First published on 30 Oct 2011. Updated on 1 Jun 2012.
The Espy is RocKwiz’s spiritual home, but you throw your Christmas specials at The Palais. Does it also hold a fond place in your heart?
Beautiful, beautiful theatre. As a child my mum and dad would bring me down to go to pantomimes there. And later I was actually in a pantomime – Hey Hey It’s Saturday put on ‘Hey Hey It’s Cinderella’, probably around about 1999. Now I’m part of the producing committee for a benefit that we do every year called The Heart of St Kilda, which is a benefit concert for the Sacred Heart Mission. We’ve done four shows there now, and of course I’ve seen some incredible concerts: I saw Patti Smith at the Palais, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Elvis Costello, Grace Jones a couple of months ago…
And you’ve been filming RocKwiz at the Esplanade Hotel since 2005. Was there ever any danger of losing the venue as a home?
No, I think the Espy had gone through a few troubles in the years before that, but the locals got together and there were a few protests, and once you step through those doors, it’s exactly as it was.
Have you got any favourite Espy stories?
I did comedy there in the early 90s, run by a wonderful man called Trevor Hoare. I did lots of gigs there, standup, and then I worked there with the late Paul Hester from Crowded House. Paul did his own show called Hessie’s Shed and I was sort of his second banana. I would do warm ups for the show and then I would be part of the show and make toast for the guests; we used to have a toaster on stage, and Paul encouraged me to burn the toast and see how long I could let it burn until it caught on fire. The Espy’s wonderful. We’ve done lots of benefits there. I MC-ed a benefit there the other night for a great Melbourne musician, Peter Jones. He used to play drums for Crowded House as well. The Espy feels like it’s been part of the Melbourne music scene and the Melbourne comedy scene for years and years, and it just feels like the natural venue for us.
You’ll have some additional musicians joining the RocKwiz orchestra, like drummer Peter Luscombe’s brother Dan, who plays guitar for The Drones. You have very fast turnarounds for the famous RocKwiz guest duets… have you ever seen the band struggle?
We had Suzi Quatro on a while ago, and Suzi has very definite ideas about the way things go. She did ‘Devil Gate Drive’ and we sort of imagined that it would be done the way that it was originally… but about a week before the show we got a new version of it, so that was uh, interesting.
So does someone in the Orchestra arrange it and then send it to both performers as an MP3?
It varies. This doesn’t happen often, but Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson did a version of ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ by Kylie, and they recorded a demo and sent it to us. Normally what will happen is we get the artists to start talking and come up with a title, and then that comes back to us, the band and the producers, and we discuss it: have we don’t the song before? Is it appropriate? Because, you know, it’s the final song of the show, it’s going to be on the CD, the DVD… and the show has really gained momentum so you want to leave the audience with something exciting, or something emotional, or something moving, so we like to have an input into what the song’s gonna be.
Have you got any favourites?
‘Slave to Love’ by Dan Kelly and Martha Wainwright was incredible. Sarah Lee Guthrie and Chris Wilson who did a Gram Parsons song, ‘Las Vegas’. Archie Roach and Sarah Storer did ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’… and we had one the other day, Hayley Mary from the Jezabels. We teamed her with Jon Stevens from Noiseworks and they did ‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’ by Nick Cave. It was very two different worlds, but I think that’s a really important part of what we do, putting together people that wouldn’t normally socialise, let alone perform together, and I think that can often create an interesting chemistry.