INXS frontman and Australian rock legend

BY MEL BONDFIELD

On 22 November 2017 it is 20 years since the death of rock star and INXS frontman, Michael Hutchence. We share two rare interviews with him from the NFSA collection.

Singer Michael Hutchence kneeling on the ground and resting his chin in his hand and looking directly at camera, wearing a black military style jacket.

Michael Hutchence publicity image. NFSA title 785957.

Often compared to Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison, Michael Hutchence was a brilliant lyricist and an extraordinary vocalist and had a stage persona that radiated sex appeal and beguiled audiences.

If you were growing up in Australia in the 1980s, chances are you had a poster of him on your bedroom wall - perhaps lovingly rescued from a Smash Hits magazine.

Born in North Sydney on 22 January 1960, Michael Kelland John Hutchence spent his childhood moving between cities, including an eight-year stretch in Hong Kong and a short time in Hollywood.  

At age 15 Hutchence was back in Sydney and studying at Davidson High School on the North Shore. During this time he was profusely writing poetry and had also become close friends with Davidson classmate Andrew Farriss.

Farriss was serious about a career in music, and Hutchence felt comfortable sharing his poetry with his good friend.  And so began a writing partnership that would span two decades. Together with Farriss’ two brothers and friends Kirk Pengilly and Garry Beers, they went on to form INXS.

Publicity image of the six band members of INXS walking across a pedestrian crossing with tall buildings in the background. From left to right: Jon Farriss, Michael Hutchence, Garry Beers, Kirk Pengilly, Andrew Farriss and Tim Farriss.

INXS publicity image, 1984.

The late 70s were spent playing the burgeoning pub circuit. With Hutchence as singer, it wasn’t long before the band were getting noticed. In 1980 they released their first two singles and began work on an album. By 1983 they were enjoying commercial success and preparing to take on the world.

In this short excerpt from the documentary Australia Now (1983), a 23-year-old Hutchence touts Sydney and Melbourne as cities that inspire him as a writer. The documentary was created to promote Australian music to the world and this rarely-seen footage of Hutchence from the NFSA collection is a brief glimpse at a rising local star with big dreams.  

The clip is set in Sydney, with Hutchence on the North Shore - his home turf. Iconic landmarks - Luna Park and McMahon’s Point - form a familiar backdrop, while the openness of the harbour signals a world of endless possibilities.

By 1989, after the 1987 release of album Kick and the accompanying world tour, INXS were playing to packed stadiums across the globe. They now had six albums under their belt and had topped the US singles chart (with 'Need You Tonight', in 1988). In the eyes of his many music fans, the magnetic Hutchence was a bona fide rock god.

This excerpt from the 1989 documentary INXS: In Search of Excellence shows Hutchence being interviewed in the confines of a London hotel room during a long concert tour of Europe. His demeanour reflects a hard-working, somewhat world weary performer who is dealing with the pressure of fame and success.

The last years for Hutchence were turbulent to say the least. Much has been written in the press about the drugs, sex and battles with tabloids and authorities; too little about the rock'n'roll, and the contribution he made to the world of music.

Michael Hutchence is among the biggest names to come out of the Australian rock music industry; his star rose to the highest of heights. He led a big life, which ended tragically at the age of 37 back where it began - his home town of Sydney.