From ABBA to Keith Urban, Australia's Michael Chugg celebrates a half-century of concert promotion.
This article first appeared in the July 5th issue of Billboard Magazine.
Michael Chugg has a surprising well of energy, especially for a man who has been involved in the cut and thrust of concert promotion for 50 years. Just two days after the legendary Australian impresario turned 67, he’s on another trip to present Keith Urban’s show at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre. Chugg, born in Tasmania, based in Sydney and known throughout the music world, is battling a chest infection, but it’s not slowing him down. He finishes an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and heads out early to the venue.
It’s one of scores of shows produced this year by Chugg Entertainment. He says Urban’s Light the Fuse tour is “doing very well” at the box office. And this particular date is a family affair. Urban, raised in nearby Caboolture, tells fans his parents and his brother are in the arena. The support act, Sheppard, a local six-piece melodic pop group, is signed to Chugg Music, the entrepreneur’s new independent business division. Sheppard is hot right now. The group’s “Geronimo” went to No. 1 on the ARIA singles chart, ahead of a debut album in July.
“I’ve got plenty of energy anyway,” says Chugg, “but their success has certainly put a good jump in the step.” Sheppard is just one of a handful of new signings who are emerging through Chugg’s new company, which recently opened for business in the United States.
But it’s in the live business where Chugg has made his reputation. He operates in one of the most competitive markets on earth for live concert promotion. He’s one of Australia’s “big four” players (the others are Michael Coppel’s Live Nation Australasia, Paul Dainty’s Dainty Group and Michael Gudinski’s Frontier Touring). The world’s biggest acts have toured Australia for Chugg in recent years — Coldplay, Radiohead, Elton John, Pearl Jam, Dolly Parton — and later in 2014, he’ll bring out Bob Dylan and Robbie Williams. (Chugg is keen to organize a charity show in Sydney to mark his 50th year in promoting.)
Chugg is a purebred Australian. He’s parochial and passionate, he’s tough and he has a gift for profanity. “Chuggi is no ordinary mortal,” says Mark Poston, managing director of Parlophone and Warner Bros. Records Australia. “That man is a force of nature. I have a ton of respect for his relentless passion and drive for music. There’s also a heart of gold underneath that tough exterior.”
Chugg has worked on some of the biggest treks to Australia. He was tour director on ABBA’s famed Australia tour back in 1977, and he has presented Frank Sinatra and Fleetwood Mac in their heyday. He helped put AC/DC into stadiums across the country. He has earned the 2005 promoter of the year trophy from the International Live Music Conference and numerous other accolades.
Chugg can trace his career back to March 1964, when as a 15-year-old he organized a dance in his hometown, Launceston. More than 250 people attended.
Teaming up earlier in his career with Gudinski, Dainty and Philip Jacobsen, Chugg worked on tours by The Police, Sinatra (with Sammy Davis Jr. and Liza Minnelli), R.E.M., Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams, Kylie Minogue, Elton John, Billy Joel, Madonna, Sting, Guns N’ Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kiss, Pearl Jam, Tom Jones and The Cure.
Then he set up Michael Chugg Entertainment in 2000. “To go out on your own in your 50s, that’s a big step to take in your life,” says Bluesfest director Peter Noble. “He’s headstrong and he can leap into things others would think twice about.”
Chugg has recounted his experiences in Hey, You in the Black T-Shirt, written with music journalist Iain Shedden. The book takes its title from a famous Chuggi blast, delivered over many years at unruly fans from the mic at center stage.
And when did Chugg last call out a kid in a black T-shirt? “Actually, it’s been a while,” he muses. “These days, I usually get people yelling it at me.”