WORKING CLASS BOY: Jimmy Barnes talks to the audience at the Saraton Theatre about the formation of Cold Chisel in the early 1970s.
WORKING CLASS BOY: Jimmy Barnes talks to the audience at the Saraton Theatre about the formation of Cold Chisel in the early 1970s. Lesley Apps

An evening with Barnesy

LOW lights and background music filled the Saraton Theatre as a guy in a black t-shirt and jeans strolled out with with same casualness a roadie would to check a mic. But it was the man of the evening Jimmy Barnes, his rather low-key entrance confirming this show was going to be far from the loud and explosive musical encounters normally associated with the hard- living rocker.

Once his star presence was acknowledged by a chain reaction of cheering and clapping from the almost packed house he wasted no time in getting stuck into the story-telling, his tough-as-nails upbringing sequestering the first half of the show which began briefly in cold, hard Glasgow swiftly followed by his formative years in Adelaide as his family took up the 10-pound-challenge many UK families were seduced by.

The offer of better life was shortlived as Jimmy relayed as his family's plight which turned substantially worse on our golden shores. His father's alcoholism and escalating household violence sent a young Jimmy into a spiral he has carried with him across a lifetime.

He touched on dreadful moments in his upbringing, and didn't hold back when it came to those taboo topics like family violence, parental neglect, sexual assault and the undesirables that crossed his path as a boy. The heavy duty stories juxtaposed with the songs that shaped his young ears and planted the seeds that saw his turn to music for solace and ultimately some kind of direction.

But it wasn't all doom and gloom, there were some very touching and funny stories amongst the dysfunction either delivered candidly front of stage or sitting at the red Laminex kitchen table, a box of Weeties cereal projecting us back to 1950s Australia .

From the dark period when his mother left the family to meeting the man he calls his 'dad' through his rebellious school days in rough-lands of working class Adelaide, to the unexpected arrival of his son-turned-'nephew' David Campbell when he was just a teen himself, Barnes brought colour to the bleakness through his entertaining dialogues. The tale about a family event starring his much-admired older brother John Swan, and resulting in his mother giving a biker the Glasgow Kiss, was a comical highlight.

Of course no Jimmy Barnes story would dare be told in Grafton without some mention of that defining musical moment, the birth of Cold Chisel and how an unexpected and almost unwanted approach on the street by a skinny Polish guy to a young angry man fuelled by trouble resulted in one of Australia's defining musical acts. It was fascinating stuff with a local salute to 'our' Don Walker and a moving delivery of the city's unoffical anthem, Flame Trees, to a very receptive crowd. With a teaser like that we were left with little doubt there will be another book to come someday.

Along for Saturday night's ride with her dad was Mahalia Barnes, who provided the full gamut of singing talent from sweet and soulful support vocals to blistering Aretha-esque deliveries as she held her own next to those famous screaming vocals. With her brother Jackie on upright piano and her guitarist husband offering consummate musical support, this was a very personal family affair.

After a couple more emotional Chisel classics in Four Walls and When The War is Over, the evening ended with a rock'n'roll bang and that signature Barnsey sound that had an adventurous few out of their seats and dancing stage-front.

Despite the personal trauma and somewhat depressing themes hanging over the evening there was a lot to like about this special show, not the least because someone like Jimmy Barnes was willing to get up there as rawly and honestly as he did, and talk and swear and sing for two hours unprompted and seemingly unscripted. You could tell he was giving it his all, not just for his audience, but to some degree for himself.

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