He was the lead singer of The Cockroaches and the manager of The Wiggles – now Paul Field has released an album of his very own. Interview by Danny Waterson.
During the late 1980s, Australian rock band The Cockroaches achieved great success with their unique, energetic, down to earth pub rock. Their charismatic lead singer Paul Field has always been immersed in music, in recent years managing the wildly popular children’s group The Wiggles. Surprisingly, only recently has Field released his debut solo album: Love Songs for Lonely People, issued by ABC Music last month.
The Cockroaches formed in Sydney in 1979, with Field – as well as his brothers John and Anthony – among the founding members. By the mid-1980s, they were hitting their stride. Constant touring and television appearances saw their feel-good rock and catchy choruses climb out of the pubs and into the charts, the band scoring several Top 40 singles including ‘Wait Up’, ‘Some Kind of Girl’, ‘Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love)’ and the 1987 Top 10 hit, ‘She’s The One’.
Speaking about those heady days, Field fondly recalls: “We were written up in the newspaper – they polled all the agencies in Sydney – and we were the band that played the most shows per year, over 300. It was the halcyon days of the pub rock era. We rode that last wave in, we just wanted to play. Everything else was just cream on the cake.
“All the pop magazines from Smash Hits to Countdown to Dolly to Rolling Stone, Juke, we were on covers. We were on the all the TV shows we grew up watching, like Countdown and Sounds. It was a buoyant industry, every pub was a venue, so it couldn’t have got better,” Field tells the Sentinel from his Sydney home, where he’s currently ensconced in Covid lockdown.
The second album, Fingertips, was released in 1988 and included the anthemic Top 40 hit ‘Hey What Now’. It was during the exhaustive touring around Australia that Field received the devastating news that his daughter Bernadette had died.
Recalling the heartbreaking news, Field says: “We had a family tragedy in 1988 … my daughter Bernadette passed away from cot death while I was touring and that kind of just ruined me in a lot of ways.”
He and his partner Pauline focused their grief and energy into research and awareness for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and the charity Red Nose Day.
After The Cockroaches’ fourth album in 1991, and needing a fresh avenue to pursue away from making music, Anthony Field suggested Paul take over managing The Wiggles, who were beginning their meteoric rise to worldwide fame.
Of his decision to step away last year from his role as The Wiggles’ manager after nearly a quarter of a century, Field says: “It was a job well done. I had done as much as one could possibly do over the course of 24 years. Doing the same job for almost 25 years is a long time.
“We had challenges and a number of line-up changes over those years and every time we did that it was basically like starting again.”
Becoming musically inspired to work on his first solo record, Field describes the resultant album as a project of love.
“The album has songs I’ve always loved that have given me this ache. It’s an album of loves, and I mean that in the sense of the subject matter,” he says.
“Of course for me to go in and do it was just a purely in a good way a creative exercise. I think the success of anything is only doing it because you love it.”
In making the new record, Field was assisted by his close family and famous musical friends including Jimmy Barnes and his daughter Elly-May Barnes, country superstar Kasey Chambers and her father Bill Chambers, and Chris E Thomas.
“It has some songs written by my brother John – who wrote all the Cockroaches hits – and I got him to produce it. He’s got a fantastic ear and is able to speak the language of music, which I can’t. And I’ve got friends in like Bill Chambers and Graham Griffith on pedal steel.”
When I suggest his vocals on the new album are as strong as ever, Field tells of always dabbling in music and performing during the last few years.
“Thank you. We have had three line ups over the years – The Cockroaches, The Field Brothers and a rockabilly band, The Sacred Hearts – so I’ve been doing regular rockabilly gigs. Rockabilly is its own little world, in the last decade, it’s got hipper” Field chuckles.
One of the album’s highlights is ‘Valentine’s Day’ featuring Kasey Chambers. Field says: “‘Valentine’s Day’ was a song by Sean Sennett and it’s always been on my playlist, I loved the song … Kasey was very kind and said yes to doing the [vocals] and she just kicked it to another level.”
Close friend Jimmy Barnes also lent his NSW Southern Highlands home studio and gave some advice during the making of the album.
“Jimmy is a dear friend from over the decades and a lovely bloke, and he was just checking on how I was going during lockdown. I told him I was doing an EP and he said ‘Why just do an EP? If you’re going to record, do an album’,” Field says.
There is a track with Jimmy Barnes on the album titled ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’, a rocking Bob Dylan cover. Of Barnes, Field says: “He’s like a hurricane. We just quickly ran through the song two to three times at most. And we went in and he just tore it up.”
Field is, of course, used to working with music icons. Under his guidance, The Wiggles worked with some of the most famous names in showbiz, including Slim Dusty, Kylie Minogue, Tim Finn and Steve Irwin.
Field’s most memorable moment was spending the day with John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival): “One of those best bands, hall of fame, best in the business. Not only did I get to direct him in a clip, when he recorded two songs for The Wiggles – it was myself, John and an engineer, for a day – we had lunch and he was just telling me all these stories. Seriously, it doesn’t get any better.
“I’ve had so many of those fanboy moments, meeting Robert De Niro, Jerry Seinfeld,” a beaming Field recalls.
“Children are the great equaliser in that sense. All of these incredible artists are parents of toddlers who were just Wiggles fans.”
Paul Field’s album Love Songs For Lonely People is out now through ABC Music.
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