Logan City Eskimo Joe

Rockwiz Salutes Vanda And Young

Julia Zemiro and Brian Nankervis
Our eclectic team of writers from around Australia – and a couple beyond – with decades of combined experience and interest in all fields.

The cast of Rockwiz will embark on a special three-city tour to salute one of Australia's most famous songwriting and production teams, Vanda & Young.

Co-creator, co-host, audience wrangler and adjudicator Brian Nankervis chats to us about the Aussie legends and just what the show will entail.

How are you going to incorporate Vanda & Young into the show?
We're basing our show around a selection of songs they either wrote, performed or produced, and we're basically looking at their career. They started with The Easybeats for about six years, then they produced and wrote for other artists like John Paul Young, The Angels, Stevie Wright with 'Evie'... then they had a little off-shoot band called Flash In The Pan, who had a couple of great singles during the Countdown years. Then they produced the first six AC/DC albums! George Young is the older brother of Angus and Malcolm out of AC/DC.


Will Harry Vanda or George Young be on the show?
They won't be on the show — George is a reclusive character who lives in Lisbon, Portugal, and Harry lives in Sydney, but is unable to be there. In an ideal world they would come.

How did the idea for the Vanda & Young 'salute' come about?
We wanted to pay tribute to an era, act or a movement. And it was James Black, our keyboard player, who suggested Vanda & Young. They have this incredible story and an incredible legacy of hits from the early '60s to the late '80s.

I think they are a really important, vital part of the Australian rock story. Australians always like to brag about how we can do things overseas as well. 'Friday On My Mind' was their breakthrough single when they went to England and was a massive hit there and in America; Springsteen has often talked about that song and David Bowie covered it on Pin-Ups, but beyond all that, its a great structure for the show.

Do you have any personal connection with Vanda & Young?
The Easybeats were a big part of my teenage years. We all loved The Beatles and The Stones, but there was something great about [The Easybeats], because they were Australian. But as someone pointed out the other day, they're all boat people; two Poms, a Scotsman and two Dutchies who all ended up in Sydney, and then met at the Villawood Migrant Hostel in 1964.

I always loved them and I owned a single of 'Evie'. Good music is timeless and that's something we've discovered with Rockwiz, our audience is remarkably diverse in demographic, gender and age. We look out at the live shows, or at the TV tapings and they're all ages. We get our fair share of very, very enthusiastic music punters — who often end up on-stage — which is a great part of the show.

The Rockwiz Orkestra will be backing the artists, but can you tell us which special guest artists will be featured on the tour?
I can't reveal who the guests are! It's been a traditional thing for us, it started with the TV shows. Julia would give some hints, and the contestants would have to be the first to buzz and nominate who they were, and we realised that this was something about the show that people loved. They loved that excitement of trying to guess. We've had endless toing and froing with SBS, who of course want to publicise the show and publicise the guests; yet we've got a lot of people who love the show, that don’t want to know who they are, because they like to play the game at home.

But what I can tell you, in true Rockwiz fashion, is we've got a real mix of veteran performers and up-and-coming young artists who are in big bands and who are very hip. So independent artists as well as mainstream artists who are extremely young, as well as older household name artists. 

What's it like taking the whole crew on the road?
We love it, we all get on really well. Rockwiz has always worked as a collective. There are the three producers who are normally in charge, but we have script readings where everyone is involved. We've all been around for a while so there are no ego battles, it's like going on camp. And you get to do these shows in beautiful theatres in front of audiences that are pretty pleased to see you.

Julia, myself and the band began our performing life as live performers, so it's like going back to our first love. It's great. It's a lot harder making the TV shows in a long thin room, it's very crowded, it's very hot, I can't move and I love to move around among the audience. On the live shows we're usually in live theatres, they're a little bit looser so we can take more risks than we do on the TV, because you're always mindful of the lighting, cameras and the sound, whereas the theatre shows are a lot bigger and bolder.

Some audience members will be drawn from the crowd for the tour, what's your selection process?
I get 18 to 20 people out of the audience up onstage at the start of the night and run three rounds of questions. We pick the best four members, who actually go into the show. We do it on a mixture of luck, and I invite people to approach me in the foyer to come and speak to me before the show, so I can try and find a really good rock brain. Every show there's always someone who gets through. I think people have really responded to that part of the show. The fact you can turn up at quarter to eight and then at five past eight you're on stage, and then at five past nine you're having a little hair and makeup done and you're on the show.

Will the tour be filmed and made into a TV show?
We're going to film one of the shows, but we're still trying to work out which one.

Finally, why should people come to the show?
People should come to the show because they'll have a rocking good night. There's hopefully going to be something for everyone. They will get a real slice of Australian rock history and will see not one, not two, not three, but around ten Australian stars onstage. There'll be the normal hijinks beforehand with the questions, the answers, [roadie] Dugald will be there, Julia will be there, the band will be there, there'll be great songs and it'll simply be a great night.

Rockwiz Salutes Vanda & Young will travel to the following venues:

Wed Dec 4 — Thebarton Theatre (Adelaide)
Fri Dec 6 — Enmore Theatre (Sydney)
Sun Dec 8 — Palais Theatre (Melbourne)

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