Music industry mathematics tends to be cruel and simple. In 1983, as the lead singer of chart-topping Australian group Men at Work, Colin Hay played to an audience of about 150,000 in Brazil. In 1991, as a solo artist whose records weren’t selling, Colin Hay played to an audience of four in Melbourne.
”People were looking at me strangely, like they were embarrassed for me having such a small crowd,” Hay recalls. ”I felt like an explanation was necessary, so I would start to talk about what had happened. It was funny to me, going from an audience of 150,000 to four, and once I talked about it to the audience it was funny for them, too.”
You can’t play to your own age group, because they just stay home.
Those initial interludes and monologues, sharpened over the decades by the 59-year-old singer-songwriter’s dry sense of humour, have finally found a formal home in Finding My Dance, a solo show of acoustic performances and scripted dialogue that Hay is touring nationally. The show may become a theatre season, complete with director, and it marks the latest stage of the Scottish-born musician’s reinvention.
Early in the 1990s, Hay relocated to Los Angeles, ending up with a home studio among ”the misfits” of Topanga Canyon. He slowly built a loyal fan base out of independent releases and extensive touring across North America and, eventually, Australia. He became part of LA’s musical fabric and prominent fans such as Bill Lawrence, the creator of the television sitcom Scrubs, introduced him to a new generation via the show.
”It made a massive difference to my live audience,” Hay says. ”Young people discovered me – I would come back here and play after Scrubs first aired and everyone was 23 years old. Fantastic! You can’t play to your own age group, because they just stay home.”
Hay’s most recent album is 2011’s Gathering Mercury, an assured, eclectic set about the realities of living in an unjust world. Some of the songs were inspired by Hay losing his beloved father, although the record never wallows in regret or despair. It deliberately does not reference the 2010 legal case whereby a Federal Court judge ruled that the flute part on Men at Work’s 1981 hit Down Under was based on the 1932 children’s hit Kookaburra. However, the judgment awarded just 5 per cent of the song’s earnings from 2002 onwards to Larrikin Music, the copyright holder of Kookaburra, while legal costs are still to be decided.
”That was the ultimate irony: so much money was spent chasing so little,” says Hay, who along with Ron Strykert, an estranged former Men at Work bandmate, was the song’s composer. ”What they were awarded was a paltry sum compared to what they spent,” he says. ”You can win but still lose at the same time, and I don’t think anyone won at all from this litigation. They won the decision, but they won virtually nothing.”
Hay, who enjoys a successful music career bolstered by the occasional high-profile acting role (that was him as a corrupt Melbourne cop menacing Guy Pearce in the recent ABC telemovie Jack Irish: Bad Debts), tries not to focus on the court case, but it did affect Greg Ham, Hay’s close friend and the Men at Work saxophonist who improvised the distinctive flute part on Down Under. The Melbourne-based musician and teacher committed suicide in April 2012 while Hay was touring the US.
”He was a totally lovely man,” Hay says of Ham. ”It gets more terrible as time goes on. Every time I come back to Melbourne I think, ‘I’ve got to tell Greg about that’ – I tell him anyway, but he’s not here and that’s not right.”
Monday, March 4, and Tuesday, March 5, 8.15pm, Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point.
TICKETS sydneyoperahouse.com, venue, or 9250 7777, $59.90.
TRAVEL Nearest train station and bus stop are at Circular Quay (seven minutes’ walk), with limited shuttle bus service available; paid parking at venue.
LIVE Acoustic interpretations from a 35-year career, with stories in between.
BEST TRACK Send Somebody, from the Gathering Mercury album.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/entertainer-at-work-20130228-2f6v3.html#ixzz2QHunztEK