Thursday, August 24, 2023
Mackay and Whitsunday Life
Image: Bernard Fanning is bringing his sincerely Queensland songs to Mackay for Legends on the Lawn
He fronted the band that soundtracked a state and now Bernard Fanning is bringing his solo show to Mackay as part of next year’s Legends On The Lawn. The festival in Mackay caps off a tour of massive shows for Bernard and company and is the biggest tour the Brisbane icon will embark on since his Powderfinger days. Mackay Life journalist Sam Gillespie had a chat with Bernard about the scene that started it all, the movement it incited and what Mackay can expect next May.
Powderfinger are one of the first bands that come to mind when you think of Brisbane bands, what was Brisbane’s music scene like when you started playing music and first joined Powderfinger?
I think there’d always been a pretty strong scene in Brisbane but in the time when Powderfinger had started to come up, it really emerged a lot more quickly in the ‘90s than it had before. Prior to that, a lot of people left and went to Sydney or Melbourne or London or wherever else which was kind of a product of the Joh Bjelke-Petersen era government and what Queensland was like, how conservative it was and how closed it was to the arts and creativity and whatnot. I went to university the year that changed, I was in first year of uni in the late ‘80s, and the nature of how people thought in Brisbane was a bit different starting with my generation of bands and the idea that you didn’t need to leave, you could stay here and be part of something in Brisbane and then branch out elsewhere was new. It was an amazingly vibrant scene and very varied in terms of styling and the different types of bands that there were around. Powderfinger was a pretty traditional rock band but there was lots of other bands that were playing ska and metal and fusion and later hip hop and rap and dance music, so it all unfolded pretty quickly in the ‘90s.
What venues did you used to play in the early days?
We played at a place called the Orient Hotel, which is still there, actually, and lots of smaller places. The Zoo came along in the ‘90s which is about to have its 30th birthday and Dooleys, at the time, and later places like Metropolis, the Roxy and the Site, as bands got bigger. In the early days, there was lots of little pub-style venues that we used to do gigs at. We used to play at a biker club in the Valley called Club AC’s, when we first started out. We’d play Thursday to Sunday night from midnight 'til 4:00am. It was a pretty different time then but it was good for us as a band, it helped us to work out what we were doing, we got lots of practice.
I’ve noticed a wave of Queensland spirit over the last five years that involved XXXX Gold, the Maroons, the Brisbane River and also Powderfinger, did you notice that and what was that like from your perspective?
What was it? Euphoric Queensland Memes was where it started, right? It’s hilarious. It’s really funny. I think those guys tapped into something that was probably always there, but it was always taken too seriously, whereas those guys took the piss out of it and it made it much more fun. Then there were bands who were right in the middle of their big rise like Violent Soho and bands like that that tapped into it, wearing Broncos shorts on stage and all that kind of stuff as well which is awesome. It was great because Queensland and Brisbane had always been patronised for that stuff by, what will we say, the ‘southerners’, and that was just taking it right back to them. What I was saying before about not leaving Brisbane as a band, that was part of the beginning of that sentiment, just saying, ‘We grew up here, this place is actually awesome, so why would we leave?’ We’d been to Sydney and Melbourne plenty of times and we were like, ‘Why would you want to live here? This place sucks.’ I loved all of that Euphoric Queensland Memes stuff and obviously Betoota (Advocate) has exploded into something else. It’s been a phenomenon all of its own.
While your voice is quite iconic, your Powderfinger material and your solo material are quite different sonically – do you enter a different headspace or draw on different inspirations when adjusting to different projects?
Yeah, for sure. Powderfinger leaned more towards being a songwriting collective, so even if one of us came in with a song, it would be worked on by everybody and everyone had little bits of input whereas when I do my own stuff it’s really just me bossing everyone else around telling them what to do. So there’s that limitation, that it’s one set of ideas as opposed to four or five. Part of the reason that I wanted to make my own records was because I wanted to do other things, I wanted to make music that was a little bit gentler than what Powderfinger had been doing. I’d always written songs on acoustic guitar and pianos anyway, so that was just and extension of that really.
How excited are you for this massive tour finishing in Mackay for Legends on the Lawn?
Yeah, it’s massive, isn’t it? I’m really excited. The closer it gets, the more anxious I’ll probably become about the amount of shows there are and how much travel there is but it’s just so great to be able to go back on the road and do a really extensive tour. I haven’t done a tour like this since Powderfinger was around so it’s going to be great. And we’re going everywhere or within driving distance of almost everywhere, so it’s going to be really fun. I’ve never done a tour like this where none of the big six cities are on the itinerary so it’s going to be pretty different. The line-up’s phenomenal. It’s a pretty “iconic” line-up I guess you would say, having Paul (Kelly) at the top of it, especially. It’s really exciting, I’m really pumped about it.
And what can the Mackay crowd expect from your Legends on the Lawn set?
A bit of everything. A little bit of older material, some more recent stuff, possibly a new song or two. We won’t finalise exactly what we’re doing yet, we’ve got some rehearsals to do in January but we’ve got a fair idea. People can generally expect to hear what they’d like to hear. Not a huge amount of surprises but there’ll be some. A big part of that is trying to put on a show. After people have seen songwriters of that quality all day, you have to do something special to make it good.
WHAT: Legends On The Lawn 2023
WHERE: Harrup Park
WHEN: Saturday, May 20, 2023
TICKETS: On sale now via Ticketmaster