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Vale Michael Gudinski

In honour of what would have been the music icon’s 69th birthday, friends and colleagues reflect on the great Michael Gudinski.

Brian Purnell of Mushroom Creative House

When Michael Gudinski passed away unexpectedly in early March, the music world was shaken to its core. Not just in Australia, but on a wider, national level. A true entrepreneur by every definition of the word, Gudinski’s impact was felt far and wide, with the Australian music scene likely to have been an entirely different entity without his influence.

For the June issue of Rolling Stone Australia, a number names from the Australian music industry shared their thoughts and insights into the life and legacy of the great Michael Gudinski. In honour of what would’ve been the music icon’s 69th birthday, we’ve collated these memorials to share a fitting tribute to one of the Australian industry’s biggest and most influential names.

Image of Michael Gudinski on Rolling Stone

Photo by Brian Purnell of Mushroom Creative House.

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“I’ve come a long fucking way, so I’m going to say some words.” 

Only Michael Gudinski, or perhaps his old running mate Michael Chugg, could open a speech to the UK music industry with these words and get away with it.

Gudinski did just that, at a slap-up black-tie function in London back in 2002. The Mushroom Group Chairman happened to be on hand at the Music Managers Forum’s annual gala, to introduce his good mate and Kylie Minogue’s then-manager Terry Blamey, who was collecting the Manager of the Year Award.

It was pure Gudinski. No mucking about, entertaining, uncut, unscripted, unreal. The presence of this gregarious Aussie probably terrified a few toffs, but no one in the room would forget him.

Gudinski was in London again in 2012 when Blamey received the prestigious Peter Grant Award for excellence in his field.

That was part of Gudinski’s magic. The ability to be everywhere at the same time, make his presence felt, get some business done, and out.

Magic is, after all, a trick. MG understood better than anyone in the world of music that doing business is about relationships, and to build those you need to connect.

MG was, at his heart, an internationalist. With that appetite for travel and a freakish stamina, he would be everywhere at once, a whirlwind of storytelling, enthusiasm, always representing Australia, and its artists.

Like magic, really.

Before the internet and smartphones connected us in real time, Gudinski made the world smaller for Australia and its music industry. He created an outpost in the UK for his Mushroom brand – an unheard of proposition for an indie from Down Under in the Nineties – signing Muse, Ash, and Garbage.

Always pushing Australian music, building the pipeline, getting business done.

I sat with Gudinski for several lengthy, and candid, interviews in late 2009 and early 2010, for a special which appeared in Billboard magazine. The issue was published to coincide with Michael’s keynote address at Midem 2010. MG spoke in Cannes on January 26th; Australia Day.

When asked why he chose to stay in Melbourne, rather than chase the bright lights and big bucks of London, New York or Los Angeles, he told me: “I would rather be a big fish in a small sea. And I made a conscious decision to bring up my kids in a town where I was born. With the benefit of hindsight,” he added, “if I had gone to live in England or America for a while, it might have made a huge difference to a couple of the Mushroom artists like Split Enz, who should have been a huge international success and almost were. I don’t regret the decision I made, but it frustrated me not to have the success in the US that I’ve had elsewhere.”

We’re fortunate he loved Australia, and Melbourne, so. 

There’s nothing like a sudden, unexpected passing of a giant to punch you in the gut.

Gudinski’s death on Tuesday, March 2nd left a planet-sized crater in the music industry, no doubt about it. There will be calls for a statue in Melbourne and a “Gudinski Lane”. All in good time.

Michael Gudinski should be remembered for rolling up his sleeves and doing all the hard work. MG crashed through the borders and made it easier for the rest of us.

Follow his lead, and keep going.

– Lars Brandle

Lars Brandle and Michael Gudinski at the keynote interview at Bigsound 2010 in Brisbane.

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When I received a call at 8.30am on March 2nd 2021 I had to ask for Frank (Stivala) to repeat what he said. My world stopped. The unthinkable had happened.

My great friend, rival, partner, and soul brother, Michael Gudinski had passed in his sleep just hours after we had spoken on Monday night.

52 years ago, as a very naïve 21-year-old Tasmanian, fresh off the boat with dreams of being part of the rock music world, I met a 16-year-old bloke with long red hair in the back offices of the Ambo agency in Melbourne. So began an amazing journey which will never be forgotten.

The Seventies were an amazing time, flying by the seat of our pants, creating magic moments; Sunbury and the emergence of many number one radio hits with Australian bands and homegrown music. It was the beginning of Mushroom Records, overseas travel, and the raging thirst to break our artists internationally.

Fuck the tyranny of distance, here we come. MG led the way like the whirlwind he was, they were crazy times and the crazy Aussies amused the yanks and the poms no end, they must have thought, ‘Who is this lunatic Gudinski?’

In 1979, along with our partners in Premier Artists, we started the Frontier Touring Company. Partly because MG had come home with all the UK new wave acts’ publishing contracts, and also due to my experience as the tour director on all the big Seventies stadium tours.

Frontier’s first tours were Squeeze, The Police, and who could forget the never-ending tours of the Eighties with Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Billy Joel, and more. When Sting saw MG and I approaching him, he would smile and shake his head.

The Nineties were about reaching milestones, Madonna, Guns N’ Roses, Bon Jovi to name just a few crazy out-of-control tours.

“Music has lost a titan and I have lost my friend.”

In 2000, after problems with some of the partners, I left to do my own thing. Michael was disappointed but secretly proud I had the balls to leave.

Our companies battled for number one, it was good fun. In all that time, we had a healthy rivalry, we never poached each other’s acts and we continued to talk and meet up, often in weird places around the world.

Around five years ago we started talking more, we saw that our similarities and values were the same; our love for the fans, Australian music, our independence, working with teams of wonderful people, and of course the pleasure of chaos and the rock and roll spirit. All the while, being worried about the damage the multi-corporate promoters were doing to the business.

When we announced our JV (joint venture) in 2019, the reaction worldwide was incredible. Some people called it the love story of the 21st century. We still fought like an old married couple – a lot of it was to keep the staff amused and for our own fun – the industry will always need a maniac or two.

My heart is broken that it has ended so quickly, but I feel him with me every day as we move forward. It is a huge mark of respect that with his passing the Australian music industry has united like never before and I’m so sad he won’t be here when Australian rock rules the world.

Music has lost a titan and I have lost my friend. Love ya, Mickey.

– Michael Chugg AM, Executive Chairman, Chugg Entertainment

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I knew Michael Gudinski for more than 40 years – despite always being spirited and determined competitors, we were close friends – and he was someone I had a great affection for. 

We promoted some tours and festivals together, mostly successfully (and sometimes disastrously not). We fought over many other tours over several decades, with wins and losses on both sides.

I always enjoyed hanging out with him – usually in late-night meetings, often in cities overseas when our paths crossed – as those were the only times you could ensure you would not be interrupted by his constant phone calls or by people barging into his office to ‘shanghai’ a minute of his time. 

“Michael was a force of nature. He was in every sense of the words both a ‘macher’ and a ‘mensch’.”

Michael was the king of distraction and always enjoyed being at the centre of the whirlwind.

We would talk about family, and music, and life as much as we would discuss business. Michael and I came from very similar family backgrounds, first-generation Aussies from Holocaust survivor parents, and we understood and trusted each other in a very essential way. 

And we were both super fans, in awe of the creators of the music we promoted, and happy to be facilitating their successes.

Michael was a force of nature. He was in every sense of the words both a “macher” and a “mensch”. Many worlds are feeling much emptier in his absence. 

I’m missing him immensely.

– Michael Coppel, Chairman, Live Nation Australasia

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On one Springsteen tour, I was fortunate enough to attend a very special dinner that Michael had organised so that Bruce, the E Street Band, and their team could celebrate the tour’s success with Frontier.

It was an inspiring evening on so many levels, but here I was a lifelong Bruce fan and I am sitting at a dinner table with The Boss and the E Street band – I had to pinch myself!

It was incredible to hear insightful speeches from Michael and Denis Handlin (Sony Music’s Chairman) about the history and benefits of our partnership. However, what was most memorable was the speech that Bruce gave where he talked about music, his love of Australia, and leadership in which he said:

At the end of the day, it’s not about what you have or even what you have accomplished. It’s about who you’ve lifted up and who you have made better. It’s about what you have given back.”

Michael loved that quote so much that he had it framed behind his desk. Those words crystallised his leadership philosophy for his Mushroom “family” and the fabulous culture that he created.

It was fast-paced, sometimes rough and tumble, but always exciting.

“As he often said: ‘Our artists are our strength’.”

If you met Michael, you never forgot him. He was simply energetic, roguish, and charmingly persistent… but most of all he was a very passionate human being. His passion spread to everything he touched, but it was most evident in the way he felt about his beautiful family he cared so much about, the artists that inspired and excited him throughout his career, sport, and the Mushroom team he built and worked so closely with.

Over the decades, I witnessed Michael’s incredible energy and caring ability inspire his team to the greatest of heights. If you were in his orbit, he made you feel special and so very much encouraged… so much so that after 27 years of working for him, when it was time for me to answer the call to move to Los Angeles, Michael supported and cheered me on more than anyone else!  

As he often said: “Our artists are our strength”.

Those words simultaneously helped all of us at Mushroom tap into our individual strengths. To give us the confidence and drive to work so hard on those artists’ behalf, and it’s what made Mushroom such a special place.

To me, Michael’s greatest legacy in our business is the group of wonderful and talented creative people that he wove together into such an amazing company. It was a great joy to be able to not only work with incredible artists, but with so many wonderful Mushroom people.

Michael’s ability to inspire such a great working environment has helped me create many of the long-lasting friendships and memories of my life. I will be forever grateful for that the most.

No greater testament to that was how the Mushroom family came together in their grief and created such a beautiful and moving tribute to him at Rod Laver Arena in March.

The music industry will never be the same without him; but will forever be enriched by his contribution to it – especially to the team and culture at Mushroom that he inspired and led. 

Rest easy Michael.

– Michael Harrison, Senior Vice President Global Touring, AEG Presents

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Michael Gudinski made a promise to me at the 1998 ARIA Awards:

“Jane Gazzo, you and I have to work together one day.”

I never forgot it, because that was all he said to me. I was in my early twenties and co-hosting Recovery at the time, and the comment had come completely out of the blue. I remember thinking, “Michael Gudinski actually knows who I am!”

Our paths would cross many times over the years – at gigs here and there, and in different countries.

I remember being invited to a small industry dinner in London at his favourite restaurant, Mr Chow. There were probably six of us at the table but MG spent the duration of the meal on the phone plotting and planning. He’d sit down and no sooner would his phone ring again and he was off for another ten minutes, his loud voice bellowing and bouncing off the walls in the restaurant.

In April last year, my phone rang.

It was MG.

“I promised you we’d work together one day. I’ve finally got something you’d be perfect for.”

Michael had the green light to produce a weekly live-streamed series called The State of Music to keep artists and audiences connected during lockdown.

He wanted me to host it.

I was elated. It was such an honour to be asked.

From there began an adventure which seems like a whirlwind.

Michael would phone me every couple of days.

“JG. It’s MG. I can’t tour any bands and my staff and I are all housebound, but my creative juices are flowing!”

The country was mid-COVID, we were in lockdown, but MG was buzzing with ideas and a vision.

We produced six shows for The State of Music but MG of course had bigger plans.

He approached ABC TV about a weekly program, showcasing Australian artists, then rang me up to help choose the name.

“JG, MG here.

“Whaddya think of The Hook, The Load-In or The Sound? My daughter Kate suggested The Sound. I think we’re going with that.”

I became accustomed to MG’s unusual phone technique. He’d talk at a million miles an hour barely leaving any room for me to answer back or ask questions and then hang up without saying goodbye.

I quickly devised my own technique in return, so that when he phoned me, I’d answer without saying hello and launch straight into whatever I needed to tell him before he started his verbal tirade.

The Sound was soon launched on ABC TV. The fact that Michael managed to get an Australian music show on free-to-air television in the middle of a pandemic was incredible. The breadth of artists both established and emerging who performed on the show was testament to his vision and the respect they felt for him. The Mushroom team worked tirelessly behind the scenes and helped create so many memorable moments. The positive feedback soon came in thick and fast from all corners of the country. I was so proud to be part of something that was embraced and appreciated by so many.

Every Sunday evening after The Sound aired, we’d debrief on what had worked, what could be better, and fairly soon we were filming series two right up until Christmas 2020.

MG had a long list of new and established artists he wanted to book for the show and spoke with such excitement about them all as well as his ideas for how he wanted to shoot the performances. You could hear his brain racing at a million miles. In a digital age, he valued physical print. He’d pore over the weekend newspapers and send short texts such as, ‘great story in the Green Guide’ or ‘Best TV series of 2020 – go buy The Australian!’ One morning he sent me a link to a Herald Sun article which was titled, ‘The 30 most influential Victorians of the past 30 years’ – I think he was particularly chuffed to be listed amongst friends Kylie and Paul Kelly!

It is hard to convey how Michael’s unwavering belief in me as a broadcaster buoyed my self-confidence. There were times when I often doubted myself, but he was always my biggest cheerleader. He would send texts like ‘U R on fire’ or ‘A+ interview’ after certain segments had aired. I had never experienced anything like it and some days I felt I could walk on water, just because he reckoned I could.   

I last saw MG in late January when we were filming the 2021 Sounds Better Together concert for Channel 9 in the Yarra Valley. We were all so happy to be out at a music festival seeing live music again after such a dire 12 months and MG was jovial and welcoming all the artists backstage. There was such a friendly family atmosphere and a buzz. His wife Sue was there as well as Matt and Kate; as were various members of the Barnes and Mushroom families. He was in his element; fussing over everyone from the managers to the roadies. It was beautiful to experience.

When I got home later that evening, I opened my bag and realised he’d gotten hold of the script I had been reading my lines from. In black marker pen he had written:

‘I love your greatness!’

My biggest cheerleader.

Two days before he passed away, he phoned again.

I answered the phone by singing a few bars of the Brian Cadd song “Magic” as I had seen Cadd perform live the night before.

“I don’t feel so magic JG. I don’t feel too good at all,” he responded.

“But we’ve got Series 3 of The Sound sorted. I saw the ‘Oils in Sydney the other night. They were fantastic. I’ve got my daughter coming round this afternoon to celebrate her birthday and make sure you keep the Easter weekend free. We’ve got some live shows…”

He was plotting and planning again and then in his usual fashion, he hung up without saying goodbye. He never said goodbye.

– Jane Gazzo, television presenter, radio broadcaster, and music journalist

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One Melbourne evening I had told Michael about my dad’s love for the Western Bulldogs football team. The following year they got into the finals for the first time in decades. MG remembered this and took me back a bit when he called me to say he had arranged VIP Box tickets for their finals game. Suit and tie, endless food and drinks… My old man was over the moon. In fact, I don’t think he stopped grinning all weekend despite the fact they lost the game! He would talk about it for years to come. 

Michael could see how much joy it brought to my dad and I remember he brought it up several times, couching it in the importance of family. The next week a courier arrived for me and it was a Bulldogs jersey autographed by the whole damn team! That signed jersey had pride of place in my dad’s home until the day he died. To me, this spoke volumes about his generosity of spirit and to his true nature.

“As a Melbournian cutting my teeth in the music business, Michael Gudinski was the power and passion of music personified.”

The last time I spoke to Michael was in December when I was attempting to get Harry Styles to Sydney for Mardi Gras. True to form he jumped in before I could even finish – to rant for five minutes (without drawing breath, I might add) about how Australian artists should always come first, and that’s what we need to be thinking about. He apologised afterwards saying something like, “You know Mark I just get passionate about these things and I can carry on a bit!” True to form he ended up connecting me later that day. 

As a Melbournian cutting my teeth in the music business, Michael Gudinski was the power and passion of music personified. It was always wonderful and often exciting to be in his presence. His passion and belief was infectious. He was the music and he was the business. Huge love to the Mushroom extended familia. 

– Mark Poston, Founder, Art Brut Management. Formerly Chairman EMI Music Australasia and Managing Director Warner Bros/Parlophone 

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The loss of Michael Gudinski is devastating. A paragon of music in Australia has left the building, way before his time.

A very dear friend for almost 50 years; Michael was truly one of a kind! I will keenly miss his fierce friendship, his unique character, his wit, and of course his brilliance! He has always been referred to as a legend, and rightly so for he has done more for our industry than anyone in the history of Australian music. We are substantially poorer for his passing.

Our hearts go out to Sue, Matt, Kate, and his granddaughters, whose grief must be unimaginable. His loss will be keenly felt.

Terry Blamey, Founder, Terry Blamey Management Group of Companies

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I first walked into the Dundas Lane headquarters in 1992 when I worked for the Victorian Rock Foundation, in the days of Ausmusic and the Melbourne Music Festival. I remember thinking to myself, “What a great name – Mushroom!”.

A name that literally stands testament to its founder’s vision for growth and success, and for building Australia’s largest independent label group and putting Australian artists on the map. Whilst I did not know him personally, Michael struck me as a man who did not suffer fools and as one who spoke his mind directly. Always bursting with energy and enthusiasm, as well as great pride in his artists and team of staff, he was highly regarded and earned the respect of all those he interacted with.

He was also a trailblazer in supporting the progression of the careers of the women who worked for him, and more broadly within the industry. I applaud his significant achievements and thank him for his leadership. He leaves a great legacy for others to follow.

Maria Amato, CEO, Australian Independent Record Labels Association (AIR)

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While COVID stopped the global music industry in its tracks, Michael Gudinski never stopped championing and creating opportunities for Australian artists.

Music From the Home Front, The State of Music, The Sound, Sounds Better Together; what Michael achieved in his last 12 months was nothing short of extraordinary. He was the only promoter in the world to build upon his already phenomenal legacy during a pandemic.

 That legacy is incomparable, but beyond his work and career achievements, he left a lasting and consistent impression on the industry and the people he worked with. 

The words and the themes that have come up are all the same; people said that Michael was tenacious and determined, pushing his staff and his artists to be better than they thought they could be. He could be relentless and stubborn, but was always loved and respected for his passion and purpose. He valued the qualities of loyalty and family above all else, he took care of his own, he backed himself, and he believed in his people. He made the impossible, possible. 

When everyone says the same things about a person, it really speaks to the authenticity of someone’s character and that in itself is something to be greatly admired.

– Susan Heymann, Managing Director, Chugg Entertainment

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As always, Michael Gudinski went out on his own terms, at the height of his powers and brimming with enthusiasm and energy for what lay ahead, despite the tough year we’d all had. At his most basic MG was the creator of opportunities and an investor in good people. Whether that was artists, managers, crew, staff – he found them, believed in them, nourished them, and backed them.

At his very core he was incredibly loyal, a true family man in every sense and devoted to the family he created both at home and in the workplace. He was quite rightly loud and proud of what he had built over so many decades, but always looking to the future too. 

Despite his big blustery persona, I’ll really remember his subtle kindness and respectful consideration towards me in the quieter moments, and his cheeky humour, the twinkle in his eye when he’d see just how far he could push something before you’d say, ‘Enough’. MG drove all of us to be better than we thought we could be, and that will be part of his and Mushroom’s enduring and ever-expanding legacy.

– Sahara Herald, Tour Director, Frontier Touring

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Some of the Mushroom Group staff at lawn bowls in Melbourne on March 25th, the day after Michael Gudinski’s memorial. (Photograph by Mushroom Creative House.)