Australia: Helpmanns, Splendour, Obits, Rhythm & Vines

Patti Smith, Nick Cave Win At Helpmann Awards

Patti Smith and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds were among the winners of Live Performance Australia’s Helpmann Awards, July 24.

Covering all art forms including opera, classical, cabaret, children’s and musical theatre with 42 awards, the ceremony was at Sydney State Theatre and broadcast live on the Foxtel Arts cable channel.

Smith and her band won best international contemporary concert (Bluesfest Touring), from a series of theatre shows and a Bluesfest appearance based around her Horses album.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (Billions Australia) won best Australian contemporary concert. Best contemporary music festival was Tasmania’s experimental Mona Foma, curated by Violent Femmes bassist Brian Ritchie.

“Kinky Boots,” featuring the music of Cyndi Lauper, scored two gongs, for best choreography and best male actor in a musical. Ross Cunningham got a special achievement award for his contribution to the live sector as Live Performance Australia’s longstanding chair of the Helpmann Awards Administration Committee.

James Thane Joins Michael Cassel Group

Michael Cassel and James Thane
– Michael Cassel and James Thane

Thane worked for 35 years in senior roles in major theatrical companies around the world, including the United States.

A founding director of British producer Cameron Mackintosh’s Australian company in 1984, he executive produced the local premiere runs of “Cats,” “Les Misérables” and “The Phantom of the Opera.”

After setting up the Australian subsidiary of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group in 1991, he was its managing director in London. In 2002, Thane established the Aussie operations of Disney Theatrical Productions.

From 2006 he spent three years in New York as associate producer of the Broadway and U.S. tour productions of “Mary Poppins” before returning to Australia. Producer/CEO Michael Cassel and Thane worked together for 18 years at Disney Theatrical. He says, “James’ unmatched experience and long history of success make him the perfect person to join our team, providing counsel, support and strategic advice as our productions continue to evolve in Australia and on tour internationally.”

The Michael Cassel Group’s next production is an Asian and South African run of Disney’s “The Lion King,” starting in the Philippines in March 2018 and followed by Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.

Splendour In The Grass Hits 32,500 Capacity

The 17th Splendour in the Grass drew a 32,500 sold-out crowd to North Byron Parklands in Byron Bay July 21-23.

The 100-strong bill included international guests such as Queens of the Stone AgeThe xxRag-N-Bone ManStormzyFather John Misty and LCD Soundsystem.

They played alongside major Australian acts who also pulled capacity crowds: Paul Kelly, Bernard Fanning (whose set ended with a number of his former cohorts from Powderfinger), Peking DukKing Gizzard And The Lizard WizardDan Sultan and Cut Copy.

While Splendour is usually a laidback affair – NSW police only charged 142 for drug possession and 65 for trying to enter the site without tickets – indigenous hip-hop duo A.B. Original’s set turned into a Black Lives Matter statement.

Two days before, the driver who had fatally knocked over 14-year-old Elijah Doughty from his motorbike in the mining town of Kalgoorlie was found not guilty of manslaughter but jailed for three years on the lesser charge of dangerous driving occasioning death.

The duo had a blow-up of the teenager’s photo as their backdrop, and led the crowd in chants about racial inequality in the Australian justice system. Splendour promoters Secret Service will now find out if the festival will again be allowed to stage at the site.

2017 marked the end of a five-year trial of whether a large event could take place without negatively impacting noise, traffic and environmental issues.

The festival has already applied to remain permanently and increase its capacity to 50,000. Local police have warned that it would take eight hours to evacuate such a crowd in the case of an emergency.

Six Mourned Down Under

The Australian and New Zealand communities were mourning the loss of six of its members within the same week.

Simon Holmes, singer and guitarist with Sydney band The Hummingbirds, died at 55, cause of death not disclosed. The act was one of the first of ’90s guitar bands to crossover into the mainstream, after being signed to the INXS-funded rooArt Records with albums recorded by R.E.M. producer Mitch Easter.

John “Catfish” Purser was drummer with Australia’s first ’50s rocker Johnny O’Keefe. Purser, who at 83 played until a month before his death, received his nickname from Bill Haley who when the two acts toured together insisted he looked like an African-American friend with that name.

Perth award-winning jazz pianist Graham Wood lost a four-year battle with cancer aged 46. He co-owned The Ellington Jazz Club, and founded the Perth International Jazz Festival.

Geoff Mack who started out entertaining troops in World War II, is best known for his 1959 song, “I’ve Been Everywhere Man.” A hit Down Under for Lucky Starr, it generated 131 cover versions.

Most recently it was on Johnny Cash’s 1996 album Unchained and sung by Homer Simpson in the 2005 episode of The Simpsons.

Roy Colbert was acclaimed “the godfather of New Zealand’s Dunedin” through his work as a music writer for Rip It Up and owner of second-hand store Records Records by unearthing obscure records from abroad that were adapted by local musicians and helped define the city’s sound.

Lynne Barnett released five singles on the Viking label in her native New Zealand before moving to Sydney with her husband Mike Leyton of Sounds Unlimited.

She landed a regular job on national TV music show Bandstand but eventually became a recluse in her public housing apartment.

Police said the 72-year old was dead for a month before her body was discovered.

Rhythm & Vines Co-Founder Finalist for Entrepreneur Of Year

Hamish Pinkham, co-founder of New Zealand’s long-running  festival, is one of 17 finalists for EY Entrepreneur of the Year.

The other nominees represent a diverse range of industries including education, law, technology, agriculture, real estate and tourism. They were chosen, said awards director Jon Hooper, for being “inspirational” and “their hard work and unwavering self-belief has contributed to a significant growth engine in our economy and their achievements deserve to be celebrated.”

In Rhythm & Vines’ case, tourism figures show it directly generates NZ$12 million ($8.9 million) into the local economy.

It began 15 years ago when Pinkham and two law student friends urged one of their fathers for use of the amphitheatre of his vineyard in return for selling his wines during a three-day event to greet the New Year.

The first, on Dec. 31, 2003, drew 1,800 people. Within three years attendance upticked to 15,000 and international acts were on the bill. In 2008 it became a three-day event drawing 25,000. But it also almost sank due to its growth: the budget blew out by NZ$500,000 ($372,023) and the quiet town of Gisborne famously ran out of petrol and pies.

Pinkham admits the festival almost went belly-up again in 2014: inexplicably, only half the 30,000 tickets sold and a drunken riot generated bad publicity. To survive, operational costs were slashed by 40 person and the eight-person team trimmed down to two.

But each time Rhythm & Vines was rebuilt by playing to its strengths.

“It’s picturesque, the music is good, and it’s catering for a core audience of Kiwis who jump in their cars with their mates and drive to a place which is one of the first (major) places in the world to see the New Year in,” Pinkham said.

“This year almost half the tickets sold out even before the acts were announced, which means people are coming for the overall experience and not just the music.” Five category winners will be chosen to compete for the title, the winner will then represent New Zealand at EY’s World Entrepreneur of the Year event in Monaco in June 2018.