Jimmy and Cheney team up for Barnestorming debut

Author: Andrew McMillen

When the two Australian members of international rockabilly group The Barnestormers are asked how the notorious musical term ‘supergroup’ sits with them, opinions are starkly divided.

“I don’t like the term ‘supergroup’; we’re a bunch of mates getting together to play music,” said Jimmy Barnes, 67, the chart-topping singer whose distinctive voice explores new tones on the band’s self-titled debut album, to be released on Friday.

“I love it, because I think we’re super,” said Chris Cheney, 48, with a laugh. The guitarist and frontman of Melbourne rock trio The Living End has lent his stirring licks to a set of songs that celebrate the origins of rock ’n’ roll.

The quartet is completed by Slim Jim Phantom, aka James McDonnell, the drummer and co-founder of esteemed New York rockabilly act the Stray Cats, with British musician and television presenter Jools Holland on piano.

The four of them recorded their parts remotely, in the depths of Covid lockdowns – yet thanks to the talents of South African record producer Kevin Shirley, the 11-track set has the feel of musicians sharing the same space.

“The essence of rockabilly music is that it sounds like you’re in a garage, thrashing it out ­together,” said Barnes. “We managed to do that while in four major cities around the world. I can’t give enough credit to Kevin; I don’t think there’s many ­producers that could have made that happen.”

For Cheney – who was a wide-eyed, 15-year-old witness when the Stray Cats supported Barnes at Melbourne’s National Tennis Centre in 1990 – working with Slim Jim Phantom is a dream come true.

“I do have to pinch myself,” he said. “I feel blessed, and it’s quite an amazing thing to be sitting on the edge of your bed, playing along to Stray Cats songs – to now playing in a band with him.”

The album includes a mix of originals – including first single Johnny’s Gone, which was written by Barnes’s Cold Chisel bandmate Don Walker – and covers.

The musicians recorded songs made famous by the likes of Roy Orbison (Working for the Man), Chuck Berry (Dear Dad) and Johnny O’Keefe’s Wild One, which was the first Australian rock ’n’ roll recording to crack the local charts in 1958.

As well, there’s a version of a recent Cold Chisel song in Land of Hope and Glory, co-written by Barnes and Walker, which appeared on its 2019 album Blood Moon.

Asked whether that meant he felt he had to rise to the high standard set by Chisel’s revered guitarist Ian Moss, The Living End’s axeman modestly ­demurred. “I just think he’s on this other level,” said Cheney of Moss. “I look up to players like that, and admire them so much; I tried to bring my own thing to each of the songs.”

On hearing this, the Barnestormers’ leader offered some high praise for his bandmate.

“I’ve watched Chris play a million times, and I don’t think he ever feels intimidated by any guitar player in the world,” said Barnes with a laugh. “I’ve stood at the side of stage with Mossy, watching him.”

Jimmy Barnes makes music comeback with new band The Barnestormers

Author: Kathy McCabe

Jimmy Barnes is back in the swing after his recent surgery launching his rumoured rockabilly global supergroup.

Barnes has been teasing The Barnestormers band in recent weeks as he recuperated from the hip replacement surgery which forced him off the road in December.

His first band project since Cold Chisel co-stars American rockabilly royalty Slim Jim Phantom of The Stray Cats, his close mate Chris Cheney from The Living End, and British television and music star Jools Holland.

The seeds of the project were first sown more than 30 years ago when Barnes enlisted The Stray Cats to open his Australian tour in 1990.

A lunch in Los Angeles 20 years later, which also included Cheney, again had Barnes insisting they should all make a rockabilly record together.

When global touring ground to a halt during the pandemic, producer and studio wizard Kevin Shirley, who was connected to all of the musicians, said “you’ve got to do it now.”

“I was like ‘How do we do it? We’re all locked away,’” Barnes said.

“Kevin was the motivator from hell who got us all of our arses and working. He hooked us all up, would record each of us and send the tapes around the world.”

While the men were frustrated they couldn’t make their album in old school fashion in a garage somewhere, Barnes and Cheney said they marvelled at Shirley’s considerable skill in assembling the parts recorded remotely in Sydney, Melbourne, Los Angeles and London.

There is also connection to Barnes’ old band Cold Chisel, with the first single Johnny’s Gone written and recorded by Don Walker in the early 1990s for his side hustle Catfish.

“Once the word got out that I was doing a rockabilly record, my friends were sending songs from everywhere; Don sent a couple of his own and 50 of his favourites, Paul Field suggested the Chuck Berry song Dear Dad,” Barnes said.

All of the Barnestormers grew up on rockabilly. As a teen, Cheney was practising Buddy Holly and Scotty Moore (Elvis Presley’s guitarist) riffs as his friends jammed on Nirvana and Guns N’ Roses songs.

The niche rock’n’roll genre is enjoying a generational refresh kickstarted by the viral success of The Cramps’ version of Goo Goo Muck after it featured on the hit Netflix series Wednesday.

“I think you would probably find there’s kids in garages all over the whole of America doing (rockabilly),” Barnes said.

Barnes hopes to use his considerable powers of persuasion to get this band on the road.

“We had some (live) things planned, but they fell through because of my surgery. So now we’re recalculating to see what we can do because it is difficult to get everybody in the same place at the same time. The thing is, we all want to do it,” Barnes said.

The 66-year-old rocker will give his hip its first live test in May when he joins the Australian Chamber Orchestra for their concert to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Sydney Opera House.

Barnes spent three months on physiotherapy and has spent the past month with wife Jane in Thailand swimming to get matchfit for his live return.

“I’m fighting fit, I’ve been swimming for an hour every day. You’ve got to do exactly what the doctors says. Three weeks after I got to Thailand, I wanted to get some heavy weights in and I couldn’t walk for two days, so I went back to what I was supposed to be doing.”

The Barnestormers self-titled debut album is out on May 26.

Chris Cheney on going solo and finding redemption

Author: Andrew McMillen

‘The first 25 years of my life, everything I did turned to gold,’ says The Living End frontman. ‘So what do you do when that happens? If you’re me, you sabotage it and you f..k it up.’

On a Thursday afternoon in July 2018, Chris Cheney sat sipping a beer in the lead-up to his soundcheck at the nearby Queensland Performing Arts Centre. As the spiky-haired frontman for Melbourne-born rock trio The Living End, the ostensible purpose of our meeting was to discuss the band’s upcoming eighth album, titled Wunderbar.

The man himself was visiting Brisbane while touring with a larger ensemble in a tribute to the White Album, The Beatles’ 1968 release, in a series of concerts where his performance of While My Guitar Gently Weeps was among the set’s finest moments.

As we sat and drank schooners in South Brisbane amid workers from nearby construction sites clad in high-vis clothing – the sort of workers who have featured prominently in Cheney’s socially inclusive and progressive songwriting – there was a new musical undercurrent running right beneath us, and it was only by accident that an unseen release valve was kicked open.

One of the most curious songs on Wunderbar is titled Death of the American Dream, a typically raucous Living End track drawn from Cheney’s own observations of living in Los Angeles with his family since 2011 – but one which ends on a highly unusual note, with his bandmates silent while the singer and his guitar tease out an evocative solo coda.

The presence of that song’s gorgeous acoustic ending – as well as another Cheney solo track on the same release, titled Amsterdam – was a striking stylistic decision for a band best known for its bombastic rock stompers. Back in 2018, it got Review wondering: any plans to record a solo album under your own name, Chris?

“I’ve done it,” Cheney replied. “I recorded an album in Nashville. There’s six songs that are just my voice and acoustic guitar, and there’s six songs that I recorded with a band over there.

“But TLE has to be No.1 at the moment; we have a great opportunity, because of what happened with getting signed to (record label) BMG worldwide, so I’ve had to put it on the backburner,” he said, frowning. “I’m really happy with it. It’s a little bit frustrating that I haven’t been able to do anything with it. But those other songs? They’re not going anywhere.”

According to his bandmates in The Living End, the frontman’s solo aspirations go way back. Double bassist and backing vocalist Scott Owen, who co-founded the group with Cheney in 1994, reckons “it’s been at least a decade in the making. It rivals Chinese Democracy,” he says, referring to the Guns N’ Roses album that famously took 19 years to complete.

“That doesn’t mean that Chris rivals Axl Rose,” Owen says with a laugh. “Maybe he does in some ways. But all of Chris’s output is pretty great quality. Andy and I have probably been of the same opinion. We’re just like, ‘Dude, it’s awesome. Just put it out! Stop working on it, because you’ll work on it forever!’ I think it’s fair to say that 10 years is pretty close to forever, in the ‘making of an album’ terms.”

Drummer Andy Strachan, who joined the group in 2002, concurs. “I don’t know how many times he’s written and recorded this solo record, but it’s been going for a long, long time,” he tells Review with a laugh. “Writing songs is not a problem for him; he’s always had the material to do the record.”

According to the man himself, the lightbulb moment came while recording a solo version of the Crowded House pop classic Distant Sun for the 2010 Finn covers compilation He Will Have His Way.

Back in 2018, the news that one of Australia’s greatest living singer-songwriter-guitarists was deciding to go solo was an enticing notion. In a flash, it was easy to see Cheney’s potential future, performing into middle age and beyond under his own name, just like some of his songwriting heroes, Paul Kelly and Finn.

Four years later, on the eve of Bluesfest 2022 – the music industry’s first major multi-day camping event to be held since the Covid pandemic was declared – Cheney jets into Brisbane from his new home in Melbourne, where he and his family resettled last year.

Before meeting up with his Living End bandmates near Byron Bay on Good Friday, he’s in the Queensland capital to play one of his first shows with his new band, two months ahead of the release of his long-gestating debut solo album.

In the lobby, Cheney peers over his sunglasses and offers a handshake. We take a lift up to the hotel’s sky bar where, over a couple of beers as the sun sets in the city centre, he begins to unpack the circumstances surrounding a set of songs that feel to him as though they’ve been half a lifetime in the making.

Titled The Storm Before the Calm, it’s a surprising collection that foregrounds his voice – and thus his lyrics, which are often painfully self-aware – like we’ve never heard before.

“The idea was that the vocals would be front and centre, and loud – everything I’ve never wanted to have with The Living End,” says Cheney, 47. “I never really was happy with my vocals. You get to a point, I reckon, where — and maybe it’s not even just vocally – you just sort of accept who you are when you get a bit older, and you’re okay with it. And I’m okay with my vocals now.”

He corrects himself: “More than okay with them. I worked really hard on them … because it’s such a lyrically-focused album.

“That’s what the record is all about,” says Cheney. “A lot of people, I think, are expecting a sort of a ‘guitar hero’ record – but it’s kind of the opposite of that.”

There is darkness in the stories behind these songs, and after our meeting, Cheney emails an essay of sorts he’s written about where their inspiration lay. According to him, the album contains “tales of excess; I had kidney failure, self-inflicted (no longer an issue); relationship breakdowns, regrets, dealing (or not dealing) with my father’s passing, not caring about anything or anyone except trying to block out the pain with booze and whatever else was on offer; not sleeping; desire; making big mistakes, and ultimately asking for – and receiving – forgiveness.”

Sitting in the rooftop bar, surrounded by a rowdy crowd of young party-starters, the songwriter reckons the death of his father a decade ago was the catalyst for this surprising shift in his behaviour. “The first 25 years of my life, everything I did sort of turned to gold,” he says. “I didn’t make any mistakes, really; it was all from one success to the next. The band was flying high, touring the world; I met the girl, married the girl, moved into a house, had the kids. It was all pretty picture-perfect. So what do you do when that happens? If you’re me, you sabotage it and you f..k it up, because you go, ‘What else is there?’

“I don’t want to get into names, and that sort of thing, but I definitely betrayed my family and friends in a way, and ended up in this very dark place,” says Cheney carefully. “But part of me sort of liked it. I liked being in the situation where I had all this stuff to draw from, and show different sides that I didn’t know were there.

“I didn’t particularly like that side of me, and I’m sort of ashamed of some of the stuff that I did,” he clarifies. “But for some reason, I kept feeding it and I kept doing what I was doing. But I managed to make a record that I think is balanced, and there’s a personal triumph. I’m still here. I didn’t throw the record in the bin; I didn’t lose my marriage, thanks to my wife, who I owe everything to, because that could have been the case.”

This introspective subject matter is canvassed in the songs on his solo album, in a way that he’s never previously explored. For Cheney’s bandmates, hearing the songwriter open up in this way through his art felt like a breakthrough.

“Making it sound real was something that I wanted to really encourage him to do,” says drummer Strachan. “That’s what people want to hear, that ‘from the heart’ sort of stuff. In The Living End, he’s the guitar-shredder frontman guy – but as a solo thing, it just has to be raw and it has to be heartfelt. People are not stupid: they’re going to see straight through it if you’re trying to cover anything up.”

Before we part ways in Brisbane, I ask Cheney about his new role being the band leader in two different setups. He’s now simultaneously fronting one of the nation’s most recognisable rock’n’ roll groups, whose household-name status has been assured for more than two decades; he also fronts a new quintet, and there’s zero crossover between the two setlists.

“It’s such a novelty for me to have a piano behind me, and a lot of the songs were written with piano very much at the forefront,” he says with a smile. “I love being able to sing along with it, and with the Petty, Springsteen, Jackson Browne influence in a lot of these songs, the piano’s right up there.

“I’m loving that whole ‘bar band’ thing; it’s just working. The people who are coming to the shows are loving it because again, they’re seeing a different side to me – but it’s not diminished. It’s not a watered-down side project. I love it – and tomorrow night, I’ll put my other hat on, and try and blow the place apart again.”

The following night near Byron Bay, on the Crossroads stage at Bluesfest, Good Friday is a very good day for rock’n’roll fans, as the final four acts booked to play from 5.30pm onwards are The Angels, The Living End, Hoodoo Gurus and Midnight Oil.

Once the sun sinks beneath the horizon, the Melbourne trio attracts a huge crowd of about 8000 people spilling beyond the edges of the Big Top tent.

As they work through a “greatest hits” setlist including Second Solution, All Torn Down, West End Riot, White Noise and a hard-rocking cover of Tainted Love, the threesome comes across as something akin to an Australian equivalent of Foo Fighters, another band whose reach is bigger than most due to the songwriters’ willingness to lean into melodies that sound great when sung en masse.

Out the front, Cheney is in full showman mode, playing the character of the rockabilly demon, with a cheeky glint in his eye, that he has inhabited since this band broke through onto the national stage in the late 1990s. “There are very few things as uplifting and powerful as rock’n’ roll music, ladies and gentlemen,” he says to the crowd midway through the set. “There are no guarantees in this life, let me assure you, so you’ve got to enjoy the good times when they’re here. I want you to turn it up to 11 with this one. This is for all the misfits – for all the prisoners of society.”

Like Midnight Oil, The Living End are such an established machine that it’s just about impossible to imagine a mediocre live performance, let alone a bad one. But what’s different about them now is that the man at the microphone is finally unleashing that other side of his musicality, the one that’s been itching for an outlet for a decade, maybe longer.

Crucially, it’s an outlet with the full endorsement of his brothers in rock. There’s no sense of disharmony, onstage or off, from his two longtime colleagues in The Living End. “I know how much he’s bled and sweated over it, and probably shed many tears over it, as well,” says Owen. “It drives me and Andy up the wall sometimes, when Chris spends so much time changing things. I know how much of that has happened (with the solo album), and with all of that in mind, it just makes me even more proud and glad that the end result is so f..king good.”

Strachan, for his part, loves looking over his kit to stage right and seeing Cheney lost in the music, expressing himself through his guitar and vocals, letting everything out. “That’s the show: when he’s having a good time, we’re having a good time,” says the drummer. “It’s so fulfilling to see your mate living in the moment. I think he’s at his best when he’s just let his guard down. Playing with him constantly reminds me of how incredible he is.”

Rather than keeping him all to themselves, Owen and Strachan are as excited as the thousands of people gathered here beneath a heaving Big Top tent. They’re keen to see and hear what’s next for one of the greatest voices in Australian music as he strides out on his own.

The Storm Before The Calm is out now via Liberator Music. Chris Cheney’s solo tour begins in Brisbane on July 16 and ends in Sydney on August 13.

The Living End

Author: Eve Jeffery

Probably the thing I am most excited about is the Bluesfest debut for The Living End (what took so long?). The Living End are Australian rock royalty yet are the most down-to-earth blokes.
Formed in Melbourne in 1994, the band catapulted into fame in 1997 when they released a double A-side single featuring Prisoner of Society and Second Solution; songs that would become festival anthems around the world. The band’s blistering live performances have ensured they remain one of Australia’s premiere live outfits and at the top of festival bills for nearly two decades. They have consistently delivered hit after hit, which has allowed the band to grow a loyal (and rabid) fan base around the country.
The Living End are sure to bring some surprises to the Bluesfest stage. Do y’self a favour etc, get thee to Crossroads on Friday.


Author: Unknown

The Living End are truly Rock Royalty. Formed in 1994 in Melbourne, it was 1997 when the band blasted through with their double A side single featuring ‘Prisoner of Society’ and ‘Second Solution’ – songs that have become festival anthems around the world. This five times ARIA-winning band are one of the Aussie treasures playing at Bluesfest this October. This will be the third attempt by the Byron event since the 2019 COVID-19 lockdown to host their festival. Mandy Nolan had a chat with Chris Cheney about the band’s upcoming Bluesfest gig…

When I speak to Chris Cheney the lead vocalist of The Living End, it’s Lockdown Number Four in Melbourne. The impacts of the virus have been massive for the entertainment industry.

‘It’s really frustrating when you look at the bigger picture of the entertainment industry, and people are nervous about putting events on.

‘The government hasn’t given the entertainment industry the support it needs.’

It’s something musicans like Cheney find annoying. ‘When the shit hits the fan, it’s the entertainment industry that steps up and puts on a concert to raise money.’ The reciprocal support for the music industry has definitely been lacking.

The landscape for musicians has certainly changed. When The Living End started it was all about the pub. ‘The pub was everything – we did thousands of gigs before we got on Triple J, we built the following from the ground up.’

Consequently The Living End has the smarts of a band who know how to play to a crowd. They are a powerful festival act.

‘It’s an endurance test getting through our show’ says Chris. ‘You have to be match fit – we also have to be fit in ourselves. The songs don’t sound the same unless you are at 200 per cent!’

‘This is the first time we have played Bluesfest. I haven’t been before, never been and never played it, so we intend to come out of the gates with all guns blazing, we will be like bulls at a gate!

‘Bluesfest isn’t specifically blues and roots but it’s the core and it’s our background,’ says Cheney.

The Living End are playing at Bluesfest 1–4 October. Tix from bluesfest.com.au.

The Living End’s ex-manager Rae Harvey lashes out after shock sacking

Author: Mikey Cahill

A respected band manager has ditched the amicable split template to call out rockers The Living End for sacking her after 22 years of service.

Rae Harvey has taken to social media to bid her “farewell to the music industry”.

“After 22 years of faithful service, my management agreement with The Living End was suddenly terminated a couple of weeks ago,” she wrote on Facebook.

 “Having dedicated the best years of my life to a band I assumed were a part of my family forever, what a kick in the guts. It is at my insistence that I’m honest about this and there’s no wishy-washy statement about splitting amicably, that’s not my style. I was fired. There…. I said it.”

The Living End were managed by Rae Harvey for more than two decades before sacking her without notice.

Harvey helped steer the Rowville band to multiple ARIA Awards, national and international tours and Triple J success.

Her hard-nosed style is widely respected by industry veterans.

“After 30 years industry experience and 20+ management under my belt, I needed very little to be effective, my 20 minutes would take hours or days in less experienced hands,” she wrote.

“(Working for) That many years and all the hard-forged relationships managing a now legacy band heading into their twilight years — I could do it standing on my head.”

Harvey lost her house and animal shelter in a fire in far north NSW three years ago.

“Regrettably, this has come at an inopportune time for me, it was sudden with no discussion or time to plan, just ‘seeya’,” she wrote.

Harvey writes she will continue running her Wild2Free Inc. Kangaroo Sanctuary.

She continues: “On a somewhat comical ending, the W2F name was the one we settled on for exactly that reason WTF? And that statement applies right now, as it does for so much we see in our once beautiful world and the people in it. WTF indeed. Watch this space.”

Harvey previously managed 360, Children Collide and Gyroscope.Engaged

The Living End have not yet commented.

Meanwhile, yesterday the band’s frontman Chris Cheney posted an April Fool’s Day joke on Instagram that the band was calling it quits.

“Melbourne trio to retire immediately with no farewell show”, the post read.

Jumping the tracks

Author: Andrew McMillen

The Living End’s new album, Wunderbar, should please the fans and attract new followers.

One of Australia’s greatest living rock songwriters sips a beer at an inner-Brisbane pub while musing on the fractured state of popular culture.

“I mean, that guy there: he might only listen to dance music,” says Chris Cheney, pointing at a worker in high-visibility clothing who sits nearby, enjoying a solo schooner on a Thursday afternoon. “We’re all listening to different things. These days, a hit is only a hit to the ­people who like it. It’s very rare to get people coming up to me saying, ‘Have you heard that song?’ or ‘You’ve got to get this record, it’s amazing!’ Everyone’s just on their own train.”

As frontman of the Living End, Cheney has navigated a prosperous and durable career for the Melbourne trio, whose 1998 self-titled debut contained a string of hit songs that came to ­define that era of Australian rock music. A ­decade later, fifth album White Noise was awarded an ARIA award for best rock album, while its title track won song of the year at the 2009 APRA Music Awards.

It’s a curious time to meet the musician in July, as he has one foot in the past while touring in a concert tribute to the White Album by the Beatles — the 1968 release from a simpler time, when cultural train tracks tended to share a ­single terminus.

Despite nightly performing timeless songs such as While My ­Guitar Gently Weeps, when he raises a glass with Review he’s looking ahead to the release of an eighth Living End album.

Even if his fellow day-drinkers at this quiet pub had never heard a note of his music, it’d be hard to mistake ­Cheney — who wears black sunglasses and his blonde hair swept back at the fringe — for anything other than a man who belongs on stage, guitar in hand, standing before a microphone.

This penchant for a distinctive dress sense harks back to his childhood. “I ­remember what it was like being an Elvis freak in high school,” he says. “People used to give me strange looks: I wore pointy shoes, had my collar up, and was right into the whole 1950s rockabilly thing. I’ve always felt some sort of empathy ­towards anyone that was sort of different.”

While watching his two daughters — now aged 12 and nine — start to express their indiv­iduality, and while tuning into recent national discussions surrounding subjects such as same-sex marriage and cyber-bullying, Cheney began to write a song about a social outcast.

That sketch became Not Like the Other Boys, a track built on a jangly chord progression whose first verse begins: “Danny was a little ­different from the rest / Not like the other boys / Always sitting on his own out in the schoolyard / Away from the other boys …”

Cheney’s adolescent enthusiasm for rockabilly — and, later, punk rock — was mirrored by double bassist Scott Owen. The pair formed the band in 1994, after meeting at Wheelers Hill Secondary College in Melbourne.

“We loved the Stray Cats, and what their roots were, while everybody else was listening to Bon Jovi, hip-hop and Nirvana,” Owen says by phone. “That’s kind of how we’ve always been and we’re still like that. We just make the music that we like, and try and show everyone: ‘Hey, look what happens when you put this and this together.’ It’s like cooking in the kitchen: ‘Here, taste this — it’s bloody awesome!’ ”

When it comes to writing words and music, Cheney has long since learned that his first goal is to satisfy himself, after years of honing his ­instincts. “I know that if I write something and go, ‘That is kick-arse!’, I know that Scott and [drummer] Andy [Strachan] and other people around me will [agree] — and then I know I’ve got something that’s undeniably catchy,” he says.

Eighth album Wunderbar was recorded in Berlin, with a view to having a new release ready ahead of the ­European summer festival circuit. Its evolution ­followed the familiar form of Cheney presenting skeletal ideas for his bandmates to build on, which is how the trio’s songwriting process usually works.

“Depending on the form­a­tion of the skeleton, it could be a few bones or it could be a complete structure,” says ­Strachan. “It could be a riff or it could be a few words that are really powerful. When we’re in the band room, we get excited, we fire off each others’ ideas, and that’s when things start to take shape.”

After spending much of his adult life as a performer, Owen says: “I think I play music more for myself now than I used to. Maybe I started off playing for ­myself, then I was straight out into the world of playing it for other ­people, and to try and make a living out of it. Those were a bit more intellectual sorts of reasons, rather than emotional. Now, I just feel totally privileged that we are still able to do this; still able to have a passion job.”

Given the stripped-back and distinctive style of rock ’n’ roll offered by its 11 tracks, Wunderbar will likely be met with enthus­iasm by the band’s packed train of followers, here and overseas. If any of its songs ­happen to jump the tracks and connect with a new audience, then that will be a happy bonus.

Wunderbar will be released on Friday via BMG.

Living End: how song Amsterdam made it to new album Wunderbar

Author: Andrew McMillen

In this weekend’s Review I write about Melbourne trio the Living End, whose eighth album Wunderbar is released next week. It contains a song named Amsterdam that catches the ear immediately, as the arrangement features nothing more than Chris Cheney’s vocals and a trebly electric guitar. It’s rather far removed from the boisterous brand of rock and roll for which the band has been well known for two decades, and when I met Cheney in July, I asked him how the band decided to include it on the album in such an unadorned state.

“It was one I’d written, and I just demoed it on my GarageBand,” he told me, referring to his preferred recording software. “The other guys never had a problem with it. They weren’t like, ‘Hang on, that should be on the solo record’; everyone just went: ‘That’s a great song. You know what? Drop everything else out of it, and just you play it.’

“It just adds another colour and texture to the album, and I think it’s got a lot of character because of that. It’s going to make for a stronger record, with peaks and troughs.”

When I spoke to Cheney’s bandmates, they filled in a few more details and offered their perspective on a song that is likely to surprise fans of the Living End who have come to know and love the group for its strident, three-pronged attack.

“It was written in Amsterdam, in this funny little Airbnb place,” said double bassist Scott Owen. “Chris showed it to us, and it had more of a twangy, surf guitar line, but it was more of a full band kind of idea. When we got to the writing process for the record, it really wasn’t going to fit; it just didn’t have a place.”

Wunderbar was recorded in Berlin, and it was the input of producer Tobias Kuhn that convinced the group to rethink that decision, however. “When we got to Germany and Tobias was going through some ideas, Chris played it to him at one point, and he said, ‘There’s something in that song but it’s not going to work as a band track. Let’s try getting it back to its rawest state,’ ” said Owen. “It just makes it so much more powerful. He held two iPhones up in front of Chris and pretty much tracked it live. It’s got a real grit to it, and real emotion. By stripping everything back, the emotion really comes to the foreground.”

The decision to include such a sparse arrangement certainly highlights the strength of Cheney’s vocals, and it also offers a glimpse into how he presents songs to his bandmates at rehearsal, before they begin adding a rhythm section. It strikes me as the kind of artistic decision that could be reached only by three musicians who are confident and secure in their own abilities, and keen to share that sense of openness with their fans.

“I don’t think it’s something we would have even attempted 10 years ago,” drummer Andy Strachan told me. “There’s a musical maturity that you develop over the years where it’s OK to play really minimally, or not at all, if that’s what the song is asking for. In that particular scenario, that’s what the song required. It didn’t need a heavy bassline and some pounding drums behind it, because that took away from the rawness to it. I think we’re at that point where we’re like: ‘It’s better without us.’ ”

GOV, Sweat and beers!

Author: Nathan Davies

Twenty five years ago the Tonkin family bought a pub with the aim of making it a home for live music. It worked. NATHAN DAVIES looks at a quarter of a century of tunes at the Governor Hindmarsh.

Pub life runs deep in veins of the Tonkin family. Melissa and Jo Tonkin’s great-grandmother sold liquor from her general story in Victoria’s Tolmie Ranges, and the sisters were raised in the pubs owned by parents Brian and Vivien.

“Our mother was even christened in a pub,” Melissa says over a cup of tea on the veranda of South Australia’s best-known live music venue, The Governor Hindmarsh Hotel

It was probably inevitable, then, that the sisters would go into the pub game themselves but when they took over a down-at-heel drinking hole in Adelaide’s inner-west they could have never envisioned what it would become.

“When the family first bought the pub in 1993 it was very eighties colours — lots of aqua — and people used to call it the Lollipop Hotel,” Melissa says.

“This pub was on the wrong side of the tracks, literally. Our parents bought this pub with the idea of giving something back to the music community.”

Brian and Vivien were lured to Adelaide in 1980 thanks to a Don Dunstan-inspired feeling of optimism that had enveloped the city.

“We were tossing up whether to go to Melbourne or Adelaide, and at that time it felt like a lot of good things were happening in Adelaide” Melissa says.

“So we came over and our parents bought the Bridgewater Inn. We became very friendly with Redgum and lots of other bands in that Hills scene.”

Music was always front and centre for the Tonkin family, as integral to their pub vision as cold beer. However none of the family pubs — the Bridgewater, the Maylands and Port Elliot’s Royal Family — had a dedicated music room. Enter The Gov.

Right from the start the Tonkins set about remaking The Gov — which at one point even had a boxing ring out the back — into a hub for musos, inviting groups like Jazz SA, the SA Blues Club and folk collectives to make the hotel their own. When Melissa and Jo were lured back from Sydney to run the pub in 1997, with help from brother Richard, they started booking more traditional rock acts.

“Jo started booking all the bands, rock bands — Renee Geyer, The Cruel Sea, Paul Kelly — and there was a bit of a change of energy,” Melissa says.

It worked because Melissa and Jo were giving the rock-loving punters of Adelaide something they craved — a large, dedicated band room. Just years earlier, with the introduction of poker machines in the early nineties, many of the suburban band rooms that nurtured Adelaide’s famous pub rock scene had been carved up and renovated into mini-casinos.

The sisters set about enlarging the band room to hold 750 people, and The Gov soon became the unofficial home of live music in Adelaide, scooping numerous awards and being inducted into the Adelaide Music Collective’s Hall of Fame.

The list of acts that The Gov has managed to attract over the years is impressive to say the least. The Angels, The Church, Courtney Barnett, Dan Sultan, Diesel, The Drones, Hoodoo Gurus, The Gobetweens, Pseudo Echo, Radio Birdman, The Sunnyboys and Sia are just some of the hundreds of Aussie acts who’ve taken to the stage. On the international front, The Gov has hosted everyone from Canned Heat to Cat Power, Taj Mahal to The Troggs and many more.

They even famously staged a show by US hip-hop artist ASAP Ferg during Adelaide’s infamous blackout. trucking in a generator and lighting the room with candles.

So, out of the hundreds of acts is there an elusive artist the sisters haven’t yet managed to lock down?

“Um, Elvis?” Melissa laughs. “Failing that, I think it’d be amazing to get Bob Dylan, or Ry Cooder.”

Let’s hope.



I’ve played The Gov many times, both with The SuperJesus and solo shows supporting UK singers John Waite and James Walsh. It’s my home town so I will always have a special fondness for it. There’s a feeling in the band room that tonight’s gonna be a good night. and it always is. I’ve never had a bad gig there.


The Gov has always let us through the front door, which is always a good, if surprising, start.

A few ales in the front bar with its aesthetically pleasing environs, a sound check that’s never harried or hurried, staff with cheeky smiles and the promise of a slice o’ pizza. We ain’t in Kansas no more.

Backstage is a good hang, fridge full, and being close to the crowd there’s an expectant atmosphere, always.

Security eyeing us with deserved yet humorous suspicion. And we’re on.

Love that stage – convex and loud. We promise to keep the band room cleanish and keep the patrons thirsty and smilin’.

Thank you Gov. we look forward to next time, if you let us in again.


The Gov is one of my favourite places to play in Australia, and it was where I played my second-ever headline show in Adelaide.

I’ve had the opportunity to play plenty of other places, but I always come back to The Gov. It’s such a great live venue with such a great crowd. The Gov crowd just knows how to appreciate live music.


The Gov was a shot in the arm for Adelaide’s live scene after the heydays of the seventies and eighties.

A lot of the venues from that time were swallowed up by the pokies, so The Gov was much needed. We only play two venues in Adelaide – the Festival Theatre and The Gov.

Still Rolling On

Author: Stephen Bissett

The last time Aussie rock legend Jimmy Barnes graced the stage at Bimbadgen Winery, all 8000 tickets sold out on the first day. So, you can be pretty sure that his upcoming Hunter show to celebrate 30 years as a solo artist will be one for the ages – especially with the likes of the Living End, Baby Animals, Mahalia Barnes and the Soul Mates and Nick Barker on the bill.

“Mate, this show is going to be absolutely huge,” Living End drummer Andy Strachan told TE.

“It’s been a little while for us so to be hitting the stage with not only Jimmy, but also the Baby Animals, who are just an amazing band, Jimmy’s daughter and Nick Barker is very exciting for us.”

The Living End’s inclusion on the bill follows on from their recent collaboration with Barnes on a reworking of his classic track Lay Down Your Guns, from his upcoming 30/30 Anniversary album that also features collaborations with Little Steven Van Zandt, Tina Arena, Jon Stevens, Journey and Keith Urban.

If you’ve heard the 2014 version of Lay Down Your Guns you’d already know that this is Barnes in career-best form while the Living End provide a ferocious backing -possibly the only band in Oz that could match it with Barnes’ powerhouse vocals.

“The guy just blows me away,” Strachan said. “We basically did the song in one take – he just rocked up to the microphone and yelled ‘g’day boys’ down the mic and we just ripped into it – we didn’t really overthink things, we just went in there and belted it out.

While the Living End have been pretty quiet on the touring front this year, after two and a half years of solid touring off the back of their latest long player The Ending Is Just The Beginning Repeating, Strachan said that there had been talk of new material, although distance has made it a bit difficult.

“We have been a little bit quiet – I mean I’m in Melbourne, Scott [Owen, bass] is in NSW and Chris [Cheney, guitar] is in the US so it can be a bit tricky, especially when we’re the type of band that likes to do everything live – but we are definitely looking to record again in the very near future.”

However, Strachan added that punters could expect the band to pull out all the stops at the Bimbadgen show.

“We treat playing live like a footy match – we like to start big and end bigger.”

Catch Jimmy Barnes, The Living End, Baby Animals, Mahalia Barnes and the Soul Mates and Nick Barker at Bimbadgen Winery on Saturday, November 8. Tickets are on sale now via ticketmaster.com.au