MILESAGO - Recommended Reading
The Promoters: Inside Stories from the Australian Rock Industry
Stuart Coupe is a bit of a local legend. He has been a respected music writer for years, managed the mighty Hoodoo Gurus, has promoted concert tours by people like Harry Dean Stanton, and is still going strong with his Laughing Outlaw label and a store in Sydney's inner west. He's well placed to write a book like this -- he knows just about everybody and he's seen the music business from just about every angle -- some of them not very flattering, either.
I, for one, was drooling in anticipation when I heard about this book. Over recent years I've read some of the fantastic books that have been written about the behind-the-scenes aspects of the American music industry, notably Fedric Dannen's classic Hit Men and Fred Goodman's brilliant Mansion On The Hill, his landmark study of the careers of Albert Grossman, David Geffen, Jon Landau, the artists they managed, and the way they changed rock management forever.
The "behind the desk" story of the Australian rock industry has been long overdue for what HG Nelson would call "a long hard scrute", and Stuart's book certainly offers some tantalising glimpses into it, interspersed with some fantastic anecdotes about the myriad pitfalls that can trap the unwary. The eye-popping tale of the Hunter S. Thomspon tour is one such horror-story, and it's a salutary lesson for the would-be promoter.
If you're expecting an Aussie version of 'Mansion On The Hill' (which could perhaps be titled "Dunny On The Hill") then you may be a little disappointed, although the subtitle "Stories From ..." is a pretty clear signal that one should not expect a text-book on the subject. (Interestingly, the graphic above, sourced from the Hodder website, indicates that the book's original title has been altered slightly -- from the definitive-sounding "The Inside Story of..." to the more general "Inside Stories from ...", which is the current title.)
Stuart profiles some of the leading Aussie promoters of the last 40 years including Michael Gudinski, Kevin Jacobsen, Michael Chugg, Michael Coppel and Paul Dainty. He also looks at several of the lesser-known figures, as well as some very engaging stories of Stuart's own misadventures as a promoter, plus hilarious tales of the promotional mishaps of our friend (and one of the unsung heroes of Oz Rock) Keith Glass. It's a very enjoyable read, there's a lot of interesting information and many hilarious and hair-raising stories. If you already familiar with the the Australian rock scene, this probably won't add a great deal to what you already know, but it's definitely worth a look and offers some very interesting insights, particularly about the elusive Dainty.
The perennial difficulty with rock books -- as with shows like 'Long Way To The Top' -- is the "prime directive" to address a broad audience. This isn't a stylistic problem for Stuart, who is an experienced journo, and he certainly knows how to write. Even if you have only a passing interest in the rock scene, you'll find this a most enjoyable book.
However, like LWTTT, the need to address a general audience largely precludes any attempt to engage in a detailed and systematic historical, structural or economic analysis. The overall style of the book is therefore anecdotal rather than analytical. So, in my trainspotterish way, I was left wishing for something of greater depth and substance, with a lot more detail and much more investigation of the "how, why, who, when and where" of the history, development, structure and funtion of the business behind the music.
Some well-known names appear only briefly -- Harry M. Miller is someone who could have been discussed at greater length; likewise Miller's sometime partner, the late, great Kenn Brodziak, who will always be remembered as the "Man Who Brought The Beatles To Australia" but did much else besides. Although these two heavyweights were only occasionally involved in rock promotion after the mid-70s they are indisputably founding fathers of the promotions industry in this country and their careers would certainly bear closer examination.
Another factor that restricts the scope of this book is the inclusion of the magic word "rock", which evidently precludes the mention of people like Michael Edgley (who has promoted rock but is better known for tours such as the Moscow Circus) and the various theatrical promoters. While rock promotion is an important field in its own right, it does not exist in a vacuum and many promoters often handle tours other than those by rock bands -- Harry M. Miller being a case in point.
By singling out the promoters, another area left crying out for coverage is that of artist management and booking agencies. I've been researching this subject for some time and information is very hard to come by, but obviously there are many links across these three areas; indeed, many of the promoters in this book have been (and are) agents and/or artist managers as well.
Another subject I would have loved to see covered is a look at concert and tour promotion within Australia by and for Australian artists -- e.g. local concerts such as those promoted by Dal Myles in Sydney in the 60s, people like manager and agent John Harrigan, the 70s rock festivals, and the trailblazing national tours by Sherbet, Skyhooks and others in the 70s, where several of the major promoters (e.g. Chuggie) learned their trade. Likewise, a closer look at some of the 'ancillary' areas such tour managers, roadies, lightshows and especially the development of sound systems and the crucial importance of companies like Jands, would have been a welcome and valuable addition for this reader.
Another topic that I find particularly fascinating -- and which is only barely touched on in "The Promoters" -- is the Gudinski-Evans-Chugg-Mushroom-Premier-Harbour-Frontier nexus, which is admittedly a subject that could take up an entire book of its own (one day, one day). In his heyday Gudinski (with partners Ray Evans and Frank Stivala) was simultaneously the head of Mushroom Records, the manager of a number of acts such as Madder Lake, and owner of the Premier Artists booking agency in Melbourne, which had a stranglehold on bookings for most of the major Melbourne venues, and owner of the Harbour agency in Sydney. How he was able to build his business to such a commanding position and how he operated it are topics long overdue for thorough analysis.
But, as I mentioned before, a book like "The Promoters" doesn't really provide the space to tackle such wide-ranging questions, and isn't intended to, so it would be unfair to criticise Stuart or his book too heavily on that score. As Steven Wright would say: "You can't have everything -- where would you put it?" One can only achieve so much in a volume of this size and what is there is well-written, easy and enjoyable to read and mostly very entertaining.
My only other (minor) criticisms of the book are the rather sloppy editing and proofing in some parts (sorry, Stu, but publishers pay people to do that and there are far too many spelling mistakes, and several names spelled incorrectly). Another oversight -- an increasingly common feature these days, it seems -- is the absence of an index.
But all in all it's a good book that fulfils its aims admirably and will be of considerable interest to anyone hankering to know a bit more about the Australian rock scene.
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