He’s been a performer, an MC, an actor, a game show host, a presenter and a singer, but despite all the aforementioned strings to his bow, there’s been one glaring omission from Tim Campbell’s curriculum vitae… recording artist. Until today.
Armed with his trademark sunny disposition, a killer set of dimples and a love of all things ’70s and ’80s, today Tim launches debut album ‘High School Disco’ and he’s inviting us all to step back in time, shake shake shake your booty and get down tonight via a collection of retro favourites. We headed down to the disco to natter with the affable performer to find out what’s taken him so long to release his debut album.
“I’ve been asked in the past to record and I’ve always thought that I did enough already,” he admits. “I’m quite particular when it comes to singers and I just think that people like Anthony (Callea) are the recording artists and I’ll head off and host and act.
“But I guess just spending the past five or so years with the band, we’ve really got stuck into these songs. It’s often the corporate and private events we’ve been playing at and all these ‘70s and ‘80s tracks never fail. I thought the time was right for me to do it, so I approached the record company and they stupidly said, ‘yes’. And here I am.”
Tim’s love of the music from the ’70s and ’80s goes far beyond his corporate gigs, however. There are plenty of memories of his time growing up in the western suburbs of Sydney that have clearly stuck with him.
“I used to go to the blue light discos all the time, every week when they were on,” he admits. “It used to be the second last dance of the night and there’d be a line-up of the girls on one side and the guys on the other and your arms were outstretched as far as they could because you didn’t want to touch their bits any more than you had to. And, of course, Diana Ross’ ‘Chain Reaction’ was always the last song of the night.
“Having gone to a western suburbs of Sydney high school, it was very much laden in Bon Jovi and a bit of ‘Sweet Child ‘O’ Mine’ and all those kind of songs. So it was a good mix of rock, but definitely rock/pop in the ‘80s. I loved it though. I was a bogan. I’ve always been a bogan.”
Tim clearly has a great sense of humour and doesn’t mind taking the piss out of himself from time to time, but choosing a tracklist for ‘High School Disco’…? Well that was serious business.
“There are so many songs to choose from!” he says. “When I do gigs, I do at least two, sometimes three 45 minute sets and obviously I’m changing songs with each gig, so there are so many to get through.
“I guess I decided by firstly working out what I’d sung enough of and what I liked from our versions of the songs we perform, but I used the audience as a bit of a gauge too. I know that recording a song is a bit different to how you play it live, but as far as everyone’s love of certain songs… Over the last year or so when the album may have been on the horizon, I kept a tally of the tracks people loved, so that helped in putting the songlist together. But there are so many, I’ve opened up the gate too wide to choose.”
Which no doubt paves the way for perhaps a volume two in 2015…
“Don’t think I haven’t thought of it!! ‘High School Disco 3 : The Swing Version’. ‘High School Disco 4 : The Acoustic Sessions’. Don’t worry, I’ve got the CD cabinet ready to be filled,” he laughs.
Tim tells us that despite a ballooning list of songs to choose from, there were a few that didn’t quite make the cut, like covers of Lionel Richie’s ‘All Night Long’ and Earth Wind & Fire’s ‘September’.
“I was wondering whether to chuck in a few more Earth Wind & Fire / KC & The Sunshine Band kind of songs in there. I do ‘Walk This Way’ at gigs too – the RunDMC/Aerosmith version – which for a westie white guy who’s hosted ‘Wheel Of Fortune’ doesn’t really suit, but I feel like my vocals suit it.
“That’s the problem. I think my vocal suits that whole rock/pop thing, but my look certainly doesn’t. There were so many that I could have chosen, but I still have those songs in our live set anyway.”
But even though Tim had a seemingly endless supply of ’70s and ’80s tracks to choose from, he brings our attention to a few unwritten rules to follow when it comes to who you can cover and who you can’t.
“The unspoken thing for Aussies is never touch a John Farnham song because he’s too bloody good and you’d never be able to get close anyhow. And you have to change the key down three tones to at least try to compete.
“I’m not going to go and do Stevie Wonder. I don’t want to sound racist, but I’m far too white for that. Michael Jackson is one you generally don’t touch, but I have taken a bit of a risk and put ‘Can You Feel It?’ on the album because I love what we do with it.”
Although Farnsy and Mister Wonder have been crossed off the list and there’s been a slight hesitation in doing a Michael Jackson number, Tim’s had no such issue with tackling another pop megastar… Madonna and her hit ‘Holiday’.
“This is the funny thing. I’ve probably had at least four or five people say to me ‘you’re doing a Madonna song… that’s risky!?’” he admits. “What’s the risk? I don’t see what the risk is! It’s in a male key and it’s our version, but Madonna – early Madonna – is a massive part of my musical upbringing.
“I wish I’d gone to the ‘Blonde Ambition’ tour and I stupidly didn’t go to ‘The Girlie Show’ when it came out, but I’ve exhausted that DVD watching it over and over. And even in this arrangement, I’ve put in that little breakdown which is an homage to ‘In Bed With Madonna’, where she’s walking down the street with her backing singers singing the ‘Holiday’ chant.
“To be honest if Madonna heard it and really hated it, I would love that. If she actually gets to hear it and loves it, great. If she hates it, even better.”
Though ‘High School Disco’ crosses off another career first for Mister Campbell and although he enjoyed the recording process immensely, he tells us that we shouldn’t hold our breath for an album of originals.
“Well I’ve never been a songwriter. I just don’t think I have the knack for it,” he admits. “Funnily enough, I’m the one in the household who knows how to read music and Anthony doesn’t, so it’s a funny set up.
“But obviously there are singers – like John Farnham – who get songs pitched and they record originals written by other people. I may do that. But for now, I’m unashamedly doing a covers album. And unashamedly doing a ‘70s/’80s covers album, because this music is me. I absolutely love it.
“I can much more imagine doing a follow-up album of this stuff than I would be doing originals, to be honest. Because that’s what I love and what I love to perform live. It’s part of me. Never say never – as with anything in life – but I’m happy to stick with the ‘Footloose’ and ‘Faith’ for now.”
The party looks set to continue long after the album’s release, with the ‘High School Disco’ national tour coming to a venue near you from the middle of June. Tim tells us what to expect.
“People have to get up and dance,” he demands. “I will have a DJ in between two sets, but a really old school one playing all the hits like Mel & Kim that I don’t perform in the show. There’ll be a whole nostalgic thing going back to my school days.
“I’ve ordered the ‘High School Disco’ yoyos and things, don’t worry. And my t-shirt is ‘Choose Life’, with ‘life’ crossed out and ‘High School Disco’ over the top. It’s all happening. There’ll be a couple of guests on the show, but there’s no support act.”
Venues have been locked in around the country, except in Adelaide, where the location remains shrouded in secrecy. For now.
“It’s really stupid, but I can’t mention where. It’s all locked in. 12th and 13th of June. In Adelaide. Somewhere. I can’t explain it.”
Perhaps something to do with the Adelaide Cabaret Festival?
“Gosh, the sun looks lovely today, doesn’t it?” he responds.
In the meantime, Tim encourages us to break out the platforms and the flares, the fluoros, Hypercolour t-shirts, big hair and slap bands, get a little footloose and to stomp all night in the neighbourhood… all to the sounds of his ‘High School Disco’.
‘High School Disco’ is available now.
Catch him live during his upcoming national tour at one of the following locations;
June 12 : Adelaide (Festival Theatre)
June 13 : Adelaide (Festival Theatre)
June 20 : Bankstown (Bankstown Sports Club)
June 21 : Canberra (Southern Cross Club)
June 27 : Launceston (Country Club)
June 28 : Hobart (Wrest Point Showroom)
July 11 : Brisbane (Kedron Wavell)
July 12 : Tweed Heads (Twin Towns)
July 26 : Melbourne (Palms At Crown)