Home & Away: Aussies In The U.K.

Published in Billboard Magazine

 

Australian acts are surfing a wave of U.K. success—but the ones making the biggest splash are those that have relocated to Britain.

In the Official U.K. Charts Co.’s listings published May 18, Aussies accounted for five of the top 50 albums, led by a No. 2 bow for drum’n’bass act Pendulum’s “In Silico” (Warner Bros). On the singles chart, there were four Australian artists in the top 20, with soul singer Sam Sparro’s “Black & Gold” (Island) up front at No. 6.

Pendulum and fellow charting artist Gabriella Cilmi have permanently relocated to London, while Sparro splits his time between the U.K. capital and Los Angeles—and execs increasingly advise artists to weigh the benefits of relocation.

“The only way to do it is to be there,” says Andy Kelly, director of Sydney-based management team Winterman & Goldstein, which steered the Vines and Jet to top 30 U.S. and U.K. success. “Neither the Vines nor Jet would have had the success they had outside Australia if either the band or management were based here.”

While neither acts nor management team relocated permanently, Kelly says both routinely spent periods of up to two years outside Australia—establishing a blueprint for success that Aussie acts remain keen to follow.

Sydney-based artist manager Jane Slingo says she’s bringing her unsigned pop protégé, Amy B, to the United Kingdom because of the greater opportunities in London.

“It is possible to continue working from an Australian base with frequent commuting,” Slingo says. “But in reality, the talent you need to work with to [become] internationally successful will not take the artist seriously until they commit to relocation.”

Slingo says relocation costs compare favorably with those for commuting, while Ted Cockle, co-president of Cilmi and Sparro’s U.K. label, Island Records, says both artists’ British success has been directly linked to their constant availability. Island cites Cilmi’s December 2007 TV debut on BBC2’s “Later . . . With Jools Holland” as a key moment in her breakthrough.

“There’s been a concerted effort from management and us to get them some international success,” Cockle says. “And that also feeds back into their home market.”

Universal/Island is also in the third year of an arrangement with Australian label Modular, home to internationally successful artists like electronica act the Avalanches and rock band Wolfmother, both of whom remained based Down Under during their breakthroughs.

Sydney-based Modular managing director Steve Pavlovich says relocation should be a consideration, but isn’t essential in the Internet age.

“Niche acts might see the need to move to England, where the niche audience is larger,” he says.

But Cockle maintains Wolfmother’s U.K. success was restricted by its lack of availability. “We had a clutch of U.K. shows,” he says. “But I would be lying if I didn’t say just how much bigger they might have become if we did have proper time with them.”

Some artists, however, refuse to countenance such a move.

“We’re Australians, so no [we wouldn’t move]. We’d be prepared to move temporarily, but not to relocate,” says Bernard Fanning, frontman of Brisbane-based rock act Powderfinger, which will play London’s O2 Wireless festival this summer.

But while Powderfinger’s last four studio albums have opened at No. 1 in Australia, it has struggled to replicate that success overseas.

“Some bands are better off basing themselves in the U.K., others are better off staying in Australia,” says Sydney-based manager John Watson, who has guided the careers of Wolfmother and Silverchair. “But if they choose [the latter] option, they’ve got to be willing to rack up a lot of air miles.”


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