Band of BROTHERS

Cold Chisel’s re­union plans took a mas­sive blow with death of drum­mer Steve Prest­wich, writes Kathy Mccabe

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page -

FROM cas­sette tapes in dan­ger of dis­in­te­grat­ing to orig­i­nal mas­ters archived in tem­per­a­ture-con­trolled ware­houses, the band and their team metic­u­lously in­spected ev­ery song, demo or whis­per of an idea. They even bought bootlegs back from fans via eBay.

This ex­pe­di­tion through their his­tory was part of a plan hatched af­ter the band per­formed at the in­au­gu­ral V8 Supercars event in Syd­ney in De­cem­ber 2009 to more than 45,000 scream­ing fans.

Jimmy Barnes, Ian Moss, Don Walker, Phil Small and Steve Prest­wich were back in busi­ness.

‘‘ We felt prob­a­bly as good as we’ve ever felt in 40 years, com­ing off af­ter that show,’’ Walker says.

‘‘ We’d man­aged to get through a few warm-up shows and then the big one with [ such] a huge crowd, with no bad feel­ing off-stage amongst us all. And re­ally, the band played well, we felt.

‘‘ I can tell you there are a lot of nights when we come off and they might be happy out there but we’re not happy with our­selves. That wasn’t one of those nights. We came off on a real high.

‘‘ We got to­gether in a restau­rant down The Rocks about a week later and sat around feel­ing as good as we’ve ever felt to­gether.

‘‘ Ev­ery­one said ‘ How good was that? Let’s do some more . . . any­thing’. We spoke about live work, about writ­ing more.’’

Chisel re­solved to re­lease their mu­sic on­line for the first time with an am­bi­tious reis­sue of their recorded and filmed legacy. Back to the mu­si­cal fu­ture.

They would also record a new stu­dio al­bum, their first since 1998’ s The Last Wave

of Sum­mer, and em­bark on the big­gest tour of their on-off ca­reer.

The band headed into the stu­dio while the Johns – their man­agers John O’Don­nell and John Wat­son – got work­ing on the plans for Chisel to join the dig­i­tal revo­lu­tion and re­turn to Aus­tralia’s big­gest stages.

And then fate in­ter­vened with a kick to the guts. Drum­mer Steve Prest­wich died af­ter surgery for a brain tu­mour in Jan­uary this year.

His loss was keenly felt at the press con­fer­ence at the Mar­ble Bar two weeks ago, where the band con­firmed they were forg­ing ahead with the re­union with The Divinyls’ drum­mer Charley Dray­ton step­ping in.

Chisel have a his­tory with the darkly or­nate bar be­low the Syd­ney Hil­ton; it served as the back­drop for the cover of their 1979 record Break­fast At Sweet­hearts.

The day be­fore the launch of their Light The Nitro tour, a shoot with the band to recre­ate that photo left the far left chair – Prest­wich’s spot in the shot – empty with a jacket draped over the back.

‘‘ We shot the orig­i­nal cover a lot ear­lier ( in the morn­ing) than this,’’ Barnes said. ‘‘ The me­dia launch had kicked off at the very un-rock hour of 10am.

‘‘ It was six in the morn­ing; we had to be out by nine. I think if I re­mem­ber right we came straight down from the ( Kings) Cross. We were all re­ally, re­ally bleary-eyed and puffy.’’

Walker added: ‘‘ And the road­ies were raid­ing the bar.’’

Their pre-em­i­nent song­writer, Walker opened the Light The Nitro launch with an elo­quent speech about the path the band had trod­den to get to this point and how the Cold Chisel cir­cle had been bro­ken with Prest­wich’s death.

Of course they wres­tled with the ques­tion of whether to con­tinue with the tour­ing and record­ing. They de­cided life was too short not to.

Barnes re­it­er­ated those sen­ti­ments later that af­ter­noon as Chisel and their min­ders milled around the bar.

‘‘ When Steve died, ob­vi­ously there was a span­ner in the works for a while. But when we sat back and thought about it, this is what we do. And what Steve did. He’d be lov­ing play­ing with us and we’d love to have him still play­ing with us,’’ he said.

‘‘ He def­i­nitely wouldn’t want us to go and sulk and cry in the cor­ner. He’d want us to pick our­selves up and tear the town down. That’s what we do, you know.’’

A share of tour prof­its will be given to the drum­mer’s chil­dren. And there will be more mu­sic from Prest­wich in the years to come.

Be­sides his con­tri­bu­tions to the new record dur­ing ses­sions late last year, Walker re­vealed last month they found demos the drum­mer had in­tended to present to the band on his iPhone.

He said they will be recorded and re­leased in some form in the fu­ture but the dis­cov­ery was too late to in­clude them on next year’s al­bum.

Go­ing through those iPhone demo files wasn’t easy lis­ten­ing.

‘‘ Oh, you know, I don’t want to get into the emo­tional side of things too much but you can imag­ine,‘‘ Walker said.

‘‘ I al­ways en­joyed lis­ten­ing to Steve, his demos, his par­tic­u­lar way of play­ing gui­tar with his songs, his way of singing them.

‘‘ If he hadn’t been in Cold Chisel and peo­ple could see him as a singer-song­writer, he would be seen as a ma­jor Celtic artist be­cause that’s what he sounds like.

‘‘ We all miss him, we’ve talked about it, we miss him ev­ery day any­way . . . wake up think­ing about him, think about him at odd times dur­ing the day, so lis­ten­ing to that [ mu­sic] late at night, some songs fin­ished, all of them beau­ti­ful, some that are just ideas that you can tell could be good songs it’s quite in­tense lis­ten­ing.’’

Chisel are forg­ing for­ward with a par­tic­u­larly au­da­cious plan con­sid­er­ing the times.

Rock mu­sic strug­gles to make the sin­gles charts and Aus­tralia’s tour­ing mar­ket has soft­ened in the wake of tough eco­nomic times and the coun­try’s spate of nat­u­ral dis­as­ters this year.

The Light The Nitro tour has 24 dates booked which in­clude are­nas, big tents in show­grounds and re­gional en­ter­tain­ment hubs.

Barnes has no fears the fans will come in their hun­dreds of thou­sands.

‘‘ I have been tour­ing con­stantly since Cold Chisel broke up, as has Ian and Don. I get stopped in the street by peo­ple yelling out, ask­ing when Chisel are go­ing to tour,’’ he said.

‘‘ I know peo­ple are still pas­sion­ate about this band. When we started play­ing to­gether it felt so good for us; we don’t give a f---[ about what] any­one else would think.’’

Just like they did in the ’ 70s, ’ 80s and ’ 90s, Chisel will use the dates to road test a cou­ple of new tunes.

One of them may be HQ454 Mon­roe, a Don Walker rocker they recorded in May and which fea­tures the lyric ‘‘ light the nitro’’.

It’s un­sur­pris­ing they have a new car song in their reper­toire con­sid­er­ing the two big­gest gigs Chisel have played in the past 18 months were the V8 Su­per­car event and the De­niliquin Ute Muster last year.

Walker wrote the track with coun­try jour­ney­man Troy Cas­sar-Da­ley and sought au­to­mo­tive ad­vice from a mate of Ian Moss, who is Chisel’s ex­pert petrol­head.

The four band­mates be­come un­re­con­structed teenagers when dis­cussing the peren­nial rock ’ n’ roll theme of a man and his car.

In the HQ454 Mon­roe ver­sion, the girl gives her guy an ul­ti­ma­tum: me or the car. The car wins.

‘‘ Toys for the boys is al­ways im­por­tant no mat­ter how old you are. And hang­ing out with the boys as much as pos­si­ble,’’ Moss said.

Play­ing is what will keep Chisel to­gether and what will keep them go­ing in­def­i­nitely.

Yet don’t think the very chem­istry which makes them so po­tent live has lost any of its leg­endary fire off-stage. They may be closer mates than they ever were but Chisel are a band of brothers. And brothers have their mo­ments.

‘‘ When we get up there, if some­one isn’t do­ing some­thing right in the song, we’re not pulling any punches. We’re happy to jump on each other and say ‘ you’re mess­ing up’ or ‘ lift your game’. Or ‘ can you back off a bit?’ in my case,’’ Barnes said.

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