Cold Chisel is a rock band that originated in Adelaide, Australia. It had chart success from the late 70s up until their most recent album releases since 2011, with nine albums making the Australian top ten. Cold Chisel are regarded as having a distinctly Australian popularity and musicianship, exemplifying "pub rock" and highlighting the working class life in Australia.
Originally named Orange, the band formed in Adelaide in 1973 as a heavy-metal cover-band comprising bassist Les Kaczmarek, keyboard player Don Walker, guitarist Ian Moss and drummer Steve Prestwich. Seventeen-year-old singer Jimmy Barnes—known throughout his time with the band as Jim Barnes—joined in December 1973, taking leave from the band in 1975 for a brief stint as Bon Scott's replacement in Fraternity. The group changed its name several times before settling on Cold Chisel in 1974 after writing a song with that title. Barnes' relationship with other band members was volatile; as a Scot he often came to blows with Liverpool-born Prestwich and he left the band several times. During these periods Moss would handle vocals until Barnes returned.
Walker soon emerged as Cold Chisel's primary songwriter. Walker spent 1974 in Armidale, completing his studies and in 1975 Kaczmarek left the band and was replaced by Phil Small. Barnes' older brother John Swan was a member of Cold Chisel around this time, providing backing vocals and percussion but after several violent incidents he was fired.
In May 1976 Cold Chisel relocated to Melbourne but found little success, moving on to Sydney in November. Six months later, in May 1977, Barnes announced he would quit Cold Chisel in order to join Swan in Feather, a hard-rocking blues band that had evolved from an earlier group called Blackfeather. A farewell performance in Sydney went so well that the singer changed his mind. The following month the Warner Music Group picked up Cold Chisel.
Main career (1978–82)
In the early months of 1978, Cold Chisel recorded its self-titled debut album with producer Peter Walker. All tracks were written by Don Walker except "Juliet", for which Barnes wrote the melody and Walker the lyrics. Cold Chisel was released in April and featured appearances from harmonica player Dave Blight, who would become a regular on-stage guest, and saxophonists Joe Camilleri and Wilbur Wilde from Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons. The following month the song "Khe Sanh" was released as a single but was deemed too offensive for airplay on commercial radio because of the lyric "Their legs were often open/But their minds were always closed", although it was played regularly on Sydney rock station, Double J, which was not subject to such restrictions because it was part of the ABC. Despite that setback, it still reached #48 on the Australian singles chart and number four on the Adelaide charts thanks mainly to the band's rising popularity as a touring act and some local radio support in Adelaide where the single was aired in spite of the ban. "Khe Sanh" has since become Cold Chisel's signature tune and arguably its most popular among fans. The song was later remixed, with re-recorded vocals, for inclusion on the international version of 1980's East.
The band's next release was a live EP titled You're Thirteen, You're Beautiful, and You're Mine, in November. This had been recorded at a show at Sydney's Regent Theatre in 1977 that had featured Midnight Oil as one of the support acts. One of the EP's tracks, "Merry Go Round" was later recorded on the follow-up, Breakfast at Sweethearts. This album was recorded between July 1978 and January 1979 with experienced producer Richard Batchens, who had previously worked with Richard Clapton, Sherbet and Blackfeather. Batchens smoothed out many of the band's rough edges and attempted to give their songs a sophisticated sound. This approach has made the album sit a little uncomfortably with the band ever since. Once again, the majority of the songs were penned by Walker, with Barnes collaborating with Walker on the first single "Goodbye (Astrid, Goodbye)" and Moss contributing to "Dresden". "Goodbye (Astrid, Goodbye)" became a live favourite for the band, and even went on to be performed by U2 during Australian tours in the 1980s.
By now the band stood at the verge of major national success, even without significant radio airplay or support from Countdown, Australia's most important youth music program at the time. The band had become notorious for its wild behaviour, particularly from Barnes who was rumoured to have had sex with over 1000 women and who was known to consume more than a bottle of vodka every night during performances.
In late-1979, following their problematic relationship with Batchens, Cold Chisel chose Mark Opitz to produce the next single, "Choirgirl", a Don Walker composition dealing with a young woman's experience with abortion. In spite of the controversial subject matter, the track became a hit and paved the way for Cold Chisel's next album. Recorded over two months in early-1980, East reached #2 on the Australian album charts and was the second-highest selling album by an Australian artist for the year. Despite the continued dominance of Walker, during Cold Chisel's later career all four of the other members began to contribute songs to the band, and this was the first of their albums to feature songwriting contributions from each member of the band. Cold Chisel is the only Australian rock band to score hits with songs written by every member of the group.
Of the album's 12 tracks, two were written by Barnes, with Moss, Prestwich and Small contributing one song each. The songs ranged from straight ahead rock tracks such as "Standing on the Outside" and "My Turn to Cry" to rockabilly-flavoured work-outs ("Rising Sun", written about Barnes' relationship with his girlfriend Jane Mahoney) and pop-laced love songs ("My Baby", featuring Joe Camilleri on saxophone) to a poignant piano ballad about prison life, "Four Walls". The cover featured Barnes asleep in a bathtub wearing a kamikaze bandanna in a room littered with junk and was inspired by Jacques-Louis David's 1793 painting The Death of Marat. The Ian Moss-penned "Never Before" was chosen as the first song to air by the ABC's radio station Triple J when it switched to the FM band that year.
Following the release of East, Cold Chisel embarked on the Youth in Asia Tour, which took its name from a lyric in "Star Hotel". This tour saw the group play more than 60 shows in 90 days and would form the basis of 1981's double live album Swingshift.
In April 1981 the band was nominated for all seven of the major awards at the joint Countdown/TV Week music awards held at the Sydney Entertainment Centre, and won them all. As a protest against the concept of a TV magazine being involved in a music awards ceremony, the band refused to accept its awards and finished the night by performing "My Turn to Cry". After only one verse and chorus, the band smashed up the set and left the stage.
Swingshift debuted at No. 1 on the Australian album charts, crystallizing the band's status as the biggest-selling act in the country. Overseas, however, Cold Chisel was unable to make an impact. With a slightly different track-listing, East had been issued in the United States and the band undertook its first (and only) US tour. But while it was popular as a live act, the American arm of their label did little to support the album. According to Barnes biographer Toby Creswell, at one point the band was ushered into an office to listen to the US master only to find it drenched in tape hiss and other ambient noise, making it almost unreleasable. The band was even booed off stage after a lacklustre performance in Dayton, Ohio in May 1981 opening for Ted Nugent, who at the time was touring with his guitar army aka the 'D.C. Hawks'. European audiences were more accepting of the band and the group developed a small but significant fan base in Germany.
In August 1981, the band began work on the album Circus Animals, again with Opitz producing. The album opened with "You Got Nothing I Want", an aggressive Barnes-penned hard rock track that attacked the American industry for its handling of the band. The song would later cause problems for Barnes when he later attempted to break into the US market as a solo performer as senior music executives there continued to hold it against him. Like its predecessor, Circus Animals contained songs of contrasting styles, with harder-edged tracks like "Bow River" and "Hound Dog" in place beside more expansive ballads such as "Forever Now" and "When the War Is Over", both written by Prestwich. The latter track has proved to be the most popular Cold Chisel song for other artists to record -- Uriah Heep included a version on the 1989 album Raging Silence and John Farnham has recorded it twice, once while he and Prestwich were members of Little River Band in the mid-80s and again for his 1990 solo album Age of Reason. The song was also a No. 1 hit for former Australian Idol contestant Cosima De Vito in 2004 and was also performed by Bobby Flynn during that show's 2006 season. "Forever Now" was also covered (as a country waltz) by Australian band The Reels.
To launch the album, the band performed under a circus tent at Wentworth Park in Sydney and toured heavily once more, including a show in Darwin that attracted more than 10 per cent of the city's population.
Break-up and aftermath (1983–84)
Circus Animals and its three singles, "You Got Nothing I Want", "Forever Now" and "When the War is Over" were all major hits in Australia during 1982 but further success overseas continued to elude the band and cracks began to appear. In early 1983 the band toured Germany but the shows went so badly that in the middle of the tour Walker up-ended his keyboard and stormed off stage during one show and Prestwich was fired. Returning to Australia, Prestwich was replaced by Ray Arnott, formerly of the 1970s progressive rock band Spectrum. After this, Barnes requested a large advance from management. Now married with a young child, exorbitant spending had left him almost broke. His request was refused however because there was a standing arrangement that any advance to one band member had to be paid to all the others. After a meeting on 17 August during which Barnes quit the band it was decided that Cold Chisel would split up. A final concert series known as The Last Stand was planned and a final studio album was also recorded. Prestwich returned for the tour, which began in October. Before the Sydney shows however, Barnes lost his voice and those dates were re-scheduled for December. The band's final performance was at the Sydney Entertainment Centre on 12 December 1983, apparently precisely 10 years since its first live appearance. The Sydney shows formed the basis of the film The Last Stand, the biggest-selling concert film of any Australian band. Several other recordings from the tour were used on the 1984 live album Barking Spiders Live: 1983, the title of which was inspired by the name the group occasionally used to play warm-up shows before tours, and as b-sides for a three-CD singles package known as Three Big XXX Hits, issued ahead of the release of the 1994 compilation album, Teenage Love.
During breaks in the tour, Twentieth Century was recorded. It was a fragmentary process, spread across various studios and sessions as the individual members often refused to work together, but nonetheless successful. Released in February 1984, it reached No. 1 upon release and included the songs "Saturday Night" and "Flame Trees", both of which remain radio staples. "Flame Trees", co-written by Prestwich and Walker, took its title from the BBC series The Flame Trees of Thika although it was lyrically inspired by the organist's hometown of Grafton, New South Wales. Barnes later recorded an acoustic version of the song on his 1993 album Flesh and Wood and the track was also covered by Sarah Blasko in 2006.
Barnes launched a solo career in January 1984 that has produced nine Australian No. 1 albums and an array of hit singles. One of those, "Too Much Ain't Enough Love" also peaked at No. 1. He has recorded with INXS, Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, John Farnham and a long list of other Australian and international artists and is arguably the country's most popular male rock singer.
Prestwich joined Little River Band in 1984 and appeared on the albums Playing to Win and No Reins before departing in 1986 to join John Farnham's touring band. Walker, Moss and Small all took extended breaks from music. Small, the least prominent member of the band virtually disappeared from the scene for many years, playing in a variety of minor acts. Walker formed Catfish in 1988, ostensibly a solo band with floating membership that included Moss, Charlie Owen and Dave Blight at various times. The music had a distinctly modern jazz aspect and his recordings during this phase attracted little commercial success. During 1989 he wrote several songs for Moss including "Tucker's Daughter" and "Telephone Booth" that the guitarist recorded on his debut solo album Matchbook. Both the album and "Tucker's Daughter" peaked at No. 1 on the chart in 1989 and won Moss five ARIA Awards. His other albums met with little success.
Throughout the '80s and most of the '90s, Cold Chisel was courted to re-form but refused, at one point reportedly turning down an offer of $5 million to play a single show in each of the major Australian state capitals. While Moss and Walker often collaborated on projects, neither would work with Barnes again until Walker wrote "Stone Cold" for the singer's Heat in 1993. The pair then recorded an acoustic version for Flesh and Wood later the same year. Thanks primarily to continued radio airplay and Barnes' solo success, Cold Chisel's legacy remained solidly intact and by the early 90s the group had surpassed 3 million album sales, most of which had been sold since 1983. The 1991 compilation album Chisel was re-issued and re-packaged several times, once with the long-deleted 1978 EP as a bonus disc and a second time in 2001 as a double album. The Last Stand soundtrack album was also finally released in 1992 and in 1994 a complete album of previously unreleased demo and rare live recordings also surfaced. Teenage Love spawned a string of hit singles.
Cold Chisel reunited in 1998 to record the album The Last Wave of Summer and supported it with a sold-out national concert tour. The album debuted at number one on the Australian album chart. In 2003, the band re-grouped once more for the "Ringside" tour and in 2005 again reunited to perform at a benefit for the victims of the Boxing Day tsunami at the Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne.
On 10 September 2009, two days after Barnes' 15th studio solo album The Rhythm and the Blues hit No. 1 on the Australian album charts, Cold Chisel announced it would reform for a one-off performance at the Sydney 500 V8 Supercars event on 5 December 2009. The reunion saw the band perform at ANZ Stadium to the largest crowd of its career, with more than 45,000 fans in attendance. Cold Chisel played a single live performance in 2010, at the Deniliquin ute muster in October. In December Ian Moss confirmed that Cold Chisel was working on new material for an album.
Death of Steve Prestwich
In January 2011, Steve Prestwich was diagnosed with a brain tumour. He underwent surgery on 14 January but never regained consciousness and died two days later, aged 56.
Catalogue Re-release and Light the Nitro Tour
All six of Cold Chisel's studio albums were re-released in digitally re-mastered CD versions in mid-2011 and were also made available in digital format. The thirty-date Light the Nitro Tour was announced in July along with the news that former Divinyls and Catfish drummer Charley Drayton had been recruited to replace Steve Prestwich. Most shows on the tour sold out within days and new dates were later announced for early 2012. Midway through 2012, , as well as .
Musical style and lyrical themes
Influences from blues and early rock n' roll was broadly apparent, fostered by the love of those styles by Moss, Barnes and Walker and Small and Prestwich contributed strong pop sensibilities. This allowed volatile rock songs like "You Got Nothing I Want" and "Merry-Go-Round" to stand beside thoughtful ballads like "Choirgirl", pop-flavoured love songs like "My Baby" and caustic political statements like "Star Hotel", an attack on the late-70s government of Malcolm Fraser, inspired by the Star Hotel riot in Newcastle.
The songs were not overtly political but rather observations of everyday life within Australian society and culture, in which the members with their various backgrounds (Moss was from Alice Springs, Walker grew up in rural New South Wales, Barnes and Prestwich were working-class immigrants from the UK) were quite well able to provide.
Cold Chisel's songs were about distinctly Australian experiences, a factor often cited as a major reason for the band's lack of international appeal. "Saturday Night" and "Breakfast at Sweethearts" were observations of the urban experience of Sydney's Kings Cross district where Walker lived for many years. "Misfits", which featured on the b-side to "My Baby", was about homeless kids in the suburbs surrounding Sydney. Songs like "Shipping Steel" and "Standing on The Outside" were working class anthems and many others featured characters trapped in mundane, everyday existences, yearning for the good times of the past ("Flame Trees") or for something better from life ("Bow River").
Alongside contemporaries like The Angels and Midnight Oil, whose rise to popularity came in their wake, Cold Chisel was renowned as one of the most dynamic live acts of their day and from early in their career concerts routinely became sell-out events. But the band was also famous for its wild lifestyle, particularly the hard-drinking Barnes, who played his role as one of the wild men of Australian rock to the hilt, never seen on stage without at least one bottle of vodka and often so drunk he could barely stand upright. Despite this, by 1982 he was a devoted family man who refused to tour without his wife and daughter. All the other band members were also settled or married; Ian Moss had a long-term relationship with the actress Megan Williams (she even sang on Twentieth Century) whose own public persona could have hardly been more different. Yet it was the band's public image that often saw them compared less favourably with other important acts like Midnight Oil, whose music and politics (while rather more overt) were often similar but whose image and reputation was far more clean-cut. Cold Chisel remained hugely popular however and by the mid-90s had continued to sell records at such a consistent rate they became the first Australian band to achieve higher sales after their split than during their active years. While repackages and compilations accounted for much of these sales, 1994's Teenage Love album of rarities and two of its singles were Top Ten hits and when the group finally reformed in 1998 the resultant album was also a major hit and the follow-up tour sold out almost immediately.
Cold Chisel is one of the few Australian acts (along with AC/DC, The Easybeats,and Slim Dusty) to have become the subject of a major tribute album. In 2007, Standing on the Outside: The Songs of Cold Chisel was released, featuring a collection of the band's songs as performed by artists including The Living End, Evermore, Something for Kate, Pete Murray, Katie Noonan, You Am I, Paul Kelly, Alex Lloyd, Thirsty Merc and Ben Lee, many of whom were still only children when Cold Chisel first disbanded and some of whom, like the members of Evermore, had not even been born.
- Jimmy Barnes (lead vocals / guitar)
- Ian Moss (lead guitar / vocals)
- Don Walker (keyboards / backing vocals)
- Steve Prestwich (drums / backing vocals) - deceased
- Phil Small (electric bass)
- Les Kaczmarek (bass guitar, October 1973- July 1975; deceased 5 December 2008)
- Ray Arnott (drums, 1983)
- Dave Blight (harmonica)
- Billy Rodgers (saxophone)
- Jimmy Sloggett (saxophone)
- Andy Bickers (saxophone)
- Renée Geyer (backing vocals)
- Vanetta Fields (backing vocals)
- Megan Williams (backing vocals, Flame Trees)
- Peter Walker (acoustic guitar, Khe Sanh)
- Joe Camilleri (saxophone, My Baby and Home and Broken Hearted)
- Wilbur Wilde (saxophone, Home and Broken Hearted, Rosaline, Just How Many Times)
- Charley Drayton (drums, 2011-)
Studio and live albums
|Year||Title||Peak chart positions||Certifications|
|AUS (Kent)||AUS (ARIA)||US||NZ|
Breakfast at Sweethearts
||2||N/A||171||32||5× Platinum (ARIA)|
The Last Stand (soundtrack)
Barking Spiders Live: 1983 (live)
The Last Wave of Summer
||N/A||1||—||13||2× Platinum (ARIA)|
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart.|
- Radio Songs: A Best of Cold Chisel (1985) AUS #3, NZ #36
- Razor Songs (1988) AUS #11
- Chisel (1991) AUS #3, NZ #16
- Teenage Love (1994) AUS #6
- Cold Chisel: The Studio Sessions (box set, 1999)
- The Best of Cold Chisel: All for You (2011) AUS #2, Platinum; NZ #5
|Year||Single||Peak chart positions||Album|
|1978||"Khe Sanh"||41||Cold Chisel|
|"Goodbye (Astrid Goodbye)"||65||Breakfast at Sweethearts|
|1979||"Breakfast at Sweethearts"||63|
|1981||"You Got Nothing I Want"||12||Circus Animals|
|"When the War Is Over"||25|
|1983||"Hold Me Tight"||14||Twentieth Century|
|1994||"Hands Out of My Pocket"||9||Teenage Love|
|"Nothing But You"||16|
|1998||"The Things I Love in You"||10||The Last Wave of Summer|
|"Water into Wine"||46|
|2011||"Khe Sanh"||401||Cold Chisel|
|"All for You"||80||All for You|
1 "Khe Sanh" re-entered the ARIA Singles Chart in August 2011.
- Timeline of trends in Australian music
- ARIA Hall of Fame