Jimmy Barnes, Australia's Working Class Man
Australia's Working Class Man, Jimmy Barnes, has been performing in front of audiences for more than four decades as a solo artist and with Cold Chisel, and he shows no signs of slowing down.
He has been hailed by some as Australia's greatest rock singer and to say he's a national icon would be an understatement. His days fronting Cold Chisel and his early solo career provided the soundtrack for a generation.
So much has been said and written about Barnes' heady rock'n'roll lifestyle, including by the man himself in two bestselling memoirs, that it has become part of the fabric of the Australian music industry. But behind the legend is one of the hardest working and most dedicated entertainers this country has ever produced. He is also a proud family man, humble philanthropist and humanitarian.
The NFSA is shining a light on the phenomenal career of Jimmy Barnes with rarely-seen interviews, live performances, posters, photographs and oral history interviews in this curated collection.
WARNING: this collection may contain names, images or voices of deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
In this excerpt from an exclusive interview with the NFSA, Jimmy Barnes talks about bringing a love of music from Scotland to Australia and how everyone in his family and local community loved to sing.
Channel Nine reporter Mike Munro interviews Jimmy Barnes about joining Cold Chisel and the first time he met his wife Jane.
This clip starts with some fascinating early footage of Cold Chisel; it appears to have been filmed directly from a television screen, which explains the rolling bar and poor quality. Nevertheless, it is rare to have such early footage of a seminal Australian band and is a good inclusion in this segment.
By stark contrast the following interview with Jimmy Barnes has all the production values one would expect from a major television station. The live concert footage effectively demonstrates how wild Jimmy could be in concert and it cleverly transitions to introducing his wife Jane, who is portrayed as a calming influence on his life.
Channel Nine reporter Mike Munro interviews Jimmy Barnes about his early years in Glasgow and migrating to Australia as a young child.
After a brief discussion about his working-class background, the clip transitions into showing footage of Cold Chisel's infamous destructive performance at the 1981 Countdown Awards. The clip seems to pair working-class people with violence, which is an unflattering and unfair conjoining of ideas and images.
The use of early black-and-white photos of Jimmy as a child provides a delightful biographical note and successfully accompanies his memories of growing up in South Australia. The interview is very natural and informal, and a pleasure to watch.
In August 1980 Jimmy Barnes was one of many singers and musicians to take part in the Andrew Durant Memorial Concert held at the Palais Theatre, St Kilda in Melbourne.
Durant was a musician and songwriter for the Australian rock group Stars. He died of cancer-related illness in May 1980, aged 25. Proceeds from the live album of the concert went to the Andrew Durant Cancer Research Foundation.
In this excerpt from the concert, Jimmy Barnes performs the Stars' track 'Last Of The Riverboats' with Durant's fellow band member Mick Pealing.
This is a fairly standard multi-camera shoot of a live musical performance. The vision and sound quality are excellent. If anything, it lacks cutaways to the crowd enjoying the performance which would have added to the feeling of community and support for what is essentially a benefit concert.
This excerpt from the documentary Shop Until You Drop features Jimmy Barnes behind the counter at the Sydney HMV music store in Pitt Street Mall helping to raise money for AIDS research. Barnes is swamped by young fans who are clamouring at the counter trying to get his autograph. This event took place just months after the release of his fourth studio album Two Fires, which was his fifth consecutive number one album.
The documentary was filmed on World AIDS Day, 1 December 1990 and covered many events across Sydney with celebrities and artists from all areas of the Australian entertainment industry.
With a video wall of monitors showing a Madonna music video, David Campion from the HMV shop introduces the clip. We then see Jimmy greeting fans and signing autographs. He's in his element when he's just being an ordinary bloke chatting with people. As Campion says, Jimmy doesn't usually do 'PAs' or personal appearances, but 'It's the least I can do' according to Jimmy.
He gives the camera the shortest of sound bites since his main aim in being there is to help raise funds for AIDS research. What the camera does capture is a man who is very natural and popular with fans. There's is a palpable sense of chaos as people crush to see Jimmy and get his autograph, which is engagingly filmed.
Jimmy Barnes performs his hit 'Driving Wheels' during a live concert at Alberton Oval in Port Adelaide on New Year's Eve, 1996. The concert was broadcast on Channel 10 and simulcast live on radio station Triple M.
This a good example of a live broadcast of a rock concert. With cameras on cranes above the crowd, slow pans of the audience and multiple cameras capturing the band on stage, the director is provided with a considerable amount of vision mixing options to bring the energy of the performance into Australian homes. Coupled with quality sound production, it is achieved with great success.
Jimmy Barnes talks the bands and singers that influenced his on-stage persona in this excerpt from an exclusive interview with the NFSA in May 2018.
News reporter Celine Fernanda interviews Jimmy Barnes about his current tour, Barnestorming, plans for a new album and what it's like to tour with a young family. The interview was broadcast on Wednesday Magazine, an infotainment show presented by Denise Drysdale.
This interview plays a little awkwardly, with the interviewer's close-ups being shot in post-production. There is a noticeable change in sound quality, which adds a disconcerting quality to the segment. It's not helped by the interviewer appearing to look down, as if she's seated higher than Jimmy.
While it's common practice for single-camera interviews to edit in close-ups of the interviewer later, more attention could have been paid to making the additional footage appear more natural and better aligned with the footage of the interviewee.
The inclusion of a long excerpt from the video clip of Jimmy Barnes' 1988 hit 'Waiting for the Heartache' adds variety to the visuals.
Jimmy Barnes featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, issue 427, January 1989.
A leather-clad Barnes rests his forearm on a scratched and worn Fender Telecaster guitar. His face is iconic in Australian rock music and Rolling Stone makes the most of it by having it dominate the front cover.
The cover effectively and simply conveys the message of a hardworking, touring, working-class musician. It's a successful and elegant piece of graphic design.
In the early 1990s, Tourism Australia launched a new tourism campaign aimed at the New Zealand market. This 60-second commercial from the campaign used the Jimmy Barnes hit 'Lay Down Your Guns' interspersed with iconic shots of Australian cities and recreation.
There is an art to getting the message of Australian tourism ads right and this ad pitches effectively to young New Zealanders intent on an exciting adventure overseas. The montage of images with its relentless jump cuts and fast zooms barely gives you time to process what you are seeing before you are visually assaulted by another set of images.
The advertisement aims to show Australia as a destination for high-octane excitement, sport and entertainment and it certainly achieves this. Gone are the usual tropes of koala-cuddling and slow lazy days on endless beaches. The driving beat and energy of Barnes' song makes it a good match for the visuals. The lyrics about a fighting couple are less appropriate, unless taken to mean surrendering to the beauty of Australia or the relentless visuals in the ad.
Promotional poster for the Jimmy Barnes Barnestorming tour, which ran from December 1987 to February 1988. The tour was followed by a live album, released in December 1988. It was the first live album by Jimmy Barnes and it spent three weeks at number one on the Australian charts following its release.
The pun on 'Barnes' and 'barnstorming' is emphasised by the inclusion of a set of wings in this graphic design. Barnstormers were pilots who flew throughout the country giving aeroplane joyrides and, more notably, performing dangerous stunts which could include nosedives and flying through barns, sometimes leading to pilots crashing their planes. Barnstorming was very popular in the US in the 1920s.
Like the barnstomers of old, this logo implies that Jimmy Barnes is on tour throughout the country, bringing an exciting and dangerous performance to each venue he visits. The best logos are often very simple and this one has been cleverly conceived.
Still image of Jimmy Barnes performing on stage in one of the concerts from the Australian Made tour in 1986.
While not as iconic as the well known 'Last Stand' image of Jimmy from Cold Chisel's 1983 tour, this is still a good concert photo showing him characteristically growling into the microphone.
You can almost hear him and his energy as a live performer leaps out of the image. It's also a joyous and honest photo, capturing a singer who clearly loves to perform.
Jimmy Barnes and INXS perform the song 'Good Times' to close one of the Australian Made concerts. They are joined on stage by other artists involved in the tour including Chrissy Amphlett, Chris Bailey, David McComb and Sean Kelly.
'Good Times' was written by brothers George Young and Harry Vanda and released as a single by The Easybeats in 1968. In late 1986, INXS and Jimmy Barnes released a version which was used to promote the national Australian Made series of concerts that commenced in the same year. The song also later featured on the soundtrack of the hit movie The Lost Boys (Joel Schumacher, USA, 1987).
While this footage is not as polished as some live recordings it successfully captures the slightly chaotic nature of the performance and certainly evokes the energy emanating between some of Australia's most renowned musicians. The sound quality is surprising given the number of musicians performing at the same time, which could not have been an easy task to record and engineer. Overall it's an exciting piece of concert footage and made more significant given the untimely deaths of Michael Hutchence (1960–1997), Chrissy Amphlett (1959–2013) and David McComb (1962–1999) who all appear in it.
John Swan, singer and older brother of Jimmy Barnes, talks about their mother and the role their parents played in shaping their musical influences.
John Swan was interviewed by Billy Pinnell for the the NFSA Oral History program in 2009.
Channel 9's National Rugby League (NRL) Grand Final coverage on 30 September 2001 featured pre-match entertainment by Jimmy Barnes and his daughter Mahalia performing '(Simply) The Best'.
When it comes to live performances at major sporting events, sometimes keeping it simple is the best approach. 'The Best', originally recorded by Bonnie Tyler in 1988 but made a hit by Tina Turner the following year, has become something of an anthem for the NRL since Jimmy and Tina recorded it as a duet in 1992 (and added the 'Simply' to the title).
Jimmy and Mahalia perform a passionate rendition of the song. Jimmy never seems to give less than 100% whenever and wherever he performs and looks especially proud to be performing with his daughter.
After his performance at a telethon to help victims of the devastating 2009 bushfires in Victoria, Jimmy talks to host Eddie McGuire and announces that he has just released a greatest hits album on iTunes and will be donating all proceeds to the bushfire appeal.
Australia Unites: the Victorian Bushfire Appeal reportedly raised over $20 million for those affected by the Black Saturday fires in which 173 people lost their lives and over 2,000 homes were destroyed. A veteran performer, Jimmy appears very comfortable and natural in front of the live television audience. Sombrely dressed, his only concession to style is his two-tone shoes that McGuire gently mocks him about.
Jimmy is no stranger to charity and fundraising work having variously supported the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, Intensive Care Foundation, Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre and the Red Cross, among others.
Despite his profile as an icon of the Australian music industry this short segment effectively captures an average man genuinely wanting to give back and do something to help those who have suffered. He's not appearing on the show to promote himself, and his integrity and authenticity shine through in this brief clip.
Australian poster for the Hollywood comedy-drama Gung Ho (Ron Howard, USA, 1986), released locally as Working Class Man, and featuring the song of the same title by Jimmy Barnes over the end credits.
The poster features a tag highlighting the inclusion of Jimmy's anthem 'Working Class Man'. The song had already been a hit in Australia the year before the film was released. While the song was never a hit in the US, a cover version by Lacy J Dalton in 1986 reached number 16 in the US Country charts.
It's a very odd film poster with an illustrated central image suggesting a farce centred around cars but not revealing much of what the film is about. The overall graphic design features a lot of wasted space and a strangely sparse composition and ultimately fails to engage the viewer or sell the movie.
Jimmy Barnes was interviewed for the very first time by his son David Campbell, and co-host Sonia Kruger, on Mornings. The interview shows a very playful side to their father and son relationship. Like his father, Campbell has made a name for himself as a singer, not of rock music, but of swing music, and has appeared in numerous musical theatre productions including portraying Johnny O'Keefe and Bobby Darin on stage.
This riotous 'interview' is amusing to watch if sometimes difficult to follow. Sonia Kruger does her best to keep it moving along but the banter between father and son makes it almost impossible. There's an extra curiosity value in seeing their exchange since David did not learn until he was around ten years old that Jimmy was his father (David was raised instead by his maternal grandparents).
It's a fun segment to watch and the photos of young Jimmy Barnes with his 'wing nut' ears add to the humour. It's a pity we don't get to see David performing, to compare his different style and choice of material to that of his father.
Jimmy Barnes talks to radio personality Doug Mulray about touring with Deep Purple and Bon Jovi.
As a teenager, Jimmy was heavily influenced by Deep Purple. He talks about the first time he heard them on the radio as being a defining moment for him.
In this excerpt from Mark Opitz' interview for the NFSA Oral History program he talks about Jimmy Barnes wanting to 'get back on the horse' and launch his solo career straight away following the break up of Cold Chisel.
A candid behind-the-scenes interview with Jimmy Barnes at one of the Australian Made concerts in summer 1986–87.
In a casual conversation while filming scenes for Australian Made, Troy Davies talks to Jimmy about life in Glasgow, his experiences in America and finding success as a solo artist in Australia after the Chisel years. Jimmy seems in a relaxed mood as he answers questions on a broad range of topics and talks about preparing for his performance later in the evening.
These informal and casual interviews, rather than the formal media he's had to do over the years, seem to capture more of the authenticity of Barnes. An unpretentious musician, he's not one for wanting to appear as a rock star. It's a quality that Australian audiences have connected with, and admired him for, over many decades.
Interviews like this are refreshing as they seem more like a conversation that we are eavesdropping on. The hand-held camera in this clip is all over the place and the audio is not the best quality, but it gives a real sense of being backstage at a large concert listening to an Australian musical icon. It's a very fresh and engaging piece of footage.
Jimmy Barnes talks about going back to his roots as a soul singer, discussing some of his earliest memories of listening to Mahalia Jackson, Ray Charles and Nat King Cole as a child.
The clip opens with Jimmy's black-and-white music video for 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough', a song made famous by Marvin Gaye, which evokes a 1960s music TV show performance. The clip then cuts to him driving somewhere in the US talking about his early influences.
Driving implies he's heading somewhere – in this case, back to the roots of his musical taste. It's a very casual monologue which always seems to suit Jimmy well as he comes across at his most natural and reflective; filming it in this way is a good choice by the director. It also places us directly in the passenger seat as if we're with him on this journey and he's sharing his insights only with us, making for a very personal moment.
In this excerpt from Soul Deeper: Songs From The South Jimmy's band members talk about what a great soul singer he is.
This is an intriguing montage of interviews and behind-the-scenes footage of the recording of Jimmy's album. The mix of colour and black-and-white references the legacy of the songs he chose to record and works well to telegraph the message that he is drawing upon a history of soul music extending back to the 1950s and '60s. It has the clever effect of placing him within that lineage.
It is also interesting to hear his American session musicians talk about him in such glowing terms. While he is appreciated at home in Australia, this segment leads us to ask ourselves if he's even more talented than we thought. And who cannot enjoy hearing back-up singer Sweat Pea Atkinson say, 'The man is a demon'!
Jimmy Barnes is joined on stage by Diesel to perform 'Good Times' during a live concert at Alberton Oval in Port Adelaide on New Year's Eve, 1996. The concert was broadcast on Channel 10 and simulcast live on radio station Triple M.
Jimmy is obviously enjoying himself, engaging in stage banter. The camera operators, director and vision mixer do well to keep up with him and the cutaways to the crowd only heighten the sense of excitement as the clock builds to midnight.
Even watching this clip many years later, the freshness and energy of Jimmy's performance is obvious. He is never more alive than when performing and this recording does justice to his stagecraft.
This clip is an excerpt from a one-off live concert performance at the Sydney Opera House by Jimmy Barnes for the Foxtel program Max Sessions.
Before the song 'When Your Love is Gone', Jimmy tells a funny anecdote about performing the song years ago with his young children (as The Tin Lids) doing backing vocals.
This footage captures Jimmy's versatility as a performer. Beautifully filmed, the multiple use of cameras – some on cranes and others hand-held – do justice to Jimmy and the backing band while also picking out celebrities in the audience, such as Australian fast-bowler Brett Lee.
The Max Sessions tagline is 'A live and intimate performance', and there are usually only around 30 or so people invited to join the audience. Under quite cramped conditions the crew have done well to cover the event so effectively.
This clip is from an interview with Jimmy Barnes that accompanied a one-off live concert performance at the Sydney Opera House by Jimmy Barnes for the Foxtel program Max Sessions.
Interviewer Chit Chat Von Loopin Stab (real name: Glenn Easton Dormand) asks Jimmy to tell him about his wife Jane, and what it's like to perform with his children.
Jimmy presents in interviews as a genuine and authentic person with little 'rock star' posing, and this clearly comes across here. It's a warm and engaging interview that effectively invites us into Jimmy's private life, especially through the candid behind-the-scenes footage of his wife and children.
Jimmy Barnes recorded the Nine Inch Nails song 'Hurt' for an album titled Caution: Life Ahead! Artists for Recovery. The album was to raise funds for The Buttery, a treatment facility for people seeking recovery from addiction.
'Hurt', written by Trent Reznor of NIN, was famously recorded by legendary country singer Johnny Cash in 2002, winning the Country Music Association award for Single of the Year in 2003. As with any cover version, the artist brings something of themselves to the song they're recording. 'Hurt' was a natural choice for Jimmy, given his own battles with addiction.
The lyrics in their entirety are a tale of self-realisation and the consequences of addiction. Following the introductory melody, a heartbeat-like drum line kicks in with a very sparse guitar. Jimmy's singing is not his usual style; his breathy, almost-spoken word delivery draws us into the despairing lyrics. His singing remains low-key and bleak for much of the song.
It's only towards the end of the song that the familiar Jimmy Barnes growl returns. The song ends quietly with Jimmy, in a barely audible voice, repeating the spoken line 'It's the only thing that's real'. With this haunting version of 'Hurt', Jimmy has recorded a unique, rather than derivative, interpretation of the song.
Jimmy Barnes was among a number of celebrities and entertainers to appear in the 1989 television special Down To Earth to promote awareness of environmental degradation. In this excerpt he delivers a dire message about the dangers of household waste in an attempt to encourage everyday Australians to do their part in reducing pollution.
The two-hour special, produced by Network Ten and hosted by journalist Geraldine Doogue, covered broad issues such as deforestation, depletion of the ozone layer, overpopulation, the Greenhouse Effect, salination and the disposal of toxic wastes. It looked at how each of us can help by adopting safe environmental practices in our lives.
It's slightly odd seeing Barnes in the role of 'environmental warrior' but given that he has lent his time to many social causes over the decades it's also not surprising. The clip opens with Jimmy providing his voice-over to dramatic images of waste and pollution, before cutting to a simple but not terribly informative animated graphic.
Seeing Jimmy seated in a large leather armchair beside a fire, telling us what natural products can be substituted for harmful chemical household cleaners, is an abrupt departure from his usual rock'n'roll backdrop of stage or recording studio. But he speaks well and makes the message clear. He has a way of communicating to the camera that convinces you he means what he says.
This poster, a lift-out from Flip Side magazine, is most likely from 1991 after the release of the Jimmy Barnes and John Farnham duet 'When Something is Wrong With My Baby'. The song featured on Jimmy Barnes' Soul Deep album and reached number 3 on the Australian charts.
Barnsey and Farnsey, as they are often referred to, seem to lock horns on this poster. Barnes with his white shirt and mop of dark hair is the diametric opposite to Farnham's black shirt and blonde hair. It's this inverted symmetry that makes the photo, cleverly captured in live performance, work so well. Whether by serendipity or design, it's an effective image that almost illustrates the magazine's name: Flip Side.
Jimmy Barnes performed a number of his hits, including 'Driving Wheels', at this concert at the MCG in 1998 featuring artists on the Mushroom record label. The concert was to celebrate Mushroom's 25th anniversary and the proceeds were donated to the Melbourne Children's Hospital.
'Would you welcome Australia's finest rock'n'roll singer, Jimmy Barnes!', barks the MC as Jimmy, looking lean in black leather pants and T-shirt with a mop of bleached blonde hair, prowls the stage like a caged panther. It's a challenge to film a concert in a way that effectively captures the energy and excitement of a live performance; this recording does an adequate if not superlative job.
It's possibly not helped by Jimmy frequently moving away from his band to the emptier parts of the stage, and the stage itself seems disproportionately huge compared to the musicians. Nevertheless, the sound is clear and well recorded and it is a record of a moment in time when Australia's premier record label celebrated its 25th birthday in front of over 70,000 fans.
Jimmy Barnes pictured on stage with Archie Roach and band during the Flesh and Wood tour in 1993.
Text on back of photograph reads: 'Jimmy Barnes: Flesh and Wood - Channel Seven. Friday, December 17 at 7.00pm - Jimmy Barnes and Archie Roach'.
Ever trying to extend his craft, Jimmy's album Flesh and Wood and the subsequent tour were attempts to explore a more sophisticated approach to his music. It's encouraging to see a performer, after decades in the music industry, still seeking to push himself in different directions and this photo exemplifies that effort.
It's unusual to see Jimmy seated while performing in this live shot. Normally his stage work is very physical and it was not uncommon during his earlier years for him to spend time off stage and actually in the audience.
Seen here performing with Indigenous singer-songwriter Archie Roach, he couldn't be further away from those raucous, heady days. It's a delightful photo, and one that captures a different side to Jimmy, the rough-and-tough 'working class man'.
Jimmy Barnes performs the song 'Love and Hate' to a huge crowd at Colonial Stadium in Melbourne in 2001.
The song is from his ninth studio album, 'Love and Fear' released in 1999 and the concert was also released as a live album titled 'Raw' in 2001.