It's been a long wait between shows for Chicago's loyal Melbourne fans
NEIGHBOURHOOD with DEBBIE KRUGER
Ian Gray’s musical memories go way back. The 62 year-old retiree from Blackburn has bootleg recordings of concerts from over 30 years ago, and can talk for hours about the acts he saw while living in London in the early 1970s Led Zeppelin, The Who, Humble Pie, The Band, George Harrison, Pink Floyd. And Chicago.
“I saw them at Albert Hall in 1971, got one of the last tickets in a box close to the stage. It cost £5 and they played for three and a half hours.”
Chicago, the rock band with horns that formed in Illinois’ Windy City in 1967, visited Melbourne for the first time in 1972. Robert Lamm, the keyboard player, vocalist and composer who has been with the group all of its 37 years, has clear memories of that time.
“The tour in '72 was a rock-stars-on-tour-party, and we had a ball,” Lamm recalls. “With only five albums up to that point, a smallish repertoire, we played in a fairly freeform manner, which the Aussie crowds grooved hard with.”
Gray was still in London soaking up its vibrant musical scene, but by the time Chicago returned to Australia in 1979, he was as close as you could get to the band during one of their two shows at the Myer Music Bowl.
“I got the last ticket right on stage. I was a couple of yards from them, left hand side near Robert Lamm. I couldn’t believe it when I showed my ticket to the usher and he walked me down the middle and up on the stage!” Gray gets excited by the memory. “They were fantastic; the sound was fabulous, it was a huge crowd.”
Also at the Myer Music Bowl 25 years ago was Jane Tipping from Mount Waverley. She was 16 at the time. “I was of the impression, even at that age, that they were going to be a quality act and was keen to see if they could reproduce that big sound on stage, with the horn section.”
Tipping bought a single ticket for each night, a Friday and Saturday. The ticket price was $13.50 and she was not disappointed.
Chicago had been through some major changes between visits. In early 1978 guitarist and vocalist Terry Kath, who the band members thought of as the “soul of Chicago,” died of a self-inflicted accidental gunshot wound. On the first anniversary of Kath’s death, the band was touring Australia.
“It was not an entirely happy time,” says Lamm, “but we played well, and I recall warm weather, sunny faces, and appreciative audiences.”
Remembers Tipping, “The quality of the music was just so good; I could hear every single instrument separately. All their songs were wonderful but the quality of the sound is what made the concert stand out.” That, and the presence of Lamm, who particularly caught her eye.
“I admired him for his ‘Saturday in the Park’ and ‘Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is’ and also the fact that when you’re a teenager you just focus your attention on the cutest guy in the band. I just felt a sudden admiration for him.”
Her admiration poured out in poetry, which included the lines:
Cute smile, brown hair flow, watch it blowin'.
In with the rythm, hit those keys---flashin' lights aglow.
A melody or two for me or you.
Just got to love that style.
Of spending some time for a while?
Whatcha say... hey !!
Oh well it was nice, in a way.
Seeing you play.
“As a teenager I had a lot of passion and enthusiasm for these artists and I used to write things because I had to get it out, share it, open up my heart to it,” Tipping says, slightly embarrassed but also glad to revisit that passion today. Because now Tipping, Gray and other loyal Chicago fans in Melbourne will finally get a chance to see the band again when they play at the Melbourne Blues & Music Festival at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre on Sunday February 8. (Book at Ticketmaster7 on 136 100 or www.ticketmaster7.com.)
Tipping met Gray by chance in a Blackburn record store recently. Among their common interests, they discovered, was a love for Chicago and memories of that 1979 tour.
“It’s all coming to me at once now and the opportunity to see them again is just “ Tipping breaks off with a happy realisation. “Oh my god, I’m going to the third night of Chicago! I saw them on the Friday and the Saturday and now on the Sunday 25 years later!”
Gray thinks he will stick to his policy of buying a ticket at the last moment; he reckons it’s held him in good stead to this point. Tipping already has her ticket in hand, as well as the poems she wrote about Lamm and the group that moved her all those years ago.
Chicago has experienced line-up and musical changes. While Lamm and the three original horn players James Pankow, Lee Loughnane and Walter Parazaider have stayed through the 37 years, founding drummer Danny Seraphine and singer/bass player Peter Cetera have long gone. So there will be “new” faces for Australian audiences, even if some of them have been playing with the group for over 20 years.
“We're a band which trusts the strength of the music,” says Lamm, “So you'll be hearing no explanations from the stage. This is a great, long- standing, well respected line-up.”
While Chicago has a strong presence in the United States, the long absence from Australia means they will just test the waters with one show this time.
“I am well aware we neglected our fans in Australia for far too long,” Lamm says. “We hope that our upcoming performance will impress both concert goers and concert promoters, and maybe after this trip promoters will invite Chicago back next year to play other cities as well.”
For fans like Gray and Tipping, that’s music to their ears.