I’m witness to the fact that Jimmy’s voice is still in great nick. As for his body and mind – well that is another story. But, he assures us, both are on the up and up – he’s a hell of a lot better than he used to be. But, he also confides, he still has a way to go. By rights, with what he’s done to himself, he should be gigging with Bon, Michael H, James F and Billy T up there beyond the silver lining. They were all mates of his along the journey. He tells the tale of how they were wheeling him out of Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital, after he had recovered from his heart op, just as they were wheeling Billy in to die. That’s salutary for you, but not salutary enough for JB. Michael Hutchence and James Freud both went the same way. Jimmy tried it too with a dressing gown cord, but he was too grog/drug addled to succeed. He recalled nothing of the attempt the morning after except the cord hanging from a hook, noose in place. It was searing stuff from the rock legend; he was laying it on the line for us, imploring the men in the audience to do what he eventually did if any of us found ourselves in a similar dire straight – seek therapy. He reckons it saved him, that and his loved ones gathering around him – at least three of whom he didn’t know for decades he fathered.
There was one picture he bought up on the screen, taken at his lowest point, around the turn of the millennium, that really shocked me. That wasn’t Jimmy! He looked like a cross between a scrawny Johnny Rotten and an even more wasted Keith Richards – dead-eyed and sunken cheeked. Just terrible.
I was gifted a ticket to this stop on Jimmy Barnes’ tour, which forms a parallel promotion to his best selling book of the same name, ‘Working Class Man’. It’s a follow up to his mega-selling ‘Working Class Boy’. To my shame I must admit that I haven’t read his tomes, but daughter Katie has and she reckons they’re exceptionally good and as with his show, he doesn’t hold back on his demons. It isn’t all bleak and black – there is much levity to be had with many of his yarns as well, but, at times, you could hear a pin drop when he was relating the pitifulness of his condition at its nadir. What this man subjected himself to! But he makes us laugh too – there was the time, for instance, when he and John Farnham got together to record a duet. He reckons his singing pal is no angel, particularly when he gets on his favourite tipple of cheap brandy, but he is only a two pot screamer, not a seasoned guzzler like his Scottish self. Farnham became so inebriated that Jimmy, doing what all good mates do, had to bundle him in a cab to get him home. Half an hour later Jimmy receives a call from the cab company stating that the Voice was so far gone he had no idea where he lived. He reckons the Angels were soft as they so loved playing frisbee when on tour. One of the best tales was the unlikely genesis of ‘Working Class Man’, the song, itself.
Don’t go to this performance expecting the legendary front man to churn out Chisel hits, or those from his solo career. We get a taste, but mostly he belts out other tunes that have been significant along the way. On this night he took us through his history, from the formation of the Chisel to the present day, culminating with the time he finally listened to his family, mates and his body and accepted help. It seems this was just in time. He describes it as the first time he stopped running away and made a courageous decision.
The Hobart stop is an early one on a tour that doesn’t conclude till he reaches his home city of Adelaide on June 10th. It’ll take some amount of stamina and fortitude for the ol’ fella to get through it, but he does pace himself far more than what would be possible out front of the band. You wonder why he feels the need to do it? Is it part of his therapy? To get all that bad shit out of his system by telling as many as he can not to fall into the same traps as he did – and certainly, to do something about it if we have. The message he gives is crystal clear. He pulls no punches. He seemingly needs to drill it into every male he confronts from up there on the stage.
The Glaswegian Belter is a marvel and I am grateful to my son and his beautiful wife for their generosity in allowing me to be in the presence of one of my musical heroes for an evening. Cheers Rich and Shan
Jimmy’s tour info = https://www.frontiertouring.com/jimmybarnes