When I heard of Michael Gudinski’s death my tweet declared that in the pantheon of Australian rock industry stars, Michael was the biggest of them all. Last week’s state memorial service left no doubt about it. Music stars and ordinary folk made their way to the Rod Laver Arena to pay their respects to the memory of a man who was unique in Australian culture. And the willingness of international artists like Elton John, Rod Stewart, Sting and many, many more to appear on screen with their personal tributes was a testament to Michael being a colossus.
Judging from the testimonies we heard, I wasn’t the only person to have had stand-up rows with Michael. We had some beauties, and yet I never had anything but respect, and like all those others in the big room, a whole mess of love for him too.
I first met Michael in the flesh in early 1978 when he flew me over from Perth to discuss signing with Mushroom. Some of his close associates like Ian Smith and Peter Grace had sung the praises of the Suburbs and he’d listened. Michael picked me up from the Mushroom offices in his Celica, I laugh because that was the car my try-hard character from my song Mugs Game also drove. We went to the Dallas Brooks Hall to see his band Stars in concert with Richard Clapton, and on the way, he enthusiastically played the unreleased tape of his newest signing Sports – “What Did The Detectives Say“. As many others said about Michael, he relentlessly spruiked his bands. He loved the music on his label. Once at the Dallas Brooks he charged up another gear because live music, from what I saw was his greatest passion.
And boy, would he have been proud of the music at his memorial. His great mate, Jimmy Barnes kicked it off with a great new single “Flesh and Blood” that Michael G would have loved. Then the extended Barnes clan performed, and it was moving and emotional. Mia Wray whom I’d not heard before, was terrific, what a fabulous talent. Mark Seymour with Vika and Linda was sublime, and Paul Kelly fittingly painted Melbourne, Michael’s beloved city in song. A clearly moved Ed Sheeran gave us three lovely songs accompanying himself on guitar. Starting with “Castle on the Hill” and concluding with his newly written song “Visiting Hours“. It was very emotional just being in the audience. It was a good choice by Kylie too to take us back to where her career began with “Locomotion” instilling a bit of upbeat fun into this very emotionally-laden occasion. And a special mention to Lee Simons who handled the demanding role of MC quite brilliantly.
While it was a state celebration of Michael’s life the eulogies by Michael’s children Matt and Kate reminded us all that this was also a very personal loss for them and their mum, Sue. I think those of us there felt privileged that we could empathise and share our grief too. Rabbi Menachem Wolf struck just the right note with the audience and made a very telling point, that Michael’s great gift and talent was to support his artists thereby bringing so much joy and happiness to the lives of people through those artists. The young dude sitting next to me introduced himself and explained that he had only recently met Michael, and just the once, but that too showed how Michael had spanned a couple of generations, and was an influence for all.
I was one of the early ones in the stable, I recorded for Mushroom Records, wrote the Mushroom 25th anniversary book and TV special, and Mushroom’s first feature movie Cut, produced by Martin Fabinyi and directed by another rocker Kimble Rendall.
Yet, even for those who never met Michael, if you were Australian, he likely enriched your life somehow, by his artists, his concerts or his unrelenting passion for homegrown talent writing and performing Australian material for Australian audiences. I kept imaging Michael off to the side watching the event with a huge grin on his face.
To say he will be sadly missed is an understatement. My condolences to Sue, Matt, Kate and their families. I will miss you Michael.