Not many know the fickle fate of fame quite like Colin Hay. The ups and downs, the vagaries of celebrity and fortune. His is a story that even Hollywood wouldn’t concoct – from £10 Pom to fronting the most feted band in the world to pursuing a wildly fluctuating solo career.
As Ian McFarlane states in his Encyclopaedia of Australian Rock & Pop: “Once where people had been clamouring to see Men at Work, Colin Hay could barely fill a country pub. From international success to solo ignominy was a bitter pill to swallow, but Hay persevered.”
Not only did Hay persevere, he did so with a wry grin and a penchant for turning any experience into a great story – all of which is on display in the SBS documentary Colin Hay: Waiting for My Real Life, which reveals a lot more about the musician than fans may have been aware of.
Here’s a taste…
Turns out Colin Hay is Sia’s uncle - or is he?
Colin Hay was one of Australia’s most recognisable stars of the ’80s. Sia Furler – writer and singer of “Chandelier” and “Titanium” – is one of Oz’s most potent exports of the new millennium. Wikipedia has Hay down as Sia’s uncle.
But, like many things in Sia’s life, the claim is shrouded in mystery and intrigue. Apparently Hay and Sia’s dad played in a band together. One thing that is true – Sia calls him “Uncle Col”.
He appeared on the 2nd greatest TV series of all-time, The Larry Sanders Show
After creator/star Garry Shandling saw a solo show in L.A., Hay was persuaded to appear on The Larry Sanders Show. Following a live performance of “Can’t Take This Town”, Colin finds Larry is obsessed with his lazy eye. “It has a blatant disrespect for anything I look at,” Colin explains, as Larry endures an existential crisis because his desk has been replaced by funky couches. As an actor, Hay’s also appeared on Scrubs, Blue Heelers, The Mick Molloy Show and Jack Irish.
He inspired Col’n Carpenter
You often see comedian Kym Gyngell at Colin’s gigs. At the height of Men at Work’s fame, Hay produced an album for Kym’s band, Le Club Foote. And the story goes that Colin inspired Kym’s classic character Col’n Carpenter.
Colin Hay and Men at Work sold 30 + million albums across the globe
It’s still hard for Australians to fully grasp the level of Men at Work’s success. In the days when selling records meant making money, their debut album – Business As Usual – sold more than 10 million copies and spent 15 weeks at number one in America. Two singles – “Down Under” and "Who Can It Be Now?" - went to number one. They were awarded the Grammy for Best New Artist. It was a phenomenon.
He was sued for ‘ripping off’ “Kookaburra Sits on the Old Gum Tree”
“It’s a complicated subject,” Hay admits about the three-year litigation with “Kookaburra” publishers, Larrikin Music. “We were sued for breach of copyright for two bars of “Kookaburra”, which was inadvertently appropriated by Greg Ham [in his flute solo in the hit “Down Under”]. I still don’t think infringement occurred but that’s not how the judge saw it.”
The public battle garnered a lot of support and sympathy for Hay and the band. “I’m very grateful for that, I did feel that support, and I think people saw it for what it was. The litigation was overreaching and opportunistic. It’s one thing to say, ‘We think you’ve appropriated two bars of “Kookaburra” and we’re going to sue you.’ It’s a very different thing to say, ‘We want 60% of your song.’” I think people saw that and thought, ‘This is ridiculous.’” Larrikin ended up getting 5%.
Colin Hay has stories
Colin Hay’s stories, peppered with A-listers, are remarkable - Ringo Starr! Paul McCartney! Jack Nicholson! Little Richard! Hay’s timing is impeccable. Music critic Jeff Jenkins has noted: “He’s the best live storyteller in the music business.”
For more detail, you'll have to check out the documentary...
Watch Colin Hay: Waiting for My Real Life right here on SBS On Demand: