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Tex Perkins: The Show Must Go On

Focusing his recent efforts on 'The Show', Tex Perkins chats to Rolling Stone about entertainment in lockdown, and the future of live gigs.

Tex Perkins is, in no uncertain terms, an absolute treasure of the Australian music scene. Throughout his storied career, it’s felt like he’s done just about everything. Now, with COVID-19 necessitating the launch of The Show, it feels like he’s now done just about everything else.

First launched back in May, the entertainment variety program effectively began as a way to prove the old adage that the show must go on. With live performances feeling like a thing of the past, and entertainers taking to their phones to go “live” in an effort to stay connected with their fans, Perkins decided – as he is wont to do – to do things a little bit differently.

Taking to his property in northern New South Wales, Perkins created an experience like no other. Dubbed The Show, the program was designed as a way to provide entertainment in isolation. With its first episode being broadcast for free online, it begins with Perkins utilising his inimitable charisma as he delivers a mesmerising rendition of Donovan’s “Season of The Witch”.

As he soon shows off his hosting talents, Perkins is joined by Murray Paterson and Headland, with musical performances and interviews evoking memories of similar shows such as Studio 22, on which Perkins’ band The Cruel Sea once performed.

Since then, The Show has continued on its path, with Perkins being joined by the likes of Christian Pyle and Jez Mead for the next episodes, which have been made available via ticket purchase.

“What began as a last resort, The Show has turned into yet another thrilling creative adventure for me,” Perkins said in a press release. “Despite the grim reasons for its creation, I’ve really enjoyed not only filming and recording my music with various special guest musicians, but also having the opportunity to showcase their talents to a wider audience.”

For a musician who rose to fame as a member of the animalistic Beasts of Bourbon back in the early ’80s, Perkins is used to overcoming the changing face of the music industry. With the local music scene facing some of its biggest challenges yet, The Show is another example of how one of Australia’s most iconic performers has been able to adapt to the changing face of the world of entertainment.

With episode four of The Show – featuring Lucie Thorne – set to broadcast on July 26th, Perkins spoke to Rolling Stone about the creation of his program, how he’s dealt with the state of the world in recent months, and what’s next for the Australian music scene.

How have you been managing to cope with everything going on in the world lately?
Well I feel very fortunate. I live in a rural area, so even at the height of the lockdown – I live in northern New South Wales, in the country – physically, nothing really changed. We could still get out and walk around, surrounded by trees, animals, and children, and all the good things in life. We kind of live in a fairly remote area, so we’re kind of used to stocking up anyway. So it was just a little bit more than usual.

The Show is what you’ve been working on for the last little while. What made you decide that a broadcast like this was the way to go?
When it all came down and the world shut down in March – specifically our industry; all gigs, events, everything was cancelled – for about 24 hours, everybody went, “Oh, my God”, and then the next day everyone went, “Oh, I know! We’ll go online!” So everybody went for their phones and their computers, but where we live, we were fortunate to have already built this large hall, this shed. We built it in order to entertain guests, but it’s got a P.A., it’s got a stage, it’s got lights. So we sort of had the infrastructure to do something that was a bit more than just singing in front of a phone in front of the bathroom.

I think at the beginning, we all came together out of a sense of desperation, just to have something to do, and just so that we didn’t feel so helpless, ourselves – without any thought of where it was going, or what we were going to do with it. And because we had this setup, and because we were out in the country, and fairly away from the real sort of tension of the whole situation, I felt fortunate, and I felt a responsibility to say, “Well, let’s share this with people – let’s get this out.” I also felt a responsibility to not only entertain, but also to give something to calm people down a bit. I don’t want to use the word “distraction”, but I guess I just did. We came together out of a sense of responsibility, with a tinge of desperation [laughs].

We’ve pretty much used artists that are within arm’s length – so to speak – of us, and they’re all people that are living in the Northern Rivers, we call them, of New South Wales. There was Murray Patterson and Headland, Jez Mead, Christian Pyle, and the next episode has a girl called Lucie Thorne, who is a talented girl.

She lives in Melbourne but tours the world often – she was in New York in late February and she just got out of there at the right time. She has found herself in the Northern Rivers during this period. She just decided to come up here many, many months ago, so we’re fortunate she’s joined our musical community up here.

Were there any artists who turned down the offer to be a part of The Show, or was everyone pretty keen to be involved?
Well, the only turndown has been… Well, I wanted to get Matt Walker out of Melbourne. He’s someone I’ve collaborated with a lot, and we’ve actually recorded an album together. We’ve wanted to do a show that would showcase our album, but he’s in Melbourne, and ain’t nobody getting out there for a while. The north coast community, there’s a lot of people I can reach out to. I think I’ll probably get Kram on the show. He’s a good friend and he’s not too far away. There’s a lot of people that I would love to have on the show, but so far, it’s really been people who have got their act together, have been around for a while, and have never really broken through or had a really high profile.

So apart from being a platform for me to do something, it’s been really great to be able to showcase these great, but not so well-known talents, and elevate them a little bit. As I say, they’ve all been in arm’s reach, so I guess I don’t know whether The Show will continue out of this context of COVID and the pandemic, but who knows? When the borders get back open, we may have all sorts of interstate artists on the show.

A lot of livestreams will likely continue to be held after lockdowns and quarantine ends, so a show like this is a great platform to keep going if you have both the opportunity and the time.
It’s very hard to get people to pay for stuff. We gave the first one away, just put it out there, and a lot of people watched it, and a lot of people were saying, “I’m not used to getting this for free. Where can I pay?” So we thought, “Oh, maybe we’ll take them up on this offer.” But a vast amount of people watched the first one for free, and a tiny fraction ended up paying the $10 for the second one. But that’s a reality we’ve learnt to live with, that people don’t like to pay for music, unless they can actually be in the room with it – and they took that away from us [laughs].

But I have to say, apart from The Show, I am fortunate again to actually have a few gigs coming up. We’re playing a series of shows in venues that usually have 300 to 500 people, that are just putting 100 in them with all this social distancing.

That would definitely feel a bit strange for a performer such as yourself, wouldn’t it?
Yeah, but, well, give me a gig [laughs]. I’m so looking forward to it. I mean, what does a gig look like these days, exactly? Well, I’m keen to find out. I’m itching to do these. They’ve all sold out, these gigs. They’re all only a 100 people, but they get snapped up pretty quick. There is a demand out there, and people are very keen, given the opportunity, to come back and see a show.

I feel that once gigs actually return, it’ll be a little difficult to get a ticket to anything, since everyone would be so starved so see this entertainment they’ve been pining for.
To tell you the truth, there’s a twinge of guilt, because seeing what’s going on down in Melbourne, I feel guilty about having a gig. But also again, I feel a sense of responsibility. I mean, if you’re given a gig, you fucking go and do it. It’s not only just about me, but it’s about the venues and the promoters, and they need to get things going again. Also, the audience.

Just briefly touching on The Show again. When you were putting it together, was there any sort of televised music format you were influenced by?
Funnily enough, we toyed around with filming things for many weeks before the first episode. There were trial shoots, where we kind of spent five or six weeks working out how the film crew would be able to bring a show like this together. There was a lot of ideas that didn’t work. For instance, the interview aspect of the show, which now we’ve sort of put into the context of talking to the guest just before we play a song together. That’s a much more natural situation.

Originally, we had it set up like there was music over here, and then there was an interview section over here, and it was sort of set up like a Parkinson situation with just a couple of chairs. We had a few goes at that, and it’s not my strong suit. That’s probably the hardest thing, the whole hosting and interviewing aspect is probably the least natural fit for me. I could be natural and talking to the audience onstage, but then talking to a camera and imagining you are talking to people that can’t give you any interaction back? It’s a tough one. I won’t be winning any media awards in the near future for my interview technique.

Episode Four of Tex Perkins’ The Show is set to premiere on July 26th at 6pm AEST, with musical guest Lucie Thorne. Tickets are available now via Oztix.