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Jimmy Barnes

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Jimmy Barnes releases his solo career retrospective, 30:30 Hindsight, this Friday, August 29, and performs two A Day On The Green shows on Saturday-Sunday, November 22-23, with help from The Living End, Ian Moss, Mahalia Barnes & The Soulmates. BOB GORDON looks back.

 He’s used to them by now, but a milestone is a milestone

“I was just thinking,” Jimmy Barnes says down the line in his friendly Scottish-sounding gruff, “it’s been 30 years with Mushroom (Records) and 30 years as a solo performer – that means I’ve been on the road for 40 years. It’s a long time to be out seeing the place. It’s good.”

When Cold Chisel finished their infamous  Last Stand tour in late 1983, it seemed like such a big finish that no one was thinking about what would happen next.

Everyone except Barnes, that is. By mid-1984 he’d release a hit single, No Second Prize, soon followed by his debut album, Bodyswerve. Consider Bernard Fanning’s first album after Powderfinger broke up took three years.

Three decades ago, Barnes had other ideas.

“It was December ‘83 when we finished with Cold Chisel and I remember thinking, ‘if I sit around procrastinating people are gonna start comparing what I’m doing to Cold Chisel. Even I’m going to compare it to Cold Chisel’.

“I didn’t think about it too much; I just had to get out and do what I do best, which is get out in front of people and play live. In February ‘84 I put together a band that was very secure and familiar for me and went back out on the road trying out songs we would record. By April we were in the studio recording and Mark (Opitz) came in to produce and we made a raw, rough record. I didn’t want to remake Pet Sounds or anything, I just anted to make a rock’n’roll record.

“It came out and entered the charts at #1. At that point it gave me the luxury of being able to take a deep breath and think about what I was gonna do with the rest of my career. It was all about momentum, to not let myself be intimidated in any way, even though I was. It was a lot of bravado, as much for my own benefit as anyone else’s.”

As the ‘80s continued Barnes was soon filling the arenas that Cold Chisel once filled on his own. Eyeing bigger (first) prizes he was often of to the US, on co-writing trips for albums such as Freight Train Heart and Two Fires.

“It was pretty hard going to America and dealing with that whole record company songwriting machine,” he says. “They’d have me go out with four different writers a day. I’d spend two hours with each writer, and usually after the second writer I’d be like, ‘have I written with this guy before?’ You’d be scratching your head. But it sorted itself out and even if I didn’t do songs with people there were people I would click with straight away and end up writing with. Jonathan Cain (The Babys, Journey) and the other was Desmond Child (Bon Jovi, Kiss, Alice Cooper), the two most obvious ones. (Laughs) My wife’s just pointed out that I’ve written a few with her too.”

While in the US in the mid-80s, Barnes had offers to join such iconic bands as Van Halen (post-David Lee Roth, pre-Sammy Hagar), Deep Purple and Little Feat. He was flattered, but having just left a band after a decade, Barnes was focussed on songwriting collaborations only, by way of building upon an already-successful solo career.

“Jonathan Cain sent me Working Class Man which was fantastic and we ended up writing 90 per cent of Freight Train Heart together.”

The release of 30:30 Hindsight, Barnes’ solo retrospective, has allowed him the chance to re-release those songs on one disc and remake various tracks on the other with friends such as The Living End, Baby Animals, Keith Urban and Bernard Fanning. He even reunites with his ‘80s collaborators – Steven Van Zandt on Ride The Night Away and Cain (with other Journey members) on some of the Freight Train Heart Tracks.

“We hadn’t done much since then,” Barnes says, “so it was nice to revisit the Journey boys for this and just tip my hat to them, for how important they were in my career. At that point they really helped give me some guidance and experience and a nudge forward.”

As the years went on, Barnes explored the R&B, blues and soul textures that he was missing from his Cold Chisel days. It’s a realisation he made only recently, that he was seeking to find what he once had revelled in. But if there is one thing that Barnes’ solo career has continued on from his old (and now current) band’s tradition, it was the delivery of bona fide Australia rock anthems to audiences all too willing to sing along to them.

“I was just trying to make good music,” he points out. “My whole career was really based around live performance. That was what I did best. I guess with that in mind, when I was writing by myself or with other people that was always a consideration. You can sit around and make studio songs forever, but to make songs work live, you need to make them anthemic and make them connect with people en masse. “Songs like Lay Down Your Guns and I’d Die To Be With You Tonight just sort of had that element to them. And No Second Prize, it was just the way I played live and the way I related to an audience. I wanted them to sing along with me because they felt the same. When people sing along to anthems it’s because they feel and emotional connection.

“It’s that simple and most of my songs are simply things I want to shout about. Whether it’s ‘I love you’ or ‘I want to kill you’ (laughs).”

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