A Cabaret Wonder From Down Under

From: New York Now | Music | Friday, October 30, 1998

David Campbell swears he's an accident. Just two years after setting foot on these shores, this handsome 25-year-old Australian has become the darling of the cabaret circuit.

But as he tells his story, you realize his success is no accident.

This weekend is the last chance to catch him (for a little while, anyway) as he finishes up a stint at Rainbow & Stars atop Rockefeller Center, high above the city he longed for.

"I've been singing and acting for the last six, seven years," he said, recalling a role in the Australian production of "Les Misérables," a CD and club work.

"But coming to New York was a dream of mine," he said. "I figured I could sit around Australia and work without risk, or give the dice a roll. I decided on the roll."

It wasn't hard. He was working in a club in Melbourne when pianist-singer Michael Feinstein dropped in one night, and they got to talking. Feinstein suggested he come to the Cabaret Convention in New York, and helped him get bookings at local clubs such as Eighty Eight's and Danny's Skylight Room.

Reviewers began digging up superlatives to describe him, the buzz kept getting louder, and his act kept getting better.

Campbell's set at Rainbow shows off his range beautifully. He and his trio take familiar songs fromAntonio Carlos Jobim, Stevie Wonder, Tom Waits and Randy Newman and work them over till they sound new.

Campbell's father is Jimmy Barnes, one of the major rock 'n' roll singers in Australia, with a following there comparable to maybe U2's or the Rolling Stones'. His parents were high-school sweethearts. And he was, he says plainly, their accident.

"My grandmother adopted me," he says, "so I grew up thinking my mum was my older sister. Jimmy Barnes used to come and visit often, and I just figured he was a friend of the family. It wasn't until I was about 12 that I learned the truth.

"That was about the time I started with music."

With that background, why didn't he follow his father and take up rock 'n' roll?

He thinks a minute.

"It didn't feel right to me. Don't get me wrong — I love rock music. But I wanted to explore different things; I wanted to be an actor, and I was.

"We've written a couple of songs together, my dad and I. And I've played onstage with him a few times. When I write with my dad, I write the music and let him and his wife, June, do the lyrics. When I write by myself — and I'm doing a lot more of that now — I write the lyrics as well."

He may think he is, but it's quite obvious — Campbell is no accident.


By PATRICIA O'HAIRE Daily News Staff Writer - 30 October 1998