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Aussie music pioneer still Chugging along after five decades

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Even at the spritely age of 75, Australian music pioneer Michael Chugg AM has no intention of slowly down.

It’s the reason the highly-respected promoter – who’s toured the likes of Ray Charles, Carlos Santana, The Dixie Chicks, Keith Urban, John Mayer, Radiohead, Coldplay, The Who, The Offspring, REM, Rufus Wainwright, Mark Knopfler, Robbie Williams, John Fogerty, Pearl Jam, Simon & Garfunkel, Ben Harper, Elvis Costello, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Gorillaz, Jimmy Buffett, Doobie Brothers, Yo Gabba Gabba, Alan Jackson, Florence + The Machine, Tame Impala, Dolly Parton, Robert Plant, Paul Simon, Of Monsters and Men, and many more – visited the former steel city recently to run his eye over McDonald Jones Stadium, the venue of his latest offering, the Farewell Yellow Brick Road: The Final Tour.

There, on Sunday 8 and Tuesday 10 January, his good mate Sir Elton John will not only entertain Newcastle fans for the very first time… but it’ll also be the global superstar’s last appearance in the Hunter.

Sir Elton John and Michael Chugg AM celebrated their 70th birthdays together.

“He had to come back and honour a couple of shows that we postponed in New Zealand, due to the pandemic,” said the man affectionately known as Chuggi.

“Elton and his management wanted to play in Australia as well.

“When he last toured, he mentioned that we might see him again in this country.

“So, by coming to New Zealand, it opened the door – and we put in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

“Then his tour director Keith Bradley rang me, as he does, and said they wanted another show.

“It was like ‘where do we go?’

“I didn’t want to return to Canberra or Perth or Adelaide.

“After looking through some of his previous tours, I realised he’d never been to Newcastle before.

“He had performed in the Hunter Valley so many times, probably about 20.

“That’s when I did a bit more research.

“It was quite surprising to find out how many people in Newcastle had never attended a concert in the vineyards [Hunter Valley].

“I spoke to Venues NSW – and they were keen to make it happen.”

Michael Chugg AM kicks back at McDonald Jones Stadium. Photo: Rod Thompson

Chugg predicted Novocastrians, and the thousands of expected visitors, were in for a real treat next month.

“Elton’s the ultimate performer,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.

“He always puts on an amazing show.

“In many ways, Elton is the soundtrack of your life.

“And, it’s been quite amazing in the past 12 months, he’s had a couple of number one hits with Dua Lipa and Britney Spears.

“When we started selling tickets, we were finding out there’s quite a few youngsters coming to this concert, which is great as he never fails to deliver.”

Chugg’s relationship with John spans more than five decades, the pair first meeting in 1971.

“I had the support act on that tour, The La De Da’s, who were quite a big band,” he said.

“Then, I’d run into him over the years.

“When Elton parted ways with his manager, he also changed promoters in Australia.

“Keith (Bradley) was actually the sound engineer on the ABBA tour in 1997, so we stayed friends – and worked on The Police, Bryan Adams and other acts.

“He rang me and said: ‘Do you want to do it [promote Elton]?’

“Here we are, nine tours later.

“We’ve got a great friendship; we always have a laugh.

“We cut our birthday cake together, at Werribee Mansion, on our 70th.

“We’ve played Darwin, Bathurst and even Rutherglen in Victoria.

“Elton loves doing different stuff.

“That’s why [coming to] Newcastle made such sense.

“So, I’m very happy local fans will get to see him in their own backyard.

“There are not too many other shows around like this.

“And, it will be his last tour for sure.”

For Chugg, himself, it’s also a pleasant return to the scene of one of his biggest local gigs, Newcastle Earthquake Relief.

On that occasion, 32 years ago, Midnight Oil, The Angels and Crowded House were the headline acts at Hunter Stadium.

“Gee, that was a long time ago,” he said.

“I’ve been here since then with shows at the Newcastle Entertainment Centre and all that.

“But, it’s great to be back at the ground.

“McDonald Jones Stadium looks terrific.

“It was just a hilly area in the late 1980s-early 1990s; the stands were nothing like they are now.

“I must say, it’s very impressive.

“And, it’ll be perfect for Elton.”

Venues NSW group general manager – event acquisition and partnerships Stephen Saunders, City of Newcastle councillor Carol Duncan and Chugg Entertainment executive chairman Michael Chugg AM. Photo: Rod Thompson

Chugg’s foray into the music industry began in his hometown of Launceston, Tasmania, in 1962, where he cut his teeth, at 15, running dances and managing bands until he relocated to Melbourne in 1969.

In 1979, together with the late Michael Gudinski and Phil Jacobsen, he co-founded the Frontier Touring Company.

Their first tours were with Squeeze and The Police, with the organisation going on to become the biggest promoter in Australia at the time, touring the likes of Frank Sinatra, Kylie Minogue, Madonna, Guns N’ Roses, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and more.

In 2000, Chugg went out on his own to launch Michael Chugg Entertainment, which later became Chugg Entertainment.

Over the past 20 years, the company has toured more than 600 Australian and international artists, making him one of the most prominent and respected promoters not only in Australia, but also around the world.

So, what’s the secret to his longevity?

“It keeps me young,” Chugg said with a laugh.

“What’s not to love about this industry?”

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