Cold Chisel

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Cold Chisel


Bassist Phil Small admits that those young, carefree days of rock‘n’roll were pretty ace. “It was great – the best days of our lives!” he says. “We had a ball and we had no responsibilities. The band was our life – we were constantly on the road and it was just one big party.”

But, as they grew older, they fell in love, began to settle down and the life of a touring musician became more of a burden than an adventure. All of a sudden, being on the road meant being away from loved ones. “After ten years, it started to wear us down,” says Small. “In the early days, we just toured and toured. It was good fun while it lasted but as we were getting older we started settling down with partners and that anchored us to one place. Life goes on, people do their own things.”

Even after their split, the band members were “like brothers”. They kept in touch, worked with each other on solo projects and caught up for the occasional birthday celebration. These catch-ups sometimes ended with discussion about Cold Chisel. Should they get back together?

In 1998 they reunited to record The Last Wave Of Summer. Small says that this was largely because the vibe between the band members was a good one at the time and each member had been writing songs. “It also depends if Jim, Ian and Don have time to do it,” says Small, referring to the solo careers of other Chisel members.

In 2009, the band teamed up with new management, which resulted in a gig for 50,000 people at the Sydney 500 V8 supercar race in October. During rehearsals, the band found their old groove and enjoyed each other’s company. The vibe was so good that they vowed to record some new material. Early the following year, they recorded a dozen demos in Jimmy Barnes’ home studio. “We just got together and put down some ideas,” recalls Small. “We just had a bit of a jam to see what would happen.”

The success of this recording session made the guys think about taking to the road again. Small says that Cold Chisel always loved playing live. So, they embarked on a 36-show tour that took just under six weeks. Despite some early trepidation, Small says that the tour was a success. “I’m amazed that nothing went wrong,” he chuckles. “It went so well and every night was different, which is what we love about touring. I think it was one of the best tours that I’ve been involved in or that I can remember.”

But, tragically, drummer Steve Prestwich died in January 2011, right when the band were at their highest since 1983. Any plans about reforming for good were put on hold. “Steve’s death put a big spanner in the works,” says Small. “We were all numb and it took a long, long time before we could think about Cold Chisel again. We didn’t know what to do.”

After all, it was Prestwich that had written a number of the demos recorded back in 2010. “We were stuck in limbo,” says Small. “We had Steve’s tracks and ideas for other songs. Eventually, we talked to management and decided that Steve would’ve liked to see those songs released and to continue on and release the album. So, that’s what we decided to do.”

The band drafted The Divinyls’ drummer Charley Drayton. This enabled them to complete the recording of No Plans, the album that they began with Prestwich back in Barnes’ studio. Their first studio album in 14 years, it will be launched at Bluesfest on Thursday April 5, where they’re headlining, and officially released on Friday April 6.

And what’s it like? It’s a cracker. In true Chisel style, each member brought a selection of songs to the table, which were democratically voted on by the other members. “Even when we’re not playing together, we’re all still in Cold Chisel,” explains Small. “We’re all still writing music.”

But, it’s mostly Don Walker’s songs that made it to the album. Of 13 songs, he wrote ten. Walker has always been the dominant songwriter for the band. He wrote Saturday Night, Cheap Wine, Khe Sahn and others, as well as co-writing Flame Trees.

More often than not, it’s Walker’s writing that has engaged millions of fans. Small muses that their popularity may be attributed to their songs reflecting the unique essence of Cold Chisel. “The most important thing I learnt from being in Cold Chisel is to stick to your guns,” he says. “Don’t be swayed by fashion. A lot of music is swayed by the flavour of the month, and it doesn’t last long.”