There is a moment about half way through tonight’s show when I think, in thirty or forty years time, who will there be to appear on a line-up like this? Who are the current Australian artists today that are making music so impactful that in forty years time a couple of thousand people will come out on a cold and wet night, and sing and cheer and raise the roof like they did tonight? I am left struggling to get much of a list together. That might sound like the sort of thing an old man might say with his ‘these kids today..’ intonation and dismissive pre-concieved notions about what ‘proper music’ is. There are a lot of new and current Australian artists who I really love and enjoy, but most of them are not bothering the top of the charts on a regular basis. In a world of karaoke TV shows and aping American charts, and colour by numbers Triple J stylings, there is little room on radio or telly for home grown talent to make it into the wider Aussie hearts, ears and psyche.
It made me feel pretty sad.
Nothing about tonight made me sad. Every act on this years instalment of the APIA GOOD TIMES Concert is an absolute legend in this country. Every one had a string of massive chart toppers. Each had a unique voice. Each is greeted tonight like a conquering hero. These songs are indelibly etched on to the hearts of a sold out Thebarton Theatre crowd. They are LOVED.
APIA Good Times has turned into a must see event each year. Last years show (on exactly the same date as it happens) was one of my favourite gigs of the year. It featured, Mental As Anything, Deborah Conway, Colin Hay and The Black Sorrows. Tonight was a similar lesson in Australian music history. A crash hot house band backed all the vocalists and do a sterling job of recreating the original sounds of each act. The format is pretty simple, each act does a brief set of their own songs and then there’s an all in encore.
First up is Brian Cadd who is a great example of the kind of pedigree these acts have. Child prodigy, formed The Groop at eighteen, joined Axiom (where he co-wrote A Little Ray of Sunshine – what a song!). He did a couple of singles as The Bootleg Family Band (before they morphed into Avalanche) and started a solo career, while writing and producing records for other artists (including Johnny Farnham) and recording music for movies and television. He worked in the USA, toured as part of the legendary Flying Burrito Brothers and had his songs recorded by everyone from Ringo Starr and Joe Cocker to Wayne Newton.
Cadd opens proceedings with Your Mama Don’t Dance, the Bootleg Family Band single from 1972. A cover of the Loggins & Messina song, it’s a rocking kick off to proceedings and people are singing right from the start. Let Go from 1974 was a massive top ten single and a huge favourite tonight. Don’t You Know It’s Magic was a song he wrote and was a massive hit for a young Johnny Farnham in 1972 and gets a standing ovation from large parts of the audience. He finishes his initial appearance with his hit Ginger Man (also ’72). There are always going to be favourites that you don’t get to hear in a multi-artist gig like this. I’d love to hear Arkansas Grass, or maybe a medley of the themes to the movie Alvin Purple and the TV series The Class of ’74. Maybe next time!
John Paul Young was one of the true giants of the Countdown era, ironic as his diminutive stature earned him the nickname Squeak. After a couple of misfires early in his career, Yesterdays Hero was launched on Countdown in early 1975. In another ironic turn, the Vanda & Young written song about the fleeting nature of pop stardom along with the video (made by Countdown) shot JPY into the top ten and made him into a national pop star. His band however were all tough as nails veterans of bands like The Aztecs, La De Das, Chain and Daddy Cool. That combination of strong pop hooks and a properly rockin’ band gave Squeak a kind of universal appeal that reached farther than the image which initially had him in silk shirts and sailor suits. He could do no wrong from the mid to late 70’s, smashing out great singles that did fantastically well both here, South Africa and in parts of Europe (he was hugely popular in Germany and Scandinavia and even having success in the USA. He was a regular host on Countdown and foil for Meldrum, naming the Humdrum section (‘Here’s boring old Molly with boring old Humdrum’). He never seemed to take himself too seriously and like this whole pop star thing was a bit of a laugh and he always had his sheet metal work job to go back to when it all packed up. That grounded attitude, and pop star good looks earned him a place in a lot of hearts and this evening it is clear that place is still held dear. When he hits the stage there is thunderous applaud and as he launches into his 1977 hit I Wanna Do It With You. Young is now 67 years old (bonus irony?) and does a great line in self-deprecating humour that recognises his age and that of his audience . He talks about the opening song with some erectile dysfunction jokes. It’s very funny. Pasadena, Standing in The Rain and the terrific I Hate The Music, see little outbreaks of dancing and several standing ovations. Regrouping with a drink, he says ‘I used to go straight from that last song into the next one but….I’m knackered!’. Just as well he has a breather as his set finishes with Yesterday’s Hero a massive hit from 1975 (and covered by the Bay City Rollers a year later after they saw him do it on Countdown). The whole place is on it’s feet now and it is a belter. Extra points to JPY for wearing a vintage JPY belt buckle (I noticed!).
The standing ovations come quick and fast tonight. People propelled to their feet, to stomp and cheer for these songs that have meant so much for so long.
The final act of the first half is Russell Morris. After starting his career in the band Somebody’s Image. They were championed by Ian Meldrum when he was a writer for Go-Set magazine. His first solo single was The Real Thing (produced by Molly) and clocking in at an unheard of almost SEVEN MINUTES LONG in 1969. Radio didn’t know what to do with it, but could deny it’s power and popularity and it became the biggest selling Australian single of the year. It did well in many places, including New York, and Chicago and is easily the equal of any classic psych pop songs of the day. Over the sixties and seventies Morris had a brilliant run of records and was one the biggest live acts in the country. These days he is more of a blues artists and opens with Black Dog Blues, a blues song about depression from his 2012 release Sharkmouth. The band smoulders and Morris is great, but I suspect some of the audience were wondering ‘what’s this?’. They needn’t have worried as next up it’s Sweet Sweet Love, one of my favourite records ever. Starting with a sweet acoustic sound and a beautiful lyric about struggling to convey how much you love somebody. It builds and builds and the vocal becomes more urgent and celebratory. It also utilises a technique Russell had previously engaged on his biggest hit (more of that shortly). He does a killer version of Dylan’s It’s All Over Now Baby Blue before taking it home with The Real Thing. This mountain of a song has so much going on in it, lyrically, musically, socially and one of the most striking elements is Russell singing the Oo Mow Ma Mow Mow refrain. Legend has it that he was arguing with Meldrum about how he wanted the guitar to go in that section and ended up just singing it and Meldrum decided to keep his vocal instead of an instrument. It was an inspired piece of production and made it stand out all the more. It was the element I mentioned in Sweet Sweet Love, wear he sing makes a feature of sing the Doo Da Do Do Do bits in the break.
After a short intermission during which Thebby staff did a sterling job of directing toilet traffic and bumping into people who used to be on my sisters netball team in 1974, and chatting with a girl I used to chase bands with in 1975, it was time for the second half.
Leo Sayer was embraced by Australian audiences very early in his career. We loved his music, we loved his cheeky smile and shock of tightly curled hair and in return he loved Australia by touring here regularly for the next forty years before eventually becoming an Australian citizen in 2009. This has gifted us the opportunity to see him on an even more regular basis, most recently at Live in The Park with Chic and Lionel Richie. His solo shows are pepered with stories and anecdotes, but there is little time for that tonight. Entering to thunderous applause, it is appropriate that his first song is Thunder In My Heart. Orchard Road from 1983 is terrific and a great sing-a-long. His first big hit was The Show Must Go On from his first album Silverbird (1983) and everybody is dancing again. In 1977 When I Need You was the ballad that was on every radio station for months and months. Top Ten in Oz, #1 in the US, UK and Canada.
The other honorary Aussie on the bill tonight is Marcia Hines (she became an official Aussie in 1994). Her first professional music gig was in the Australian production of Hair in 1969. It was a few months after she attended Woodstock and she was flown to Australia by Harry M Miller to be in the show. During the run she became pregnant and nine days after her daughter Demi, Marcia was back on stage. After Hair came Jesus Christ Superstar and a solo career which saw her have a list of hits and be crowned Queen of Pop in 1976, 1977 AND 1978. There were TV specials, her own TV series, live albums and sold out concert tours. She stopped singing in 1984 after a health scare but returned in 1990. She continues to record and tour, and turn up as a judge on Australian Idol or in productions like the excellent Velvet, which dripped with disco glory. I last saw her a year ago on a bill with KC & The Sunshine Band, Sister Sledge and the terrible new version of The Village People. Most people were leaving with Marcia at the top of their list of performances for the day. Tonight she is the Queen of this audience. She arrives with impressively sparkling jeans and belting out Gloria Gaynor’s Never Can Say Goodbye, which she had included on her excellent Discotheque in 2006. Her set is joyous and all too brief. Her powerhouse of a voice could knock over brick walls at a hundred paces. She does I Don’t Know How To Love Him from Jesus Christ Superstar and her hit from 1981 Your Love Still Brings Me To My Knees. Her set closes with The Trammps classic Disco inferno and by now even the most stubborn people are dancing.
While everybody is still on their feet all the performers return to the stage for the solid gold encore. First we get Marcia’s biggest hit You, Brian Cadd delivers an emotional and tear inducing A Little Ray of Sunshine. Russell Morris gives us a slowed down version of Hush. Leo picks up the pace with the disco hit You Make Me Feel Like Dancing and then JPY takes that disco baton and takes us home with the immortal Love Is In The Air. During all these songs there is a glorious camaraderie on the stage. Russell and Sayer doing sparkle fingers while Cadd plays keyboards, Marcia strumming Morris’s guitar while he makes the chords or the two of them dancing together. These artists have known each other for decades and there is a warm and generosity present that you don’t often see. They seem to be genuinely having as much fun as we are.
They return for a smashing version of Dragon’s April Sun in Cuba, which is fantastic for a couple of reasons. It means nobody on the bill could complain about whose song would be the finale. It reminds us that there was so much exceptional music from Australia (and New Zealand in the case of Dragon) from this period. It also reminds us how many of the icons of that era we have already lost. Time marches on and ain’t none of us getting any younger. All the more reason to go and see and support the artists on these shows.
APIA Good Times tour have done it again. Roll on 2019.
Live Review by Ian Bell