A rock off the old block

Singer, dancer, workaholic . . . David Campbell

Playing a rock 'n' roll icon must have had an effect on David Campbell - now he wants part of the action, writes Sue Williams.

Shout! star David Campbell recently took his first holiday in 10 years. He was exhausted. He'd been touring Australia for the past 12 months performing the high-octane tribute to rock icon Johnny O'Keefe eight times a week, and before that had been working non-stop on the US cabaret circuit.

So he flew off to Port Douglas, checked into a nice hotel and sat, with a drink, by the pool. Then he thought he'd phone a few friends on his mobile. "So, what's happening?" he asked each one. "What's going on there without me?"

After four days, he packed his bags and went back to work.

"I thought, 'OK, I'm rested now'," he explained sheepishly. "I'd had enough. I wanted to get back to work."

You could call Campbell many things - singer, dancer, actor, cabaret crooner, sometime songwriter - but workaholic would have to be right up there, too. There's a pause. "Well, I suppose you could say that," he said finally, laughing just a tad uneasily.

"But I love work. I love to work morning, noon and night. I didn't have a work ethic at school, so I might as well indulge it now. From now on, I've decided I'll take a weekend off when I want a holiday. That'll be better than a holiday. It'll be just enough time."

Sad as it may be, however, you can understand the feverish enthusiasm of Jimmy Barnes's son. The 28-year-old blond with the 1950s hair and the wiry frame has just had the best couple of years of his life, topped off by singing before a worldwide audience at the opening of the Goodwill Games.

Riding high on all that adrenaline, the next few weeks beckon Campbell with the promise of even more excitement.

In a choice that came straight from left field, he was announced as the host of the music industry's prestigious ARIA Awards on October 3, to be broadcast for the first time by Channel 9. Two days later he was also named to head the bill at the inaugural Australian Night At The Proms at the Sydney SuperDome.

In addition, he's just made a momentous decision about his future: he wants to become a rock 'n' roll star, just like his dad.

"Since I decided that, doors have just flown open," he said, in a voice so redolent of his Scottish-accented father it's quite uncanny. "I feel luckier than Neil Armstrong taking his first walk on the moon. I feel like I've made this decision - and suddenly the world has turned around to tell me it's the right thing to do."

It's not as if the world had exactly turned its back on Campbell before, either. In early 1996 he was invited to the US to do some cabaret. A couple of nights turned into months, and months turned to years, with show CDs and appearances at all the top New York venues, including the world-famous Rainbow Room. He was the toast of the city, with show biz magazine Time Out comparing his effect on audiences to that of Barbra Streisand.

But then came his epiphany. Frustrated at being pigeonholed by US agents as solely a cabaret performer, and conceding that's a species that improves with age, he decided to come home last year to Australia and try his hand at rock.

He admits it was a career choice he'd perhaps subconsciously been trying to avoid. After all, since discovering when he was 12 that he was the product of a one-night stand between Barnes and a woman, Kim, who he'd always thought was his sister (he was brought up calling his grandmother, Joan, mum) he wouldn't like it thought he was merely trading on his parentage.

Friends who know them both are in no doubt about Campbell's own claim to fame. "They're extraordinarily alike," said fellow Shout! star Anton Koritni, who's been playing keyboard and doing backing vocals for Barnes for years.

"They have the same weird sense of humour, the same body language, the same determination and exactly the same killer approach to life. The only difference is David can actually sing. I love Jimmy and he's incredible at what he does, but he's about powerhouse rock 'n' roll. David just has this fantastic voice."

The pair have, over the past few years, had a fairly stormy relationship. Campbell went to live with the big Barnes family for a while but it didn't work out particularly well. Yet now they've reached the point of comfortable familiarity.

From time to time they get to sing together, usually before football matches, and then go their own ways again. "That suits us both," said Campbell, who's now going out with Shout! colleague Katie McCarthy, after an amicable break-up with one-time fiancee Natalie Mendoza.

"We sing together, we drink too much and we have a laugh, then we go off and do our own thing. We didn't know each other at all at first, but we have similar backgrounds and ambitions.

"It's weird the way life turns out. I don't even know how to describe it: maybe that we're more like brothers than father and son, just because of the experiences we've had. I sometimes look at him and think, 'This guy is my dad!'"

When Shout! finally finishes after its Brisbane run, then Perth, and an extra mega-performance at the Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne, Campbell will take a break in November to have surgery on the knee he dislocated in a leap from the stage. Then he'll make an album of his own, writing a couple of songs for it and sourcing plenty more.

He may even ask Barnes to sing a song on it with him, or do something a little more unexpected, like make a little speech, or play the harmonica, the banjo, or a comb and paper. "If he can't play any of them, I'll just dub it in the mix," Campbell laughed.

Sometimes, son watches father on stage and resolves to do things differently. More often, however, when he's up there, he admits Barnes is the master, and then puts the lesson he's learnt from him into practice.

He doesn't even dread the inevitable comparisons that'll be drawn when he launches a fully-fledged rock 'n' roll career.

"People would be stupid if they didn't compare us," he said. "But, hopefully, when they listen to me, they'll hear more of me than him. My music will be different from his. I'm not as full-on rock as Jimmy."

Then there's his ambition to produce others, to give something back to the music industry that's given him such a head start, and, finally, to act too.

Neither Kylie nor Madonna might have managed totally successfully to combine the two but, nonetheless, there are precedents. Think Jon Bon Jovi, Mark Wahlberg, and even Elvis.

"I just think it's a natural progression," said Campbell. "It's about telling stories, the same as in song. I might try and be terrible, but I'd like to try. This is a multi-media society, after all."

Shout!'s producer Kevin Jacobsen has no doubt that whatever route Campbell ends up choosing, he'll make a go of it. He cast Campbell in his show without an audition and without even seeing him perform, but merely on the glowing recommendations of family and friends. In turn, he's been delighted with the outcome, saying there hasn't been a single performance without a standing ovation for Campbell.

"Shout! has developed him into a major star," Jacobsen said. "He's got so much going for him. He's good at everything. He's smart, he's got good timing, he's got a great vocal range, he's intelligent and he's a really nice person. He'll now go on to be a major Australian star, and an international one too."

Bigger than Barnes? Jacobsen chuckled. You really just never know.

The 15th Annual ARIA Music Awards, hosted by David Campbell, will be held on Wednesday, October 3, at Sydney's Capitol Theatre and will be televised on Channel 9 at 8.30pm.

The Sun-Herald


By Sue Williams - The Sydney Sun-Herald September 16, 2001