Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine

way back when

Moon TV producer Leigh Hart (right), aged 23, and Jimmy Barnes. Meribel ski resort, France, 1994


I didn’t choose the photo because Jimmy Barnes is in it; it was one of those moments in life when everything changed. That night that Jimmy Barnes played with us was fantastic, but we were having trouble with the police there anyway. The next day we pretty much got sent to jail and deported.

I first went to the UK when I was 19 or 20 and worked on the channel tunnel for two-and-a-half years with my brother. My father was a tunneller and he got us a job. When that wound down we headed back to Christchur­ch and got the band going. It was called Wild Turkey. It was mostly a guitar rock band, almost country rock. I was on bass and singing, and Matt Johnson was on drums and Greg, my brother, was on guitar.

We decided that if we were going to give it a crack, we may as well do it properly, so we packed it up and went back to the UK and started lying to everyone. We said we were winner of New Zealand’s Best New Act 1991. It didn’t really matter. You just said what you wanted. You can go a long way that way, getting on radio and stuff. They’d presume you were on a big tour. In a way, we were. But we were just three guys living in an apartment or the back of a van, trying to make it in music over there. We were literally living on music for about four years. Nothing but music.

We were playing in France at different clubs and ski resorts. I think Jimmy Barnes was on a tax exile from Australia. We got in touch with him and asked if he wanted to come along and play with us. We sent him our music and a bottle of bourbon. He ended up coming. We mainly did covers: Rolling Stones, Proud Mary. He sings high, but he went for it regardless of what key it was in.

The next day we were driving along and the police pulled us over because our horrendous­looking transit van was more or less falling to bits on the road. We’d had a few run-ins with the police prior to that, because of noise control complaints. They searched the apartment, trying to find drugs, and didn’t find anything, so they pursued the whole “passport” angle.

We got taken to Lyons in an armed security van with about five gendarmes. Matt, the drummer, was worried about going to a French prison. I said, “Look, don’t worry about it. It’ll be like a glorified departure lounge that you can’t leave.” Sure enough, we drive around the corner and it looked like Colditz. It was unbelievab­le. There was barbed wire everywhere.

It took 12 or 13 days before they could arrange anything so we were in this immigratio­n prison with all these people who were problems from France’s past – people from Morocco and Algeria.

It was strange. We’d resigned ourselves to the fact that we were getting deported so we just wanted to move the whole process along, whereas everyone else in there didn’t want to get deported because, if they went back to their country, they may get killed, or they had families in France and stuff. So, a lot of them were in a bad way, to the point where they were hunger striking. They’d come up to us and go, “Are you going to hunger strike today?” The only thing we could do in there was eat! They’d keep serving up the same amount of meals but the hunger strikers weren’t eating them, so it actually got better for the people that weren’t.

If I look at that photo now, there’re a lot of fond memories – of how we felt that night and everything, but also, for me, that’s the crossroads. I often think, if that hadn’t happened, where the hell would we be? I don’t think it would have turned out for the better somehow.

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