Sky News talks with Australia pop icon Tina Arena who celebrates a milestone of 40 years in the industry.
WHEN it comes to the local music scene, no one knows the ins and outs better than our columnist Sally Browne. Check out what’s on her radar this week.
ICONS LEND THEIR VOICES
Two living Aussie legends will be heading to BIGSOUND this year as the music industry festival announces its first speaker line-up.
Tina Arena and Archie Roach will deliver keynote addresses at the lauded industry event, which takes over Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley in from September 5-8.
ARIA Hall of Fame inductee Tina Arena this year celebrates 40 years in the industry with the release of her Greatest Hits and Interpretations record and a national tour. Archie Roach was recently honoured at the APRA Awards with the Ted Albert Award for outstanding services to Australian music.
Another cool act on the BIGSOUND bill is Quentin Tarantino’s music supervisor Mary Ramos, responsible for the award-nominated soundtracks of Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill Vol. 2, From Dusk Till Dawn and Jackie Brown. Speakers also include Triple J’s new music director Nick Findlay and well-loved DJ Zan Rowe, as well as a host of international guests.
This year the mid-week party, programmed by radio announcer and artist manager Maggie Collins, has been extended to include an extra day with additional programs including a Visual Arts and Music Tech Showcase, both of which are currently seeking applications.
BIGSOUND will also introduce the new $100,000 Levi’s Music Prize, an annual prize pool granted to four BIGSOUND alumni. Applications for bands and artists to perform at the event close on May 19.
TOPOLOGY GET TWISTED
It’s Queen, MC Hammer, Beyonce, the Saints, Beatles, Cold Chisel and ABBA like you’ve never heard them.
For their latest release, Brisbane quintet Topology have picked apart and restitched some well-known songs into the aural equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster. They’ve called them Tortured Remixes, and they are terrifying and delightful. The repertoire includes works that the undefinable group, who have varied backgrounds in classical, jazz and pop, have been playing since their early days, as well as new compositions where they’ve twisted, stretched and warped the songs into indescribable mixes.
This year the group celebrates 20 years in the business. How does it make them feel? “Surprisingly not old,” says founding member, violinist Christa Powell. “In terms of our repertoire, it has been quite a journey. Our focus back then was more on playing other people’s music and we’ve evolved to playing 98 per cent of our own compositions.”
Powell lives in the Brisbane ’burbs with her husband and fellow founding member, saxophonist John Babbage, and their three children. “This is our 14th CD in those 20 years,” Babbage says. “The majority have been original material but we’ve always included cover versions of pop tunes.” Some of their projects include collaborations with the likes of actor Geoffrey Rush, the UK’s Brodsky Quartet, and singers Kate Miller-Heidke, Katie Noonan and Christine Anu. Recently they performed at the Lincoln Center in New York, backing up Dead Puppet Society.
In the 1990s, Topology were a part of Brisbane’s underground scene, playing at pop-up venues wherever they could, of which they have fond memories. “In the early days we’d play anywhere,” says Powell. “We were hand-drawing all our posters. We organised our first international tour without internet.” They even ran their own bar. “We’d finish the last note of the first half (of our show) and run out and stand behind the bar.”
In 1998 they had a residency at the legendary Ric’s Bar in Fortitude Valley, where some of the Tortured Remixes were first aired. For their current shows they’ll be playing the Anywhere Theatre Festival, taking place at unconventional venues around Brisbane, which encapsulates the DIY mood of their early days. “It’s serendipitous that we’ve come back to celebrating that because I feel it’s something that’s happening again in Brisbane,” says Powell. “When you look at the bill of the Anywhere festival, a lot of really exciting stuff is happening.”
Topology continue to be inventive and creative. Far from anyone else having the task to define them, the group – completed by Robert Davidson (bass), Bernard Hoey (viola) and Therese Milanovic (piano) – have found it difficult themselves. “We did a branding study to work out what our market really was, and we came up with nothing, in that nobody can really define the genre,” says Powell. “I think kids today don’t think about genre.”
As well as their own shows, Topology run an extensive regional workshop program in Queensland and the Northern Territory called Top Up, run with the support of the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation. Last year they did 4000 hours of workshops. “There’s a lot of demand for it,” says Powell. “They’re not just one-off workshops, it’s more working with a community over five months and then featuring the students’ compositions at the end. This year we have three of those projects; it keeps John really busy.”
There’s plenty more on the calendar for the group, including numerous festivals nationally. From this distance, countless projects, several overseas tours and plenty of collaborations later, there’s a lot to look back on. “It’s great,” says Babbage, “being able to write your own music you want to play and people wanting to hear it.”
Topology play Tortured Remixes at Vulcana Women’s Circus, Brisbane Powerhouse, Thursday, May 11 and Friday, May 12.
THE RIGHT BALL PARK
Some strategic fanboying scored the Cactus Channel vocalist/guitarist Lewis Coleman a sweet collaboration.
The Melbourne-based collective, formed by a group of high school pals, have developed a following for their brass-heavy alt-soul, funk-inspired sound. One night Coleman went to see renowned Brisbane act Ball Park Music, fronted by songwriter Sam Cromack, who were performing at the famous Corner Hotel in Melbourne.
“It was a really satisfying, well-oiled show and really inspiring to see, and I came out of it thinking, oh, man, that was cool,” Coleman recalls. “They seemed really approachable and I wanted to message them that I really enjoyed the gig. I got home and I was a bit buzzy and I’d probably had a few beers and I was in bed and for some reason I Googled our band’s names in the one search.”
Surprisingly, it threw up a result.
“It came up that there was an interview where Sam had mentioned us as an influence, or someone that he was listening to. It was a very strange thing. It was like, whoa, that’s funny. So I just messaged him in that knowledge and it just struck up from there. He responded and I thought, oh yeah, cool. I’m not sure who mentioned the collaboration first. It took about a year or so of kind of meeting and talking about it that we actually got together.”
The result of that is now complete and the gang, under the name Sam Cromack and the Cactus Channel, have just released their debut EP Do It For Nothing. They’ll be following that up with a tour that takes them to Brisbane on June 2.
With Cromack based in Brisbane, and the CC posse in Melbourne, much of the collaboration was done over the internet with a few snatched meetings here and there. Coleman says the band would cook up instrumental tracks and ideas which they then sent to Cromack to work on.
“That took about another eight or nine months. When we worked together it would be like a chunk of a few days and outside of that it was kind of like homework,” says Coleman.
It’s not the seven-piece Cactus Channel’s first collaboration. They also worked with Nick Murphy, aka Chet Faker, on the tracks Kill the Doubt and Sleeping Alone, both of which were streamed into the millions.
The Do It For Nothing EP combines the Cactus Channel’s fluid and fun vibe reined in by Cromack’s knack for songwriting. Both brought their own flair to the project. It was a case of eight heads were better than seven.
“With the instrumental music that we write the forms can get a bit windy and strange and it’s good to get that processed back into a song,” says Coleman.
The Cactus Channel’s own brand of music has evolved too with vocals being a recent addition. And when they’re just working on their own, it’s Coleman who has the honours. The band are currently working on their third album, a follow up to Haptics and Wooden Boy. Ball Park Music just released their fourth record, Every Night the Same Dream.
Their joining of forces was not just a musical exchange, however, but a cultural one. White the CC boys joke that Cromack should move to Melbourne as there are more of them there, the BPM frontman got to show his collaborators the highlights and lowlights of Brisbane.
“I really enjoyed coming to Brisbane,” says Coleman. “It was somewhere I hadn’t gone to a lot. I had a beer with Sam at the Triffid (in Newstead) and that was a cool spot and we went to a really nice café called the Lost Boys (Fortitude Valley) where if you’re a touring musician they will feed you for free. At rehearsal we just got really awful chicken and chips from somewhere up the road.”
As well as this project, Coleman finds himself in six other bands, mostly permutations evolving from parent band, the Cactus Channel. But until Sam Cromack’s bankable name was attached to a project they never had so much attention, he says.
“For the first time in the history of the world I have multiple interviews,” says Coleman. “Sam’s thrown us all under the bus and now we have to talk about it.”
Do It For Nothing is out now. Sam Cromack and the Cactus Channel perform at the Brightside, Fortitude Valley, on June 2.
SPOTLIGHT: BONNIE DOES BROADBEACH
Bonnie Tyler has never been short of Australian fans, with her 1983 album Faster Than the Speed of Night certified platinum (70,000 copies sold). It was around that time that she co-hosted ABC music show Countdown as an elfin-framed, fuzzy-haired young woman with a cute Welsh accent.
She laughs at the memory. Her co-host, of course, was Molly Meldrum. “I was kind of shy in them days,” Tyler says in those same charming Welsh tones. “I’m not so shy now. Back at the hotel afterwards, Molly and I had a lot of fun and drinks together. He’s crazy.”
Tyler, 65, who is visiting Australia for a tour that includes a performance at this month’s free Gold Coast festival Blues on Broadbeach, has another Australian connection. Her famous video for Total Eclipse of the Heart, her biggest career hit, was directed by Melbourne-born videographer Russell Mulcahy. The clip, with its cast of characters set in a ghostly boys’ school, was nominated for a Grammy award and has since been lampooned in a “literal” online video version (overdubbed with alternate lyrics describing exactly what’s happening in each scene), and it has a Lego version. The vision was originally Jim Steinman’s, the man who wrote the song and produced Faster Than the Speed of Night.
While she wasn’t a winner, Tyler did perform at the 1984 Grammy Awards ceremony. She says she was terrified. “I was so nervous, I remember I couldn’t even swallow. The audience were practically all megastars, with Diana Ross and Michael Jackson sitting in the front row. I had to sing the song from the top of a staircase all the way down, in high heels and a mini dress; oh my God, all I could think of was, ‘I’m going to fall, I’m going to fall’. But I didn’t, and I somehow got through it.”
There was a rumour Steinman originally wrote Total Eclipse of the Heart for Meat Loaf, another artist he produced. “I always hear Meat Loaf in interviews going ‘that song was mine’,” Tyler cackles. “You know what, it was voted the world’s No. 1 karaoke song; how on earth I don’t know, because it’s not an easy song to sing.”
But there is a song in her repertoire that another singer made famous, and that is Tina Turner’s (Simply) The Best, written by Mike Chapman and Holly Knight. “When Tina had a hit with it, it restored my confidence in my choice of material,” Tyler says. “I knew it was a hit when I’d recorded it two years before, but the song wasn’t successful for me. I still do it in my show – I say it’s the original version. Tina Turner was one of my idols. I have to say her version is much better. She changed the middle eight and it’s so much stronger.”
Tyler’s famously throaty voice has been described in many ways, not least as “the female Rod Stewart”. Her most recent release is titled Rocks and Honey, a reference to a duet, What You Need from Me, she performs on the album with Grammy-winning country star Vince Gill. “When my friend heard it, he said, ‘oh my God, his voice is like honey and yours is like rocks’, and I thought, wouldn’t that be a great title for the album, Rocks and Honey.”
When not touring the world delighting audiences with hits such as It’s a Heartache and Holding out for a Hero, Tyler spends time at her home in Portugal, which she shares with her husband of 44 years, property developer Robert Sullivan. As we chat, she comes across as good-natured, down to earth and never the pop diva. Perhaps it’s her Welsh roots. She grew up the daughter of a coalminer father and a housewife mum who loved to sing.
“I think it’s why I am so grounded, because I’ve got five siblings and a very close family,” Tyler says. “My mother was a housewife, she had a full-time job looking after us, but she was always singing. She loved opera. We had all kinds of music in the house: Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Motown, and I was into Janis Joplin and Tina Turner.
“I do thank God for all my blessings,” she adds. “But you’re only as good as the team you work with. You’ve got to treat everybody with respect because without each other you’re nothing.”
Bonnie Tyler plays Blues on Broadbeach on May 21.