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Cold Chisel are a rock band who originated from Adelaidemarker, Australia. They are one of the most acclaimed and revered Australian acts of all time, with a string of hits throughout the 1970s and 1980s and huge sales that continue to this day. While their success and acclaim was almost completely restricted to Australia and New Zealand, the legend and stature of the band and its songs has only continued to grow in those territories.

Beginnings 1973–78

Originally named Orange, the band was formed in Adelaidemarker in 1973 as a heavy metal act covering songs by Led Zeppelin by bassist Les Kaczmarek, organ Don Walker, guitarist Ian Moss and drummer Steve Prestwich. Seventeen-year-old singer Jimmy Barnes -- known throughout his time with the band as merely Jim Barnes—joined in December '73, taking leave from the band in 1975 for a brief stint as Bon Scott's replacement in Fraternity. The group changed its name several times before settling on Cold Chisel in 1974 after writing a song with that title. Barnes' relationship with other band members was volatile; as a Scot he often came to blows with English-born Prestwich and he left the band several times. During these periods Moss would handle vocals until Barnes returned.

Walker soon emerged as Cold Chisel's primary songwriter. Walker spent 1974 in Armidalemarker, completing his studies and in 1975 Kaczmarek left the band and was replaced by Phil Small. . Barnes' older brother John Swan was a member of Cold Chisel around this time, providing backing vocals and percussion but after several violent incidents he was fired.

In May 1976 Cold Chisel relocated to Melbourne but found little success and moved to Sydney in November. Six months later, in May 1977, Barnes announced he was quitting Cold Chisel in order to join Swan in Feather, a hard-rocking blues band that had evolved from an earlier group called Blackfeather. A farewell performance took place in Sydney that went so well the singer changed his mind and the following month Cold Chisel was picked up by the Warner Music Group.

Main career 1978–82

In the early months of 1978, Cold Chisel recorded their self-titled debut album with producer Peter Walker. All tracks were written by Don Walker, with the exception being "Juliet" for which Barnes wrote the music and Walker the lyrics. Cold Chisel was released in April and featured appearances from harmonica player Dave Blight, who would become a regular on-stage guest, and saxophonists Joe Camilleri and Wilbur Wilde from Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons. The following month the song "Khe Sanh" was released as a single but was deemed too offensive for radio airplay by censors because of the lyric "Their legs were often open/But their minds were always closed". Despite that setback, it still reached #48 on the Australian singles chart and number four on the Adelaide charts thanks mainly to the band's rising popularity as a touring act and some local radio support in Adelaide where the single was aired in spite of the ban. "Khe Sanh" has since become Cold Chisel's signature tune and arguably its most popular among fans. The song was later remixed for inclusion on the international version of 1980's East.

The band's next release was a live E.P. titled "You're Thirteen, You're Beautiful, and You're Mine", in November. This had been recorded at a show at Sydney's Regent Theatre in 1977 that had featured Midnight Oil as one of the support acts. One of the EP's tracks, "Merry Go Round" was later recorded on the follow-up, Breakfast at Sweethearts. This album was recorded between July 1978 and January 1979 with experienced producer Richard Batchens, who had previously worked with Richard Clapton, Sherbet and Blackfeather. Batchens smoothed out many of the band's rough edges and attempted to give their songs a sophisticated sound. This approach has made the album sit a little uncomfortably with the band ever since. Once again, the majority of the songs were penned by Walker, with Barnes collaborating with Walker on the first single "Goodbye (Astrid, Goodbye)" and Moss contributing to "Dresden". "Goodbye (Astrid, Goodbye)" became a live favourite for the band, and even went on to be performed by U2 during Australian tours in the 1980s.

By now the band stood at the verge of major national success, even without significant radio airplay or support from Countdown, the country's most important youth music program. The band had become notorious for its wild behaviour, particularly from Barnes who was rumoured to have had sex with over 1000 women and who was known to consume more than a bottle of vodka every night during performances.

Following their problematic relationship with Batchens, Cold Chisel chose Mark Opitz to produce the next single, "Choir Girl", a Don Walker composition dealing with a young woman's experience with abortion. The track became a hit and paved the way for Cold Chisel's next album. Recorded over two months in 1980, East reached No. 2 on the Australian album charts and was the second-highest selling album by an Australian artist for the year. Despite the continued dominance of Walker, during Cold Chisel's later career all four of the other members began to contribute songs to the band, and this was the first of their albums to feature songwriting contributions from each member of the band. Cold Chisel is the only Australian rock band to score hits with songs written by every member of the group.

Of the album's twelve tracks, two were written by Barnes with Moss, Prestwich and Small contributing one each. The songs ranged from straight ahead rock tracks such as "Standing on the Outside" and "My Turn to Cry" to rockabilly-flavoured work-outs ("Rising Sun", written about Barnes' relationship with his girlfriend Jane Mahoney) and pop-laced love songs ("My Baby", featuring Joe Camilleri on saxophone) to a poignant piano ballad about prison life, "Four Walls". The cover featured Barnes asleep in a bathtub wearing a kamikaze bandanna in a room littered with junk and was inspired by Jacques-Louis David's 1793 painting The Death of Marat. The Ian Moss-penned "Never Before" was chosen as the first song to air by the ABC's radio station Triple J when it switched to the FM band that year.

Following the release of East, Cold Chisel embarked on the Youth in Asia Tour, which took its name from a lyric in "Star Hotel". This tour saw the group play more than 60 shows in 90 days and would form the basis of 1981's double live album Swingshift.

In April 1981 the band was nominated for all seven of the major awards at the joint Countdown/TV Week music awards held at the Sydney Entertainment Centre, and won them all. As a protest against the concept of a TV magazine being involved in a music awards ceremony, the band refused to accept their awards and finished the night by performing "My Turn to Cry". After only one verse and chorus, they smashed up the set and left the stage.

Swingshift debuted at No. 1 on the Australian album charts, crystallizing the band's status as the biggest-selling act in the country. Overseas, however, Cold Chisel was unable to make an impact. With a slightly different track-listing, East had been issued in the United States and the band undertook their first (and only) US tour. But while they were popular as a live act, the American arm of their label did little to support the album. According to Barnes biographer Toby Creswell, at one point the band was ushered into an office to listen to the US master only to find it drenched in tape hiss and other ambient noise, making it almost unreleasable. The band were even booed off stage after a lackluster performance in Dayton, Ohio in May, 1981 opening for Ted Nugent, who at the time was touring with his guitar army aka the 'D.C. Hawks'. European audiences were more accepting of the band and the group developed a small but significant fan-base in Germany.

In August 1981, the band began work on the album Circus Animals, again with Opitz producing. The album opened with "You Got Nothing I Want", an aggressive Barnes-penned hard rock track that attacked the American industry for its handling of the band. The song would later cause problems for Barnes when he later attempted to break into the US market as a solo performer as senior music executives there continued to hold it against him. Like its predecessor, Circus Animals contained songs of contrasting styles, with harder-edged tracks like "Bow River" and "Hound Dog" in place beside more expansive ballads such as "Forever Now" and the Prestwich composition "When the War Is Over". This track has proved to be the most popular Cold Chisel song for other artists to record. Uriah Heep included a version on the 1989 album Raging Silence and John Farnham has recorded it twice, once while he and Prestwich were members of Little River Band in the mid-80s and again for his 1990 solo album Age of Reason. The song was also a No. 1 hit for former Australian Idol contestant Cosima De Vito in 2004 and was also performed (by Bobby Flynn during that show's 2006 season.

To launch the album, they performed under a circus tent at Wentworth Park in Sydney and toured heavily once more, including a show in Darwin that attracted more than 10 per cent of the city's population.

Break up and aftermath 1983–84

Circus Animals and its three singles, "You Got Nothing I Want", "Forever Now" and "When the War is Over" were all major hits in Australia during 1982 but further success was continuing to elude them and cracks were beginning to appear. In early 1983 the band toured Germany but the shows went so badly that in the middle of tour Walker upended his keyboard and stormed off stage during one show and Prestwich was fired. Returning to Australia, Prestwich was replaced by Ray Arnott, formerly of the 1970s progressive rock band Spectrum. After this, Barnes requested a large advance from management. Now married with a young child, exorbitant spending had left him almost broke. His request was refused however because there was a standing arrangement that any advance to one band member had to be paid to all the others. After a meeting on 17 August during which Barnes quit the band it was decided that Cold Chisel would split up. A final concert series known as The Last Stand was planned and a final studio album was also recorded. Prestwich returned for the tour, which began in October. Before the Sydney shows however, Barnes lost his voice and those dates were re-scheduled for December. Their final performance was at the Sydney Entertainment Centre on 12 December 1983, apparently precisely 10 years since their first live appearance. The Sydney shows formed the basis of the film The Last Stand, the biggest-selling concert film of any Australian band. Several other recordings from the tour were used on the 1984 live album Barking Spiders Live: 1984, the title of which was inspired by the name the group occasionally used to play warm-up shows before tours, and as b-sides for a three-CD singles package known as Three Big XXX Hits, issued ahead of the release of the 1994 compilation album, Teenage Love.

During breaks in the tour, Twentieth Century was recorded. It was a fragmentary process, spread across various studios and sessions as the individual members often refused to work together, but nonetheless successful. Released in February 1984, it reached No. 1 upon release and included the songs "Saturday Night" and "Flame Trees", both of which remain radio staples. "Flame Trees", co-written by Prestwich and Walker, took its title from the BBC series The Flame Trees of Thika although it was lyrically inspired by the organist's hometown of Grafton, New South Walesmarker. Barnes later recorded an acoustic version of the song on his 1993 album Flesh and Wood and the track was also covered by Sarah Blasko in 2006.

Barnes launched a solo career in January 1984 that has since seen him score nine Australian No. 1 albums and an array of hit singles. One of those, "Too Much Ain't Enough Love" also peaked at No. 1. Throughout his solo career he has recorded with INXS, Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, John Farnham and a long list of other Australian and international artists and continues to the present as arguably the country's most popular male rock singer.

Prestwich joined Little River Band in 1984 and appeared on the albums Playing to Win and No Reins before departing in 1986 to join John Farnham's touring band. Walker, Moss and Small all took extended breaks from music. Small, the least prominent member of the band virtually disappeared from the scene for many years, playing in a variety of minor acts. Walker formed Catfish in 1988, ostensibly a solo band with floating membership that included Moss, Charlie Owen and Dave Blight at various times. The music had a distinctly modern jazz aspect and his recordings during this phase attracted little commercial success. During 1989 he wrote several songs for Moss including "Tucker's Daughter" and "Telephone Booth" that the guitarist recorded on his debut solo album Matchbook. Both the album and "Tucker's Daughter" peaked at No. 1 on the chart in 1989 and won Moss five ARIA Awards. His other albums met with little success.


Throughout the 80s and most of the 90s, Cold Chisel was courted to re-form but obstinately refused, at one point reportedly turning down an offer of $5 million to play a single show in each of the major Australian state capitals. While Moss and Walker often collaborated on projects, neither would work with Barnes again until Walker wrote "Stone Cold" for the singer's Heat in 1993. The pair then recorded an acoustic version for Flesh and Wood later the same year. Thanks primarily to continued radio airplay and Jimmy Barnes' massive solo success, Cold Chisel's legacy remained solidly intact and by the early 90s the group had surpassed 3 million album sales, most of which had been sold since 1983. The 1991 compilation album Chisel was re-issued and re-packaged several times, once with the long-deleted 1978 EP as a bonus disc and a second time in 2001 as a double album. The Last Stand soundtrack album was also finally released in 1992 and in 1994 a complete album of previously unreleased demo and rare live recordings also surfaced. Teenage Love spawned a string of hit singles that fuelled speculation Cold Chisel would reform, to no avail.

Cold Chisel eventually reunited in 1998 to record the album The Last Wave of Summer and supported it with a sold-out national concert tour. The album debuted at number one on the Australian album chart. In 2003, the band re-grouped once more for the "Ringside" tour and in 2005 again reunited to perform at a benefit for the victims of the Boxing Day tsunamimarker at the Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne.

On September 10, 2009, two days after Barnes' fifteenth studio solo album The Rhythm and the Blues became his ninth to peak at No. 1 on the Australian album charts, it was announced that Cold Chisel would reform to play at the Sydney 500 V8 Supercars event on December 5, 2009..

Musical style and lyrical themes

While typically classified as a hard-driving rock and roll band, the Cold Chisel musical repertoire was extensive. Influences from blues and early rock n' roll was broadly apparent, fostered by the love of those styles by Moss, Barnes and Walker and Small and Prestwich contributed strong pop sensibilities. This allowed volatile rock songs like "You Got Nothing I Want" and "Merry-Go-Round" to stand beside thoughtful ballads like "Choir Girl", pop-flavoured love songs like "My Baby" and caustic political statements like "Star Hotel", an attack on the late-70s government of Malcolm Fraser and inspired by the Star Hotel riot in Newcastlemarker. The songs were not overtly political but rather observations of everyday life within Australian society and culture, in which the members with their various backgrounds (Moss was from Alice Springsmarker, Walker grew up in rural New South Wales, Barnes and Prestwich were working-class immigrants from the UK) were quite well able to provide. Typically then, Cold Chisel's songs were about distinctly Australian experiences, a factor often cited as a major reason for the band's lack of international appeal. "Saturday Night" and "Breakfast at Sweethearts" were observations of the urban experience of Sydney's Kings Crossmarker district where Walker lived for many years. "Misfits", which featured on the b-side to "My Baby", was about homeless kids in the suburbs surrounding Sydney. Songs like "Shipping Steel" and "Standing on The Outside" were working class anthems and many others featured characters trapped in mundane, everyday existences, yearning for the good times of the past ("Flame Trees") or for something better from life ("Bow River").


To many of the group's fans, Cold Chisel's honest songs about the working-class experience provided an often starkly accurate insight into and soundtrack to their own lives that they were unable to find from other popular artists of the time. Even album tracks like "Bow River" and "Standing on the Outside" became widely popular and were given airplay during an era when commercial radio playlists were predominantly populated by hit singles. Nevertheless, the band's aggressive image, apparent anti-establishment stance and particular popularity among young working-class men (typically those born in the late 60s and mid-70s) often made them the subject of some disdain, both during their career and in the years following their dissolution.

Alongside contemporaries like The Angels and Midnight Oil, whose rise to popularity came in their wake, Cold Chisel was renowned as one of the most dynamic live acts of their day and from early in their career concerts routinely became sell-out events. But the band was also famous for its wild lifestyle, particularly the hard-drinking Barnes, who played his role as one of the wild men of Australian rock to the hilt, never seen on stage without at least one bottle of vodka and often so drunk he could barely stand upright. Despite this, by 1982 he was a devoted family man who refused to tour without his wife and daughter. All the other band members were also settled or married; Ian Moss had a long-term relationship with the actress Megan Williams (she even sang on Twentieth Century) whose own public persona could have hardly been more different. Yet it was the band's public image that often saw them compared less favourably with other important acts like Midnight Oil, whose music and politics (while rather more overt) were often similar but whose image and reputation was far more clean-cut. Cold Chisel remained hugely popular however and by the mid-90s had continued to sell records at such a consistent rate they became the first Australian band to achieve higher sales after their split than during their active years . While repackages and compilations accounted for much of these sales, 1994's Teenage Love album of rarities and two of its singles were Top Ten hits and when the group finally reformed in 1998 the resultant album was also a major hit and the follow-up tour sold out almost immediately.

Cold Chisel is one of the few Australian acts (along with AC/DC, and Slim Dusty) to have become the subject of a major tribute album. In 2007, Standing on the Outside: The Songs of Cold Chisel was released, featuring a collection of the band's songs as performed by artists including The Living End, Evermore, Something for Kate, Pete Murray, Katie Noonan, You Am I, Paul Kelly, Alex Lloyd, Thirsty Merc and Ben Lee,many of whom were still only children when Cold Chisel first disbanded and some of whom, like the members of Evermore, had not even been born.

Band members

Additional players

  • Les Kaczmarek (bass guitar, October 1973- July 1975)
  • Ray Arnott (drums, 1983)
  • Dave Blight (harmonica)
  • Billy Rodgers (saxophone)
  • Jimmy Sloggett (saxophone)
  • Andy Bickers (saxophone)
  • Renée Geyer (backing vocals)
  • Vanetta Fields (backing vocals)
  • Megan Williams (backing vocals, Flame Trees)
  • Peter Walker (acoustic guitar, Khe Sanh)
  • Joe Camilleri (saxophone, My Baby and Home and Broken Hearted)
  • Wilbur Wilde (saxophone, Home and Broken Hearted, Rosaline, Just How Many Times)
  • James Morris (back up singer)


See also


  1. Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, 27 April 2009
  2. Creswell, Toby Jimmy Barnes: Too Much Ain't Enough (1993)
  3. Creswell
  4. McGrath, Noel The Australian Encyclopedia of Rock and Pop (1983)
  5. Creswell, Toby and Fabinyi, Martin The Real Thing
  6. Creswell, et al.

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