So how are you doing? Where are you actually? I presume you’re in Australia. Well, yes, it’s a six-one number. So where abouts are you?

Actually in Sydney in a recording studio with Cold Chisel, We’re just recording some new material. A new album, it’s called Three-Oh-One.

Are you based in Sydney now or is that just there for studio? Is that home?

Yeah, Sydney’s home. My original hometown is a place called Alice Springs.

Yeah, I know Alice Springs. I don’t think you could get any further away from anything, really, than Alice Springs, can you? I know some guys who run a tour company (The Rock Tours) down there! So… Cold Chisel back in the studio as well, that’s pretty significant, isn’t it? Is that re-recording, or is it new work?

Yeah, it’s brand new material, it’s a brand new album. We’ll probably say this every time, but, there are some great songs, some good efforts from everyone, with Don Walker kind of leading the charge, in most ways, but some great contributions. We’re actually – Barnes has written lyrics and Dom Walker’s put music to those lyrics. Which seems to be a good pairing. We have a producer/engineer, Kevin Shirley, who’s done quite a few famous people now, including, you know, the lead singer of Led Zeppelin’s back-catalog and Aerosmith. But the thing is, it’s kind of easier because I think, we wouldn’t race out and, each of us, call ourselves producers, but we’ve got a fairly strong idea, these days, of how to arrange a song, and what’s working and what doesn’t work.

And I guess, also, you’ve mastered the art of collaboration, as well. As far as identifying everyone’s strengths and weaknesses in the band, and utilizing those appropriately.

Yeah, I think so. We’ve only been in here a week, a month ago we did a couple of weeks of pre-production, but all I can say is it’s just, everyone’s just been incredibly professional. The respect between us all and the space we’re giving each other is something to be admired, this time round.

Definitely. That’s really good. I’ve spoken to so many bands, as well, that have gone through tormenting times, you know, hard times as a band, and perhaps there’s internal band politics that’s gone on, and it can be quite a time to lay down some of the hatchets, the past, and collaborate again in a positive way.

Yeah, we’ve had our tension, you know, that I think that can be said of any band who spends a lot of time on the road together. You have to say that we’ve got to get the job done, so lets, reign this in, reign that in, and just get on with it.

Yeah, absolutely. Well I think, you know, you can’t avoid conflict when you’ve got a bus-full of testosterone touring round constantly. So, I hear this so often with Aussie bands, it seems to be the method of just relentless gigging, grafting your way to the top, you know, starting off gigging small clubs and bars around Australia and just slowly crawling your way up – Midnight Oil’s a classic example of that where the labels didn’t want to have anything to do with them due to the political stance that they took with the Aboriginals, it made life very difficult for them to get any sort of traction or radio play so they had to do it the hard way. And I think, the Chisel approach was much the same, from what I understand of the early days. What can you say about that?

I mean it was six years, at least, before there was any hint that a record company might have been interested in, at all, or thought we had something going on. And the middle, you know, the first three years of those six years, was us  being a heavy rock band, prog-rock band – so we’re talking 1973, so we’re still sort of covering Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, and that kind of thing – so those kind of songs, that was our style and direction. Then we started writing, and Don figured out how to write, there was certainly no YouTube tutorials or music institutes or anything you could enroll in to learn how to do that, you just had to make it up as you go along.

Yeah, make it up as we went along, and so we’re sort of pioneers in some way, in a lot of ways, because there really was not many people writing original material but I guess there was lots of. Essentially, we’re trying to come up with great songs, material that sort of suited our style, that kind of heavy/hard, blues-rock style, but we also wanted short, good sharp, punchy songs that people could sing along to. So yeah, not many people doing that, they were doing sort of long, twenty-minute epics and complex chords and stuff, yeah, that was the sort of prog-scene in Australia at the time we were starting.

So yeah, three years of covers and then three years of starting to just sort of come up with original material. So it was a good – yeah, 1978, so five years after we formed, that we even got a hint of record companies being interested. So, yeah, during that five years it was all the starving stuff – in Australia, you had to deal with the massive distance, then the small population, the cities a long way across, so. So you’d do your gigs in Sydney, and then to get down to Melbourne you’ve got to go a long way. To also be able to afford a truck for all the gear, but the rest of us, for a while we were actually hitching. We’d hitch from city to city. But slogging it out, smaller venues, and just gradually just going round and round and round and working our asses off and just gradually watching as every time you go back to a place, you know, you double the crowd and then you triple the crowd.

Absolutely. I mean, it’s quite a progressive approach, really. I think modern music distribution models changed massively in the last sort of ten years, with the emergence of screening and the rather frustrating limited value on recorded music that seems to exist in the youth of today, shall we say. And that makes, the onus much more on live performance, and gigging again. Which is quite a turn-circle, really, as far as how things are, now, and how you guys sort of started the whole process and the model. I think there is something unique about, that the Aussie rock bands just seem to graft harder than any other. It’s just relentless gigging, the amount of time on the road and just the intensity of tours just seems to be exceptional and I think Chisel seems to have that similar approach.

Yeah, one thing we did have on our side back then was the live scene was, the availability of gigs, compared to what it is today, nowe people are uch more for gigs. We came along at just the right time, when every pub started seeing other pubs having bands like Cold Chisel and Midnight Oil, The Angels playing and having queues four-wide going all the way around the block, so any other publican was thinking, “God, that’s a lot of beer being bought!” So every pub was doing it. And back in the ’70s and early ’80s you could have Cold Chisel, The Angels and Midnight Oil almost in the same suburb, in Sydney, in different pubs, and each band would have their full venues on a Tuesday night – each band would have that sort of four-wide round the block queuing up to get in. And that was well before internet and Netflix, and what other distractions – and also, fortunately, well before random breath-testing and laws came in which said, if you’ve got that many people in the pub then you must serve some kind of food, and all that kind of stuff.

Oh, I know, the whole situation in Sydney is just beyond belief, really, it seems to be so counterproductive – I mean, we look at it, obviously as a young-people magazine that looks at traveling round the world and just the whole counter-fun police seems to be going on in Sydney at the moment.

Well, I mean, a lot of that thing started happening when, you know, the pub scene did start to become a little unpopular, and then I guess pubs started to look for other ways to maximize returns and they brought in the dreaded poker machines, once upon a time, it was only clubs that were allowed to have poker machines, and then it got pushed through that pubs could have them as well so they started, kind of, going, well, we don’t really need bands anymore to make money.

No, it’s amazing, isn’t it. I mean, the gambling’s phenomenon, you know, we have gambling in the UK, obviously, but we just don’t have that same sort of, the pokeys, I mean it’s just a massive thing. I’ve spent quite a lot of time out in AustraliaI just couldn’t believe it! The first time I went into a hotel with a pokeys room, and then another hotel next door with a pokeys room in it, the pub with them – it’s just relentless, isn’t it? I mean, it’s an epidemic. It’s all probably worse than alcohol and drugs, really, as far as the impact on society. But it’s amazing how it’s been allowed to assimilate so much of Australian culture.

Yeah, at some stage poker was offensive, nowadays they’ve got rooms for the poker machines within the pubs themselves, and they’re kind of closed-off, and sealed-off, kind of things. But once upon a time, you just walked through the front door, and there they were. You had to sit at your table having a beer, and someone right next to you would be on a machine.

Absolutely. They’re very interesting people-watching places, especially when you’re jet-lagged at 3 o’clock in the morning and you need something to do – just go and people-watch, it’s brilliant! Yeah, a strange phenomena.

You were voted number one, best Australian guitarist by News Corp not that long ago, which is an exceptional accolade. And from what I’ve understood of you, you’re a fairly, modest, grounded kind of person, you don’t blow smoke up your own ass, for sure! That must have been quite a lovely thing to have been recognized by. What was your reflection on that?

Don’t make me cringe! I mean, sure, yeah, I feel like I’ve done some good stuff, as far as being a great guitar-player goes, those things can tend to be more of a popularity contest, really, I could list a good three or four guys who I think are just absolutely, leave me for dead, but people just wouldn’t know who they are.

That was going to be my next question – of who would be your top three?

In Australia?


Someone who’s a Jazzer, but he’s a Jazzer with weight, and that’s James Muller, who’s absolutely fantastic. There’s a guy who lives in Cannes, Neville, that’s moved up there from Sydney in 1980 and loved boating and diving and fishing. So Neville, Wayne McIntosh, Andy Hagan. There’s three names, three guys I look up to and admire strongly.

Good stuff. Absolutely. Well I think, you know, your recognition’s well-deserved, you’re a technically proficient guitarist, but I think you also, I think where people have acknowledged you, is that you’re able to impart a lot of personality, and quite a unique playing style – perhaps that is that Jazz influence that comes into your play. So yeah, I can understand why you’ve been given the accolade that you have! you’re a very talented man.

Thank you! To answer your question, I don’t go, “Wow, look at that!” I don’t run round holding up the newspaper clipping; “Look! Look what I got!”

You haven’t got it framed on your wall or anything, then?

No, no!

I mean, AC/DC, undisputably the most successful rock-export as far as international audiences go – it’s very strange how the Australian music industry works, it seems to be very insular, and I mean, AC/DC seem to be one of the few that broke that mold and got out into the outside world. They’re so prolific, my 11-year-old son who’s learning guitar at the moment is learning. I think it’s Back in Black. You know, it’s definitely, it’s still going strong, and well-known across the world. How do you feel about that? I mean, do you feel like you guys missed an opportunity as far as an export is concerned? Were you aware of what AC/DC were doing, and the way in which they were exploring the US, and the world, really, as far as what they were doing?

Yeah, it’s a mixture of, you know, 20/20 hindsight. I don’t know. I kind of watched, and part of this is an observational, maybe it was a backward reflection, and to me it looked like AC/DC realized something really early in the fact and that was that, to get anywhere and be a great band, you’ve got to burn bright, you’ve got to burn really brightly, and you’ve got to burn twenty-four-seven, kind of thing. And to me, I always imagined those guys realized no-one can keep that up forever, we don’t know how long we’re going to last, we don’t know where we’re going to fall over, let’s get the hell out of this lovely place but isolated, very small population, let’s get overseas rather than slog out here in Australia for years and make it and then go, “Okay! It’s easy!” And start again. They said, if we’re going to fucking start, and put all this work in, let’s go somewhere to a part of the world where there are lots of people so that we don’t have to work so hard – we get it all happening right from the beginning. That was, like I say, 20/20 hindsight, I realized that we’d have something. We went to the United States back in the day for a very short tour, and we blitzed it there. All we had to do was stay there, but we didn’t. Half the guys admit future wives were missing and wanted to go home, and thought, “Oh yeah, we’ll come back, we’ll make it one day, don’t worry.” And yeah, never happened. I wish we would have stayed.

Yeah. No, absolutely. All though I think, to some respects, the great warmth that you have in Australia and with your fan base is that you were always – there was a high integrity to your music, you did your music your way, the way you wanted to perform, for the people that were responding well to your music, and you retain that integrity all the way through. So I guess that you may have that, at least, as an accolade to look back on. You kept it real, and did your own thing your way.

So, you’ve had a massive musical career with Chisel, and also as a solo artist. Would you say that the time with Chisel, was it a frustrating time, do you feel that you were perhaps overshadowed by some of the other personalities in the band, and was your solo work a sort of opportunity to express and explore that yearning to perhaps have more control over the music?

No, not really. I never felt held back or contained, or limited, at all, with Cold Chisel. I wasn’t really that ready to go out and try my own thing.

Okay, it was just good timing, then really?

Who knows, I might have even gone, learned more about Jazz theory and that kind of stuff, at an earlier time in my life. But I wouldn’t trade anything for the way things did turn out.

No, quite, I guess you’re not looking back with any regrets! You’ve had an awesome career.

Yeah, pretty lucky, feel – yeah, just lucky. Been in the right place at the right time, which is – yeah, you know, the way I met Don Walker was extraordinary. Just one of those things. It just easily could have not happened.

So how did it happen? I’m not familiar with that story. Obviously you were a young man in Alice Springs, it must be quite hard to meet anybody, really, when you’re that isolated from the rest of the world.

By that that stage, it was late high – still at school but late high-school, I’d moved down to Adelaide. And was pretty keen on the music scene; do school all week and then we’d be chasing down people to jam with on the weekends, while it was just me, because I didn’t really know anyone in Adelaide. So just find these, meet up with people and say, look, we’ve hired a hall, this is roughly the kind of material we’ll mess around on, do you want to come and have a play? And we’d just meet up and awkwardly sort of stumble around a bit and just jam on great stuff. We did that one day in this hall – Norwood Town Hall, I believe – [inaudible 00:30:19] jamming with three other guys – bass-player, drummer and keyboard, whatever, another rhythm guitar-player – that’d never met before. And there was a room down the back of this hall with someone playing piano, and it turned out it was Don Walker, who was living in another part of Adelaide but didn’t have a piano, and he’d found this piano so he could go and practice.

And he just happened to be there practicing, and so he stopped and just came out and had a look at us for a while and was sitting down the back of the hall, watching us, and for some reason I felt compelled to go and talk to him. I could easily have – just like the rest of the guys – oh, let’s get going again. They might have been, oh that’s the guy that was playing the piano, you know what… But anyway, I just felt compelled to go and say hello, and there was obviously a connection there straight away. Jesus, I’m a bit sick of doing these twenty-minute Yes and Jethro Tull songs, I’d love to play a bit of something a bit more bluesy and songs that only last three or four minutes, something new, and we sort of made that connection then and there. The rest is history.

It could have been a day that Don decided he didn’t feel like practicing, or I thought, nah, I don’t think I will go to that jam. It’s one of those things

Are you a believer of fate? Do you think there’s some predefined junctions in peoples lives? That’s a fairly interesting circumstance, or do you put it down to complete chaos and coincidence?

Yeah, I have to put it down to coincidence. I mean, fancifully, you’d say it was meant to happen.

Now, you’ve also got a fairly large affinity with traveling, and I’m sure you’ve traveled well with Chisel, but I’ve noticed you’re getting involved with some safari tours in Africa, is that right? Have I read that correctly? Have I done my homework? Can you tell us a little bit about that? Obviously travel’s a big part of TNT as well as music and lifestyle, and it would be quite interesting to see how you came about that.

Yeah, certainly, I’ll never get sick of travel, never get sick of getting away from home and getting out on the road. But yeah, no, I think the African thing, that’s been going for a couple of years – it might be, maybe ex-pat South African, ex-pat Australian, whatever, who set that whole thing up. Others have already been and done it – people of my era have done that. Never been to Africa. So yeah, it’s one of those things pop up from time to time, something different, somebody’s obviously got the imagination flowing and thought, let’s try this. So yeah, that’s in May next year, so really looking forward to that.

And do you find yourself revisiting places that you may have tours to and gigs at and think, actually that’s somewhere I’d like to explore more, is there anywhere that particularly stands out, that you either wanted to go back to or have gone back to?

There’s probably nothing exceptional, for me, I’m happy to go back to travel round Europe, in the summer, when it’s winter down here. If you can call it winter!

No, they’re not that grisly in Sydney, are they?

No, it always amazes that you’re wandering around in t-shirts and all the leaves are on the floor. It just doesn’t feel right to be in autumn at all, and as you say, the winters aren’t particularly grisly. What can you tell us about your UK stint? You’re obviously coming over for a night; are you planning anything specific for that evening? Is it going to be your solo work, can we expect a little bit of Chisel in there? What can people expect of the gig?

First of all, of course, as much as I’d love to be playing with the band, I’m just doing the solo acoustic thing. Bit of emphasis on it being the thirtieth anniversary of Matchbook, bit of an emphasis there. Keen on two or three tracks from the current album. But yeah, I tend to do a version of a couple of Cold Chisel – Choir Girl, Bow River, of course, and one or two other Chisel. And a couple of blues-Jazz standers like Cry Me a River and Georgia On My Mind.

And we’ve touched on this already slightly but what’s next for you, and Cold Chisel – obviously we talked about being back in the studio, but have you got plans of getting back on the road? Have you got any other things – itches that need scratching, as far as your musical career goes?

Well, we’re recording at the moment, some good stuff coming there. We’re still yet to make plans as to when we’ll release something and when and if we’ll tour, but everyone’s pretty keen to, so stay tuned for something happening in 2020, I’d say.

Thanks ever so much for talking to me. Good luck with your tour, I know you’re gigging around Australia as well, good luck with that bit. Look forward to your stint in the UK.

Thanks very much mate.

You can catch Ian at an intimate gig in London at St Pancras New Church, London, UK on sept 12th.

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