THE SHOW MUST GO ON
JADED, MIDDLE-AGED TV PERSONALITY REDISCOVERS HIS TRUE PASSION AND GETS NEW LEASE ON LIFE. OLD STORY, NEW MAN ...
For a man best known as the grumpy judge on Australian TV talent shows, Ian “Dicko” Dickson is remarkably bubbly.
It’s amazing what can happen when you chuck it all in and move to Queensland.
Dicko has lived at Maleny in the Sunshine Coast hinterland for three years but, for the past few months, has been doing some serious surfing on the Gold Coast.
It’s not what you think. The English-born former record industry exec is not too flash in the waves but has found happiness and purpose couch surfing with his Gold Coast mates while he pulls together his life-affirming passion project.
Dicko is the mastermind behind live music spectacular Almost the Greatest Gig on Earth, a 10-hour concert at the Broadwater Parklands in August featuring the best of the best ’80s tribute acts from around the country.
To say it has put a spring in his step is an understatement.
“I feel like a spring chicken again with this project,” he says. “I bounce out of bed every morning. I’m loving life. It’s been the best thing ever for me.”
Dicko left his TV career behind in Sydney, jaded and cynical with where he found himself at middle age and needing a seachange.
“I was just tired of being that guy, of being who I thought I was,” he says.
He and his wife Melanie settled at Maleny with an ulterior plan of being empty nesters for good.
“We went somewhere we thought our two daughters would never move back in with us again,” he jokes (maybe).
“But we love it. There’s no ego, no one watches the telly. All the things that were important in the city are unimportant.
“It’s a bit of a pastoral life. It’s a big community up there. There’s wildlife care and a bowls and a football club. It’s an easy place to get involved. It’s one of those places where it takes you half an hour to buy your morning paper.”
Dicko doesn’t mind admitting he lost his way with his TV career and the whole fame thing.
Born in Birmingham, he got his first job in the music industry as a press and promotions manager for Creation Records in the late
He’s lost none of his old skills. His relentless promotion of his Almost the Greatest Gig is a masterclass in good old-fashioned PR, complete with made-for-media one-liners and unashamed torrents of spruiking.
It’s plain to see how he climbed the ladder of the UK recording industry, working with the who’s who of ’90s music before moving to Sydney as general manager of Sony BMG Australia in 2001.
His first TV gig was on Australian Idol’s first and second seasons in 2003-2004. Perhaps Australian television wasn’t quite ready for someone who told it as they saw it but, by the end of his tenure, Dicko had become a household name for his candid performance assessments.
Such was his popularity, he was poached by the Seven network, launching a 16-year media career in which he veered from the talent contest format to reality TV host, celebrity contestant, panel show regular,
breakfast radio, even a one-off stint in theatre.
But something had to give.
Life was fast. He was, by his own admission, probably an alcoholic and, at 53, he walked away – almost.
His venture back into the music industry came as a surprise even to him.
“It came about one night when I was having drinks with a few mates and we got into the biggest argument about what would be the greatest gig ever,” he says.
“It raged on and on and when the sun came up, we had a new playlist and I thought, we could do this with tribute artists. It’s been burning in my soul for the past three years.”
The result is what Dicko promises will be an extravaganza of 35 tribute artists, playing in five sets of seven artists, from about noon–10pm at a venue backdropped by the Broadwater and luxury-yachted marina on August 10.
Dicko has signed his dream line-up on the dotted line, told them which hit songs he wants them to perform and is spending the coming months fine-tuning the stage production so, he promises, “there won’t be a dry seat in the house”.
Don’t say you weren’t warned about the one-liners. Caution: there are more ahead.
“I guarantee you will know every single song,” he says. “It won’t be one of those concerts killed by those 11 fateful words:
‘We’d like to play a few songs from our new album’. It will be all killer, no filler.
“I’ll let you in on the best known dirty little secret in the music industry – it’s so much more fun without the artists. They’re too up their own backsides to play what people want to hear.
“We’ve got the people who want to honour these artists and they’re amazing talents in their own right. Our keywords for this show are quality and joy.”
Dicko says the project has brought home to him how much he’s missed the music industry.
“It’s like hooking up with the love of your live who you dumped 15 years ago,” he says. “At the age of 56, to have another crack at music has been a source of hope and inspiration.
“I’d lost my ambition on TV. Even just thinking about this project, it’s like my beacon of hope. It’s the best thing ever.”
But he’s been around long enough to keep it real.
“I’m not getting all misty-eyed about following your dreams and all that,” he says. “At 56 in music, you’re pedalling three times harder. It’s great to be young and fearless but that’s not my domain any more. I’m that idiot off TV.
“But if you chase something down that you absolutely love, you can never lose. Will it pay any dividends? Would I regret it? I love doing it and that’s one of the greatest gifts ever. To be driven at this age, music’s given me that.”
It sounds like he’s found the elixir to midlife – so how’s his relationship with alcohol these days? As an old PR hack, he knows the question is always going to be on the table.
“When I talked about my drinking, I didn’t think it was that big a deal,” he says. “It’s like chips to seagulls. Every journalist always asks.
“I’m still enjoying a drink. I’m either on or I’m off. I can have months off but one thing I know about myself is that I don’t like to drink moderately.
“Australians are fun when Melbourne Cup to Christmas is party time but when I’m in the middle of it, I can’t wait to get on the wagon again.
“When I’m not drinking I’m so productive. (Drinking is) like pouring stupidity into your body. When I’m off it, I feel like a bloody genius, like I could change the world.
“When I drink, it slows me right down.
Last year I didn’t drink for six months but it derails. What did it was wanting to have a sundowner with my wife when we were on holiday. I have a strange relationship with it.” No so with his wife however.
Dicko is full of praise for the woman who has stuck by him for the past 33 years, the mother of his two daughters.
“She’s a saint,” he says.
“I wouldn’t have done it without her. To get back into music is what I was doing when the kids were very young.
“I wasn’t there for them then and it’s one of my biggest regrets. It really is. The timing is much better now.”
Dicko is keeping a tentative toe in the TV camp too. The independent television production company he founded with a mate more than a decade ago is still pitching ideas.
And, hang on, what’s Dicko doing going down to Sydney to tape shows for Grant Denyer’s new game show Celebrity Name Game on the 10 network?
“That’s such good fun,” he says. “If something’s fun, I do it. There’s no reason to say ‘No’. I still get offered TV gigs but most of it doesn’t mean anything. I’ve run out of reasons to do it. It drives my manager up the wall.”
In the meantime, be prepared to see
Dicko’s face and hear his distinctly accented voice flogging tickets for his ’80s extravaganza, a decade he says was all positivism without the irony – a bit like
Dicko these days.