Tim Freedman understands all too well the challenges of breaking into the music business: it took his group, The Whitlams, more than a decade to land a major record deal. Now, after topping the charts and winning numerous awards at home in Australia, Freedman and his Sydney-based band are starting all over again—in Canada. Currently on their second tour here, this time opening for Blue Rodeo, The Whitlams have a better chance at success than most. One of the group’s managers is Michael White, a Toronto booking agent who has worked the Canadian circuit with such acts as k. d. lang and the Crash Test Dummies. White also knows a thing or two about the Australian market, since he engineered the breakthrough there of Toronto’s The Tea Party. In fact, having brought such Aussie bands as the quirkily named Weddings, Parties, Anything into Canada in the late 1980s and early ’90s, White has become an unofficial Australia-Canada trade commissioner. “There are real parallels between the two countries, culturally and geographically, and each has a strong live-music tradition,” says White. “It’s also an opportunity for bands to sidestep, or at least find a back door into, the U.S market.”
The Whitlams are part of the latest wave of Australian bands seeking a foothold in Canada. It all started in the mid-1980s, when INXS, Midnight Oil and Crowded House were among the groups that successfully ventured north. The current wave includes The Whitlams, Powderfinger and Jebediah. Powderfinger, a hardrocking quintet from Brisbane, toured Canada twice in 1997. Last year, Jebediah, an energetic four-piece outfit
from Perth, undertook two Canadian tours through connections the group’s manager made with Ralph James, a Toronto booking agent.
Holed up in his hotel prior to appearing at the Riverside Coliseum in Kamloops, B.C., last week, Freedman acknowledged that The Whitlams plan to follow the same strategy in Canada that The Tea Party did in his country. Already, the quintet has secured a Canadian release for its elegant pianobased album Eternal Nightcap on the Warner label. “We’re going to try and come back in the summer,” says Freedman. “You have to commit yourself to a course of action with this touring business. Hopefully, next time we’ll be playing shows to our own fans.” Returning the favour to Blue Rodeo— and further deepening the AustralianCanadian music pipeline—The Whitlams will have their new Canadian friends open for them when they tour back home this spring.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.