|MILESAGO: Australasian Music & Popular Culture 1964-1975
|Agents, Managers & Promoters
Promoter, agent, manager, 1970s-present
Agent, manager and concert promoter Michael "Chuggie" Chugg has been a leading figure in the Australian music industry for over thirty years and his career as a promoter is now in its fifth decade. He has promoted some of the biggest concert tours in Australia and New Zealand, but he is also a tireless promoter of Australian music to the rest of the world. Like his friend and sometime busines partner Michael Gudinski, he's one of the few "industry" people who have becaome well-known to the general public, and many concert-goers will have experienced one of Chuggie's legendary front-of-stage harangues. He's never been one to "suffer fools gladly" and as Stuart Coupe observed
"Most people love Chugg. A few hate him. Many are jealous of him. Everyone respects him."
Michael Chugg's career in the music industry began in Tasmania in the 1960s, where he ran dances and managed local bands. The first gig he organised was for his cycling club in Launceston, at the age of 15.
"... we ran a rock dance at the
Trades Hall in Launceston. And it was a huge success. We had about 300
people there. And we made £80. Which in those days was just
incredible ... Mind you, it was the last 80 quid I saw for a few years.
Chugg moved to Melbourne in the late '60s where he scored a job with Consolidated Rock Agency, run by budding Melbourne entrepreneur Michael Gudinski and his partner Michael Browning. In 1972 Chugg was one of the main organisers of the now-legendary Sunbury Rock Festival.
"My first job was poster boy for Browning & Gudinsksi's Consolidated Rock Agency. I ended up being sent to Sydney to open an office there. They started a newspaper, the Daily Planet, which sent the business broke. I opened a new agency, Sunrise, with Roger Davies in 1971. It became the first national agency when we brought in Let It Be, a Melbourne company that handled Daddy Cool and Spectrum. Through this, I formed a relationship with [Let It Be owner] Phillip Jacobsen, and when Roger left in 1975 to start a very successful career in the U.S., Phillip Jacobsen and I joined Gudinski's agency, Premier Artists, in 1977. We opened The Harbour Agency in 1976. At the same time I was managing acts and a director of the agencies, I was a freelance tour coordinator with (Paul) Dainty from 1972-80 and did all the big tours. From 1977-80 I spent a lot of time overseas with my management acts, Kevin Borich and Richard Clapton.
It was during a stint in London ca. 1978 that Chugg's eyes and ears were opened to rising UK punk and New Wave acts. Groups likeThe Clash, Squeeze, Elvis Costello, The Police, Graham Parker & The Rumour and Ian Dury & The Blockheads were already major names in the UK and making inroads into the USA as well, but most of these bands were still little known in Australia at the time, since the only media outlets that were playing their music were Double Jay (2JJ), which was then only heard in Sydney, and Countdown. Kevin Borich took Chuggie to see The Police one night in London and this was the catalyst for the next phase of Chugg's career. He returned to Australia burning with enthusiasm to tour these acts, but Dainty has always preferred to promote "big ticket" events with broad appeal and didn't want to know about the new bands -- indeed, according to Chugg, he dismissed The Police as "East End scum". Dainty's refusal to back a Police tour prompted Chugg to part ways with Dainty and set up his a new comapny in partnership with Michael Gudinski and Phil Jacobsen:
"In 1978 or 79, Kevin [Borich] took me to the Lyceum in London to see a new band -- The Police. I was blown away, and back in Australia, I suggested we tour all these new U.K. acts that Dainty didn't want to know. At the same time, Gudinski came back from the U.K. He had signed the publishing of 90 percent of the punk explosion and we decided to start a touring company. We borrowed Ian Copeland's name, Frontier, and The Frontier Touring Company was born. Our first two tours were Ian's flagship acts -- Squeeze and The Police."
In the early '80s, as an artist manager, Chugg had success internationally with The Church and The Sunnyboys, but he decided to give up management to concentrate on Frontier. While general manager of Frontier Touring, Chugg organised and promoted more than 135 of the biggest international tours of the last twenty years including The Police, Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli and Sammy Davis, Jr, R.E.M., Bon Jovi, Kylie Minogue, Elton John, Billy Joel, Madonna's "Girlie" tour, Vans Warped Tour, Sting, John Fogerty, Guns 'N Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Garbage, KISS, Pearl Jam, Tom Jones and The Cure. In 1997, he produced the first Pacific Circle Music Convention, now named Australian Music Week.
Chuggie became a close friend of many top Australian performers like Billy Thorpe, and he indulged in the rock'n'roll lifestyle every bit as enthusiastically as his mates. The partying eventually caught up with him
Chuggie has for many years donated his time and talents to many charitable events and has raised more than $20 million for charity. He is a board member of the Prince Of Wales Children's Foundation and the New South Wales Arts Council Advisory Board. He is also a 12-year veteran and Trustee of the music industry charity, the Golden Stave Foundation, with which he has helped raise $2 million for the Paraquad Association, the Camperdown Children's Hospital, The Shepard Centre, Nordoff-Robins and the Starlight Foundation. Among the many benefit events his name has been associated with are Ash Wednesday Bushfire Appeal (1983), Rock The Way To L.A Olympic Appeal (1983), Australian coordinator for Bob Geldof's Live Aid concert (1985), Newcastle Earthquake Appeal concert raising $941,000 (1990), 'Turn Back The Tide' concert to save Bondi Beach (1998), The National Drug Offensive Concerts, and The Odyssey House Drug Rehab Program.
In 1992, along with actors Brian Brown, Rachel Ward and Doug Mulray, Chugg organized 'Bush Bash' for the Sydney City Mission, raising half a million dollars. In 1994, following the disastrous 1993 NSW bushfires, he coordinated the Bushfire concert at Sydney Football Stadium, featuring Sting, Bryan Adams and Jimmy Barnes, which raised $700,000 for Ian Kiernan's Clean Up Australia, The National Parks & Wildlife Foundation, and the Community Disaster Relief Fund.
That was followed by one of the biggest concert events of the decade, the 1996 Crowded House 'Farewell to the World' concert on the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House, which raised over $500,000 for the Sydney Children's Hospital at Randwick and became the largest free concert ever held in Sydney, with over 300,000 people attending. In 1998 Chuggie's tirless charity work was honoured with an Order of Australia and he was named Australia's 'Father of the Year'.
In 1999, after 25 years with the company he co-founded, Chugg was finding Frontier an increasingly difficult place to work. Gudinski's attention was elsewhere, focussed on his numerous other business ventures and (as it turned out) the imminent sale of Mushroom Records to News Ltd. Chugg was apparently also finding it increasingly difficult to work with his other partner, Phil Jacobsen, so he decided to leave Frontier and go out his own.
"Frontier Touring was a very proud time in my life. Myself, Michael Gudinkski and Philip Jacobsen built that company to be the biggest company in Australia and New Zealand. I think the last couple of years, the company was losing focus on what was going on. I felt we weren't keeping up with technology. Also, I felt we weren't doing enough with young acts and building a client base like we had done back in the early '80s with acts like The Police, Bon Jovi, Bob Dylan, Bryan Adams, and we weren't really getting on top of the new breed of acts. I was getting frustrated with that and thought I'd like to give it a try on my own, which I did and started Michael Chugg Entertainment."
After leaving Frontier Chugg founded Michael Chugg Entertainment. Initially it had backing from the Packer family's Consolidated Press Entertainment, but according to Stuart Coupe this arrangement was terminated because of CPE's unwillingness to back some of the tours Chugg was promoting, notably their refusal to back Bob Dylan's acclaimed 2001 tour, although both Chugg and CPE chairman Dainty give differing accounts of the nature of their disagreements.
In 2000 Chugg was co-producer of the Opening and Closing ceremonies of the Paralympic Games in Sydney. He was named International Promoter of the Year, 1997, by Performance magazine readers, and Promoter of the Year 2000 by Pollstar. MCE's management clients included the late Billy Thorpe and, currently, Eskimo Joe. In 2001 Chugg was instrumental in organising the Gimme Ted benefit concerts in Sydney, which paid tribute to and raised money for the terminally ill Ted Mulry and his family.
In 2002, with Kevin Jacobsen and (initially) Brian De Courcy, Chuggie co-promoted the hugely successful "Long Way To The Top" tour, the epochal concert event that featured most of the top Australian acts of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies.
"'Long Way To The Top' is, for
me, is probably the most exciting thing I've ever done. Because I've
taken all the heroes from my youth in this industry and we're touring
Australia to 140,000 people. I've got to tell you, watching these 40 to
60-year-olds having the time of their lives is just so rewarding."
Chugg is one of five major Australian promoters whose careers are examined in Stuart Coupe's 2003 book The Promoters. In 2007 Chugg helped to organse the Australian arm of the multi-national Live Earth concert. In June he helped to organise an all-star benefit at the Bridge Hotel in Sydney on behalf of one of his oldest friends, veteran Meteors/Aztecs roadie Norm Sweeney, who was undergoing treatment for cancer.
One particularly interesting comment from Cohen and Grossweiner's interview with Chugg was his anxiety over what he described as "radio's demographic-driven narrow programming":
"SFX/Clear Channel Entertainment's monopolization of American music is terrifying and as an outsider looking in with a lot of close friends in the business -- my knowledge of which is pretty good -- is doing a lot of damage to the American music scene and I hope it's kept out of our part of the world."
References / Links
Michael Chugg by Jane Cohen and Bob
(original source unknown)
Long Way To The Top -- "The Promoters"