Five iconic takeaways from Ken West’s Big Day Out book

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Five iconic takeaways from Ken West’s Big Day Out book

ken west big day out
(Images: Ros O'Gorman, Sophie Howarth, Dallas Kilponen)
Words by Christie Eliezer

From getting wax out of Nick Cave's ear to going to war for Rage Against The Machine

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Big Day Out – the first show was on January 25, 1992 at Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion with Violent Femmes headlining over an unknown Nirvana – founder Ken West issued a couple of chapters from his memoirs Controlled Kaos on his KenFest. website, covering the event’s first six years.

The book will be finalised in 2023 and issued as part of a touring pictorial exhibition.

Exploring the Cave of Nick’s ear

“Before Nick (Cave) went on, I got a call looking for a doctor. His ear was blocked & needed to be unwaxed.

“In those days the medical situation was pretty basic. The only doctor we knew was on site was Denis Tek from Radio Birdman. He wanted to help but as he had been drinking he had to say no, lightweight.

“In the end Howard Freeman, the tour manager poured vodka in Nick’s ear, shook his head and got on with the job. Nick sang flat & of course, we filmed it.

“By the time we got to Melbourne, everyone had bonded pretty well, sometimes too well. I love Nick but he has a great capacity to lead people astray, especially people with a dark past.

“In short, Perry (Farrell) lost his way after several years of being clean. It became quite tense after that, but for me, I had seen it all before & as usual, I was only a spectator.”

What have we done?

“Over those three days, seeing what was coming off the plane (at Auckland Airport) brought home to me what we had taken on.

“Ministry were chemically dependent, Courtney was certifiably self-destructive, The Cult were AA, Mark Lanegan from Screaming Trees was a basket case & of course, Primal Scream were out of control.”

Tensions flare

Things got tense between one time close friends West and Steve Pav of Modular Touring.

After supplying Nirvana, Hole, The Offspring among others to BDO, Pav figured he’d start his own festival.

West tried to convince him they’d only destroy themselves, much to the delight of “the three Michaels” (Gudinski, Chugg, Coppel).

When West heard Pav was considering calling his festival Flipside or Summersault, he quickly registered those names.

After Pav’s festival was scheduled just weeks before, an encounter at the Sydney Metro saw West tipping water over Pav and storming out.

Even worse both festivals were going after Rage Against The Machine.

According to West, Melbourne Showground inadvertently gave Pav’s event permission to play there even though BDO had a month-long exclusive clause.

A deal was struck: if Pav let BDO have a clear run for RATM, he could play the venue as well.

An unexpected problem

Initially BDO had no problem when Nick Cave invited Kylie Minogue along for a few shows to sing their Top 10 hit ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’.

“Having Kylie on the road sounded like a fun idea. To us, she was a nice girl with an OK voice that lucked out in the commercial world. But to the media, especially when she was now linked to Nick, it was a chance for some parasite to make a quick buck.”

BDO’s official photographer Tony Mott got calls “from a major women’s magazine, demanding he supply them with photos of Kylie & Nick.

“When he refused, the calls got more aggressive. Eventually, he was called by the publisher, telling him that if he didn’t do it, he would be fired.

“When Tony told him that he didn’t work for them, the phone went silent. That was when we realised that the paparazzi might be a problem.”

Don’t fuck with Tricky!

Halfway through Tricky’s set in Auckland, the crew began to soundcheck Rage Against The Machine’s bass and drums.

“This did not go down well with Tricky, before we could get them to stop, he simply walked from his stage, through the centre PA tower dividing the stages, then walked up to them with his radio mike in hand and yelled “shut the fuck up!”

“It was a beautiful moment. The audience cheered and so did we. Don’t fuck with Tricky!!”

Read more excerpts here.