WHEN Men at Work were at the height of their success they played The Bridge Hotel in Mildura. The venue was so packed with fans that management declared it the largest audience they had ever attracted.
Some years later Colin Hay, Men at Work’s lead singer and the co-writer with Ron Strykert of the band’s international hit Down Under, returned as a solo act and played to what the management described as the smallest audience the pub had ever attracted.
If this wasn’t a cruel lesson in the fickle nature of fame, the evening became more memorable – and Hay loves telling this story – when one of the few punters came up after the show and told Hay that his version of Down Under was actually better than the original.
Hay laughs. “He didn’t realise that I was the person who had actually sung the original. I suppose it means that I’m getting better.”
In many ways this contradiction of a successful international career followed by a more modest solo one which has yielded 11 albums, has dogged Hay. He has soldiered on writing songs, performing his new material and the old Men at Work hits (he wrote most of the songs and his vocals were such a distinctive part of their success). He has also, with admirable patience, answered endless questions about Men at Work and, more recently, dealing with the copyright around Down Under, a situation he has described as driven by “opportunistic greed”.
Patiently Hay explains the problems his career has created. “It is a little perplexing if you treat them [Men at Work and his solo career] as one because you can be very disappointed,” he says.
“I’ll give you an example. People would book me to play a festival – say in Galveston, Texas for example – and the booker would say ‘It’s going to be fantastic. There are so many Men at Work fans from here’,” he says.
”Little alarm signals would go off and I would say to him: ‘Look, let me explain something to you. You are not going to get Men at Work fans coming to see me at a festival because they don’t make the connection. Men at Work is a brand. It’s mainstream, it’s populist, it’s commercial success. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things. It’s simply people who listen to commercial radio. But if you think you are going to get people to come along to see Men at Work it’s not going to happen.”
The trajectory of Hay’s solo career has been fascinating. He emigrated to the US in 1989 and has lived there ever since. Although success has been intermittent over the past 23 years there have been highlights.
“It was really like starting again,” he explains. “Having said that, there are an awful lot of people who come and see me who are Men at Work fans. They don’t make the distinction. I now have a singer-songwriter, acoustic guitar, festival kind of audience made up of people who have been following me and lots of Scrubs fans [Hay appeared in three episodes of the US TV show].”
Hay is not ready to relax. He spends five to six months a year on the road and his current 17-date Australian tour is driven by a desire to maintain a presence in the country where he launched his career.
”It seems now I do have a younger audience through Scrubs. People seem to have discovered me again.”
Colin Hay performs at The Basement on February 15 and 16
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/music/after-the-group-hits-the-sounds-of-a-man-still-at-work-on-his-solo-career-20120212-1szkf.html#ixzz2QHSoo6Yk