The announcement of an upcoming national tour by Cold Chisel early next year will be a performance highlight this summer for Aussie rock fans. Since their legendary Last Stand way back in 1983, Cold Chisel has reformed for just four national tours, which were mostly played indoors and were not scheduled over the summer months. This iconic band who cut its teeth in the pubs and beer barns of the country back in the 70’s and 80’s, will for the first time ever be playing 14 special outdoor shows in Australia and New Zealand during January and February.
Between New Year’s Eve and the second weekend of February, Chisel will be gigging on the beach, by the river and in the bush, on what they are calling the Blood Moon Tour 2020 – named after a rare lunar eclipse where the sun, earth and moon all briefly align before returning to their own orbits. Other music legends will join the band along the way – Paul Kelly, Hoodoo Gurus, Birds of Tokyo, Kasey Chambers, Troy Cassar-Daley and Magic Dirt – will all make guest appearances, so it’s timely then that 4TR reflects on the journey that Cold Chisel has taken from their inception back in 1973 to the present day, and revisit those classic songs again – Khe Sanh, Breakfast At Sweethearts, Choir Girl, Cheap Wine, My Baby, Forever Now, You Got Nothing I Want, Saturday Night, Flame Trees and When the War Is Over.
COLD CHISEL – THE STORY SO FAR.
Cold Chisel were a diverse group of individuals who came from disparate backgrounds and enjoyed a volatile existence for over a decade in which they became the greatest live act in Australian rock music. They famously broke up in 1983 only to reform again in the 90’s and issue the album The Last Wave of Summer in 1998, their first album of new material since 1984’s Twentieth Century, and their fourth consecutive #1 album.
Don Walker (below), the introspective academic, composer and keyboard player was raised in rural Queensland and inspired by the music of Ray Manzarek (Doors), Steve Winwood (Spencer Davis Group), Brian Auger (Trinity) and Richard Manuel, and insisted on completing a post-graduate degree in Quantum Mechanics at Armidale University (NSW) before committing to the band full-time. His bandmates joined him there and gigged in one horse towns until he finished his course, group solidarity was founded on an appreciation of the special talent that their keyboard player brought to the band, but this apparent unity would be sorely tested in 1975-76 by Jimmy Barnes, who would leave the group several times.Ian Moss (below) was a Territorian from Alice Springs who moved to Adelaide in 1972 and met Don Walker there, he was a high school dropout and budding guitar hero, with great natural ability and a fantastic work ethic, he heard the music of Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Richie Blackmore, and Jimmy Page and saw his future in a rock and roll band.Steve Prestwich (below) and his family emigrated from Liverpool (UK) to Adelaide in 1972, his father was a drummer with the Victors, a local beat group who had played at the legendary Cavern Club. Young Steve was regarded as a drumming prodigy with a bright future, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Jethro Tull were his musical heroes, he was reluctant to emigrate, but when told of the vibrant local music scene in Australia, was ultimately persuaded to do so.James Dixon Swan (below) was born in the infamous Gorbals district of Glasgow in 1956, his parents and their six children emigrated to Adelaide in 1961 and settled in the satellite suburb of Elizabeth. His parents divorced, and young James went to live with his stepfather Reg Barnes, he and all his siblings, except his older brother John, took Reg’s surname. Jim Barnes took his musical cues from Paul Rodgers (Free), Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, and his older brother John, who was also a musician, and would feature directly and indirectly in the career path of his younger brother and consequently the early history of Cold Chisel. Jim was balancing the demands of a railway apprenticeship and a lifestyle of experimenting with acid and increasing alcohol consumption, not surprisingly he opted for the rock and roll life.
Phil Small (above) was not the original bass player with the group, but after several auditions in 1975 he threw in his position as a window dresser at John Martin’s department store, replaced original band founder Les Kaczmarek, and began gigging with the band around Adelaide. The group had already ditched their former name Orange, to adopt something more current, soft/hard, and double – barrelled, like their UK heroes, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Bad Company – to become Cold Chisel.
They were gigging in Adelaide at Larg’s Pier Hotel, Countdown at The Mediterranean Hotel, and The Ritz at Mansfield Park Hotel and starting to get some attention, but the volatility of the human dynamic inside the band was soon evident, Prestwich left to be temporarily replaced by John Swan (above left, with Jimmy Barnes) Vince Lovegrove (ex-Valentines) became their manager and Prestwick ultimately returned behind the skins. Jim had been given notice by his bandmates to improve his vocals which were regarded as inferior to Ian Moss, but he wasn’t sure he could change his tone or improve his vibrato, John Swan convinced brother Jim to leave the band and join him in Fraternity as their lead singer, Jim departed in 1975 but returned to Chisel in May 1976, Fraternity are pictured below with Bon Scott at far right.Prestwich and Barnes were often at loggerheads, particularly over the tempo of songs, a critical issue for the rhythm section of a band and their lead singer to be aligned on. Prestwich again threatened to leave the band but stayed, Vince Lovegrove handed over management of the band to Ray Hearn, and it was generally agreed that Barnes stint with Fraternity had seen him mature as a performer with a more dynamic stage presence. At this time EMI and all other major record labels had passed on signing the band, in 1977 Barnes got restless again and was looking to leave and join the Kevin Borich Express but their manager Michael Chugg vetoed the deal, John Swan again appeared on the scene and tempted Barnes to join his fledgling band Feather, but Jim stayed put.
In 1977 manager Ray Hearn was replaced by Rod Willis who came with good credentials after working as an ex-pat Aussie with such UK bands as Fleetwood Mac, UFO, King Crimson, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Savoy Brown, and he enjoyed a long and mutually successful relationship with the band over their career up until 2009. Internal dissension, creative differences, and a national touring schedule of 300 gigs a year would continue to test the fragile bonds that held the band together, they needed a recording contract to bolster their self-belief and WEA (Warners) came to the party in 1977, the band headed into the Trafalgar Recording studios in Sydney with inexperienced producer Peter Walker to put down their debut self-titled album.They were snatching studio time while simultaneously touring as support act with Foreigner, the album had poor sound quality, Don Walker condemned his lyrics as being overly “flowery” but it climbed to #31 on the charts and a photo of Micki Braithwaite, Daryl’s then-wife, backstage at a concert, was a welcome addition on the album sleeve. Walker wrote all but one of the tracks and the result was a genre-hopping mix of blues, jazz, and hard rock, reflective of Walker’s inspirations, and mostly about his former girlfriend Rosie, from his Armidale days.But Peter Walker had failed to capture the dynamism of a live Cold Chisel performance in the recording studio, and the local butchering of the record at the mastering stage caused the band to virtually disown the album over time. The lead single lifted from the album, Khe Sanh, was however a shining light at the end of a long dark tunnel, despite its less than stellar chart impact at the time, it inched up to #41, but would become a bona fide Australian rock classic. During their ten years together (1973-83), Cold Chisel cemented a reputation as Australia’s greatest live band, sold over three million albums in Australia, two-thirds of those after disbanding!Jimmy Barnes would go on to emerge as one of the great solo singers in Australia with no less than thirteen top ten singles and twelve #1 albums in the period 1984- 2019, he was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame as a solo artist in 2005, and is also a successful author with several autobiographies to his credit.
Don Walker would have a five year hiatus after Cold Chisel broke up in 1983 but re-emerge in collaborations with Tex (Perkins), Don (Walker), and Charlie (Owen), and latterly the Suave Fu..s, he was inducted into the ARIA Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2012, is recognised as one of Australia’s preeminent songwriters, and is also a published author.
Ian Moss did not record for five years after the band split up, but did session work and in collaboration with Don Walker wrote and produced his comeback album Matchbook in 1989.The single Tuckers Daughter and the album both climbed to #1 and won several ARIA awards, the second single off the album Telephone Booth was also a top 10 hit, however further solo releases from Moss did not resonate so well with fans.
Post-1983 Phil Small continued to perform as a gigging musician with various bands as well as at Cold Chisel Reunion concerts and solo gigs with Barnes and Moss. Steve Prestwich was the LRB drummer between 1984-6 and participated in Chisel reunion concerts, he also released solo albums in 2003 and 2009, and tragically passed way in 2011.