We chat to Australia’s national treasure Jimmy Barnes about writing, growing up and why he’s proud to be a part of Groundswell Festival
It takes a special kind of artist to become synonymous with the term icon – though when it comes to Jimmy Barnes, the title comes without questions.
Rising to fame with rock lords Cold Chisel, Barnes has gone on to become a formidable solo artist in his own right.
“I have been flat out,” says Barnes of his recent activities. “I have been travelling, promoting Working Class Boy. This includes doing live shows.” Late last year, Barnes traded his microphone for a pen, and released the memoir of his childhood in Glasgow and Adelaide. The autobiography sees Barnes revisit some dark subject material with lyrical prose.
“I had these memories of my childhood that were tearing me apart from the inside,” says Barnes. “I had to get them out somehow and writing them down seemed to be a good way to do it. I started writing purely for myself and by the time I finished, I felt that I should share them with everyone. There are a lot of people out there who have gone through or are going through tough times. Talking about these things helps.”
The autobiography hasn’t been the only thing keeping Barnes busy of late – he’s also in the final stages of an exciting project with another Aussie icon. “I have been finishing off a project that I started with The Wiggles,” says Barnes. “I wrote a bunch of children’s books and poem that Anthony and Paul Field really liked. They helped me get them out and we also wrote and recorded songs and poems to go with the books.
“The project is about a young wildebeest who lives in Glasgow Zoo. His name is Och Aye the G’nu. I wrote them for my grandchildren and it has turned out to be a very special project. We expect this to be released at the end of March. I have also been writing the follow up to Working Class Boy and writing songs for a new rock’n’roll record.”
Children’s books are a far cry from the reputation once attributed to Barnes, during his time with Cold Chisel. Barnes was the party boy of his day, known for wild and often booze-fuelled jaunts. “I learned a lot about music and friendship and the music business,” Barnes reminisces. “I learned that you have to work hard to get anywhere in whatever field you choose. But I also made lots of mistakes. And I had to learn how to grow from those mistakes. Every one of them was an opportunity to learn.”
Having been in the music industry longer than most, Barnes has noticed the shift in how it’s not only created but accessed in present day. “Music changes constantly. New technology and new ways of playing in front of people keep musicians forever on their toes. I think this is a good thing and hope to keep learning until I drop.”
These days, Barnes enjoys a decidedly more wholesome lifestyle. In the immediate pipeline is Groundswell – a festival which donates money to the children’s charity Variety for every ticket sold. “I like that some of this money gets to help kids in need,” Barnes says. “There are too many kids needing help. As members of the greater community we should all be doing our bit to help. Even if you can’t make the show, think about offering some help to your neighbours. Give some money to Variety, help disadvantaged kids.”
Arguably, Barnes is a man who has seen and done it all, but there are certainly some highlights that have come from his fruitful career. “I have had so many highlights, so many great shows with lots of fantastic bands. Singing at the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games has to be one of the biggest. The whole world was watching as Australia put those games on. I might be biased but I think we did it better that anyone.”
As for a bucket list, Barnes says there is one artist in particular he wishes he’d had the chance to play with. “If I had got the chance to sing with Ray Charles I would have been a happy man. Unfortunately, that never happened. But I’m happy to listen to him sing whenever I can.”
By Bel Ryan
Jimmy Barnes will play at Groundswell Music Festival, taking place at Waterwheel Tavern in Lake Tyers Beach on Saturday March 11.