ROCK OF AGES
After a six-year hiatus, RocKwiz returns to remind viewers of the magic of live music on the small screen,
WI’D LOVE TO SEE US LEAN MORE INTO THE MAGICAL ARTIFICE OF TV
HEN the producers of RocKwiz invited Isabella Manfredi to appear on the rebooted music trivia show, the singer-songwriter (who once fronted indie-rock band The Preatures) had a single request: to perform a duet with her childhood idol, Tina Arena. They – along with Arena – were happy to oblige.
The two artists are among the star-studded roster of legendary performers and up-and-coming musicians taking centre stage when hosts Julia Zemiro and Brian Nankervis bring the beloved music-and-comedy hybrid series, which first aired on SBS in 2005, to Foxtel.
“Performing for TV is its own beast,” Manfredi says.
“Like the diminishment in live opportunities, if Australian artists don’t have the platforms to do it, we just won’t be as good.”
Starting from the 1970s and thriving in the 1990s, TV shows afforded musicians the chance to promote their albums on popular series such as Countdown, Hey Hey It’s Saturday, Tonight Live With Steve Vizard and Recovery. These days, the opportunities for screen serenades seem more scant; Manfredi cites a reduction in funding to the ABC and SBS for the decline.
“It’s meant less development of talent and expertise, less adventurous programming, and frankly, less exciting and quality TV,” she explains. “I also think, sometimes, we get caught up as Australians trying to make TV be ‘authentic’, like a real stage show, when the two are, by design, completely different mediums.
I’d love to see us lean more into the magical artifice of TV.”
Rock legend Jimmy Barnes says he was delighted to be able to perform on TV once again (he recorded his episode on the latest series before his back and hip surgery in December). “I always have a lot of fun on the show,” Barnes says. “Not to mention that it’s great to have them supporting live Australian rock on television. We need more shows with their courage.”
Co-creator and series producer Peter Bain-Hogg says RocKwiz was designed to give artists from across the musical spectrum a voice onscreen. “The first pilot that we ever did, which was just over 20 years ago, was with [former lead singer of Killing Heidi] Ella Hooper, who was still 19 or 20, and [Australian rock ’n’ roll icon] Stephen Cummings, who was probably 50,” he recalls. “And it was like, OK, well that worked. And that became the guiding principle for the series: get someone old, someone young, and different genders.”
Hooper, who has appeared on the show several times since that pilot, says RocKwiz is a huge part of an artist’s creative cycle of recording and promotion.
“Without this classic and effective form of communication, the process feels somewhat unfinished,” she says.
“We love sharing what we’ve been working so hard on in private, and what more public or effective way to share it far and wide and easy than television.”
While industry experts have argued that streaming services
and social media have changed the appetite for live music on TV, Hooper disagrees.
“Sport is available on all those other platforms and it’s still on regular tele as well,” she adds with a shrug.
“I would wager it’s the old ‘arts are not as important’ bias that Australia suffers [from].”
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