Beginning in Adelaide in 1973, it wasn’t until 1975 that Cold Chisel consolidated into its definitive line-up: Jimmy Barnes (vocals): born in Glasgow, Scotland, Ian Moss (guitar/vocals): born Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Steve Prestwich (drums): born in Liverpool, UK, Phil Small (bass): born Adelaide and Don Walker (piano): born in Ayr, Queensland.
Cold Chisel moved to Sydney via Melbourne in 1976. Impassioned hard rock covers got the band gigs while Don Walker developed original songs. He zeroed in on the hopes, fears, anger and alienation, as well as the humour of working and student under-classes. Appreciative Cold Chisel armies formed. They followed the band from venue to venue, appearing just before Cold Chisel played and leaving directly afterwards. In late 1977 WEA (now Warner Music) signed the band to a modest contract, just in case there was a hit record somewhere in the mayhem.
LIGHT A LONG FUSE: 1978-9
The first two albums, Cold Chisel and Breakfast at Sweethearts presented the live classics ‘Khe Sanh’, ‘Home and Broken Hearted’, ‘One Long Day’, ‘Merry-Go-Round’, ‘Shipping Steel’, ‘Breakfast at Sweethearts’ and ‘Goodbye (Astrid Goodbye)’. But the band wasn’t happy with either album. Cold Chisel suffered from studio debutante nerves. Production difficulties on Breakfast left a bitter aftertaste. ‘Khe Sanh’, originally banned from commercial radio for its lyric content subsequently became Australia’s ‘unofficial national anthem’ and the Australian cricket team’s victory song. In late 1979, they found studio satisfaction recording ‘Choirgirl’ with young producer/engineer Mark Opitz.
#1 WITH A BULLET: 1980/82
The 1980 Top 10 single, ‘Cheap Wine’, previewed the album East, where all band members contributed songs. East peaked at #2 then stayed in the Top 10 for 26 weeks and in the ARIA Album Chart for a record 63 weeks. ‘Choirgirl’, ‘Cheap Wine’, ‘Star Hotel’, ‘Rising Sun’, ‘Standing on the Outside’ and ‘Four Walls’ became embedded into our national identity. Live album Swingshift hit #1 in 1981. Two months later the band toured America, with live performances rattling headliners including Joe Walsh and Cheap Trick. Back in Australia, the band recorded Circus Animals, which was led-out by Barnes’ vehement ‘You Got Nothing I Want’. Walker’s songwriting advanced into the compelling, spleen-venting rock of ‘Taipan’, ‘Houndog’ and ‘Letter to Alan’. The melodic uplift of Prestwich’s ‘Forever Now’ and ‘When the War is Over’ and Moss’ ‘Bow River’ became radio staples. ‘Forever Now’ made #4, Cold Chisel’s only Top 5 single.
UP & DOWN: 1983
1983 began with a triumphant headlining performance at the Narara Festival before a jubilant crowd of 30,000, but by August the band had begun to splinter, with Prestwich the first to go and tensions between the other members reaching breaking point. Cold Chisel decided it was ‘time gentlemen please’ and recalled Prestwich to complete a final album and 26-date arena tour, The Last Stand. The album, Twentieth Century, added the title track, ‘Saturday Night’, ‘Painted Doll’, ‘No Sense’, ‘Hold Me Tight’ and ‘Flame Trees’ to the Cold Chisel paradigm. The album debuted #1 early 1984.
CHISEL BY CHOICE: 1984/2010
Barnes hit the ground running with 1984’s Bodyswerve, the first of eight consecutive #1 albums. Walker, Moss, Prestwich and Small took time to reaffirm themselves. In 1989, Walker formed Catfish and released Unlimited Address while Moss debuted #1 with the album Matchbook, the majority of songs written by Walker. Prestwich joined Little River Band for a period and developed his songwriting. Small forsook music for family life. ‘I’d been in the best band in the world,’ he said. But radio and record buyers kept Cold Chisel as present tense. As Barnes’s solo output hit sales of 3 million, so did the Chisel catalogue. The band agreed to reunite in 1995. In 1998, after traversing many speed humps, a new album, The Last Wave of Summer, debuted #1 with 100,000 presales. The title track, ‘Yakuza Girls’, ‘Way Down’ and ‘Things I Love in You’ stood tall next to the band’s earlier work. The triumphant Last Wave arena tour drew 150,000. Lingering disputes within the band were resolved in 2003/4 by 16 Ringside shows that exhilarated band and audiences. ‘It’s been fun darlings,’ said Barnes, ‘Let’s do it again sometime.’ One-off performances ensured: In 2005, Cold Chisel headlined the Melbourne benefit for Boxing Day tsunami victims. In December 2009, Cold Chisel played to 50,000 at the Sydney V8 Supercars event and in October 2010 the band headlined the Deniliquin Ute Muster to 25,000.
FOREVER NOW, 2011… AND BEYOND
The most recent chapter in Cold Chisel’s compelling story began in 2010 when the band secretly started recording new material. Jimmy Barnes, Ian Moss, Don Walker, Steve Prestwich and Phil Small got together and wrote and recorded a handful of songs and realised that the magic was still there. With plans to continue performing and recording, the band was gutted in January 2011 when drummer Steve Prestwich passed away suddenly as a result of complications from a brain tumour. With Steve’s performances and some of his songs captured on tape, the band ultimately felt compelled to continue with the plans they had begun. Recording continued through May and June with drummer Charley Drayton.
In July 2011, the band rolled out the biggest archival release in Australian music history, remastering their entire catalogue and unearthing 56 new or rare live and studio recordings. It was the first time ever that the band had released their music digitally and it saw 8 of their albums hit the ARIA Top 100 Albums chart and numerous songs hit the singles chart. In a strange twist of fate, almost 35 years after it was first released, ‘Khe Sanh’ hit the Australian Top 40 for the first time.
Cold Chisel then announced their most extensive tour in 30 years and when tickets for the Light The Nitro tour were released in early August, the band was overwhelmed by the massive public reaction, selling over 160,000 tickets in the first day and ultimately going on to sell over 285,000 tickets across Australia and New Zealand.
But the stats are just the background… when the band stepped onstage for the first of the shows of the Light The Nitro tour the music did the talking. Across the country, the tour was met with unanimous raves reviews from the critics and the public alike. Meanwhile their compilation album, The Best of Cold Chisel – All For You, which features 2 of their new recordings, debuted at #2 on the national ARIA Albums chart and is officially double platinum.
In April 2012 Cold Chisel released its 7th studio album, No Plans. The album featured 13 songs drawn from recording sessions in 2010/2011 and includes the final recorded performances by drummer Steve Prestwich. No Plans, which debuted at #2 on the national ARIA chart, was the band’s first studio album in 14 years.
In 2015, Cold Chisel announced their One Night Stand tour of Australia in support of their 8th studio album, The Perfect Crime, which will kick off with a special mini-concert at the NRL Grand Final – and conclude with two special shows under the banner of ‘The Last Stand of Sydney’s entertainment centre’ to mark the closing of the Qantas Credit Union Arena (formerly known as the Entertainment Centre). The Perfect Crime is more diverse than any previous Cold Chisel work, with the band remarking that the record is the most rock & roll album they’ve ever made.