major record companies and most retail outlets having held firm. Courageous retailers who fall out of line with company policy and start selling cheaper imported CDs find that the majors are quick to act by cancelling accounts and ceasing supply. One wonders how long the solidarity will last bearing in mind Michael Gudinski's most recent manoeuvre. He said the reason why he sold his remaining 50% share in Mushroom Records to News' Limited was that the recent changes would make it impossible to continue. Gudinski is of the opinion that a fall in retail CD prices, and a consequent tightening of company margins are inevitable.
Meanwhile, in the strange racket that was (and is) the music industry, the aforementioned Barry Earl and Michael Gudinski were setting about collecting bands to record for Suicide. You may think and rightly so that a new label working a new vein of music might have a fresh approach, but this was not to be. It seems that Suicide were first intent on monopolising these new bands. The first step was contacting people like Keith Glass for phone numbers of people in bands, Gudinski and Earl knew nobody and apparently knew nothing about Melbourne punk either. Everyone contacted was invited to audition and around a dozen bands did so. Most, if not all were offered contracts immediately. It seems the only consideration was that auditionees could play some semblance of a set. There was certainly no considered judgement of any of these groups. Most, if not all were offered contracts and signed them. None of Suicide's objectives is revealed by examination of these contracts, which were exposed in short order by alert hacks such as Clinton Walker and Bruce Milne. But the initial expose came from News. The Faraday street four were the first opposition Suicide encountered. They were invited to audition at Mushroom HQ, an interesting location given that Suicide was publicly claiming no relation to Mushroom, despite the Gudinski connection.
On the day, Barry Earl watched News play for around ten minutes, then pushed a contract across the table. He wanted it signed there and then. Rather than be rushed, Gavin wanted to take the contract away for further perusal. Earl didn't like it and began blustering at them about only needing to sign the contract and be done with it. As if to arouse further suspicion, he then called down a Mushroom accountant who gave the band a spiel about what a good deal was before them. News took a walk with the contract and showed it to a legal advisor. He wrote in suggested amendments and News took this back to Suicide/Mushroom as a bargaining point. Earl flatly refused to negotiate any point and wanted nothing else to do with the band. "I wanted them to put changes in and do it up-front. What we got for being up-front was 'forget it!' and we were out in the cold. Suicide thought they could make a killing. I think they stepped over the bounds of decency" [Gavin].
The intended Killing was in the contract, which would tie the artist to Suicide for a year and not oblige them to do anything significant for a band as Clinton Walker wrote: "Right from the outset, Suicide's intentions appeared pretty obvious. Monopoly. It's simple: the more bets they placed, the greater chance of picking a winner. And the losers? With a contract that demands only one single a year, it's not a heavy obligation, is it? And it's the only obligation, no promotion, no live gigs, no nothing so Suicide can effectively control anyone." [Pulp, 1978]. The Suicide contracts also offered what was surely the lowest royalty rates in Australia at the time in years to come, Gudinski defended Suicide, maintaining that its mode of doing business was quite kosher. Ram stirred up a lot of nonsense about those contracts. The Boys Next Door were the only band to be shown interest by any other record company. All those bands would never have been recorded or have seen the light of day. The whole Suicide thing was pretty adventurous episode to be undertaken by anyone and those acts got a chance because of it." If nothing else, this statement indicates a total ignorance of the independent ethic.." Pressed further, Gudinski admitted in the same interview: "If I was manager of an act, I wouldn't sign the contract....But I wouldn't be managing a band of that capability at this stage." [Roadrunner, 15/5/79]. Says it all, really. When the dust settled through February, it appeared Suicide had managed to round up almost every band in Melbourne. From the less significant Negatives to Teenage Radio Stars and even Jab.
Punk Scene Split
Having some doubts Young Charlatans had declined to sign, joining News on the outer. Among those that signed, there was little interest in stories from the News camp on their experience of Suicide. Alleging lack of suss and plain jealousy, the Suicide bands began sticking together and thereby factionalising what had been an open and unified scene the mutual suspicion was furthered when News particularly Gavin accused the Suicide acts of losing sight of independence. They had copped out. "We lost credibility when we didn't sign the Suicide contract because even though the punks in Melbourne wanted to be anti-establishment, they only wanted to be anti-establishment as long as it would increase their image, but not once it began interfering with the money making and star trips. We immediately became the ideological enemies of the bands that had signed. They thought we were stupid and hated them. Everyone thought we hated them in those days, so they hated us back" [Gavin, Juke, 30/6/79]. As the controversy broke, Suicide bands were sometimes quick to stick up for the firm. Sydney punk-zine Spurt questioned members of Jab about the division in Melbourne punk: "(News) had their opportunity and they blew it themselves. I think Suicide is a great company. It's a new company and it's really buzzing. It's split the Melbourne scene though; the bands that are on Suicide, and those that aren't" [Ash Wednesday]. "I think there's a lot of jealousy involved. Melbourne was wide open for someone to come in and do something with. No one actually did until Barry Earl came along and he did it all in a very organised manner. Then, all the others who had wanted to do it were very jealous" [Johnny Crash]. In Mr Crash's case, it seems he was mistaking a self-assumed right to a sole concession on Melbourne punk for an 'organised approach'.
Suicide's manner was as organised and intelligent as the British industry's A& R dragnet over Liverpool after the Beatles first hit, signing anything with a guitar and long hair. This has been a constant recurrence in business behaviour throughout the existence of Rock & Roll; no company wants to miss the next big thing. This involves perceiving many new developments in music as essentially, fads; and those who value independence; like News; would have to be frozen out. "News was very into the independent ethic, not signing with Mushroom type things. We were into the punk ethic, we wanted to get the independent scene going" [John Murphy].
Few would dispute that Suicide was a divisive intrusion in Melbourne. Bruce Milne editorialised extensively against them: "They managed to split the punk scene down the middle. Before Suicide came along, all the bands used to get on well together because unity was vital if punk was to properly establish itself as a musical alternative. After the arrival of Suicide, the two factors; Suicide & non-Suicide bands; didn't talk to one another. There was a mutual suspicion and antagonism that didn't exist before" [Roadrunner, 15/5/79].
Death of Suicide
After all this, Suicide didn't last long ... it was a spent force by 1979. Their only releases were a handful of singles and the heavily hyped Lethal Weapons compilation. None of the records were very good; any worth in the bands that did sign was undiscovered by Suicide. Gudinski and Earl were issuing records into a void, to find, then exploit the market for this music. "As soon as the Suicide thing came through, musical growth was arrested; not only the naive bands like Teenage Radio Stars, but bands like the Boys Next Door, and anyone else who was involved. It obviously wasn't a creative arrangement between them and Suicide" [Gavin].
Happily going their own way, News became involved in a 'Son of Punk Gunk' for 28th February, at Bailey Hall in Richmond. Boys Next Door and Teenage Radio Stars were to play between TchTchTch and News", who would close the show. Bruce Milne was co-organising the event. Only days before the date, Boys Next Door and Teenage Radio Stars pulled out. In a mild panic, News and Milne had no time for detective work, but it seemed these bands withdrew after a nudge from Suicide. As if to prove it, the following months were to see more meddling in News live work via an organised campaign of misinformation and harassment. All the while, News were doing what they saw as their duty in letting people know about the Suicide scam. "We had month after month of anonymous phone calls to Newspaper offices changing Gig Guides at the last minute. We suspected Suicide and rather than not tell anyone about it, we warned off other bands. We felt we had a responsibility to get to other bands and to tell them of our Lawyers advice. People were very interested as no-one knew details of Suicides' working practices at that time. Even people working in the Music industry were in the dark as they had so little to do with musicians affairs" [Gavin].
Deciding to throw some shit back, members of News began calling Gig Guides and inserting changes of their own. Amid allegations from one side, and protestations of innocence from the other, the Age finally took action and ruled that all changes to the Gig guide (out each Friday) had to be in writing. The problem disappeared. As for Son of Punk Gunk, it went ahead successfully. On the night, TchTchTch played longer and a new combo from the Brunswick area. The Proles, took the middle slot.
From here, News were ever more determined to establish themselves independently, to consolidate and expand their existent following intensively and hopefully regular gigs had to be got. The Tiger Room in Richmond now had regular 'New Wave' nights, but guess who was running them ... "Barry Earl had a situation there, he was running these punk nights and if you weren't on his label or bowing down to him, you weren't allowed to play there. It ended up being JAB and Teenage Radio Stars alternating, Boys next Door sometimes" [John Murphy]. It is also worth noting that Suicide acts were picking up additional work through Premier, Mushrooms' live booking arm (Mushroom claims no connection between the two companies in spite of the fact that they share accountants, lawyers, bands, building & staff).
Enter a young 18 year old chap who use to help us with the gear who kept asking Chain if he could be their manager. He seemed like a rather bright young lad who went under the name of Michael Gudinski and he formed a record label and called it Mushroom Records...things got busy.
Digital One is the brainchild of Mr CM Murphy who has been the international manager of INXS, founder of RooArt records, and former owner of the radio station 2SM. Chris started his own company SOLO Management Agency which was to become one of Australias foremost agencies, getting bands such as HUSH and AC/DC and the then unknown Marcia Hines started. Chris then amalgamated SOLO with the Melbourne based company PREMIERE run by Michael Gudinski, to create the most powerful agency in Australia with bands like the Angels, Skyhooks and Cold Chisel.
Chris then became the agent for Midnight Oil, through whom he spotted the young support act INXS in 1979. Chris was so impressed he decided to take on their management worldwide. The band went on to sell over 25 million albums, receive hundreds of Gold and Platinum albums and singles, play thousands of shows, and win a string of awards. The respect that Murphy gained placed him within the worlds top 4 music managers.
10.2 Youth Music on Television
Evidence indicates the ABC TV Melbourne-produced program Recovery is well received and valued by Australian and overseas bands and Australian audiences. However, it has been put to the Committee that the ABC could do more, at little cost, to help Australia's music industry.
Mr Michael Gudinski drew the Committee's attention to the enormous impact of previous ABC TV programs such as GTK and Countdown. GTK was a small five to ten minute feature of Australian popular music, at a peak viewing time (6 p.m. to 7.00 p.m.) that boosted sales of Australian product, lifted the profile of many artists, and helped dozens of musicians to establish careers in the industry. Mr Gudinski explained that the product was already in place, and the artists were making film clips to promote their songs, all they needed was someone to broadcast them:
Mr Gudinski - If ten minutes were spent every night playing two new local songs, that would be the biggest boost to the Australian Industry you could possibly give.130
The Committee fully endorses Mr Gudinski's suggestion of a 5-10 minute segment and agrees that a regular broadcasting of local music on ABC television some time during the 6.00 p.m. to 7.00 p.m. viewing period would have a significant economic impact upon the Australian record and music industry.
As the Committee noted in Chapter 1, the 6.00 p.m. to 7.00 p.m. timeslot is often used to broadcast repeats of British comedies, often over 20 years old. The Committee believes utilising part of this timeslot for broadcasting of local music would be beneficial for the Australian music industry and would also encourage youth audiences to watch ABC Television.
The effect of funding cutbacks on ABC TV program Recovery has meant that the program's season has been shortened. Mr Thompson explained that ABC management ordered all programs to cut their budgets by a percentage, to meet funding cutbacks, rather than singling out some programs for cuts and leaving others untouched. He said the Recovery season was shortened because the production team did not want to cut back on quality in a bid to keep its season at the original length. However he felt the program may well be threatened by being off the air for a third of the year;
Mr Thompson - What will happen with such a popular show being taken off-air for 17 weeks? I do not know, but I do not think it will be very good.131
The Committee recommends that the ABC Television re-prioritise programming to ensure that the Australian rock music industry receives suitable exposure. This would include:
· the allocation of a 5-10 minute segment several nights a week during the 6.00 p.m. to 7.00 p.m. television viewing periods for the showcasing of Australian artists; and
· a commitment to the Recovery program for an extended period than what exists at present.
Twenty Five Years of Mushroom Music
On Saturday November 14th 1998 Michael Gudinski cemented his place as an Australian contemporary music legend.
Two days prior I expected to be watching "The Concert of the Century" at home on TV, turns out I had the opportunity to watch it from the stadium, VIP bars, closed circuit televisions and seats in the arena area directly in front of the stage. Lucky me!
It was as if Gudinski decided to throw a garden party to celebrate his company's 25th birthday and he just thought he'd invite 75,000 people to celebrate with him! This was the mood of the day. Michael walked around the arena area close to the stage, he took his seat with his family to watch some acts that were clearly his favourites, then went onto the stage to introduce others. He escorted special guests to his private viewing area, he saw old friends, greeted them and hugged them as he stood amongst the punters. As the day progressed and he appeared regularly in the public areas the crowd began erupting into spontaneous applause, people called to him saying "thank you Michael" like he was a personal friend of theirs, but I think maybe he is. If you grew up listening to his Mushroom Music you felt like he was doing you a personal favour by giving you the opportunity to be there and celebrate the day. As I stood watching him buzz back and forth so clearly enjoying his day I wondered how many other managing directors of major Australian record companies could walk through a crowd and be recognised at all let alone draw spontaneous applause of adoration! He is a hero and an Australian success story.
Have you ever seen a hero of yours in a public forum, thought about going up to them and saying hello and shaking their hand just because you wanted to; but hesitated and lost your opportunity! I have; so I waited for him to finish talking, walked up to him and extended my hand to shake his. He returned the shake quite aware I'm sure that he did not know me then looked at me no doubt waiting for me to say something inconsequential. I said "thank you Michael, ......... I just wanted to do that!" (gesturing at our current handshake) He smiled, I tapped him on the shoulder in a parting gesture and I let him go about his business. Call me a groupie but I felt good for having expressed my thanks personally.
Things went wrong, Kylie's bad throat left her voice sounding like she was Brenda Vacaro, Kate Cebrano's drummer was "mentally out to lunch" or locked in the toilet as he failed to show onstage until well after Kate had resorted to busking a very acoustic version of "Pash"! The front of house mix fell apart during Ian Moss'"Tuckers'Daughter", his performance didn't cut the mustard with out backing vocals, and although the presentation came over better on TV than at the gig Mossy looked flustered after a false start and never seemed to recover. Ol '55 were less than impressive and overtly rusty with Frankie J even missing a vocal cue into the bridge of "On The Prowl". The Choirboys were great when I saw them support Cold Chisel on the Last Stand tour in 1983, but they looked akward and were unpolished with a second rate vocal performance apparently stemming from a decreased vocal range, but hey, that happens after fifteen years! Doc Neeson left his voice at home, looked overweight and generally past his use by date compared to the new generation of outstanding talents like Leonardos' Bride and the Whitlams who gave superior passionate performances that left me wondering why I hadn't yet bought their albums! Paul Kelly, Archie Roach and Deborah Conway were sensational as usual. In short it was a case of use it or lose it, and some had definitely lost it, but in fairness many had come out of many years of retirement to treat us, so criticising unpolished performances seems a tad unfair I think, the day wasn't about superior or inferior performances; this was not what we were supposed to be measuring.
The much anticipated encore was a bit of a fizzer in my opinion. INXS came onstage unannounced and seemingly largely unrecognised, It wasn't until Jimmy Barnes re entered after his first set that the crowd reacted seemingly to Jimmy, many still seemingly oblivious to the fact that we were about to witness the first performance of INXS since Michael Hutchins' death. The question that remains for me is what in fact did we witness? The band played two R&R classics "The Loved One" and "Gonna Have A good Time Tonight". My point is why didn't they play an INXS song so that we could feel that it was in fact INXS we were watching. (Would Gudinski have been than precious about the publishing royalties going outside of Mushroom?!) My travelling companion made a relevant point that they will not want to turn every performance into a tribute to Michael but hey, if this was INXS I wanted to "Listen Like Thieves" or "Stay Young" not this vague, hazy directionless statement that only went as far as saying that the rest of us aren't dead! I mean what were we supposed to think when they walked onstage unannounced? Is Jimmy Barnes going to perform and record with INXS? Interestingly two people well versed in the practises of the music industry commented independently over the last few days that they think if INXS are to continue performing and recording they should find a female vocal. How about Debra Conway!? Or perhaps they could revert to being the Farris brothers as they were prior to Michael joining the band; I don't know. Michaels loss was a tragedy but maybe the remaining members should all go and sleep in the sun!
With a nine hour show programed one might imagine it would have been a snap to find a break in proceedings when one could go to the bar, have a drink, see, be seen, cruise and shmooze or take a quick "pit stop"; but the performers line up was so full of living legends past and present that you couldn't conceive of missing the opportunity of seeing any one of them perform. It was like seeing your life flash before your eyes in nine hours. I missed seeing "Stars" and "The Sports" as it was and haven't yet forgiven myself.
The crowd had their favourites. Some guys too young to be relics from the pub rock era sat in front of me and heckled Peter Andre, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he is one of Australia's most famous exports to the European market. That's OK, they're entitled to their opinion, but it highlighted to me the astounding leaps the Oz music industry has made over the last 25 years. Like so many of those present I grew up in Australia (Adelaide in my case) in the late 60's and 1970' at a time when we had one major record company in the country. I watched pioneering rock television shows like the four hour long "Happening 71" every Saturday; this was before Australian acts like the Little River Band had even formed let alone achieved major international success; I saw LRB's first ever live show at the Festival Theatre in 1975. I saw the first ever episode of Countdown in 1974, (the first ever film clip they showed according to my memory was David Bowie's "Jean Jeanie") but they would soon air live performances by a bunch of scrawny kids called INXS, and Supernaut (what ever happened to them?).
When you've witnessed the effect that that Countdown had in supporting Australian music to build the pub rock circuit from Adelaide to Cairns, that in turn led to the rise of Midnight Oil, Cold Chisel and The Angels etc, when you've played in bands in some of the same venues and in turn witnessed the demise of pub rock, seeing it out marketed by national football and Basketball leagues, computer technology entertainment and gaming machines; after having seen all of this to be present on a day like this amongst 75,000 people giving testament to what Oz rock means to them it makes me wonder when the industry will make a move to market itself as well as these newer alternatives and reclaim it's place as a viable and relevant entertainment. For any one who was there on Saturday that grew up watching or being a part of the growth of the Australian music industry, it was a celebration, it meant something!
At the end of the day I felt I'd been a part of an historic event. I hadn't seen an act of aggression or a play of ego in the VIP bars or on the stage all day. There was one very mixed crowd here, from the smallest kids to the grand parents. That's the thing isn't it. Rock and roll is over forty years old now. In 1955 it was young peoples music, in 1998 it's the peoples music. Most importantly it came home to me again that the performers were all just average people doing exceptional things. They grew up and played or drank in the same places we did and on the day were simply glad to be a part of something special.
© Phil Salter 1998
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