Paul Kelly

Ego: The Michael Gudinski Story

At first, all is darkness. There is a hiss of cymbals, followed by a rude bang, thump and wallop. The lights go up. We see the late Australian music mogul Michael Gudinski, sitting at a drum kit, pounding the skins arrhythmically with his hands, making a point at his default setting: maximum volume.

“Well, you can obviously see I can’t play any music,” the Mushroom Records founder bawls in that sandpaper and gravel voice, familiar and weirdly soothing. “And that’s why I’m good at the music business. Because I don’t wanna be a pop or rock star, but HELL, I LIKE WORKING WITH THEM!” He rubs his hands together, ready to deal.

If we believe the galaxy of stars lining up to pay homage in Ego: The Michael Gudinski Story – now in Australian cinemas – Gudinski was bigger than all of them. Australian artists whose careers Gudinski nurtured, including Kylie Minogue, Jimmy Barnes and Paul Kelly, are joined by international heavy-hitters Bruce Springsteen, Ed Sheeran, Billy Joel, Sting and the obligatory Dave Grohl.

They paint a picture of the ultimate music fan, tirelessly enthusiastic, driven by art ahead of commerce. But Gudinski was a ruthless businessman first. Ego tells the story of how, over a boozy lunch in 1975, five men stitched up the Melbourne music business via the formation of booking agency Premier Artists, and later the promotions juggernaut Frontier Touring.… Read more..

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Ron S Peno 1955-2023

From around 1984, after the release of their perfectly titled debut single Out Of The Unknown, Died Pretty were the inner-city Sydney group to see. “They were a dangerous band,” Paul Kelly wrote in his memoir, How To Make Gravy. “Some nights they fell in a heap. Other nights they were incandescent.”

And a big part of Died Pretty’s magnetism was singer Ron S Peno, whose death was announced on his band’s Facebook page on Saturday morning after a long struggle with cancer. Tiny, gifted with immense presence and a keening voice, Peno had held Australian audiences spellbound for over four decades.

But he had some rotten luck along the way. Died Pretty’s fourth album Doughboy Hollow, released in 1991, was his band’s most successful and critically esteemed album. Released in mid-1991, its singles Sweetheart, D.C. and Godbless were crossing over to commercial radio. The album quickly sold out – only for their label to fail to re-press it, stalling its momentum.

Died Pretty subsequently moved to a major label, and their fifth album Trace followed in 1993. A new single, Harness Up, was making inroads on US radio. A tour was lined up, and the band played an industry showcase where an executive allegedly took exception to Peno’s suggestive stage moves.… Read more..

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Paul Kelly: “I never heard back from Warnie”

For a brief moment in the mid 1980s, when huge crowds packed Australian sporting stadiums for 50-over cricket matches, signs reading “Like Wow – Wipeout!” began appearing in the outer, usually when a six sailed into the crowd. It was a reference to the hit song by the Hoodoo Gurus. Singer Dave Faulkner told an interviewer that he was touched, because Australia’s real rock stars were, in his view, our sporting heroes.

Paul Kelly, a longtime admirer of Faulkner, would agree. On his new album People – part of an ongoing series of thematic compilations of the singer-songwriter’s work – there are no less than four songs about athletes: Every Day My Mother’s Voice tells the story of Indigenous AFL champion Adam Goodes; Every Step Of The Way honours his peer Eddie Betts; and there are odes to cricketers Shane Warne and Don Bradman.

Kelly, a genuine sporting tragic, admits that he can get as starstruck meeting athletes just as others might get starstruck by musicians. Once, he spied tennis champion Venus Williams at Prahran pool in Melbourne. “She was sitting on a bench and it was like a goddess had come down from heaven and was just sitting among the mortals for a while,” he says.… Read more..

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Renée Geyer 1953-2023

Renée Geyer was many things in a career that spanned 15 studio albums and 50 years, and she continued singing to packed houses up to only a month ago. She was surely the finest white soul singer, male or female, that Australia has produced, but to speak only of her immense talent does not capture what she was about; her real greatness.

Geyer was, above all, unapologetic. It was this attitude that defined her, as much as her singing. Paul Kelly, who became a close friend, recognised it when he wrote Difficult Woman for her, knowing full well how she would respond. Women, after all, are always the ones thought to be difficult, never men.

But line by line Geyer peeled the song apart, exposing the vulnerability beneath the steel of the titular character. The singer and actor Lo Carmen, in her fine 2022 book Lovers Dreamers Fighters, wrote that “she wore the title like a crown” in the knowledge that it would come at great cost. Indeed, it already had.

Difficult Woman was released in 1994, and it relaunched Geyer’s career in Australia after nearly a decade living in Los Angeles. But Geyer’s transformative presence had been apparent 20 years earlier, with her third single, a heart-stopping rendition of James Brown’s It’s A Man’s Man’s World.… Read more..

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Vika and Linda: No Bull

There’s a moment in the 2013 music documentary 20 Feet From Stardom where legendary singer Darlene Love reflects on the time when she was working as a maid, cleaning other people’s houses while her festive classic Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) would be playing on the radio. It was a small but powerful reminder for Love that her true vocation was singing.

For years, Linda Bull – the younger half of Australia’s singing sisters Vika and Linda – has taken the lead singing Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) in Paul Kelly’s band around Yuletide. Every time she does, she thinks of Love. “The good thing that I took from that movie was look where Darlene is now,” Linda says. “She had the last laugh over Phil Spector.”

In No Bull, the new memoir co-written by the two sisters, they tell of the times when they too went back to day jobs after being dropped by their record label in 2001. Not that they were scrubbing floors: with no previous retail experience, Linda founded a kids’ clothing store, Hoochie Coochie, while Vika took catering and secretarial work between her own gigs.

Nothing in the music business can be taken for granted.… Read more..

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Archie Roach 1956-2022

Archie Roach, the Indigenous Australian songwriter whose celebrated song Took The Children Away brought national attention to the story of the Stolen Generations, has died aged 66.

Roach died at Warrnambool Base hospital after a long illness, surrounded by his family and loved ones.

“We are heartbroken to announce the passing of Gunditjmara (Kirrae Whurrong/Djab Wurrung), Bundjalung Senior Elder, songman and storyteller Archie Roach,” his sons Amos and Eban Roach announced in a statement on behalf of the Roach family.

“We thank all the staff who have cared for Archie over the past month. Archie wanted all of his many fans to know how much he loves you for supporting him along the way. We are so proud of everything our dad achieved in his remarkable life. He was a healer and unifying force. His music brought people together.”

On Saturday night tributes began pouring in for the songman on social media.

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said: “Tonight we mourn the passing of Archie Roach. Our country has lost a brilliant talent, a powerful and prolific national truth teller.

“Archie’s music drew from a well of trauma and pain, but it flowed with a beauty and a resonance that moved us all.… Read more..

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