With the October 1998 release of The Last Wave of Summer, rock group Cold Chisel hit the top of the Australian charts, a stunning feat for a band that had formed 25 years earlier. More impressive was the fact that the band dominated the music scene after a hiatus of 15 years. After breaking up in 1983, most of the band’s members were not talking to one another. Adding to the tension, competition among the former bandmates’ solo projects seemed to confirm that Cold Chisel would never be revived. Given the band’s enduring popularity even after its dissolution, however, the media hype around a Cold Chisel reunion never dwindled. With a persistent former manager and eager record company behind them, Cold Chisel alumni regrouped for a series of rehearsals that eventually led them into the recording studio and out on the road for one of the most successful tours in Australian concert history.
Cold Chisel came together in the southern Australian city of Adelaide, best known for the imposing architecture of its buildings and the rock-solid reputation of its residents, who founded the city as free immigrants, not as convict transportees. In the decades after World War II, Adelaide was once again the destination for thousands of European immigrants; among the new
Members include Jimmy Barnes (born James Dixon Swan on April 28, 1956, in Glasgow, Scotland), vocals; Ian Moss (born in Alice Springs, Australia), guitar, vocals; Steven Prestwich (born in Liverpool, England), drums; Phil Small, bass; Don Walker (born on November 29, 1951, in Ayr, Australia), keyboards.
Formed in Adelaide, Australia, 1974; signed with WEA Records, 1977; released debut album, Cold Chisel, 1978; released final studio album during initial phase, 1984; regrouped for album and tour, 1998.
Awards: Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame, 1992.
Addresses: Record company —Mushroom Records, 27 Dudley Street, West Melbourne, VIC, Australia 3003, website: http://www.mushroom.com. Website —Cold Chisel Official Website: http://www.coldchisel.com.au.
settlers was the Swan family of Glasgow, Scotland, who moved to the city in 1961. As teenagers in Adelaide, two of the Swan sons developed a serious interest in music, and in 1973, John Swan helped found a band with guitarist Ian Moss under the name Orange. A native of Alice Springs, one of Australia’s most remote cities, Moss had performed with a number of bands before moving to Adelaide. Joined by keyboardist Don Walker, bassist Les Kaczmarek, and drummer Steven Prestwich, who had immigrated to Australia from Liverpool, England, in 1971, the band soon faced its first personnel change: John Swan was replaced as lead vocalist by his younger brother, James, who adopted the name Jimmy Barnes. The group changed its name to Cold Chisel in 1974, taking its inspiration from the title of a song written by Walker.
For the first four years of its existence, Cold Chisel played a series of small venues across Australia while developing a repertoire of original songs and gaining experience as live performers. Increasingly, the intense stage presence of Jimmy Barnes became the band’s focal point, although Walker’s songwriting also put the band a notch above its hard-rocking competitors on the music scene. In 1977, the band relocated to Sydney and redoubled its efforts to get a contract with a record label, an effort that included a number of demo sessions. Finally, in September of 1977, Cold Chisel signed with the Australian division of WEA/Elektra Records. By the time it entered the studio to record its debut, however, Kaczmarek had left the band and was replaced by Phil Small.
Cold Chisel, released in 1978, reached the top 40 on the Australian album chart, but it was the single “Khe Sanh” that gained more attention. A blistering song written by Walker about a Vietnam veteran’s disillusionment and despair, “Khe Sanh” was banned by Australian radio for its lyrics. Although the song contained no direct profanities, its subject matter was controversial enough, and it missed making the national top 40. Later in 1978, the band released a live EP, You’re 13, You’re Beautiful, and Your Mine, which did somewhat better. The band also gained valuable exposure as the opening act for some of the day’s most popular international acts, including Foreigner and Peter Frampton in 1978, and Rod Stewart the following year.
Cold Chisel’s status as an opening act changed with the release of its second full-length album in 1979, Breakfast at Sweethearts, which earned platinum sales in the first year of its release. The band also conducted a three-month tour of Australia that continued to enhance its reputation for enthusiastic crowds and pointed controversies. The use of a picture of a burning monk on its concert posters earned Cold Chisel criticism from many in the music press, although the band defended its decision. When a riot broke out in Newcastle, Australia, while the band was in town for a concert, some linked the violence with the group. At the end of the year, Cold Chisel faced another challenge when its arena tour with other Australian acts—a first in the local music industry—was beset by weather, health, and equipment problems. By the end of 1980, however, Cold Chisel was beyond doubt the biggest band in the country.
The 1980 release of East confirmed Cold Chisel’s status as Australia’s hottest band. The group regularly broke concert attendance and sales records throughout the country, and its albums occupied long runs in the top ten. The band was unable, however, to find a significant audience outside of its home territory. East barely made the Billboard album chart, despite American tours with Heart, Joe Walsh, Ted Nugent, Lover-boy, and Cheap Trick. The lack of an international breakthrough, combined with some tensions among individual band members, gradually sapped the band’s strength. “By 1983 the band I knew and loved had been killed anyway,” recalled Walker in an interview posted on the band’s website. “And by late 1983 I wasn’t much interested in the work involved in keeping what was left alive.” The other members of Cold Chisel shared the sentiment, and after a farewell concert tour and album, the band split up at the end of 1983.
For the most part, the individual members of Cold Chisel enjoyed great success on their own. Prestwich became a member of the Little River Band, which achieved much greater international record sales than Cold Chisel ever enjoyed, and Walker worked on a number of solo and collaborative efforts with Australian musicians. Moss scored a number one album in Australia with his 1989 release Matchbook, which contained the chart-topping single “Tucker’s Daughter.” Moss won five awards from the Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) for Matchbook and “Tucker’s Daughter,” although his subsequent projects were somewhat less successful. Of all the former Cold Chisel bandmates, the career of Jimmy Barnes was the most notable. Releasing a series of hit albums in the decade after Cold Chisel’s demise, Barnes became “the nation’s best-known working-class man, affectionately known to most Australians as ‘Barnesy,’” according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Like Cold Chisel, however, Barnes never achieved a sizable audience in North America or Europe, and in the mid 1990s he faced significant financial problems despite his success on the charts. As Barnes admitted in a 1998 Cyber Times online interview, “I did the classic rock star mistake. I made huge amounts of money but managed to spend even more.”
Gradually, the members of Cold Chisel came to terms with their past differences. In 1993, Moss and Walker worked with Barnes on a track for his album Soul Deep, an experience that showed them that they could work together amicably. “It did take us some time to get over some niggly things, and there had been some sour grapes, so it was the first time that any of us had worked together since the split. It was a real milestone,” Barnes told Billboard in 1995. Still, progress toward a full-fledged Cold Chisel production moved along slowly. “Any time there was a mention of the band getting back together, it was very quickly squashed,” Small explained to Australian Musician magazine online. “There just was not the vibe at any of those times. There was never any question around it, it was just always passed up.” The incentive to re-form was immense, however, given the band’s enduring popularity. A release of archived tracks in 1994, Teenage Love, proved that the band was still among Australia’s most popular acts. In fact, Cold Chisel had sold more records after it broke up than during its active recording career, a rare achievement in the recording industry.
Gathering for a series of rehearsals in Sydney, Australia, in May of 1997, the band’s members quickly set their sights on producing an album that would live up to the band’s past glories. “It’s got to be the best we can possibly be otherwise there’s no point in doing it,” Small told Australian Musician. “What we’ve built up after fifteen years without even being together could so easily be destroyed by doing a rat s**t gig and putting out a second-rate album.” The release of Cold Chisel’s The Last Wave of Summer in 1998 did not disappoint its fans. When the first single from the album, “Yakuza Girls,” was made available on the Internet, it received almost a quarter-million hits within 12 hours, and the album’s release was a major event, debuting at number one on the charts. Cold Chisel’s tour was equally successful, with sold-out dates across Australia.
Although the band still hungered for success in America and Europe, Cold Chisel’s reunion was a validation for its members. And while solo projects still occupied some of their time—notably, Jimmy Barnes’ starring role as a tough guy in the Australian film Foolproof —thenewfound joy that the bandmates found in playing together meant that Cold Chisel would remain a force on the contemporary Australian music scene.
Cold Chisel, Elektra, 1978.
You’re 13, You’re Beautiful, and You’re Mine (EP), Elektra, 1978.
Breakfast at Sweethearts, Elektra, 1979.
East, Elektra, 1980.
Swingshift, Elektra, 1981.
Circus Animals, Polydor, 1982.
Northbound: The Best of Cold Chisel, Teldec, 1983.
Twentieth Century, WEA, 1984.
Teenage Love, Alex, 1995.
Razor Songs, WEA, 1996.
Once Around the Sun, Mushroom, 1998.
The Last Wave of Summer, Mushroom, 1998.
The Best of Cold Chisel, WEA, 1998.
Last stand, Import, 1999.
Billboard, January 14, 1995, p. 37; September 27, 1997, p. 67; October 24, 1998, p. 57; January 13, 2001, p. 51.
Australian Musician, http://www.australianmusic.asn.au/mag/summerêe/chisel.html (June 28, 2001).
Australian Record Industry Association, http://www.aria.com.au (June 28, 2001).
Cold Chisel Official Website, http://www.coldchisel.com.au (June 28, 2001).
Cyber Times, http://www.cyber-times.org/people/p250698.html (June 28, 2001).
Mushroom Records, http://www.mushroom.com (June 28, 2001).
Sydney Morning Herald, http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/cannes33.html (June 28, 2001).
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