Remembering Michael Gudinski, guardian of ‘the vibe’

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Remembering Michael Gudinski, guardian of ‘the vibe’

Words by Bryget Chrisfield via Beat Magazine

Vale Michael Gudinski, August 22 1952 – March 02 2021.

Probably the photo that was most commonly used to honour Michael Gudinski’s sudden passing within Instagram grids was a black-and-white portrait of The Godfather Of Australian Rock’n’Roll with pointer finger raised skyward to indicate ‘number one’.

Throughout the course of his career, Gudinski was often pictured jubilantly throwing up this same hand gesture alongside chart-topping artists from the Mushroom Records artist roster and/or the teams that worked on their respective records.

Gudinski was last spotted in the wild by this scribe walking with purpose – straight back, long stride – up in Sidney Myer Music Bowl’s stage-left balcony. He was at the Missy Higgins edition of 2021 Sounds Better Together – a series of COVIDSafe concerts put on by Mushroom Group in partnership with Visit Victoria – and had probably just visited Higgins backstage to say ‘chookas’ or initiate an enthusiastic high-five.

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A true champion of Australian music (and just music in general), Gudinski has helped shape the Australian music industry for almost five decades and was instrumental in putting many Australian icons – including Skyhooks, Split Enz, Jimmy Barnes, Archie Roach, Kylie and Renée Geyer – on the map.

When Geyer appeared on Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope, she described Gudinski as “a lovable, lovable rogue”: “He’s sort of the naughty brother that you had to have but don’t really want but there he is… but you love [him] anyway.”

MG certainly didn’t mince words and was never afraid to take it there, either. As one of the talking heads in the video package played ahead of Archie Roach being inducted into the ARIA Hall Of Fame last year, Gudinski said, “To feel the love that [Archie] brings to people and to feel the satisfaction that he’s getting now has made it very worthwhile. I get emotional that I’ve been such a consistent figure there for such a long time and thank you ARIA for finally doing the right thing.”

While preparing for his role as Gudinski in the 2016 Molly miniseries, Aaron Glenane got to hang out with The Great Man at an Alt-J gig at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre. During a previous interview with this reporter, the actor revealed, “[Gudinski] goes to me, ‘You know how you got the role?’ and I go, ‘Oh, nah,’ and he goes, ‘’Cause you’ve got the same nose as me, that’s because I’ve broken it twice!’”

After Gudinski rocked up to sit in on the first table read, Glenane remembers the Mushroom Records founder turning to him before teasing, “Don’t stuff it up, Aaron!” 

It was back when Gudinski was aged just seven that he first tapped into his entrepreneurial flair. Clocking a vacant lot next to his family home in Caulfield, near Caulfield Racecourse, Michael started charging punters, cash-only, to park in these six available ‘parking spaces’ on race days.

After a stint as a schoolboy promoter, putting on dances in the local area, Gudinski started working weekends for Bill Joseph of Australian Musicians Booking Agency (AMBA) while still in high school. Here he learnt the music biz from the ground up, putting up posters, handing out flyers or working the cloakroom at shows – whatever was required.

Gudinski eventually dropped out of school to set up a booking agency with Australian Entertainment Exchange (AEE) director Ray Evans. Evans and Gudinski notably booked the line-up for 1972’s inaugural Sunbury Rock Festival. Realising their booking work would be done before the festival began, Gudinski also set up a stand so that the pair could make some more money selling watermelons to thirsty Sunbury revellers.

Also in 1972, Gudinski founded Mushroom Records at just 20 years old. The label’s first release was The Great Australian Rock Festival: Sunbury 1973 – the first triple album release in the history of Australian music.

Launching the label with this live recording of Sunbury Rock Festival made a grand statement: Mushroom Records would focus on promoting Australian bands and music of all genres. Mushroom also granted artists on its roster all the time they needed to develop their craft and build a fanbase – whatever it took. Split Enz didn’t break through and experience chart success until album number five (1980’s True Colours).

Frontier Touring, formed by Gudinski in 1979, was named the #1 Independent Promoter Worldwide by Billboard in 2015. In 2019 alone, Frontier sold 2.7 million concert tickets.

Artists toured by Frontier include Leonard Cohen, Paul McCartney, Ed Sheeran, Bruce Springsteen, Foo Fighters, The Rolling Stones and Garbage. Shirley Manson, lead singer of Garbage, included the following words of praise within her moving Facebook tribute to Gudinski: “He was always trying to put me up for stuff. Always trying to think of a way for me to survive the blows of an industry not in the least bit friendly towards older women. In this sense Michael was a bit of a renaissance man. He believed that women had worth beyond just being hot and happening.”

Frontier Touring also presented maiden Australian tours by The Go-Go’s and The Bangles, about which Gudinski reflected, “That’s when I realised that, on the road, the girls were no different to the boys. It further encouraged my belief that we need more women executives and female artists on our rosters.”

Mushroom Records has always been praised for its gender parity, with a long list of impressive women holding executive positions over the years.

2009’s multi-city Sound Relief event – which raised money for victims of the Victorian bushfires and Queensland floods – is just one the industry charity initiatives that simply wouldn’t have happened without Gudinski’s involvement, with three classic Australian bands re-forming specifically to play the Melbourne edition at the MCG: Hunters & Collectors and Midnight Oil, both of which continue to make music and tour to this day, and Split Enz who reunited for an exclusive, one-off performance. 

Of late, Gudinski conceptualised and developed platforms that would help showcase contemporary Australian artists while our music industry struggled through extended periods of COVID-related lockdown. The first of these was Music From The Home Front, which aired on Channel Nine on ANZAC Day, and featured prerecorded, socially distanced collaborations by Australian and New Zealand artists.

The State Of Music – an online series curated, professionally filmed and recorded by Mushroom – followed. And then came The Sound, a weekly music show broadcast on ABC TV, in Countdown’s 6pm Sunday time-slot, to showcase Australian music. While hosting the 16th Australian Music Prize award ceremony, a tearful Jane Gazzo, one of the show’s emcees, revealed that The Sound had been picked up for a third season and admitted she would even miss answering Gudinski’s spontaneous, late-night phone calls.

Whenever MG walked into a room, the atmosphere shifted; not out of fear, more admiration. His presence was mighty. No one could hold court quite like Gudinski. And that gravelly voice of his always sounded like way too many good times and late nights. 

It’s now up to all of us to keep the vibe alive. 

Rest In Power, MG. Forever number one. 


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A note from Rob Furst, founder of Mixdown Magazine and Beat Magazine

While I did not work closely with Michael Gudinski, being a boomer and playing in bands since I was 16, then moving into the music industry as a band booker, promoter and publisher, Michael loomed large over the industry I loved.

He was a prime initiator for so many events, parties and recordings and was integral to career launches for both talent and industry people. For so many, Gudinski was a backdrop for memories of good times, live artistry and, above all, music.

There was always gossip circulating about Michael’s latest venture and no one ever doubted his entrepreneurial flair, toughness or commitment to any task he embarked on.

As the most conspicuous leader in the entertainment industry he was a loud voice representing artists and operators alike, pressuring institutions like radio and government to do more to assist Australian music. And, of course, he towered all the more being a Melbourne boy through and through. A great loss and milestone in the story of Australian culture. 

This feature was originally published via Beat Magazine.