Jimmy Barnes' new memoir 'Working Class Boy' is available now via Harper Collins. Ahead of the special 'In Conversation with Jimmy Barnes' night on Tuesday, September 27th, as part of Live Lodge 2016, we present an exclusive extract from the book. Here is chapter 25: 'Woudn't Be Dead For Quids'.
The year 1973 was becoming a good one for me. I was learning about music and life. Every night had potential; it was all up to me to make it happen.
Mick and me would talk twenty or so guys into going to the Apollo Stadium, near the city, to see bands. None of us ever had any money.
"Hey, guys. I reckon if we kick the back door in the bastards could only catch one or two of us at the most."
Mick and I had worked it out.
"The rest of us just keep running into the hall and mingle with the crowd. It'll be easy."
"And if we don't like the bands we can leave. It'll cost us nothing."
"What'll we do if the fucking bouncers catch us?"
"Just act innocent. They've got too much to do. They'll let you go for sure," Mick told the boys. "Otherwise belt them and run. What are you, pussies?"
We did this night after night and much to our surprise it never got any harder. We couldn't work it out.
"Maybe they just don't give a fuck. Or maybe they'll be waiting one night and bash our heads in."
"Na. They don't give a shit,' Mick assured us all. 'Trust me.' We had trusted Mick many a night and it nearly got us killed.
I've got to say some of the best shows I ever saw were for free, after charging over a couple of useless security guys at the Apollo.
I remember one of the many nights that we took acid and ended up outside the stadium. We didn't even know who was playing. We didn't care. If it was bad, we would just walk out and go and start trouble somewhere else.
Bang! We kicked the door in and Mick shouted, 'Let's go.'
I slipped through the grips of an overweight body builder who was moonlighting as a bouncer and I was in. I made it into the middle of the crowd just as the show started. About the same time, coincidentally, as the drugs kicked in.
The room went dark and trumpets rang out. "Fanfare for the Common Man" washed across the crowd. I felt that I was waiting for the entrance of the Queen, not a rock band. Low bottom end from the PA droned out across the hall, so deep that you couldn't really hear it but felt it in your stomach. Dry ice-created fog came rolling over the amps and cascaded from the edge of the stage like a waterfall onto the audience.
'Wow," I whispered to myself, trying not to look too gobsmacked. "This is great, isn't it?" I said, nudging the stranger with the headband who was standing next to me.
"They haven't started yet, man."
I quickly got a hold of myself. "Better try and look a bit tough or these hippies will punch holes in my aura." As if.
I'd never heard anything like it before – or since really. It was Yes in their prime. I wasn't a Yes fan as such. Progressive rock took too much thinking for my liking. But as I stood surrounded by patchouli oil-smelling, sandal-wearing, kaftan-flowing hippies, I came to the conclusion that they were a fantastic band.
"Maybe it's the drugs," I said to myself. "Na, could be." I've got to say, I still like them but they have never sounded quite as good as they did that night. Yeah, it was the drugs.
Everyone else got bored and left to look for more excitement but I stayed with my eyes glued to the stage, taking in everything that was going on between the band.
My eyes were darting between the lights and the PA system. I was watching roadies running across stage making guitar changes. Subtle set changes between songs seemed seamless. This was the smoke and mirrors that you hear about in showbiz. Because my reality had been enhanced by the drugs or perhaps because the penny dropped for the first time, I saw the communication that was happening on the stage. I was mesmerised.
I think I had to hitchhike home but I didn't care; it was worth it. It seemed there was more to being in a band than just singing.
That year I saw Frank Zappa, T-Rex, Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath and Ike and Tina Turner at the Apollo. Every single show we saw for free.
Frank Zappa played songs that turned my ear to more adventurous music. Watching him play was like watching someone conduct an orchestra. Every move of his hands led every musician into another movement of the song. It was amazing.
Jethro Tull was a band that most of the young guys in Elizabeth liked, mainly because of their gross lyrics about snotters and girls. But we went anyway.
I stood watching what appeared to be cleaners in white overalls sweeping the stage. Only to find that one by one the overalls came off revealing that they were the band. Good trick.
Marc Bolan, who had made amazing music in the early seventies, was completely disillusioned by the time he came to Adelaide. British media had worn him down. It was clear you couldn't be openly gay and be allowed to make music without being driven into the ground. He had an empty, lost look in his eyes when he sang. The best thing he did all night was to bullwhip his guitar. He needed to lash out at something I guess. He died a few years later. I learned that the public and the press don't need to know everything about you or they might turn on you.
Ike and Tina were unbelievable. I fought my way down to the front to get a look at Tina and the girls.
"Excuse me. Coming through. Excuse me. Hey, I said get to fuck out of my way."
I made it to the front row. I remember being mesmerised by Tina and the Ike-ettes, as any young guy would have been. But while I was in the front row watching the girls I saw this guy in the back of the band driving them all like I'd never seen before. That was Ike Turner. As I watched him I realised how important it was to push a band, and push them really hard. He was a brutal taskmaster and I could see the band jumping at his every gesture. He made the band great. But this same tyrannical behaviour made him a violent partner for Tina. She survived Ike's violence to go on to much bigger things – when he was washed up and good for nothing, Tina was just getting started. I think he should have kept the iron fist for the running of the band.
I learned something from every band I saw. I was like a sponge, soaking in everything I could. This was to become my apprenticeship – not the railways but rock shows all over Adelaide.
We would go and see Fraternity, the Coloured Balls, Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs and anybody else who came through town. But Billy was the guy I liked the best. He was a rocker. No bullshit. Straight out rock-and-roll. I used to go and watch him at pubs I shouldn't have even been allowed into. Places like the Largs Pier Hotel, one of the wildest and roughest pubs in Australia. I started sneaking in there when I was only sixteen. I'm sure the bouncers knew I was underage but I didn't start trouble and they had their hands too full throwing people out to stop some young guy getting in.
There were no police threatening to take away their licences in those days; it was just jam as many people as you could into a small space and see what happened.
I saw Billy Thorpe in there one night with a whole wall of guitar amps. He was loud as hell but I thought he should have been even louder considering how many guitar amps he had up there. So I tried to speak to one of the roadies.
He was standing, trying to look important in front of a girl he was obviously aiming to impress.
"Hey mate, you busy?"
"What do you think? Do I look busy? Someone's got to run this show," he said, winking at the chick.
"There's a lot of amps up there. Is that normal?"
He looked a bit annoyed by now. I was obviously cramping his style.
"Fuck, yeah. It is for Billy. He's the man. The loudest guy in the country," he said to the girl. Almost as if I wasn't there.
"I didn't think they were all turned on."
Suddenly I had his attention. 'Listen, you little bastard, I've got fucking work to do. What do you want?'
The girl walked away.
"Sorry, I'm in a band too and Billy's a bit of a hero to me. I want to play as loud as him, that's all."
By this time he knew his chances with the girl were gone but for some reason he started to soften. "I'll let you into a little secret, son. Everything is not always as it seems. It's show business. Do you understand?"
"So I was right, wasn't I?"
"Look, I can't stand and talk to you all day. This is a show, that's all I'll tell you. Now fuck off and let me work."
"Thanks, mate. Maybe you can work for me one day."
I got a smile out of him.
I had worked it out. Billy had a bunch of amps he loved but the others were spares or even just dummies to make the show look bigger. This is something I've seen a million times since that night but Billy was the first. And I thought he was so smart to do that. He did it just to keep the punters guessing.
The Pier was happening. On a lot of nights, I was more entertained by the fights that broke out than the bands that were playing. There was one bouncer I remember very well. They called him the Beast, for obvious reasons; he looked like a refrigerator on legs. I would sit, off my head on whatever I could find, and watch as the Beast threw people through the plate glass windows, the glass smashing and spraying through the air like fireworks, while the music screamed in my ears and the hallucinogenics surged through my brain. It was like being an extra for A Clockwork Orange.
Every Friday and Saturday night I seemed to end up at the Pier watching the hardest and best bands that Australia had to offer at the time, playing so loud that my eardrums nearly burst. This was what I called fun, not hanging around the shops fighting and hoping to get laid.
This pub was full of tough blokes who looked like they worked on the wharfs during the day. Some of their girls looked just as tough. There were bearded blokes with tattoos, arm in arm with tattooed girls drinking beer. There were handsome young fellows holding beautiful girls with wide eyes and beaming smiles, jiving around the dance floor to the music. I got the feeling that if you looked at the wrong girl for too long you would end up floating next to one of the wharves their boyfriends worked at. You were safe as long as you showed respect for the locals.
They were a strange mix of people but everyone seemed to watch out for each other and I liked that. One of the people that I met in the front bar of the Pier was a guy called Dennis O'Toole, who I had met many years earlier at the party where we first met Reg's family. Tooley, as we call him, has been a friend ever since we reacquainted ourselves at the Pier. He was a gentle soul but could fight with the best of them if he had to and he ended up working as a roadie for Cold Chisel and Fraternity when I joined them.
That pub became my home ground and soon I became friends with many of the regulars. By the time I was sixteen and a half I even ended up on a first name basis with the Beast.
"Hey, Beast. What's it like in there tonight?"
"It's really packed. In you go, have a good night."
I thought for a minute I was getting stopped. "Yeah, what is it?"
"It's Bob. Bob McKinnon. That's me name. Call me Bob."
"Er, right. Thanks mate, er Beast, er Bob. Thanks."
I felt even safer in the bar now. On many a night I ended up drinking until sun-up, on the jetty across the road from the pub with a bunch of mates and, if we were lucky, a few beautiful girls who were too pissed to go home or they'd get a hiding from their dads. We'd sit and look out to sea, thinking how lucky we were to be alive.
"Wouldn't be dead for quids," Tooley would say. "I wonder what the poor people are doing while we get to sit out here. Working probably, the poor suckers."
He be laughing out loud. He thought he was really funny. "We are the luckiest people alive. Look where we are. We got the water underneath us. A bunch of goods mates and the pier to look at in the distance. Oh yeah and of course you girls are with us too." Tooley seemed to care more about his mates than the girls but he was always a gentleman.
We'd sit there until the sun came up and then pile into a car and head for home. I'd be ready to sleep or keep partying with the girls but the others would head to the docks to work.
The Pier was my home away from home for many years after that. And even now, when I go back there I think about those days, when we were young and life was only about having something to drink and a pretty girl on your arm and a few mates ready to help you take on the world. And we did take it on, again and again. It became the place I learned about friendship and music. About love and loss. The Pier was our home. But the whole of Adelaide was our playground and we played hard.
One night we stood outside Memorial Drive in Adelaide. This venue was built for tennis but it became one of the great places to see a big band in Australia. I played there many times with Cold Chisel and as a solo performer and I always loved it. But this night we listened as Led Zeppelin played 'Rock and Roll' so loud that even outside the venue it was rocking. The crowd broke down the fence and thousands of punters who had no money got in for free. I remember being overjoyed at the chance to see them. Of the five thousand punters who crashed the fence I was the only one who got caught. I remember being dragged away to a paddy wagon as the sound of 'Dazed and Confused' drifted through the warm night air. They sounded good that night. And even it was from the back of a moving police car, I was happy to hear them.
Another night I stood outside and listened as the Rolling Stones played the same venue. I was wishing I could get in and see Mick and Keith do their thing. But it didn't really matter. I was happy to stand outside with the crowds or break in if I got the chance. As it happened, the Stones didn't sound so great that night. So I didn't feel too bad.
Our lives were like a Rolling Stones concert in a lot of ways. Some nights were great, some were bad. It depended on the night, the drugs and the company we kept. But it was all ours for the taking.
This is an extract from 'Working Class Boy' by Jimmy Barnes. Barnes will appear at bookshop events in September and October, including Live Lodge 2016 on Tuesday, September 27th. His live show, 'Working Class Boy: An Evening Of Stories And Songs', tours nationally in November and December. Details at jimmybarnes.com
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