In The Moment

5 April 2012 | 11:25 pm | Staff Writer

More Cold Chisel More Cold Chisel

They were all, naturally, in shell shock as they gathered in Adelaide at the end of January last year to farewell their drummer, Steve Prestwich, who had died a fortnight before from a brain tumour. No one could have faulted any desire to let the band that had been so pivotal in their lives, Cold Chisel, slip away into history. “The album's called No Plans, not just because of the song,” Barnes explains. “It was a sort of a recurring theme. We had no plans of getting together – full stop – and then the V8 Supercars came up in December 2009 and we got together and thought, 'Yeah, this is fun – fast cars, fast women, rock'n'roll, they all go well together so why don't we do this gig?' So we got together and the minute we got into rehearsals we just really enjoyed playing together, but we had no plans of going forward with it.

“We'd done the gig, 50,000 people plus – it went really well. I've got a studio in my house, so we went into the recording studio just to see what would come, whether we could put down some demos or write some songs or whatever, without any plans, you know? Then that went really well – we had some really great things happen there.

“And then all plans were put on hold again when the rug was pulled out from underneath us when Steve died. We grieved for months and were angry and all that sort of stuff about losing our friends and finally we came to the point where we thought, 'What can we learn that's good from Steve's passing?' And it's very difficult to find something good about losing a friend like that, but I guess the only thing we could see was he'd made us realise: this is one of our favourite people, one of our favourite musicians and we're not going to see him again. And we're all like that – we're taking each other for granted a bit. There are people you enjoy playing with and people – you enjoy their company and their emotional support, you should spend time with them. So we decided we were going to get back together and finish off the project and spend more time with each other, playing, whether it's for each other or the public – it doesn't matter.”

The next part of the story has already become part of Australian music history, with the band bringing in, at keyboardist Don Walker's suggestion, Divinyls drummer Charley Drayton. “Steve's are very difficult shoes to fill. Charley's a totally different drummer to Steve, but in a lot of ways he's very similar. But he's brought something different to the band” to help finish the album. Then, at co-manager John O'Donnell's suggestion, the band undertook the record-breaking Light The Nitro Tour that saw Cold Chisel play to more than 275,000 people across Australia from October to December last year.

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“When Don had the song written, No Plans,” Barnes continues, “literally written about… I think he was in peak hour traffic somewhere – hot, people beepin' their horns and screamin' and sweatin' and there were people rushin' down the street in suits with briefcases – and he glanced across and there's a guy sittin' in a corner with a brown paper bag with a bottle in it and a ciggie in his hand. Don thought, 'This guy's probably got more of the right idea than the rest of us – he's jumped off the treadmill, taking his time doing his own thing,' and that's opening line of that song. So it made sense that should be the name of the album. And literally we don't have plans in this band now. We're just playing for the sake of playing and enjoying each other's company and taking every day as it comes. If we feel like playing some more towards the end of the year we'll do some more, if we don't, we won't.”

For all the different directions the various members have taken in the intervening years, No Plans is unequivocally a Cold Chisel album. “It's pretty rough, raucous and raw and all that sort of stuff – it's good,” Barnes admits. “I've made jokes about this and it's a bad analogy but we're a bit like a bloody sausage machine, you know? You shove all this shit in one end and it comes out the other end sounding like Cold Chisel. It doesn't matter what you put in one end – all the different players, all of our influences – when it comes out through the band it sounds like Cold Chisel.”

For all the dubbing of Cold Chisel as archetypal Aussie pub rock, their musical palette has always embraced a diversity of styles, from straight-ahead rock'n'roll belters to ballads. “I think over the years we've honed that down and refined it a little. Although there are all those influences in the band, one of the things we've discovered and we've honed down is the fact that we like things raw; we like things honest. There's something that appeals to us about not being perfect – having feel instead of 'the perfect take'. If it's got a great feel and it's got a few bumps and warts on it, leave it, you know? That's from the music we listen to, whether it's soul music, blues music or early rock.

“Really, from the first album, all we were trying to do was capture what we played on record, which was very difficult to do and [producer] Mark Opitz was someone who helped us develop that, but I don't think we really, really got that at all until The Last Wave Of Summer. And I think this record is the next step again... “A great bunch of songs by Don again. The guy's just bloody awesome. Once again I think he's proved he's the best songwriter in the country, bar none – I don't care who you put up against him. He's the best writer this country's ever produced and I've been lucky enough to be his voice and I feel blessed to have that. Ian, myself and Steve, we brought our bits again to the table, but it's predominantly Don and that stamp which is uniquely Cold Chisel definitely comes from Don's songs.”