Warner Music Australia's Military Tribute Album Shot Down by Armed Services
Warner Music Australia's Military Tribute Album Shot Down by Armed Services

Warner Music Australia has had to yank an upcoming album project intended to celebrate the nation's war heroes after the album's title ran afoul of the armed services.

The album "The Diggers" was to be recorded by three serving soldiers in tribute to their fellow defense force personnel and veterans. Its release was to coincide with the April 25 Anzac Day, the national day of remembrance for the country's fallen servicemen and women

Just days out from its release, however, the Australian Army put the kibosh on the project, into which Warner Music had already tipped an estimated $1.5 million Australian ($1.58 million) according to label sources. The army didn't so much dispute the concept, but rather the use of the name "Digger," a colloquial expression which has its origins in the First World War's trench battlefields where many Australian and New Zealand soldiers fought and lost their lives.

An army spokesman says its decision was based on "the protection of (the) army's reputation and the well-being of its personnel."

The 14-track project was based on the multi-platinum 2009 U.K. project, "The Soldiers" (Warner Bros), which raised almost a £1 million ($1.6 million) for charities, and was to enlist the services of its UK production team, Chegwin Patrick Productions.

Proceeds for the Australian project were to benefit Legacy, a support organization for Australian defense force families.

Though "Digger" is an affectionate and commonplace term Down Under, the army it seems is protective of its use in the commercial marketplace. Warner Music execs say the army at the "11th hour" insisted on the use of the name "Soldiers," a title the music major argues would have created confusion with the British production.

"The 'Diggers' is a name that all Australians are brought up to admire and respect and to change it risks losing the project's unique local flavor," says Warner Music Australia VP of commercial marketing Gordon Maddock. "In our view," explains Maddock, "to use the 'Soldiers' brand would be un-Australian."

It's not the first time the "Diggers" name has been at the center of a storm. Following pressure from war veterans and the then-prime minister John Howard, the national track and field association Athletics Australia (AA) in 2001 dumped "Diggers" as the nickname for its national squad. Opponents to the commercial use of the name "Digger" argue that the meaning of the word would be diluted in a branding tie-up.

Jeff Chegwin, head of London-based CPP, said in a statement that he was "stunned by the Australian Army's lack of support, given the incredibly positive reaction from the British Army."

In a media release issued March 21, Warner Music said it had approached Legacy with the concept just before Christmas 2010, and had received full and committed support from the charity. The support isn't there now. A spokesperson for Legacy declined to comment.

The talent search began in February via military media and social networking sites, calling for auditions from serving personnel to join The Diggers and record songs including "You'll Never Walk Alone", "Stand By Me" and "He Ain't Heavy" plus Australian standards "True Blue", "I Still Call Australia Home", "I Was Only 19 (A Walk On The Light Green)" and "Khe Sanh".

Warner Music Australia executives say the Australian Army had been "uncooperative," and in nixing the project had showed themselves "unable to embrace the spirit" and denied "our great heroes the appropriate level of respect."

Warner Music Australasian managing director Tony Harlow remains keen to get the project back on track. "I am extremely disappointed that this project has had to be suspended," comments Harlow, who emigrated to Sydney from London late last year. "I witnessed first-hand in the U.K. the incredible emotional impact of the Soldiers at the Cenotaph and the public's instant and generous giving, and was desperately keen to bring this to Australia. It is a great shame."