Matt “MattyB” Bradshaw.
The day I was born it was bitterly cold. July is the coldest, wettest month of the year in Australia. Adding insult to injury, my birth occurred in Hobart, Tasmania, which means it was even colder and wetter than the rest of Australia. I was raised in a tiny mining town in the north-west called Luina. Then comprised of just fourteen streets, to the best of my knowledge it’s now a fully-fledged ghost town. The main street paving has been roughly broken apart and shoved aside by massive pines trees, reclaiming their original home. During those first two or three years, my father and mother took great joy in our summer seaside sojourns. I would chase the seagulls and romp with the family Golden Retriever, Haines and when winter rolled around again, the white wonderland was right at my back door.
I was three years old when we moved house for the first time, leaving our collective families behind. Mum left her parents and six siblings (damn Catholics! (actually, they weren’t, Ma and Pa must’ve just liked “doing it”)); and my Dad saying goodbye to his father, mother and two brothers. We didn’t head for the bright lights of a mainland city, but in fact to a town in South Australia called Whyalla, population 30000. It was “the big smoke” compared to where I’d come from. Whyalla was founded at the turn of the 20th century as mining town. It’s situated on the coast but it’s primarily an industrial entity. Politically it was staunchly Labor; the steelworks and the shipyards ensured that. A peculiar place, in its own way… the desert juxtaposed with the white-capped ocean, the Mullaquana people with the white fella.
After just a couple of years in Whyalla, we shifted house again, this time to Indonesia. My dad worked for BHP as a metallurgist back then, and we were one of the first expat families to go to Belitung, a tiny island in the Java Sea. Watching the home videos my dad took during our five years on this island paradise forms most of my memories of this time and it appears to have been quite idyllic. Mum played a lot of golf, badminton and bridge, and dad travelled to and from work in a blue ute. Just like me now. He taught me to drive in his work vehicle. I’d sit on his lap and steer and change gears with the column shifter and try with all my might to push down on his right leg to make us go faster. Considering the fact that women weren’t allowed to drive there(!) it was quite a liberty my father letting me do so. I had a tiny portable record player and a collection of seven-inch singles. I’ve no idea where they came from and certainly not where they are now. Joy and sorrow are sisters in the same house – moving so many times in my life has enabled me to leave everything behind many times. But I’ve had to leave everything behind many times. What I do know is that from the moment I heard music, I felt a connection with it. Something stirred in me when I heard that combination of elements. Something… essential. I can’t explain it, but I’ll never forget how it made me feel. So many of my heroes cite the first time of hearing the Beatles, Zeppelin, the Who or (even) the Stones as the pivotal musical moment in their lives. I didn’t have those experiences – I was so far removed from the majority of contemporary western music influences. But no matter what it was – no matter what language, no matter what scales, I was driven by music.
We moved back to Whyalla, and of this time, my memories are little more well-formed. I remember there was a huge reserve directly across the road from our house. Red dust and saltbush all over, perfect for BMX riding and exploring. Snakes, bah! Redback spiders, phooey! I was ten years old, and I said “bloody hell” for the first time in the accidental presence of my best friend’s father. That was about the worst trouble I can recall getting into – but then my memory is pretty terrible; I wonder how much I’ve blocked? I do recall when the automatic carwash got built; damn, that was exciting! And I remember sneaking across the road from my primary school to buy bubble gum cards as presents for my girlfriend. To leave the school grounds was a big no-no, particularly as a nine- or ten-year-old. That was just another occasion upon which I was threatened with corporal punishment. [That’s not a military person’s name, you understand, that’s an actual occurrence. I do hope Wendy appreciated my efforts.]
My time in this rural coastal city marks the occasion of my first foray into physically playing music. I learned violin, and Lord help my folks, let’s face it, it must have been excruciating. I’m certain nothing jars the senses and sensibilities quite so much as a ten-year-old playing violin. Except perhaps an ensemble of ten-year-olds playing violin. Oh, and tap-dancing. (Not the same group of ten year olds. Although that would almost be worth witnessing.) With the BEAT kids – tap those nasty patent leather shoes to the beat, not the words!
From Whyalla, we were off to Sydney. My Aunt and Uncle (also they are my god-parents) lived in a beautiful home in a place called Grays Point. Years before, when I was tiny, I used to get put on a ‘plane, my parents waving goodbye in Jakarta, my Uncle Richard and Auntie Robin picking me up from Mascot airport some eight hours later. I had loads of “holiday friends” in Grays Point. We’d play cricket across the cul-de-sac (ah, daylight saving) and (brilliantly) the milkman’s delivery van had a horn that sounded like a cow moo-ing. I came in for dinner once from getting the highest run score of the game, and upon telling my Auntie, received the response, “yes, but it’s not like it’s real cricket, is it?” Bless her. Once I was a local resident with my folks, rather than an international visitor with my relatives, we lived in three or four different houses in Sydney, and all of them down south. For those who don’t know the geo-political landscape of Greater Sydney, that makes me a “Shire boy”. Pastel-coloured sweaters worn ’round the shoulders and a need to be seen in all the right places. That’s one group. The rest is all about Southern Cross tattoos and board shorts. In my defense, I was just a kid, what did I know about it? The Cronulla hotel frontage I helped paint is still there, though I suspect the paintjob has been renewed by now. Possibly because of the race-riots. Ah.
By this stage, I’d given up playing violin to learn piano. In fact, this had happened in Whyalla and by all accounts, I was a reasonably good pianist in my third year. I auditioned for the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and they said, “Come back in the new year”. Then my piano teacher went to Canada, and I stopped playing, and we moved states again. That audition, by the way, marked the first time of my publically having to sing. My Gran had apparently always said she “knew I’d be a performer”, from all those times I’d climb up on the coffee table, demanding everyone’s attention at my parents’ dinner parties and family gatherings, and leaving out most of the words to Baa Baa Black Sheep. Singing at people; I’ve come such a long way.
I ended up living with my god-parents in Sydney for a year while my folks went to a tiny settlement in mid-north South Australia called Mount Gunson. I’d started high school and there was a decision that it didn’t make any sense to take me away from my friends and (good) school to go to another tiny outback community comprised mostly of dust and ignorance. It was weird year, my twelfth, with quite a lot of time spent in solitude, listening to music and trying to figure out who I was and who I was going to become. There was some sneaking out of the house late at night, a soupçon of meeting up with (somewhat) disreputable older friends. Nothing too untoward, really; surreptitious, passive-aggressive pre-teen rebellion. If I was to think about it, I guess I’d say that the years of being twelve to thirteen is a pretty tough time to be away from one’s own family. My Aunt and Uncle did a wonderful job of taking care of me, of course. But it’s not the same as having your own family unit. Or perhaps it’s better. How would I know? I mean to say: unless I’m unknowingly a Boy From Brazil, and there’s another one of me, raised entirely my by own mum and dad, and he and I (randomly? by design?) one day cross paths, there’s no “control” for this experiment. Wow, what if that’s why my parents went away? Pandora’s can of worms.
I was met by my folks at Adelaide airport, and whisked off to sit the entrance exam for Pulteney Grammar. I was accepted, but I didn’t want to go to an all-boys school. I went to Norwood High School, arguably the best public school (for you Englanders, “state school”) in South Australia. My parents bought a home in the catchment zone, and to this day this is where they live. The house is very close to – in fact across the road from – where the famous Penfolds Grange Hermitage originates. Is this why I like drinking so much? Is this why I’m a quite over-priced and a bit over-rated? I did no music performance through my high school years, save for writing Weird Al-style parodies of songs with my buddy Andrew and recording them in the back room of my house on the weekends. I knew I wanted to sing, and I almost certainly thought I was pretty good, but I suspect I was god-awful. There are tapes. Somewhere. Will they ever see the light of day? Unlikely. We used to go to our girlfriends’ choir practice and criticise. But would we actually get involved ourselves? No way! What lovely young boys we must have been.
I didn’t really enjoy school; I think much of that has to do with always being “the new kid”. In high school, I was by no means an extraordinary achiever, but unfortunately still above-average enough (in some subjects) to get noticed, and generally – if I was to be honest – a bit of a smart-arse. That’s a lousy combination, particularly when you’re only a little fella. Much has been revealed to me in recent years about that part of my life, a deal of it unpleasant. I’m gratified however, that those who have stuck by me are some of the best people I know.
So then I started playing guitar, and my life changed. See, I was going to be a landscape architect (cue Monty Python’s Lumberjack Song). Four years for architecture and two years post-grad for the landscape bit. I took some time off between high school and university, got a job, and thought about life – I couldn’t go back to full-time study, and during that time I pretty well lost touch with all of my high school compatriots. I worked in a supermarket, and made my way up through the ranks(!?) to become Assistant Manager, ostensibly by turning up one day with a badge pinned to my shirt that that said, “Assistant Manager”. I met my girlfriend Kerry whilst working at this market. She was the customer and I was the shop assistant: “Would you like me to stack your shelves, Miss?” We’re still friends to this day. I was at this time dutifully growing my hair like any bona-fide rockstar – at this stage of my hair’s development, I looked like a cross between Jimmy Hendrix and Arnold Horshack. My hair is naturally curly, which means it’s either quite short, really long, or terrible. Meanwhile, I asked of myself, incredulously: “Six years to be a glorified gardener…? How about, instead of six years to learn how much water a hibiscus needs, I study for just three years to get an economics degree? That sounds like a “sensible” plan”. Economics. Undoubtedly important, but (perhaps unsurprisingly) the most boring thing one could possibly imagine doing with one’s life. I mean, have you ever met an economist? Alright, I grant you there’s Paul Keating, but he’s the dynamic exception that proves the rule.
In my bedroom, in my car, everywhere I could, I practiced and practiced and practiced my guitar playing. I never sang with my parents in the house, I was far too self-conscious. Even now, the only time my parents have heard me sing is the two live gigs they’ve been to, or when I’ve been on television. It’s not that they haven’t always been supportive; it was just never in their frame of reverence I suppose. (do I have to explain that that’s not a typo?)
One of the first bands with which I worked saw my hilarious progression from sound engineer to bass player to guitarist to singer. The Adelaide music scene was reasonably solid at this time I suppose, but it was still small and insular, and so in order that I could gig as much as possible, I was in quite a number of bands at the same time. I was in a hard rock band called All This And More – we wrote some great stuff. Monster riffs a by couple of wicked players – I learned so much from watching Peter and Richie. That band was one of only two band auditions to which I’ve ever subjected myself. The first, I know I was terrible. I had to sing “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister and “Detroit Rock City” by KISS. Why did I think I could? I can’t recall it at all clearly, but if I had to think about it, I’d say that I never actually bothered to sing them out loud, just that in the abstract I thought I’d be able to. Well, I wasn’t able to. Excruciating in the extreme. I wonder then, when did I discover I subsequently was able to? Because for my ATAM audition, I think I sang Makin’ Love (also by KISS, here’s a common theme) and it went down a bloody treat. Certainly I got the gig. I was also guitarist in a Suzy Quatro tribute act, recording and performing (keyboards) with a band called Shyra, guitarist then singer in a cover band called The Beaver Hunters (our logo was actually a beaver holding a shotgun) as well as guitarist/singer in another called Can The Jam. My years before piano training came in handy as I also discovered the tech side of things – I did all the programming for a sequencer cover duo called “Noddy and Big Ears”. Which one of us was which was completely dependent on which one of us reached the gig first. It was all exciting stuff, but at the same time, I was struggling quite a bit with my place in the world. Again, here’s not the place for it, but suffice to say, without some very supportive friends, I don’t think I’d be here at all.
I was eating dinner with my folks one night when a future-changing phone call came. My parents hate it when people call during dinner, so it almost passed by, angrily ignored. On the other end of the line was a bluff, brash voice, belonging to a guy I’d not before met, named Con. He asked, “Have you got a passport?” “Yes.” “Right, well, I’ve asked around town, I’ve heard you can sing, I don’t want to waste time auditioning you – we’re going to China to do some gigs, do you wanna come?” Literally, that’s how I got my first experience of touring. My first contract with Brother to Brother saw me performing at The Hard Rock Café in Shanghai for four months, six nights a week. This gig taught me the vast proportion of what I know about being a singer, a performer and a diplomat. It taught me musicianship and stagecraft and it forced me to learn about vocal stamina and longevity. It taught me how to entertain people from different walks of life and how to deal with different personalities, with all the social and cultural anomalies that go along with living and working in a foreign country. It also taught me to drink beer. To say Con and I have a chequered history is to understate in the extreme. But even now, with the wealth of experience I’ve been afforded in my life and musical career, he’s still one the most exciting and vibrant bass players with whom I’ve ever had the pleasure to play.
I worked for a long time in China; eight contracts in three years, away from home for months and months at a time. China is where I wrote songs in Mandarin with my then-girlfriend A-Zhuan and managed to get a publishing contract with Sony Asia. We wrote a couple together, and she translated a handful of my existing songs for me and helped me with my pronunciation (it was already part of my contractual obligation to sing in Mandarin at the Hard Rock(s); I think by the end of my time touring China, I knew more than a dozen songs, so I had a decent head start). I did all the music programming in my bedroom on the 22nd floor of our apartment on Nan Xing Nan Er Lu and I recorded them back in Adelaide in a couple of “off weeks” using a program called “Quad Studio”, a PC-based four-track recorder; endless bouncing of tracks and so little processing power. Once I got back to China, I cold-called publishing companies in Hong Kong. After a few knockbacks from other labels, I managed to get an appointment with an A&R guy at Sony, and caught the bus to the offices in Tsim Sha Tui. I sat, nervously fidgeting in an absolutely frigid air-conditioned office and explained my product. He put the CD in and listened to the first song, “Wo Ai Ni”; translation: “I Love You”. Inspired stuff. He sat quietly for a verse and a chorus, then murmured, “I think I can sell this.” He went to the next song, “Always in My Dreams”, and said, “Yes, I can definitely sell this”. During the third track he got up and went out of the office. He returned in a few minutes with a contract. A-Zhuan was beside herself when I told her, an incredible and great collaboration.
A fellow named Paul Shirley was the replacement guitarist for the guy who got sent home from Shanghai in disgrace. In the context of an original band, one would cite “creative differences” and there’d be a (quite possibly public) fight and someone would leave and the band might break-up. Overseas, if you screwed up, you got sent home – we were employees, make no bones about it. In the first weeks of his being there, Paul told us a lot about a guy he back Melbourne who was the “best performer he’d ever met”. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Matt Hetherington since moving to Melbourne and it turns out Paul’s assertion was quite correct. At the time however… ooh, those words bit hard – when Paul was telling these tales, I’d done perhaps 100 gigs in my whole musical career and I was very much still finding my way as a player, performer and (bilingual) singer. It was difficult to not take those words as personal affront. Thankfully we’ve all grown up (a little) since then.
China was AMAZING. The people I met, the experiences I had, the knowledge I gained – we did really good work. Yes, I had the occasion of being so sick that I had to run to bathroom between songs to vomit. Yes, I got into (a lot of) trouble one night for hanging fifteen feet over the balcony above the crowd. Yes, I had to wash my (by this time very long) hair in cold water in the middle of a Northern winter because our apartment had no hot water. Yes, I had to have “injections” and Yes, the doctor remembered me when I came back to see him the following year. But… I can’t believe I’ve been so fortunate in my life and career so far. I’ve had US Marines in tears singing, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” in Beijing. I’ve been naked on the Great Wall of China (with photos). I’ve been laughing so hard onstage that I’ve not been able to stand up, let alone play. I co-wrote songs with a young band in Guangzhou that went on to win some comps; they were so excited. I’ve been a part of the re-enactment of the “Billy passed the Third Grade” scene from Billy Madison in front of a bunch of Chinese dignitaries and I’ve performed for world leaders. I’ve sung live on a Chinese variety TV show and I’ve been a guest performer at the Grand Opening of Hard Rock Cafés in Shenzhen and Guangzhou. I’ve met and/or worked with and for bands like Boney M (Annis pashed me onstage, I was too frightened to refuse), America (the band, not the continent), James Brown, Limahl(!), Yanni(!!), UB40 (at lead singer Ali Campbell’s birthday party), plus a heap of Chinese performers and celebrities. I’ve met – and remained friends with – people from all over the world. Damn, what a life!
After two and half years of being away from Australia I was tired of travelling, of being away. Not only was I tired of being away, I was actually just tired. Exhausted. I’d performed well over six hundred gigs in China. My time overseas had aided in the ruination of a couple of relationships, and really felt I wanted a home base again. My “exit-clause” was one more overseas contract, this time I was off to the UAE. I didn’t like Dubai one bit. The band that was put together for me was musically sub-par, gig inexperienced, and one of the people involved was simply downright nasty, sowing seeds of disharmony whenever he could. Which isn’t to say the whole of my time there was all bad; I sincerely believe life is what you make it, and certainly I met a few people who made things fun, just one of whom I caught up with in London in 2013. The keyboard player in that band and I used to stay awake till the sun had returned to its rightful spot, sitting at the kitchen table drinking beer, discussing anything and everything and completing charcoal sketches. It was just that for me, Dubai was “soul-less”. In just twenty-five years of independence, Dubai was built up from virtually nothing but burning sand, into a shiny, expensive metropolis of hard concrete and unforgiving steel. It’s got no history, no sense of “self”, and after just a few weeks of watching the locals treat everyone like dirt, with such ostentatious wealth and contemptuous behaviour, I started to go a bit mad. Plus I was taking my meals per diem in pints of Guinness. I say that like it’s a contributing factor in my dissatisfaction with the place, whereas in fact, I think it may have been one of the few steadying influences.
While I was still in Dubai, Paul emailed me, inviting me to Melbourne to visit. On a Wednesday night and after dropping off my bags, he took me to see Adoration On The Gospel Train, at The Evelyn Hotel. Well, that was it, my decision was made; Melbourne would be my new home – mid-week in the suburbs, having my mind blown by six world-class singers plus a super-talented band. Whaaaat?! I travelled back to Adelaide briefly, packed everything I owned into my station wagon, cut off all my hair, and once again re-invented myself for a new chapter and a new millennium. I was thoughtfully introduced to- and met- a vast number of people who helped smooth my transition into my new life.
I started out playing in a sequenced duo/trio that performed at weddings, bistros and over-28’s nights. As that prehistoric-type bird says in The Flintstones: “It’s a living.” Since then, I’ve been afforded the opportunities of working with some truly talented folk. Shall I do the “Matt has worked with and for:” thing here? I’ve been very lucky to play and/or write and/or record with people like Matt Hetherington, Jon Stevens, Steve Romig (John Farnham’s song-writer), Russell Morris, Nicholas Roy, Mark Seymour, Tania Doko (of Bachelor Girl), Bruce Woodley (of the Seekers), Russell Crowe, INXS, Human Nature, Daryl Braithwaite, the Screaming Jets, Evermore, Chocolate Starfish, Dan O’Connor (Neighbours/Australian Idol) Matt Chadwick (Australian Idol Series I), Guy Sebastian, Ricki-Lee, Rob Mills, John Foreman, Anthony Callea, Alan Fletcher (Neighbours’s Dr Carl). I’ve been on screen: on Channel 31 as a guest, a game-show contestant and performer, on Channel 10 as a singer and performer more than a dozen times, and most recently, on Channel 7’s “The Morning Show” with The Ráv Thomas Band. I’ve been in bands that have either performed or opened for bands like Collective Soul, KISS, Creed, and Alice Cooper, as well as for dignitaries like the President of Singapore, Sir Richard Branson and John Howard. As a singer, guitarist, bass player, keyboard player and even actor, I’ve performed in every state and territory of Australia, as well as the USA and Europe and all over China and SE Asia in some of the best venues with some of the finest musicians. Fortunate fella? I should say so.
I love playing acoustic guitar. I love the immediacy of it, the organic connectedness. I once read that Andrés Segovia never played with a pick because he didn’t want anything to come between him and the instrument. Well, I sure ain’t no virtuoso, but I still love the warmth and the touch and the feeling I get when I play. When I first started doing acoustic gigs, I didn’t actually own an acoustic guitar. My very fine, clever and generous friend Dom Italiano (we’ve played together in four or five (or six?) different projects, both covers and originals) used to provide me with his. My main acoustic guitar now really has done the hard yards, with all the battle scars to show for it; well in excess of a thousand gigs, has that guitar performed. The Matt and Paul Duo really kicked off before everyone else realised acoustic duos were the “way of the future” and playing with Paul Shirley is still – after all these years – one of the most fun things I get to do in my working life. I was in Paul’s corporate act, Housequake, for a while – I’m possibly still in the promo pic. I recall turning up to a gig direct from a holiday in Queensland sporting a new eyebrow piercing. Paul was furious with me, but over the course of the following week, decided that we could just be “the edgiest corporate band in the world”. Perhaps on the night he may have taken some pity on me if he known I’d passed out while getting it done. I’ve been in a couple of bands with Matt Hetherington. I had my nose broken by a punter between sets at one of Matt’s gigs. It was a noble cause, but honestly, it did little to add to the second set. I’ve been in a couple of Top40 cover bands of my own, ramjet and now G-FORCE. I’ve got a few other acts with which I’m involved – an Acoustic Tribute to the 80’s called ACöUSTICàDES and an Acoustic Tribute to KISS called Dressed To Chill. I am incredibly blessed to work with people I respect and admire, who I am also very happy and lucky to count among my closest friends.
Outside of live performance, a couple of times a year, I work on the musical arrangements for the Dracula’s Theatre Restaurant shows in Melbourne and on the Gold Coast. It’s quite a challenging gig sometimes, as it pushes the boundaries of making my brain produce what my ears hear (and vice versa) and I love it dearly. I do some radio jingle work every now and then when I get a call; I’ve done some voice-overs for hardware producers, a couple of insurance company gigs, travel companies, that sort of thing. I’ve done some film-score work too – I did music for a Tropfest entry a few years ago called Rockstar; great fun. An even better part of the story; at the time I was between homes, so I was dossing on the floor of the clients’ study with my entire studio kind of shoe-horned into the space. Daniel (Fletcher) and Ally (Byrne) would show me the rushes, and I’d quickly go and work up the music for the scene. Dan is now a performer in London – I recently saw him in the West End production of Rock of Ages. I’ve written four TV show theme songs, three of which (as happens in the TV industry) never quite managed to get off the ground – but very exciting is that the latest one I co-wrote and performed is airing in 2014; a kids’ cartoon show called “Get Ace“. Other studio stuff: I’ve recorded countless demos and/or CD releases (and mastering) for John Foreman, Gian Christian (of “Get Ace” fame), Jessica Paige, Kristilee, Ricki-Lee, Maria Mercedes and Dom Italiano to name but a few and I’m in the Ráv Thomas band; a link to the recording can be found on the CD page of this site.
All in all, I’ve had an amazing life and career so far; no signs of it abating anytime soon, so please do stay tuned for the next chapter.