'Seize The Moment': Cold Chisel On The 'Health Crisis' That Inspired Their 50th Anniversary Run

3 June 2024 | 11:29 am | Toby Creswell

"Getting mentally prepared for Chisel is a big thing because it's a different beast... Mentally, it does take six months.”

Cold Chisel

Cold Chisel (Credit: Daniel Boud)

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Cold Chisel hadn’t blown the band’s super fund on a dodgy crypto scheme or punted the lot in a rigged Pai Gow game down in Chinatown. It was the Reaper who inspired getting the band together. 

Last Christmas, Jimmy Barnes found himself in hospital with a serious health crisis. The process started with repairing some of the damage that Jimmy had done to himself in a half-century of living on stage, but there were complications that could have been fatal. Most people would take a year off to recuperate. Jimmy Barnes wanted to play.

“You know, we've thought about this long before, but especially in light of my last little health crisis. Yeah, it seems, you know, seize the moment, don't put it off,” Barnsey tells The Music.

“I don't just want to make music with these guys, you know, I have spent some of the best times of my life by being on stage with these guys and some of the worst, and I want to get a chance to get up and make some more memories.

“Everything that we do as a band takes time, you know. It's like a machine to get rolling.”

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The last tour, supporting the Blood Moon album, finished in 2020 with some of the best shows the band had ever performed, but it was, from all reports, physically gruelling.

Sources close to Cold Chisel suggested that might be it - go out on a high note. But as the judge said, having gotten away free, they went back for their hat.

Gathered together in the high-tech wonderland of 301 Studios in Sydney on a quiet weekday, Cold Chisel look like the Expendables gathered for another showdown. Ian Moss is slumped on the couch, thinking he would prefer to be at the dentist's rather than on a day of press. Jimmy Barnes is, as usual, a ball of energy, while Don Walker and Phil Small remain the quiet centre. Drummer Charley Drayton is still back in the USA, backing Bob Dylan amongst other gigs.

“Ian and Jim are doing live shows constantly,” Walker says. “I do shows once a year, but they are piano shows, so Phil and I have got to put some work in to get up to speed.”

“You know, for me, getting mentally prepared for Chisel is a big thing because it's a different beast,” Barnes adds. “It’s not just your own thing, and you do drive yourself [hard]. Mentally, it does take six months.”

There are whispers of new music coming out before the tour starts in October, but it won’t be a new album. This tournament is a celebration of a half-century of hits. The tour starts in Armadale, where the band cut its teeth in the early 1970s.

After being kicked out of the Women’s Liberation Hall and debuted on the back of a truck, Cold Chisel followed Don to Armidale, where he studied to be a rocket scientist (or something similar).

“We'd only been together for a couple of months,” Barnes recalls. “Don had already committed to going back to university. Even then, we wanted the band to stay together.

“We just moved up there to a place called Kentucky and hunted for gigs. We got a residency at a pub in Glenn Innes, and it was literally like The Blues Brothers without the chicken wire. It was really good training ground for the band. We did that for about eight months.”

The Kentucky year honed the band into a fierce live unit forged between weeks of debauchery. It was a formula that stood them in good stead for many years. Keeping the live show interesting has been a matter of pride. 

An Evening With The Circus Animals was one of the more memorable gigs back in 1982, and it was arranged to launch the Circus Animals album. That was the night that Jimmy rode the high-wire trapeze on the back of a motorbike while singing and swigging vodka. (“That won’t be going on this time,” he promises.)

This year, the Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne shows will be staged under a specially constructed, 10,000-capacity Big Top tent. More shows have been added due to demand.

There also won’t be any lions, tigers or camels wandering through the stalls as there were in 1982. Memories of the night have blurred a bit with the passing decades to the point where no one is sure about the wild animals. “It looked just like the standard Chisel front row,” Walker suggests.

Memory lane for the members of Cold Chisel was more like Sideshow Alley. Small recounts a night in Terrigal when Steve Prestwich ended up naked on the floor as the chaos exploded around him. They were playing venues licensed for 250 with 1200 punters in there. The night at the pier when they drive the ute through the back wall. It all comes flooding back. Those were the days…

The challenge for Cold Chisel, as with any band that’s been together for decades, is keeping it fresh.

According to Small, “Well, I think having that big break like we have - four years - that's enough to sort of really want to do it again because we've all missed it. I know I have.”

Barnes adds, “I play Khe Sanh, and I play Flame Trees. Occasionally, I play Cheap Wine on the set, but there's nothing like playing it within the confines of this band.”

Something about the band's chemistry makes those songs work better than anybody else playing them.   

He continues, “There's a lot of room for push and pull within those songs, and from night to night, those songs more often become different things. I don't think Ian ever plays the same thing twice, you know? We're always looking at ways to freshen ourselves up on stage.”

Moss says, “A lot of these songs have moments for improvisation built into them, so I look forward to seeing what I can pull out of the songs.”

The Big Five-O tour starts on Saturday, 5 October, in Armidale and then laps around Australia for seven weeks before finishing on 17 November in Adelaide. Most of the major shows will feature The Cruel Sea as special guests. 

“We had thought about this for a long time, but in the light of my last little health crisis, we thought - seize the moment.”

You can catch Cold Chisel on tour throughout October and November.



Saturday 5 October – Armidale, Petersons Winery *^ª

Tuesday 8 October – Gold Coast, Convention & Exhibition Centre ^

Friday 11 October – Sydney, Entertainment Quarter *^

Saturday 12 October – Sydney, Entertainment Quarter *^ - NEW SHOW

Tuesday 15 October – Wollongong, WIN Entertainment Centre ^

Saturday 19 October – Caversham, Sandalford Wines *^ª

Sunday 20 October – Caversham, Sandalford Wines *^ª – NEW SHOW

Friday 25 October – Melbourne, Flemington Racecourse *^

Saturday 26 October – Melbourne, Flemington Racecourse *^ - NEW SHOW

Saturday 2 November – Brisbane, Victoria Park *^

Sunday 3 November – Brisbane, Victoria Park *^ - NEW SHOW

Wednesday 6 November – Newcastle, Entertainment Centre ^

Saturday 9 November – Ballarat, Victoria Park *^ª

Sunday 10 November – Victoria, Mornington Racecourse *^ª – NEW SHOW

Wednesday 13 November – Glenorchy, MyState Bank Arena ^

Saturday 16 November – Sydney, Qudos Bank Arena *^

Sunday 17 November – Adelaide, VAILO Adelaide 500 *^

* with The Cruel Sea

^ with Karen Lee Andrews

ª with Birds Of Tokyo and The Superjesus