Mike Brady (AM) : Industri Café, South Melbourne : Victoria, Australia
“Retirement is not an option; I don’t see it…I think my brain’s still working! I still love challenges but I’m probably not as energetic as I was; I do go to bed after the shows instead of staying up for two nights. And I’m a little bit more conservative, but I did 2.5 hours on the stage singing every song and I was pretty happy to get through that, let alone get a couple of, I call them, “standing ovulations”! (laughs) Russell Morris and Camilleri, we’re very close mates and they’re still going and they’re the same age as me…Joe’s a bit older. It’s something that is in you and I could not imagine while you’ve still got breath and capability in you that you wouldn’t want to get up and sing. I can’t imagine living life without it”
The word “legend” is thrown around a lot these days, but if you’ve spent any time in front of an Australian radio or television in the last fifty years you’ll know that Mike Brady has undeniably qualified to wear the title. From mainstream chart toppers to the countless jingles either written or sung by Brady, it’s been a music-filled 50-plus year career capturing rooms and stadiums with his trademark voice. But the man arguably most recognised for penning the unofficial AFL theme song (Up There Cazaly) back in 1979, he’s turned away from his successful commercial career and is enjoying a creative renaissance; digging deep into his Irish roots to completely fulfil his wandering songwriter within.
This love for Irish music stems from his childhood, where – despite his parents best efforts – he never had the opportunity to fully experience the culture he’s now drawn to. His parents lived under the cloud of having fought for the British in WWII, a reality not accepted in Irish society at the time, and Mike would ultimately spend the bulk of his childhood in London. The family’s eventual move to Australia was nearly unrealised when Mike caught tuberculosis just before starting school, but on accepting the caveat of quarterly medical checkups his family was able to make the long trip aboard the SS Strathnaver in 1959. After a 42 day journey they finally docked in Port Melbourne; the bayside area from which he hasn’t strayed too far from throughout his 57 years in Australia.
Although only a boy at the time he left England, Mike found an early interest in the music of the time. But it was on seeing his very first live band that he’d marvel at the whole music scene (and its unexpected side benefits!), discovering a passion that would set his course for the future.
“Skiffle music had been really big in England, which was like a cross of rockabilly music, country music, and rock’n’roll. My uncle, who was more like my cousin, played in and took me to see a band when I was 10, not long before I came to Australia, and I thought…wow, all the girls…! He wasn’t he most attractive man, I don’t reckon, but the girls were all over him and I thought: I like the idea of this!”
Now in Australia, his music experience was a slightly different one. It was part of the everyday and something his generation embraced as an element of their culture; entertaining themselves, passing the time, and – of course – a way he and his mates satisfied their interest in girls without the need for awkward face to face conversations. All of these details would slowly come together to shape his early venture into playing and songwriting.
“All the kids played music and sang; if they didn’t play they certainly sang, because there were echoey wash houses and the girls would sing to the boys, and the boys would sing to the girls. No social media in those days…that was our form of social media! I learnt to play on a borrowed guitar and found I was a little bit quicker at it than some of the others. So I sold Heralds outside the town hall in the city when I was 12 and saved up three pounds 17 and 6 to buy my first guitar”
Music was also a cathartic response to a struggle he faced every single day. In addition to having missed much of his early schooling due to his illness back in the UK, it was clear that further issues he was having were due to something far deeper than simply absence. And in those days the education system didn’t accommodate outliers and each school day was a misunderstood struggle.
“I couldn’t really read or write because I had a learning difficulty. A lot of kids – who have what we now know as dyslexia – learn through observation and, if they’re not called an idiot too often, they actually do eventually succeed. Nothing to do with intellect, not that I’m overly intelligent… I can tell you the weather on a lot of days…dates, times…it’s quite weird. I left school on my 14th birthday…I couldn’t have learned anything from the teaching and was considered an idiot. Fortunately I had a musical instrument that satiated my self-esteem because I was called an idiot at school and I was called an idiot by my father; and if you tell a kid enough that he’s an idiot, he’s going to be an idiot. But I found music, and the music really was my magic carpet”
Mike began playing professionally soon after that and the money started to roll in as the gigs became consistent; a reality that would ultimately lead to a rift between him and his father. At only 15, his band MPD Limited had a huge hit with “Little Boy Sad” which resulted in an extensive touring schedule both domestically and abroad. After a short time back in England, he returned to Australia for a turbulent stint with Jonny Young’s band before making plans to head to Vietnam and make his fortune entertaining the US troops. But this didn’t eventuate as planned and he ultimately landed back Australia; 19 years old and broke. He backed out of music for a time, got married, and tried to “live a normal life”, but he was soon drawn back into the scene, playing six live shows a week; gigs in which he cleverly integrated his completely unrelated day job.
“Playing provided a good side income to my job which was as a life insurance salesman. and I did that for years. Most of my clients were poor victims who were at the gigs, and I’d go around in my breaks – this is absolutely true – and I’d sign them up to life insurance. I also signed a lot of my peers…I sold Bon Scott, Rick Springfield, Phil Manning, Jim Keays, a lot of the rock’n’roll glitterati or alumni – I sold them their life insurance. But I played music all the time and I gravitated towards becoming a session singer, and when I got busy with that I gave the insurance thing away and never really did another real job again”
Playing and touring again with some of Australia’s biggest names and again establishing himself as a live musician and recording artist, Mike’s shift to session singing would take over the bulk of his time in the years ahead. Working mainly in the advertising world, he was in high demand and moved from recording others’ sessions to starting his own hugely successful advertising agency. For years he would continue to leverage his coveted, trademark voice to write and record some of the best known jingles for Australian television and radio including “Lucky you’re with AAMI”, “Dodo, internet that flies!” and “Hard Yakka”; hooks that remain instantly recognisable decades on.
“I sort of drifted into that because I was singing everybody else’s sessions then I was working for advertising agencies and they were briefing me so I kind of learnt how it worked. So by the time I was 35 I was doing so many jingles that I thought it would be reasonable to start my own agency. There was a company in Sydney called Mojo and their solution to every advertising campaign was to write a jingle, so I thought we could do the same in Melbourne; and to a certain degree we did. My clients really trusted me – or needed me, one or the other – because even though I was a competitor people still gave me freelance work as well. Quite an unusual thing”
He formed his own record label that produced two notable hits in Mark Jackson’s, “I’m an individual” and Joe Dolce’s “Shaddup You Face”’ (in a strange twist, the latter would go on to break the biggest selling Australian single record previously held by Mike himself!) and went on to work with countless huge names and see his songs recorded by domestic and international hit makers. But eventually this part of his career would come to an end as he sold his company to advertising behemoth, Foote, Cone and Belding, and happily watched his years of advertising influence drift behind him.
The millions of dollars and high flying advertising lifestyle now a fading memory, Mike’s recalibrated and is now embracing his inner songwriter. Not to sell products or satisfy clients, but to engage and nourish his roots as a genuine artist. Mike’s the perfect example of a creative heart that followed opportunity to eventually end up off-course from his passion; something he comfortably acknowledges these days. And through allowing this authenticity to guide his process, he found himself drawn to his Irish heritage and inspired to produce brand new works.
“I did over in Ireland called Bloodlines and, whilst it’s original, it’s more traditional in its Irish feel. I’m pursuing that a bit these days because I’ve gone back to being a songwriter more than a jingle writer. And whilst it’s not as lucrative, it’s more rewarding in a different way. So I’ve got the struggle of making ends meet, which you really do need to write songs – you’ve got to suffer a bit…you can’t sing blues when you’re really happy(laughs). And you can’t sing Irish songs if you got no Irish in you. Somebody heckled me and said “Do you know anything happy..?”and I said, “No, I’m only happy when I’m sad” (laughs); it’s the Irish diaspora”
This is Mike’s real passion. Digging deep into himself to pain over new ideas and tussle with melody until he’s ready to take it out into the world. It’s a far cry from both the purely commercial arena he owned for so long, and the hits he penned for himself and other popular acts decades ago. And although this is where his gaze is firmly fixed, in the peripheral will always be his most popular contribution to Australian music and culture: Up There Cazaly. It’s part of the Australian fabric and, despite any allegiance to the AFL code, Aussies know every lyric and can’t ignore the swell of energy when the chorus takes flight. It’s an accidental legacy he created for the Australian sporting vernacular over 30 years ago that is enjoying a resurgence in its popularity. And although surprised by its resurrection, Mike’s more than happy to share in the enjoyment with a whole new audience.
“I get people who yell it out at me in the street and I don’t know what to say..! You’d be really happy if they came up to said, “Hello Mike, my name’s John”…but no, they go, “UP THERE CAZALY!”…and I go…hmmm… In some ways it’s a challenge, but I’ve kind of accepted it and – I like to think – graciously, because that’s what I’m known for. I’ve been back singing at the MCG the last three years, which I’m very pleased about, after being in sort of exile for the past decade or so, and it’s a whole new generation. One of the loveliest things that has happened to me is that in the last 12 months is that I’ve been doing young clubs. Like in Melbourne there are some hot new clubs where the blokes are all drinking green and blue drinks….I don’t understand why blokes drink green and blue drinks…but they’re very respectful! (laughs) I thought it was a bit of a send up at first, but no, they actually know the songs. So I get up there live and sing to these kids and they punch the air and they yell out, and that’s been beautiful”
Mike is quietly proud of the commercial success he’s found over his career and it’s evidenced by the way he continues to happily embrace the effect of his popular songs from years gone by. What’s fascinating is his willingness to shift focus from any further commercial benefits he could still easily manufacture, to listen to his inner-voice and throw himself at what has always been his true passion; songwriting. Not for advertising briefs or client demands, but purely for himself. To draw from past and new experiences alike, to reflect on his ancestry, and come up with something that truly is his own message in Bloodlines. As a societal expectation, a 67 year old Mike Brady should be slowing down and enjoying the fruits of the legacy he’s created, but with this shift in gear he’s more interested in adding to it; whether or not it’s a financial or popular success isn’t a priority. He’s had that, and certainly enjoyed it, but acknowledges that despite any toys, travel, and commercial recognition, unless you’re satisfying your true passion the uneasiness will never abate. And if you are lucky enough to identify it, and fortunate enough to be able to explore it, then you most certainly should immerse yourself while you still can.
“I admire people that have taken massive risks for their profession or particularly to take their gift to certain levels…real artists. Not advertising artists. Real writers and singers. Not jingle writers. People who have starved for their art or their belief. I’ve left my starving a bit late. It echoed in my mind for decades, and then finally the penny dropped that I should have done that from the outset. I should have stuck true to what I wanted to be, which was a songwriter; from day one. It was great fun writing jingles and there were millions of dollars…all gone now, I might add…I can’t remember any of it, but I’m told I did have it! (laughs) I should have gone for it earlier. Every copywriter said they were going to write a novel, and every art director said they were going to be an artist. But you can’t become Brett Whitely when you’re earning three hundred thousand dollars a year; you just can’t do it. You’ve got to have that pain…so I’m experiencing that now.”
Check out Mike’s Bloodlines project (and buy yourself a copy!) at this link
The original 1979 ad featuring Mike’s Up There Cazaly for the AFL (formerly the VFL) is at this link
Mike is hosting the ultimate musical road discovery trip of Ireland later in the year – for more details follow this link
Follow Mike’s Facebook page to keep up to date with his gigs and appearances