Boxing Clever

Published in Billboard Magazine

In musical terms, Katie Noonan is a great explorer—since her 1998 recording debut in alt-rock band George, the Australian singer’s career has expanded to take in jazz and classical music. But the latest stage in her voyage of discovery finds her back on rockier shores with new album “Emperor’s Box,” backed by her new three-piece band, the Captains.

Co-produced by Noonan with Grammy Award winner Nick Didia, the album is due April 9 in Australia on Sony Music. It’s her second album for the major following her 2008 covers set, “Blackbird.” This time, Noonan, who’s published by Mushroom Music Publishing, has penned all the tracks with a little help from some famous friends, including Split Enz mainstay Tim Finn, pop singer Sia Furler and Don Walker from veteran Aussie rock act Cold Chisel.

Noonan’s first album, George’s “Polyserena,” was an Australian No. 1 in 2002; but with “Emperor’s Box,” she’s targeting a wider audience. “I feel we’ve made a record which has international legs,” she says. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”

An international strategy is now being drawn up, she adds. Meanwhile, Noonan and the Captains are touring domestically through March 27 in support of lead domestic single “Page One,” which dropped Feb. 19. The singer is booked in Australia by the Harbour Agency.

The Mallee Boy

Published in The Music Network

John Williamson was born and bred in the bush. He’s truly at home outdoors. But he’s not out of place in the city either, or for that matter on the stage of a stadium. Williamson fits in. He’s always found his place. Now 40 years into his career, the lad from Quambatook in Victoria’s Mallee country has rightfully earned a place among this country’s legends.

The balladeer has constructed a huge catalog of iconic songs, the likes of Cootamundra Wattle, Raining on the Rock and True Blue among them. And his devoted following comes from all walks. Fans of Williamson’s stirring songs hail from the outback to Hollywood, they’ve led the Australian cricket and rugby teams and taken the most powerful of seats in Canberra. If there were a poet laureate for Australia, Williamson would be a shoe-in. The revered folk-singer met with The Music Network at an inner-city Sydney brasserie, a world away from Williamson’s typical stories of the country, and all its peculiarities. Naturally, he fits in. He’s quite at home.

For all the accolades and famous friends, the Mallee Boy remains true to his roots. Unearthing stirring songs about Australia is what he does, and he loves his job. These days, he’s a contented musician who, admittedly, has achieved prettywell everything he ever dreamed of. But he’s still digging around for tales to tell of his homeland. “Over the years, I’ve tried to do what Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson have done in a modern way with music, by writing about who we really are,” he says. “And it’s worked for me.” Music and the bush were always in Williamson’s blood. The eldest of five boys, Williamson was born on November 1st, 1945, to a farming family. His parents were fine vocalists who had trained their operatic abilities. “They were really good singers,” he boasts. “They probably could have made a living from it, but not as good as mine I think.” Instruments were always close at hand. At the age of just six, Williamson turned his attentions to the harmonica, then two years later the ukulele and banjo. And at age 12, the guitar. The youngster’s ears tuned in to American music. But it was the folk artists – Joan Baez, Kingsford Trio, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan – who provided the early inspiration.

As a 19-year-old, Williamson’s family headed north in the search of new opportunities in wheat farming. They settled in Croppa Creek, near Moree in north-western New South Wales. The young Williamson fit in. He swapped Aussie Rules for rugby, and plied his talents as a folk singer, earning $10 at a local restaurant performing songs after big matches. Then in 1969, Williamson penned his first hit, Old Man Emu. “When I sang it, I had to do it three times. That’s when I realised I had something,” he recalls. The infectious, cheery song would give Williamson his first big break when he showcased it the following year on the New Faces TV talent show. Old Man Emu has since been performed thousands of times since that June 4, 1970 broadcast, and it has touched millions more.

The spoils of victory brought with it a recording contract with Fable Records, and a leg up in the music industry. “I’m proud of Old Man Emu, because it’s almost stated what my career is about. But when I wrote it, the only Aussie songs around were novelty songs. We really hadn’t come to terms who we were. We were swamped with American music, but I didn’t hear anything about my country. Without being one-eyed, or nationalistic, I just always wanted to sing about who I am. We need songs that tell stories about us.” Williamson admits it “took me ages to become a good songwriter,” and a decade would pass before such heights would be reached again.

The stimulus for his next phase came from Bruce Beresford’s 1980 feature film Breaker Morant. With the encouragement of his now-retired manager Phil Matthews, Williamson wrote and released The Breaker in 1981. The songwriter had graduated from writing about a race between an emu and a kangaroo, to the complexities of war. “That was the best thing I had done. With The Breaker, I really got started writing Aussie songs. It still took me until 1986 before I really had an album full of good stuff.” That album was the classic, multi-platinum Mallee Boy, which yielded some of his most recognizable hits, including True Blue, Galleries of Pink Galahs and the title track. “I’d waited a decade and a half for a gold record, and with Mallee Boy I ended up with a platinum. That was a huge highpoint and a pinnacle of my career,” he says. “And money came pouring in from records for a change.”

In the 40 years that have passed, Williamson’s songs have taken his career to some spectacular, lofty peaks. A global audience caught his performance at the 2000 Sydney Olympics opening ceremony, and sports fans around the world have seen him raising the nation’s spirits with song during the Rugby World Cup and Bledisloe Cup sporting showpieces, and during the memorial services for Steve Irwin, the victims of the Bali bombings, and Sir Donald Bradman – a “nervewracking” experience, the singer notes. Throughout the journey, Williamson has resisted the urge of many Australian performers to resettle in the US or Europe with a view to “cracking” one of the big five markets. “I’ve spent three or four seasons in England doing theatres, and I’ve played in France and America, but I don’t enjoy it as much as Australia. If you think there’s something wrong with Australia, and you really believe in the place, you should stay there and help it through. If you really love your country, you should be here.” Actions, as they say, speak louder than words. When it comes to issues affecting Australia, Williamson isn’t short of either.

Williamson is a clear-thinking conservationist, whose campaigns have sparked debate. His song Rip Rip Woodchip caused friction with the loggers and lumberjack community, while he took the debate on the Australian flag to another level with A Flag Of Our Own. Williamson espouses dumping the Union Jack image from the flag. To further his point, he’s designed the True Blue flag, which replaces the British design with an image combining the Southern Cross with a kangaroo. “With all the patriotism that’s going on, if the patriotism is in line with the land itself, I agree with it. I’ve not got a nationalistic attitude about race or religion. All of that should be put aside. It’s about respect of the land. If we don’t do that, then we’ll lose what it is that we’re proud of. It’s not enough just to be proud of the people.” To celebrate Williamson’s brilliant career, EMI will release a two-CD tribute compilation. The likes of Russell Crowe, Kasey Chambers, James Reyne, Tommy Emmanuel, Wendy Matthews and The Waifs have volunteered versions of the artist’s favourites on The Absolute Best of John Williamson: 40 Years True Blue, which will get a national release on March 13th. Williamson contributes an original song, Island of Oceans, a collaboration with Shannon Noll. Williamson is feeling relaxed, and he’s ready to hit the road.

Nowadays, he’s cut back his touring schedule to about 60-70 dates each year, down from about 120 shows. He downs his light beer – Australian-brewed, of course – and readies for the next stage. After 40 years, he very much has a taste for the creative stuff. “The stories are out there, you have to find them and experience them,” he says. “The songs just keep coming to me, only because I get out there. I’ve still got a hell of a lot of good ideas. And I’m feeling fit. I don’t think I’ll ever stop. I’ll just slow down and get smarter.”


A Forty Year Career

Quentin Bryce, Governor-General of Australia

“More than a popular success, John has found a voice that speaks to us of who we are, and what we stand for. He is a maker of songs, a teller of stories, a poet, and a true believer. He has captured what we most love about our country, although in “singing us the outback,” he knows he will not “find an end to what it means.” John, we hope you never find it. We hope you’ll sing us the outback for many years to come.”

Dick Smith, entrepreneur

“John is like the poets that captured our country before him. Like Banjo Patterson and Henry Lawson, his words translate the land into lyric and remind us all of what Australia sounds, feels and looks like.”

Wendy Matthews

“John Williamson – 40 years of songs and music. What a gift he has given to our country. A true and unique Australian troubadour and storyteller, his voice has delighted our senses and his words have raised our spirits. It has been a real honour for me to be a small part of this tribute. Thank-you John.”

Adam Harvey

“I have known JW since the beginning of his career in music and I saw him grow to become a powerful force in music and songs about Australia and its people and culture. Nobody has captured Australian life in song like him. He stands tall as a true blue bloke, one whose clever wit, open-hearted love, and genuine love of country will always inspire me and many generations of young songwriters to reach for excellence in their gift of song. Congratulations mate. I’m proud to call you a friend. Long Live JW. I’m a true fan.”

Mark Poston EMI Music Australasia Chairman

“Everyone at EMI is proud to be associated with John Williamson. EMI is a music company built on an incredible lineage – from The Beatles to The Beach Boys to Coldplay and Slim Dusty – and all that’s in between. John Williamson stands alongside those iconic artists as one of Australia’s finest. Here’s looking forward to a big year ahead for your 40th anniversary year in the business.”

Ami Williamson

“Dad is a trailblazer. His astonishing body of work has paved the way for young artists like me to have the courage to sing with an Australian voice. Dad has by example shown me the beauty of writing about that which is close, celebrating it and capturing what is unashamedly Australian.”

Troy Cassar-Daley

“John Williamson to me has been someone who has the ability to bring everyday words to life, his pictures and melodies make us feel very passionate about our country. As an Aboriginal Australian, having the chance to sing Raining on the Rock gave this old gem a brand new meaning to me and I am very proud to be on this record. Thanks for your music Willo.”

Greg Storer

“You laugh you cry or you stick your chest out like the hen house rooster. That’s the magic of John Williamson.”

John O’Donnell, OdFellows Music

“John Williamson is an Australian music pioneer and a legend. He is a tireless “giver” and a supporter of numerous causes and issues. When a song becomes as huge as True Blue, we sometimes forget the artistry and genius that goes into creating it. But John is a great songwriter who tugs equally at your heart and your funny bone. And he has written one of the most powerful and moving Australian songs of the last 20 years in Salisbury Street. Seek it out. I’m a huge fan.”

Russell Crowe from The Ordinary Fear Of God

“When I heard the lyric of the song that states the story-teller needs the bush to build his strength, that was the song of John Williamson’s that I wanted the band to have a go at. It was a purely visceral reaction, because that is true in my life. There are some voices that just immediately place you in the geography of their origin. When Billy Bragg or Bruce Springsteen sings, you know where they come from. John Williamson is one of those rare artists. He has a connection to Australia that is organic and definitive. It was a privilege for the band to contribute to this record and we thank John for the opportunity.”

The Hot Seat: Richard Sanders

Published in The Music Network


From selling merch to running the international empire of Sony Music, Richard Sanders knows better than most that it’s truly a long way to the top. The Sony Music President of International began his career selling T-shirts on the road for Aerosmith and Ted Nugent. On one of those early tours, Sanders got a close look at Nugent’s U.S. support act, a rising force by the name of AC/DC. Fast forward to 2010, Sanders and AC/DC have taken their own paths and met again somewhere near the summit. The American executive was in town recently to pay homage to AC/DC and to the touring rockers’ label home Albert Music, which this year celebrates its 125th anniversary. “My career has come full circle,” notes Sanders. “I sold shirts at AC/DC’s shows, one of the bands I managed opened for them on a summer tour, and now I’ve come to see them as the head of Sony International playing in front of 70,000 in their honorary hometown.” Before he got to the top, Sanders had stints working in tour accounting and road management. When he got off the road, he took flight with his own management firm (Loud and Proud Management) and music publishing company (Shohola Music) before entering the major label business with Arista in 1991. Sanders joined forces with Richard Branson in 1996 to establish V2 Records, where he would run the independent label group’s U.S. operations. In 2001, Sanders joined RCA Records as Executive Vice President and General Manager.

As a guy who has done it all in this business, does the hybrid music man of the future need the full skills set? Or just a good ear, sound business knowledge and handy digital skills?

My position has always been that we’re here to provide a safety net for the artist. To eliminate all the ego and bullshit in the centre, and connect the artist to an audience. That’s what the role of the label needs to be. My background helps in talking to artists. When a band goes on tour and we put them on a rigorous promotion schedule, I know what it takes for them to do it. I always look at what’s right for the artist. If it works for them, ultimately it will work for us.

The Australian company has enjoyed some success with the Bandit digital music service. Are there plans to roll it out elsewhere?

Yes. The next stop is to go into Latin America. We’re fully supportive of it. We’ve talked about an Asian solution. The linguistic issues and the size of the markets make it more challenging there. It’s not to compete with iTunes. It’s an opportunity to create partnerships with brands and us, with artists and us, and to create partnerships with fans and us.

What about the U.S. and U.K.?

The U.S. is more challenging because there are so many services in place already. I’d rather go into areas that are less competitive right now.

What other businesses opportunities are ripe?

TV is a major platform for us, and one that gives us a great competitive advantage. The great Idol TV franchise is a real label benefit, and we’re now coming up with X Factor, Got Talent and Glee, which is starting to roll out around the world. We also have a TV production partnership with Nickelodeon. We’ve just concluded our Syco deal with Simon Cowell, who we see as providing a huge platform for us in TV.

How does Australia fit in with strategy for X Factor?

We’re coming back. We’ve just had a great meeting in London where we brought together all the broadcasters, FremantleMedia as the production arm and Sony Music. The feeling is now that we will up the ante with respect to investment to make the show even better. We’re on track for 2011.

There’s a buzz on Guvera launching in the U.S. and Australia at the end of March. Does Sony support the ad-funded model?

We’re open to every model right now. Ad-supported music hasn’t proven that it’s self-sustaining yet. But we continue to license, and look for partners, and look to see the different twist they provide. People talk about the CD being dead. In the U.S., it’s now a 60% physical, 40% digital model and by next year it will be closer to 50-50. Most of the rest of the world is 80-20. CD is a great format, but there’s no denying that digital is here and we have to satisfy all consumers.

What are your thoughts on the artistry in Australia?

Australia has been a great place to develop talent for the international stage. But there hasn’t been enough that has come out of it lately. Kate Miller-Heidke and Karnivool are both being embraced by our U.S. and international companies. And from our competitors, the Veronicas and Wolfmother have stood out. Australia is absolutely one of the “providers” for us. English-language repertoire represents almost 80% of our profitability on a worldwide basis. We need for the Australian market to be really fertile and help us create global stars.

Has the Australian Sony company been hitting the targets?

Denis Handlin has been in the business for 40 years, and he is still our most innovative CEO. I’ve sent many of our top executives down here to see how, in a medium-sized market, you can take opportunity and make that blossom into reality. There’s a frontier attitude, and it’s coming from one of our most experienced CEOs, who at this point you’d think might be jaded but the opposite is the case. Anything that we look to do as a group, whether it’s the touring side, the TV side or the digital side, this is the ‘beta-company’.

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