Stuart Coupe is part of the (black t-shirt) fabric of Australia’s music industry. In a career spanning four decades, he has worked as an author, journalist, promoter, artist manager, publicist and broadcaster.
Coupe has written several books about Australian music. His latest one, Roadies, features stories from the hard-working men and women who toil behind-the-scenes to ensure the show goes on.
We sat down with Coupe to learn more about Roadies, music and records on Desert Island Discs. Let there be rock…
Can you begin by giving us a brief introduction to yourself? How long have you been working in the music industry?
About 40 years. I’ve worked as a journalist, author, tour promoter, manager, radio presenter, publicist – and I’m sure I’m forgetting something!
If you had to sum up Roadies in a few sentences, how would you describe it?
It’s a look at the history and lifestyle of the Australian roadie from the late 1950s until the present day. It’s a book about characters – roughly 50 of them – and the hard work, shenanigans, ingenuity and lifestyle that they lead and how it’s changed and evolved over time.
What inspired you to write Roadies?
Hearing about the alarming suicide rates and related mental health issues amongst Australian roadies – something that’s not mirrored globally. It led me to want to find out exactly who these people are and why so many of them end up in such tough circumstances. And I wanted to tell stories that haven’t been told before.
There is only one book written by an Australian roadie and this is Australian popular culture history that is disappearing.
The book promises to give readers a backstage pass to the hidden side of the music industry. What was the most surprising story you uncovered while researching this book?
There wasn’t so much one particular story, but I was amazed by the violence Australian roadies have had to endure at gigs. I heard more firearms stories than I expected to hear. And getting to tell part of the story of Tana Douglas, the world’s first female roadie, was something – and hearing about her doing front of house for AC/DC when she was 16 and 17 years of age.
Was there anything left on the cutting room floor?
Sure! I recorded more than 200 hours of interviews. There’s a lot that didn’t make it, and a handful of stories that people asked me not to include, even after they told me.
I asked why and they said they felt it was important that some stories were only known by roadies – and I guess at least for the moment I’m an honourary roadie!
Noel Gallagher was a roadie for Inspiral Carpets before he found fame with Oasis. Krist Novoselic was the roadie for the Melvins before forming Nirvana. Does Rockwiz’s Dugald make an appearance in your book? Who are some of the notable Australian roadies we should know about?
Yes Dugald has a chapter all to himself. Great guy and an amazing roadie. I mentioned Tana Douglas. All the 1960’s and 70’s people – Howard Freeman, $crooge Madigan, Mick Cox, John D’Arcy etc – have amazing stories but I’m happy that the book sheds light on and tells the stories of some of the women who worked and have worked in what is traditionally a very blokey line of work.
Your previous book was about The Promoters and Michael Gudinski. Why do you think the Australian music industry is so important to write about?
It’s Australian popular culture – and people die. These stories need to be recorded and preserved. If people like me don’t do it then a whole part of our cultural history will disappear.
Music memoirs are becoming very popular, with titles from the likes of Barnsey, Tex Perkins, Tim Rogers and more. Do you enjoy reading these sorts of books? What do you feel makes a good music memoir/biography?
I co-wrote Tex’s! And I like Tim’s and Jimmy’s. Good ones are honest, not full of self-serving bullshit and locate the artists and their music in particular times, places and contexts.
If you had were a contestant on Desert Island Discs what five albums would you choose and why?
At 4.30 pm on Wednesday October 10, 2018 (as the list will change in five seconds):
- Patti Smith – Horses
- Bruce Springsteen – The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle
- Van Morrison – Astral Weeks
- Enio Morricone – Anthology
- Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers of The AU Review about Roadies or your forthcoming projects?
My next book is a biographical study of Paul Kelly. It should be published in 2020 – maybe sooner – maybe later.
Roadies – The Secret History of Australian Rock ‘N’ Roll by Stuart Coupe is available now through Hachette Australia. You can find our review of the book HERE