Sat at a small four-seater table in a little, bougie cafe, drinking coffee, Ian Hulme of The Choirboys sits across from me ready to tell his life story.
How he joined The Choirboys, what it was like to tour in a huge Australian band, what it’s like to spend your life making music and have it extremely limited due to the effects of COVID-19.
Starting off with a little backstory, Ian explained the inspiration behind the band, what being a part of something that incredible is like, his backstory into music and musical inspirations.
Beginning his career at the Royal Antler Hotel, The Choirboys started in the same place as Midnight Oil and INXS.
“We used to play in different bands on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, at a place called the Royal Antler Hotel, in the mid-70s. Then it just came about to, I suppose, a desire to launch a band that was gonna have some ifs. We write music and write our own songs, so yeah it stemmed from the Northern Beaches of Sydney.”
“The Royal Antler Hotel was one of the famous pubs in Sydney from the 70s and 80s, that launched a whole bunch of bands including Midnight Oil and INXS.”
“There have been some good moments and some very painful moments. At all points, because it’s been 40 years. It wasn’t planned to be that way, I just woke up one day and it was 40 years. A friend asked me on Facebook, ‘So how long have you been with Mark Gable?’ (the frontman and founding member), we’ve pretty much been united for 40 years. I mean, 40 years, that’s weird.”
“There was always something to do. Apart from a period of about 10 years where we didn’t do a lot, we hated the sight of each other and just do the odd gig, you know, if it was interesting or if we got lots of money to do it. It was a bit like that.”
The conversation moved from band backstory to member backstory as Ian gave me an insight into his journey into the music industry.
“I think I was about 13 or 14 and I just wanted to play guitar. My mum bought me a guitar and I just went from there. I was 16 and nine months, maybe just turned 17, that’s when I started playing in bands at the Royal Antler Hotel.”
He then moved onto his musical inspirations and how he as a musician has applied them to his music.
“Lots, and it just happens through osmosis. You hear something you like and you go ‘what are they doing there and you work it and learn it. It just becomes something that becomes the fabric of the way you think or see music.”
So what does Ian Hulme do when he’s not touring or making music?
“Years ago I had a go at golf. It was too frustrating, but I can get why people like it. I remember playing it and on the odd occasion, I’d hit a ball and for a split second, time ceases to exist. There’s this amazing push and you feel the connection with the ball when it goes straight and a long way. But to get to that, very frustrating.”
“Probably about back in 2005, which is around the time I think Mark and I got sick of the sight of each other, I started doing a bit of Accounting and Bookkeeping. So I did a few courses, got an Advanced Diploma in Accounting and I did that. I still do a little bit of it, but I did that for many years and that was where I got most of my income, didn’t do a lot of music and I became focused on being an Accountant.”
Moving onto COVID-19 and the impact that has had on Ian and The Choirboys. Do they still write music and perform even though there are restrictions?
“Yeah, and that’s something over the last two or three years that I’ve gotten back into heavily. I’m walking away from Accounting and going back to music at 63. I’m thinking, ‘I think I’d like a career in music.”
We shared a snicker and a giggle.
“It’s interesting because it’s like, ‘stop being in denial, face up to what you’ve done with your life.’ Own it all, own the history. And so, I’ve been doing that and just recently I did a song with a girl, with a jazz singer, which was amazing. It was so liberating because it was this song that was just chock full of emotion. It sounded kind of contemporary, it didn’t sound like an old 63-year-old rocker trying to rehash something.”
Some of Ian’s biggest accomplishments came to play…
“Well, I mean, having a song like ‘Run To Paradise,’ that’s just amazing, you know, you can’t plan that. The fact that it happens is…” Ian trailed off in disbelief and amazement.
“I remember at the time it was like, you kind-of take it, not quite for granted, it is what it is, but in retrospect, how it still affects people, like yourself. You know, young people, old people. It just strikes a chord with them and that’s amazing to witness. Even when we do the song in a streaming show or live, the way people react to it, the emotion just erupts. It’s just a wonderful experience.”
The conversation turned into a bit of a conversation between the two of us, both recounting the reasons we’re doing what we’re doing, before turning itself back around.
We spoke about the changes Ian has experienced in touring from the time he started playing until now…
“There’s the pub, that’s been and gone. Maybe one or two pubs in Sydney, maybe a handful in Melbourne. In the 80s, you would have queues like a kilometre long lining up to get into a hotel in Manly, and you just cram people into a room, you know. A room that these days might have a capacity of three or 400, you’d cram 1000 in there. And that was just the way things were done. You can’t do that now for a variety of reasons.”
“Apart from COVID, there are fire regulations, security regulations. I mean, if you think 1000 people in a room and suddenly there’s a fire, trying to get them out, You understand the risk, but you know, THAT’S changed. What I have noticed is that there’s more events in wineries. There’s a lot more events, less in the pubs and more sort of festivals and events.”
We moved onto whether or not Ian or The Choirboys have recently played a festival…
“We did one just prior to COVID, in…um…Cloncurry (Queensland) actually. Was it Cloncurry? Near Mount Isa. They were having a food festival or something there, so they had a few bands, we were one of them, and so we did that. And those things happen all the time around the country, then there’s the bigger, you know, festivals like Splendour in the Grass and that sort of thing. We haven’t done Splendour in the Grass but you know, those sort of huge events. I think they’re wonderful to have, a lot more organised than any of those events that we had in the 80s, where there was a portaloo that had 100 people waiting for the loo.”
Do bands as big as The Choirboys and musicians who have been touring and playing music for over 40 years like Ian, still find it surreal when they play a show?
“I mean, it’s enjoyable to do, and you know, back in the 80s we might tour for, I don’t know, a couple of months, but you do like five or six shows a week. And that was pretty gruelling. So these days, when we do gigs and tour, we pick and choose. So we might do half a dozen shows in one month and then another month we might not do any. It’s a mix of clubs or events and that sort of thing, so we prefer to do less work ourselves because we’re old people too.”
Another laugh was shared.“
The conversation moved to the many places Ian has seen as a musician and he recalled his favourite places along the way.
“I was just talking with my wife Joy last night, when she mentioned something about Humpty Doo (Northern Territory). And I said…”I’ve done a gig in Humpty Doo. I lived there for three days in Humpty Doo!” And Longreach (Queensland), lived there for three or four days. So… I’ve been to a lot of places around Australia, and in about, probably 2003, we did a tour that took us about 12-18 months to get around the country where we drove out of Sydney and went up to Burke (Queensland) and Longreach, Cloncurry, all those places over into Northern Territory, down Western Australia, northern Western Australia, and we’d go away for six weeks, come back for two weeks, go away for six weeks, come back for two weeks. And we’d do like all these little towns and just went right back around the country doing that. That was an amazing experience.”
“And so, as a consequence to that we ended up staying in places like Humpty Doo for three nights, while we’ve had a show there Tuesday night, we might be there Sunday, Monday and Tuesday night before we moved on to Tennant Creek (Northern Territory), things like that.”
Then the conversation switched from light to dark. COVID-19 became the discussion. Ian spoke about the biggest challenges he’s faced since the beginning of the pandemic.
“Learning how to use the software, to stream and also to record a mix. Whereas historically, I suppose what we’ve done is we’d record the music and then bum it out to someone else to mix, but yeah I’ve been doing a lot of that. Mark, the singer, has been setting up. He’s got a studio and shipping crate at his place and he’s been setting up cameras and learning the video technology and the software and the hardware that goes with that. And so, we’ve done two of those, and we’re learning a lot doing that and working out how we can extract the maximum amount out of it in terms of enjoying it, having it sound good, having it look good, and having people enjoy the streaming show.”
Ian gave some advice to new musicians, credit going to his experience…
“I suppose it’s experience. One thing that, because I’ve been around for a long time, there’s all that experience that I can draw on, I suppose, which a young person can’t. You know, you’re struggling to find a way through and that’s all you can do because the only way to get experience is to clock up the years.”
“But, you know, if you want to do it, do it, you know. I think, follow your passion, that’s important. And mix that passion with a little bit of grounding and common sense. I suppose, that’s kind of a hard balance to get.”
It was then revealed that Ian has met some pretty interesting people in his time.
“I guess, you know, one of the strongest memories I have, is doing a show, we supported Deep Purple, who were a big band from the 60s and 70s, at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. I remember, there was Richie Blackmore, the guitarist and George Harrison side of stage, and we’re doing our thing, and at the time we had our first guitarist who was just a cracker of a guitar player, and I’m going “Oh wow! They’re just like hanging there watching every note he’s playing and getting off on this little guy who plays guitar from the Northern Beaches with a string of snot and sweat hanging out of his nose.” He was just an exceptional guitar player. That springs to mind as a signpost in my life. “
“The Mushroom 25 Year Concert with, you know, 70,000 people at the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground). That was, you know, another high point I suppose.”
“I remember one of the funniest moments. We did a corporate show for QBE insurance and the MC for the show was Paul McDermott. We’re after the show, we’re, you know, kicking back having a couple of drinks at the bar of this thing. And he was just, he was so funny. He was like, letting it rip with like, drummer jokes. He was just one of the funniest people I’ve ever met.”
I found out whether or not Ian or The Choirboys have any new songs coming out or possibly an album…
“The plan is to write some material and I’ve been writing and we’re recording. At the moment, what we’ve done is a couple of streaming shows we thought ‘Oh, you know this was pretty good’ and I’d mix a song, and again this is sounding pretty good, so we’re going to release an album of the stuff that we’ve streamed. And then I think, you know, write some new material as well.”
The conversation ended and we went back to his apartment building where we took some photos together and then went our separate ways.
Make sure you check out the streaming shows these guys are doing, and DEFINITELY check out the new music they release. You will not regret it. And if you don’t know who The Choirboys are, well, have you been living under a rock? Make sure to check out some of their earlier music and get to know them.
A huge thank you to Ian Hulme for giving me the opportunity to get to know more about his life and backstory, and make sure to check out my next article where I review his latest song.
Written and Interviewed by Ashley Riordan