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Aussie icon back on top

Aussie icon back on top — Jimmy Barnes

text by Claudine Hyland
photographs by Amber Matthews

Originally filed on: 25th june 1998

picture of jimmy barnes live on stage 14th june 1998Despite gaining legendary status down under, first with rock band Cold Chisel and on his own, Australia’s wild man of rock, Jimmy Barnes, has been unable to crack the international market.

He came close in 1985 when For The Working Class Man was chosen as the title track for Ron Howard’s movie Gung Ho. In 1988 he hit the global spotlight again when he teamed up with INXS to record two songs for the Lost Boys soundtrack, but this success was short-lived.

Barnes said recently in a telephone interview this may be about to change as he regroups after a 15 year separation with the former members of Cold Chisel – Don Walker, Ian Moss, Steve Prestwich and Phil Small – to put the finishing touches on their long-awaited reunion album. “The old Chisel style was very Australian,” Barnes said. “The lyrics on the new album will be more accessible (to international audiences). It will be hipper and more ‘90s sounding than our past material.”


Since the early ‘90s Barnes has also changed the direction of his solo career from hard Australian rock, evident on many albums including Body Swerve, Freight Train Heart and Two Fires, with the release of his favourite soul classics on the album Soul Deep in 1991 and the acoustic Flesh and Wood in 1993. Barnes said, “artists shouldn’t restrict themselves by saying ‘I’m only going to play heavy rock’ or whatever. I’d love to make a country album and try other styles because I know I could do it and do it well.”

Barnes said touring with his band and supporting acts like the Rolling Stones and teaming up with artists like Tina Turner (for their own version of Simply The Best) has helped his music evolve. “I am influenced by my surroundings and those people around me. An artist must always be prepared to change and grow. In this business and in life change is the only thing that is constant. If you don’t change you will be run over.”


Rude Awakening

Barnes came very close to being “run down” when it was revealed in the early ‘90s that he was in financial strife. Barnes said certain elements of the Australian press were quick to try and cut him down, particularly when he chose to move his family to France, where he stayed for three years. He said he was a victim of the “tall poppy syndrome”, a common fate for Australian’s who break an unwritten code and achieve success, alienating themselves from this egalitarian society. “however, because I have always been straight with the media, most press treated me all right.”


picture of jimmy barnes live on stage 14th june 1998

But how does one of Australia’s most successful artists, with a string of number ones to his credit and sales of millions of records find himself in this situation. Barnes replies honestly, “I did the classic rock star mistake. I made huge amounts of money but managed to spend even more. I don’t profess to be an accountant. I am just a rock ‘n roll singer. Don’t judge me on my financial ability – judge me on my music.”

Audiences did just that in June at Hong Kong’s spectacular Café Deco, with its panoramic view of the city’s skyline, when Barnes performed what he said would be “the wildest semi acoustic show audiences here have ever seen” and included tracks from his latest album Hits. Barnes, was joined by guitarists Michael Hegerty, Paul Berton, vocalist and percussionist James Uluave and vocalist Shauna Jensen.

Home Town Hero

Jimmy belting it outBarnes, 42, was born James Dixon Swan in Glasgow, Scotland. He moved to Adelaide, in South Australia with his family in the early 1960s, taking his stage name from his step-father Reg Barnes. Up until 1973, when he joined Cold Chisel, at just 16 and a half, Barnes said his life had revolved around soccer. “Until then I didn’t take music that seriously. My family always sang when they drank, and they always drank.”

Cold Chisel launched themselves onto the pub circuit in Adelaide at the Largs Pier Hotel. Barnes said those days don’t seem so long ago and that they laid the foundation for the band’s formidable performing style which involved close audience contact. “It’s a shame that area has been made into motel rooms. Chisel and I have always played in various size venues but the Largs allowed us the eye-to-eye contact that is so important in communicating to the audience.”

During their decade together the group gained a reputation for their excessive drinking, wild behaviour and racked up a series of hit albums including, Breakfast At Sweethearts, East, Circus Animals and The Last Stand.


Barnes said meeting his wife Jane Mahoney 19 years ago was a turning point in his life, “both spiritually and emotionally”. He said, “We have both grown and learnt a lot from one another. I have calmed down but I’m no saint.”

jimmy in the zoneMusic has a hold on the whole Barnes household with his children forming their own band, Tin Lids, in the early ‘90s and his wife Jane doing some song writing for his 1995 album Psyclone. His son Jackie, 12, recently played drums and his eldest daughter Mahalia sang back up vocals, on tour with their dad. His son from a previous relationship, David Campbell, 24, is also making a name for himself in the theatre/music industry.

The reformation of Cold Chisel had been touted for many years with most members swearing it would never happen. Faithful Chisel fans will be pleased that the disputes that caused the band to split have been buried. Barnes said the group was very proud of the (at the time of going to press unnamed) album. “After 15 years we can still experience a high level of energy and chemistry.” Although the album promises to have international appeal the sound that made the group famous is still there. “Chisel is a funny band. I often compare them to mincemeat – no matter what you put in one end it always ends up sounding like Cold Chisel.”

Barnes joined the group in New York in July to put the finishing touches on the album which is expected to be released in September this year and will be followed by an Australian and perhaps an Asian tour, depending on the response. On the solo front Barnes hopes to release his next album in March next year.

Claudine Hyland was the editor of cyber-times. Amber Matthews was webmaster of cyber-times. They both really enjoyed the live gig – with thanks to Lynn D. Grebstad & Associates.