Game-Changing Women of Australian Music- Kate Ceberano Pt. 3

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I Don’t Know How to Love Him (A Lloyd-Weber/T Rice) Kate Ceberano and Everything’s Alright (A Lloyd-Weber/T Rice) – Kate Ceberano (with John Farnham and Jon Stevens) 1992 and Pash (K Ceberano/M Goldenburg) – Kate Ceberano 1997

After elevating herself to front and centre of the local pop scene in 1989/90 with hit singles and the album Brave, Kate decided to record another jazz album, three years after 1986’s Kate Ceberano and Her Septet. At this time in her career she needed sage advice about how she could capitalize on her current popularity and retain her pop fanbase, not pursue passion projects, and risk confusing her fans with a jazz album, a genre with a small, arty, musically eccentric following. It was the very antithesis of rock and pop, and an experienced personal manager would have steered her towards safer, more commercial alternatives.

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Kate was however enjoying her early solo successes, maturing and spreading her wings, she acquired a St. Kilda apartment, ended her five -year relationship with Stephen Kearney in 1989, and began recruiting for her new band, who would be known as the Ministry of Fun. She believed that she could replicate the success of such musical collectives as Prince’s Revolution (above) and George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic (below), and create a heady mix of R&B, pop, funk and of course jazz, that would resonate with fans.

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She re-assembled former members of her Septet- Jex Saarelaht (keyboards), Robert Blake (sax), and Russell Smith (trombone), and recruited her brother Phil Ceberano (guitar), his best friend Bruce Pawsey (drums), Alex Nettleback (keyboards), Stephen Hadley (bass), and Stephen Grant (trumpet).

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The septet had become a nonet, Kate was funding the band, there was little financial support from London/Regular Records apart from an advance on the proposed album, and the overheads would have been scary, they needed cashflow quickly. The proven strategy would have been to combine the writing of songs for a new album with live performing, at the same time road-testing their material with audiences, learning how to play their music live, and generating some income, but they headed straight into the studio to record the album that would be Think About It.  

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Without the expertise and insider networks of a professional manager, the recording of the album lacked focus, Kate was the band leader but deferred to others on many important decisions including – what music they should record- dance, pop, disco, jazz, R&B – who would write the songs, Kate would ultimately co-write half of them, who should produce the album, ultimately four were credited, they went to NYC to record but lacked a coherent plan and focus and quickly exhausted their budget. By now drummer Bruce Pawsey had become Kate’s partner and installed himself as the manager of the group, her mother Cherie stepped aside once she sensed the shifting internal politics within the band, she was also becoming estranged from her husband Tino, and needed to re-evaluate her future options, Kate’s parents would separate in 1993, and subsequently divorce.

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Ceberano and Pawsey would have an on-again-off-again affair punctuated by his infidelity, an abortion by Kate, and end miserably as the band were about to launch the album and commence touring, three singles were lifted off Think About It in 1990/91 – Every Little Thing (#29), Satisfied (#83) and See Right Through You (#39), the album limped to #25 and by the end of 1991 the band was broke, and they split up. Around this time Kate would re-connect with Lee Rogers, an aspiring actor and film director, and they would become engaged in 1992 and marry four years later. Rogers had a reputation as a Bondi beach party boy with a promiscuous lifestyle, who had been both a user and supplier of drugs. He and Kate would jointly make the movie Dust Off The Wings, a semi-autobiographical account of Rogers life, with both he and Kate appearing in roles that severely tested their off-screen personal relationship. Their marriage has however continued to endure to this day, and is shared by their daughter Gypsy born in 2004. Below – Kate and Lee (2) and centre Kate and Gypsy.

When Harry M Miller offered Kate the lead role of Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar in 1992, it was the perfect vehicle for Kate’s resurgence, she was a natural performer in the cabaret/theatre environment and the new arena version of JCS, envisaged for this production,  would showcase both her vocal and live performance talents.

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The rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar was first staged in London in 1970 and proved to be a revelation for its creators, composer Andrew Lloyd-Weber and lyricist Tim Rice. Since that debut season of the show, it had been continuously staged around the world, with numerous cast versions appearing, and many cover versions of the most popular songs competing for chart honors.

The original cast recording of the Australian season of Jesus Christ Superstar was recorded in 1972, Trevor White (Jesus), Michele Fawdon (Mary Magdalene) and Jon English (Judas) were the stars, ably supported by Stevie Wright, Marcia Hines who would replace Fawdon, John Paul Young, Doug Parkinson, Reg Livermore and Billy Miller, the cast album was produced by Patrick Flynn, conductor for Opera Australia. The album climbed to #13 and stayed on the charts for an incredible 54 weeks, and became the tenth biggest-selling album of 1972.

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One of the pivotal moments in the show is the performance of the song I Don’t Know How To Love Him, a torch ballad sung by the character Mary Magdalene of her unrequited love for Jesus, it requires an emotion-charged performance to capture the anguish, uncertainty, awe and passion that she feels for this man. Below – Kate in the role of Mary.

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Both Helen Reddy and Yvonne Elliman had recorded successful versions of the song, Reddy took it into the charts in 1971 in both the USA (#13) and Australia (#2) and Elliman in the same year (#28 US, #72 Aust), both versions had their fans, but what was also interesting was the actual provenance of this song, which had started life as Kansas Morning when written by Lloyd-Weber and Rice in 1967 for Southern Music. L-R Lloyd-Weber and Rice.

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A clunky title and cheesy lyrics weren’t the only problem, the melody was closely compared to a theme from Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, and rumors about possible plagiarism surfaced.  Rice purchased the song from Southern Music for £50, did a rewrite of the lyrics, changed the title of the song and adapted the melody to better complement the rock opera’s libretto, and a hit song was born.

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“I don’t know how to love him/ What to do, how to move him/ I’ve been changed, yes really changed/ In these past few days/ When I’ve seen myself/ I seem like someone else…”

Superstar was re-staged in Australia in 1992 with the leads played by John Farnham (Jesus), Kate Ceberano (Mary Magdalene) and Jon Stevens (Judas) ably supported by John Waters, Russell Morris, and Angry Anderson.

The cast album was recorded in 1992 at the Metropolis Studios (Melb) with producer David Hirschfelder, former keyboardist for LRB, and Patrick Flynn who had produced the original Australian cast album in 1972, back on board again as musical director.

Dramatic, sensuous, reverent, passionate, Lloyd-Weber said it was his favourite version of this song.

Kate Ceberano’s version of I Don’t Know How to Love Him which charted at #34 locally, is supremely assured, her ethereal vocals and luminous youthfulness enriched the recording and the promo video. The orchestration was subtle, strings and piano initially rising to include drums, then bass and woodwinds imparted a reverent quality to the lyrics, which were controversial at the time “He’s a man/ He’s just a man/ And I’ve had so many/ Men before/ In very many ways/ He’s just one more.” Below – Farnham and Ceberano  – The Golden Couple.   

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Everything’s Alright was the second single lifted from the Jesus Christ Superstar cast album and featured John Farnham, Kate Ceberano and Jon Stevens (ex-Noiseworks frontman). In the song Mary Magdalene tries to calm Jesus with an expensive lotion and encourages him to relax and conserve his energy “Try not to get worried, try not to turn on to/ Things that upset you, oh/ Don’t you know/ Everything’s alright, yes, everything’s fine/ And we want you to sleep well tonight…”

Dramatic flourishes interspersed the soothing words of Ceberano as first Stevens as Judas criticizes her for wasting money on expensive balms when the poor go hungry, and when Farnham as Jesus criticizes Judas for his unrealistic attitude towards saving the poor of the world. Ceberano’s vocals were nurturing, reassuring, almost maternal, gliding over the bombast and machismo of Stevens and Farnham, the orchestration rose to underscore the male leads and was subtle and restrained as Ceberano delivered her pacifying reassurance. This song was a #6 hit and the album went to the top staying on the charts for 22 weeks and becoming the ninth biggest-selling album of the year.

Following her stunning performance in JCS, Kate was primed for mainstream success but again she opted for a personal passion project, when she signed on with the ABC to anchor a cabaret style show called Kaye Ceberano and Friends throughout 1993-4. An album of songs from the show stalled at 20 and disappeared after 12 weeks, and it would be five years before Ceberano returned to the singles charts again with Pash in 1997.

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Kate made a welcome return to the pop genre when she slipped back into her Bedroom Eyes groove with the album Pash, on which she co-wrote all the tracks including the gorgeous slice of sexy dance-pop that was the title track. “Pash” is a particular Australian colloquialism for having a passionate embrace, and the song’s lyrics spelt out where this can ultimately lead “Pash between the lines honey read my lips/Can you read my mind take my fingertips/I really like to just hang around/Crawl back into bed where/It’s nice and warm.” The song was co-written by Mark Goldenburg and at #11 it sold 35,000 copies and became Kate’s biggest singles hit in five years.

Kate was mesmerising in this tribute to the sounds of the 60’s, undulating bass lines, Rickenbacker guitars, brassy flourishes, even go-go dancers, and all with French sub-titles!

The album too resonated with fans and  reached #32 and flagged a return to more studio album hits in the future with Nine Lime Avenue #6 in ‘07, So Much Beauty #10 in ‘08 and Merry Christmas #23 in ‘09, while Kate’s True Romantic – Best of Compilation charted #11 in ’99.

In 2005 she was a judge on the first season of X-Factor, in 2007 Kate and her partner John Paul Collins won Season 6 of Dancing With the Stars, and in 2019 she appeared as the Lion in the Masked Singer. Below L-R – Dancing With the Stars, X -Factor with fellow judges Mark Holden and John Reid, and the Lion in the Masked Singer 

Kate Ceberano is truly one of the most versatile and iconic performers in this country, with 25 albums over 30 years across such diverse genres as dance-pop, funk, jazz, blues, rock, and musical theatre; she was the first woman to be inducted into the Australian Songwriters Association Hall of Fame in 2014, and for three years from 2012-2014 she displayed the breadth and knowledge of her performance skills as the Director of the South Australian Arts Festival. She is a bone fide national treasure, possessing one of the great voices of her generation, and an ebullient pesonality that continues to light up her live peformances, her induction into the ARIA Hall of Fame would seem to be overdue.

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