Taking The Stairs With The Black Sorrows

Column: Features   |   Date Published: Sunday, 14 May 17   |   Author: Noni Doll   |   2 weeks, 2 days ago

     "Try walking up the staircase, don’t use the elevator. Because you get to learn enough during the slog."

When you look at the line-up for the APIA GOOD TIMES TOUR, two things become clear. It’s going to be bloody amazing, whether you’re a Boomer or Gen X who grew up with Mental As Anything, Deborah Conway and Men At Work’s Colin Hay on your radio, or if you’re a little younger and heard them playing on your parents’ stereo. Also on the line-up is THE BLACK SORROWS, and while lead singer, chief songwriter and ARIA Hall of Famer, Joe Camilleri has been hanging out with them for years, this is first time he and the rest of the line-up have all got together on stage.

“All of these people, you kinda meet them in the same arena,” he says. “But playing on their records, playing on their songs, is a different animal, so when we have this all-in brawl, I’ve never done that with them.”

He notes that Hay is a particular rapscallion, with one story from his time with Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons, sometime in the early 80s, sticking out in his mind. “Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons were on their way down; well, not so much. Bands are a big thing; if you don’t have a hit record, you’re going to struggle. And we were getting in the top 20s but we weren’t getting in the top 10s, we weren’t having the hit-and-run hits. I said to an audience that [Men At Work] was on the rise; they’d just had this big record, so the place was just jamming … I asked them how much they paid to get in, and they said, ‘Twenty bucks!’ So I said, ‘I’ll give you a $40 show.’ And then Colin comes up, the little cheeky monkey, and says, ‘Thank god he gave me the $40 show … I’ve seen the $10 show!’ So I always remind him about that and how cruel he is!”

Arguably one of the most notable factors in The Black Sorrows’ line-up on this tour is their reunion with VIKA AND LINDA BULL. Their gorgeous lead and backing vocals formed a distinctive part of the band’s sound in the 80s and 90s. Camilleri is particularly excited to have them back in the fold, though he notes that they haven’t been strangers. “They live in the neighbourhood, so I see them all the time,” he remarks. “We’re really good friends. We have a good love for each other, so once again you get to see them and not necessarily play on the same arena. They’re doing all kinds of different things. They do the RocKwiz thing, so they’re learning lots of songs and playing with lots of people.”

Camilleri goes on to talk about how easily they’ve slotted back into the band. “I mean, what they like about being in the Sorrows is that it was really the first big thing for them, and they like the fact that they weren’t backing singers, and I didn’t treat them as backing singers. They were up the front with me. And it gave me an opportunity to write for both the girls and the opportunity to do a whole bunch of things that I probably wouldn’t have done, or would have done a different way,” he says. “So we don’t have to rehearse from that perspective. They just look at me and what it is is what it’s going to be and it’s okay. The premise is to have as much fun as you can and be as flexible as you can, and I think that’s the joy of being in the band, and that’s what they like. Sometimes when they’re in other bands, it’s rigid. I’m kind of what you call an ‘unmade bed’, and I’m happy to let things fly, and where the cards lay is where they lay. I enjoy that because it then has value to me and crosses over to an audience.”

Having the Bull sisters back also opens opportunities to perform classic tunes that otherwise wouldn’t make it into the setlist. “I don’t do ‘Never Let Me Go’ because I wrote it for [Vika], and I don’t like anyone else singing it but her, in a weird way.” He does note that he could be a little flexible, if the right person asked. “I’d be happy if someone did do it – if Aretha Franklin said, ‘Listen Camilleri, I just want to change a few things…’ Do anything you like with it!” He laughs, but then reinforces his original view. “But it was tailor-made for [Vika], and every time she sings it and she’s singing it with us, I always believe that’s where it lives.”

After 40 years in the industry, it makes sense to ask Camilleri for advice for the next generation of musicians. He keeps it simple, then gets metaphorical. “There are two little things. First of all, don’t believe the bullshit that people are saying about you, good or bad, and that’s an obvious one. [And] try walking up the staircase, don’t use the elevator. Because you get to learn enough during the slog. And that’s the best thing you can do.”

The Apia Good Times Tour, featuring The Black Sorrows with Vika & Linda Bull, Colin Hay (Men At Work), Mental as Anything and Deborah Conway, comes to Canberra Theatre Centre on Friday June 16 at 7:30pm. Tickets are $94.30 +bf from



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