Music Opinion

Long live the Kingsmill

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Richard Kingsmill has retired from his long career at Triple J (Image by Dan Jensen - crown by PRUSSIAART | Deviantart)

One of the most prominent figures in the Australian music scene has stepped down from his role after a successful career in promoting new music. IA's music guru, David Kowalski, sends off 2023 on a bittersweet note.

THE BIG NEWS this week is that a major figure at the national broadcaster, Richard Kingsmill, is leaving after 35 years at Triple J. It is a mammoth achievement that anyone lasted that long at the ABC, an institution constantly battling with funding cuts from the Federal Government and, as a result, restructures and retrenchments.

Kingsmill, however, had a unique presence at the youth station. He began as a DJ just before the station began making its national expansion, then replaced Arnold Frolows as the music director in the 1990s before overseeing the music played on new upstart digital stations Double J, the all-Australian content station Triple J Unearthed, ABC Country and now Triple J Hottest. He is also credited with bringing the Unearthed competition to the national airwaves in the 1990s, a competition that brought forth young local artists such as Grinspoon, Missy Higgins, Killing Heidi, Shane Nicholson and more.

Richard Kingsmill was probably the closest thing the Australian radio industry has had to a John Peel-style figure — Peel being the UK broadcasting legend who helped establish the careers of Led Zeppelin, Napalm Death, Nirvana, The White Stripes and, famously, Irish punk band The Undertones. To that end, he was controversial. He was seen as a kingmaker, with the power to decide which artists would succeed and which would wither on the vine, by virtue of being able to determine which records were played in the very limited audio time available to the station.

There have been, quite literally, miles of digital text space used up with complaints about what is and, more commonly, what is not played on the station. I’m not here to add to that. Rather, I celebrate the fact that we had someone in a position to push Australian music into the earholes of people everywhere who wouldn’t necessarily care to hear it. And Kingsmill did it with pride, knowing that local music could stand up and hold its own against the onslaught of material that constantly pours in from overseas.

I wish Richard all the best for the future and I thank him for the amazing music he brought to my attention. It’s sad to see him leave the station to which he gave so much of his life. That he has been made redundant feels all the more heartbreaking.

The Beatles — Now and Then

It has been quite remiss of me that I have not remarked on the fact that there was a new Beatles song released in November 2023. ‘Now and Then’ was a song from the same set of new tracks that were being worked on in 1994 to be included on the Beatles Anthology and this one was originally planned to be on the Anthology 3 LP. However, it was never released.

There were issues back then regarding separating and isolating John Lennon’s vocals from the piano on his original demo. They managed to get around that issue somewhat on the other two new songs that emerged at that stage — ‘Free as a Bird’ and ‘Real Love’. This one proved problematic. With the advent of new technology, namely film director Peter Jackson’s machine learning system, MAL, the producers could separate Lennon’s vocals and piano, add the original tracks from 1994 and a few new ones to make the new recording you hear today.

Reportedly, George Harrison hated this track when they attempted to work on it 30 years ago. The fact this recording exists in the form that it currently appears at all is a miracle and I’m grateful for its existence. For mine, it’s still the weakest of the three new songs that they have produced after Lennon’s death. It does however have an interesting melody and chord structure. I’d buy a copy of it if I could find one. It seems to be sold out everywhere!

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has read my column in 2023 and even those who are taking the time to read it now. I will be back with more music and commentary in the new year. I wish everyone a safe and festive holiday season and a happy new year. I am not a fan of compiling annual “best of” lists and I won’t start here either. However, I will leave you with this.

This is an all-new festive track, recorded on technology from the 1950s and it sounds like it. This is a track from 2018 by roots rocker JD McPherson, whose music is heavily inspired by '50s R’n’B and early rock and roll. This is from a collection of all-new Christmas songs done in this style from an album called Socks and this one is a welcome addition to our festive playlists in our house — ‘Santa’s Got A Mean Machine’.

See you next year!


David Kowalski is a writer, musician, educator, sound engineer and podcaster. His podcasts 'The Sound and the Fury Podcast' and 'Audio Cumulus' can be heard exclusively here. You can follow David on Twitter @sound_fury_pod.

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