No one would have blamed Grammy award-winning Colin Hay if he decided to cancel his performance Thursday night at the Baltimore Soundstage on Market Street.
His voice broke off many times during the night when he spoke fondly of his former Men at Work bandmate, Greg Ham, the musician who played the famous flute riff on ‘Down Under,’ which remains an unofficial anthem for Australia.
Ham, 58, was found dead in his Melbourne home. Australian police said the cause of death is not suspicious.
Ham was despondent over an October court ruling that said he stole the flute riff for ‘Down Under,’ from a children’s campfire song, ‘Ookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree.’ The group was ordered to hand over a portion of its royalties to the Kookaburra publisher. At the time of ruling, Ham felt bad he would be remembered for this incident and not the music that he so enjoyed playing with Hay since they were high school mates.
Ham also co-wrote with Hay, ‘Be Good Johnny’ and performed with Hay at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.
“I’m doing the best I can,” he told the packed audience at the Baltimore Soundstage, who gave Hay multiple standing ovations throughout the warm spring night.
Hay handled the loss of his bandmate with fond memories of the past. He recalled the first time – the 1980s ‘down under’ group recorded, ‘Who can it be now?’ and Ham played the classic sax solo. That solo was the first rehearsal take on the Grammy award winning album Business as Usual. After Ham played it, Hay said the band was floored – “It’s not going to get better than that.”
Ham didn’t need to do another take. It was one of a string of Men at Work hits in the 1980s before the band decided to split in 1984.
“He’ll always be with us,” Hay told the crowd with his voice drifting off as he referred to the record of hits that Ham helped craft into commercial success.
Born in Kilwinning, Scotland, Hay moved to Australia in the 1960s where he was the front man for the group “Men at Work”, an international recording sensation in the 1980s with songs composed by Hay.
After Men at Work disbanded Hay moved to Los Angeles and started his solo career in 1990, Hay released several albums. Hay also has appeared in many movies, including The Wild, The Uninvited andThe Country Bears as well as television shows such as Saturday Night Live.
Hay has since had a rebirth conquering ‘the drink,’ dope and nicotine. He began playing small venues . He found cult-like fame with the TV show Scrubs, where he had cameo appearances and his music often stole the thunder from the show.
Hay, the storyteller entertained an audience Thursday night that at times wanted to weep for his fallen friend and his father who passed as well, and laugh at his Scottish sense of humor and honesty while singing along respectfully to the collection of hits.
He performed by himself with three different guitars and an assortment of special effects pedals and three bottles of water. He played the songs stripped down – the way he wrote them. Very clean and crisp. Perhaps, it’s no wonder he released the ‘Man@Work ‘ CD a few years back, because the new treatment of his old band’s hits help listeners tune into the lyrics and the not the instrumentation.
He didn’t grow up in typical dysfunctional family often discussed with stars, but instead spoke lovingly of two loving parents. His father, a musician and artist in his own right in the 1930s, came home one day – thrilled about a new band that was making noise in the clubs. He played a record to Hay and said, “Listen to this.”
It was the Beatles.
Hay said he was a small child when that incident happened. And his first comment to his father was a simple boyish question:
“Can I have a Beatle?”
“No,” his father said.
“Oh, well, then can I have a pony.”
That was the first Beatle moment in his life.
He would have more. He was playing a club in Los Angles when word got out that Paul McCartney and his then-wife Heather Mills were going to be in the audience. McCartney came to visit Hay prior to the show and said he couldn’t stay but told him that he loved the CD ‘Going Somewhere.’ Hay asked McCartney to just stay for two songs.
McCartney ended up staying the entire concert, which was quite cool, Hay said.
Later on McCartney would see Hay backstage after another concert, and somehow invited himself over to Hay’s house.
“We’d like to come over to your house,” Hay recalled McCartney saying.
Hay stood there stunned. “My house?’
“You want to come to my house?” he asked again. “Would that be – like – for dinner?”
“Yes, dinner,” McCartney said.
Sometime later at 8 p.m. McCartney and about five others got out of a black car in Hay’s driveway. Hay said he had a ‘Beatle moment’ right then.
‘Paul McCartney is driving up my driveway.”
Hay let them in and they ate a Cuban bean and veggie dish to satisfy McCartney’s vegetarian lifestyle. And then Hay, said, McCartney got up and started doing the dishes.
Hay said, he had another moment.
“Paul McCartney is doing my dishes,” he recalled as the audience erupted in laughter. “And, he wasn’t any good at it.”
Hay played nearly two hours of music – including a few hits from Men at Work, as well as from his most recent CD ‘Gathering Mercury.’ When he finished his set and was about to leave before the call for the encore would begin, he stopped himself.
He said it was stupid to leave the stage and then go to a dark small room and wait for the applause before returning to the stage to play again. Instead, he figured, he would stay and play, which he rationalized probably would add a few more weeks or years to his life. He’s not interested in wasting time.
He then played perhaps one of his greatest tunes – ‘Waiting for my real life to begin’ – which has become a standard at weddings.
“Don’t know why that is? Sort of not the right thing to say when you are getting married,” he quipped.
The Man at Work then strummed the opening chords and sang it flawlessly.
Timothy W. Maier is the founder of Baltimore Post-Examiner LLC, which runs the Baltimore and Los Angles Post-Examiner websites. He started out writing music, fiction and poetry and then turned to news writing where he spent the past three decades at news organizations in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, D.C. More recently he was the managing editor at the Baltimore Examiner. He now spends time with his family, dogs, and his guitar.