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Chrissy Amphlett – A Tribute To The Legend: Fiona Lee Maynard

Chrissy Amphlett paved the way for female rock singers long before Australia was ready to embrace them, although embrace her we did. It was easy to be The Easybeats, AC/DC or Cold Chisel but for Amphlett and the Divinyls, ground was continuously being broken and glass ceilings smashed during their early days at the top. She may have sexualised her presence on stage (which again, is easy if you’re a guy but in the ‘80s, not if you were a woman, and even now…) but it worked for her and her energetic performance style, enigmatic stage presence and exuberant voice earned her adoration and admiration around the world. When she passed away on April 21 this year Australia and the world lost a truly magical front woman and bloody nice lady.

Fiona Lee Maynard, herself a beacon of gutsy rock on the Melbourne scene, along with an impressive lineup will be celebrating the music of Amphlett in a tribute gig that will also be an MS fundraiser. “The gig came about because when Chrissy passed away there was so much outpouring of emotion for her from all of the women musicians that I knew – and I was in that boat too,” Maynard says. “A couple of weeks later, [I was sent] a message and asked if I wanted arrange a Chrissy Amphlett tribute gig. So from there I thought how can we involve as many people as  possible in the process? I thought a lot about Chrissy and how unique and how strong she was and how she worked with men and women and so I thought it was really important to have female fronted bands as well as a real variety of performers.”

 

The gig is not one of mimicry or an RSL-style tribute gig; all of the performers are giving their own spin to Amphlett’s music. “I remember reading an interview with Chrissy after she’d done the Paul Kelly album and I remember her saying that if you’re going to do a cover then you need to do it in your own way,” she says. “I thought that was a really important thing with this tribute that it would be absolutely a tribute to the Divinyls and to Chrissy as a performer but with people who are quite original as well.”

 

One of the pivotal parts of deciding the lineup was to pay tribute not just to music of Amphlett but to her legacy as well. It’s easy to think that sexism in music is something consigned to the history books but it wasn’t that long ago that someone like Amphlett would’ve been unthinkable on the Australian rock landscape. We had Judith Durham and seemed happy with that. Suzi DeMarchi, Sarah McLeod, Adalita, Hayley Mary, Stonefield and many more are standing on the shoulders of Chrissy Amphlett. “The awareness of her contribution was so important and that was such a part of the selection process when we asked other artists,” she says. “There are a lot of young women who may not have realised what happened and how difficult the process was. We wanted to ask people that were aware of how Chrissy banged her head against that glass ceiling until it exploded and shattered it enough for the rest of us to get through.”

 

The evening will also be raising much needed funds for MS Australia. Maynard explains that MS is something that has touched a lot of the performers personally, beyond Amphlett’s struggle. Amphlett announced she had MS in 2007 but later admitted she had been battling it since the late ‘80s. Amphlett kept a lot of secrets actually and while it’s usually against the rules of music writing to ever put yourself in the story, I have to admit I know a few. I interviewed Amphlett early on (but not too early) in my writing career and apart from sharing a name (that was always going to be my way in) I was thoroughly intimidated at the thought of speaking to her. She was the tough chic of Oz rock, she turned up to orchestra practice in ripped pyjamas, she sang about touching herself while getting busy with a guitar – she scared me. The reality was vastly different to my distorted fantasy. When that warm and husky voice answered the phone from New York, I met one of the most wonderful and honest women I have ever met in my life. I spoke to her in 2010, a few months before she announced she was battling breast cancer but after she had found out (as I learned in our chat) and while she was a magical women, the eventual article was frightfully boring. The reason it was boring was that while she was so honest it was astonishing; the conversation was almost entirely off the record. I’m not one of those journos, I keep a secret, even from my friends and lovers. I was relieved, however, when she announced her breast cancer as that secret was a hard one to keep to myself – but all the rest are easy. The rock chick seemed tamed when we spoke, she said she had no regrets about her life (although she still had the occasional rocker vice after all). She was living with two debilitating conditions and converting to an angelic lifestyle was never going to happen. But she was so gentle, so at peace, so thankful for her opportunities and so humbled by the idea that she was a pioneer in her own right. I know I’m just the journo, but I too will miss Chrissy Amphlett in my own distant way and smile with sadness and honour each time I think of what she shared with me.

 

BY KRISSI WEISS 

CHRISSY AMPHLETT – A TRIBUTE TO THE LEGEND (featuring Fiona Lee Maynard & Her Holy Men, Kerri Simpson, Grace Knight and many more) will take place at The Yarraville Club on Saturday June 29. All profits raised will go to MS Australia.