Apart from the odd kiwi joke, there is little separation between New Zealand and Australia.
In fact if you are talented enough we are quite happy to claim you as our own.
New Zealand new wave rock band Mi-Sex definitely falls into that category, with hits such as Computer Games, Blue Day, Graffiti Crimes… They are synonymous with Australian rock nostalgia.
The band had a huge impact and yet it lasted only six years. Frontman Steve Gilpin died tragically in a car crash in 1992.
So one would have thought the prospect of ‘getting the band back together’ an impossible task. But not so for remaining Mi-Sex members Murray Burns, Phil Smart, Paul Dunningham and Colin Bayley and, with former Noiseworks frontman the irrepressible Steve Balbi front and centre, it’s no surprise that the newly re-formed Mi-Sex (since 2011) have been smashing it up ever since.
Even the sudden onstage collapse of keyboardist and longtime local resident Murray Burns has not deterred Mi-Sex from getting together and performing a few times a year.
Almost fully recovered, Burns is delighted to be back on stage after his stroke two years ago.
‘Stroke is an unusual word to use. It’s quite a passive and gentle feeling – you quietly go to sleep over five minutes, except we were on stage in front of 5,000 people – I was playing and then I got to a song and I thought I can’t start, I can’t play this. The drummer and guitarist had both noticed and grabbed me before I hit the deck.’
Ironically, it was Burns’s onstage collapse that perhaps saved his life, as medical treatment was accessed immediately. He then began the slow and arduous trek to recovery. Burns credits the experience and his recovery as a life-changing experience.
‘I thought I was better than I was – and then I realised a few days after I was awake I couldn’t walk or talk very well. Even though I couldn’t do that I still felt safe and I felt that things were going to be okay. It was a slow six weeks to learn to walk and talk again. I embraced it because I knew I was not in a great place and I had amazing people around me, friends, people in hospital. As much as it was not a great place to be it was a fantastic place to be. I had a chance to have a good look at myself and I am definitely a better person for it.’
So how does it feel getting the band back together?
‘It feels very organic. It will probably have its own lifespan. We are all really involved with music in our own ways. We all have our own projects, so it takes a lot of co-ordination because we all have so much going on. Twenty-fourteen is a major focus in our lives. We will do a bit of recording; we all have our own recording studios so it seems like the natural thing to do, and Colin and I have been working on specific songs for the band to play. But basically we are all bringing things to the table.’
Ever since the demise of Mi-Sex, the songwriting partnership of Burns and Bayley has continued with the pair ‘throwing songs down the line’. Having composed many musical scores for TV and film, the two are enjoying being back in the zone of writing Mi-Sex tunes.
‘Colin and I have been furiously writing songs for the last 20 years. It’s really cool that we are doing it for Mi-Sex again and playing to people who are mostly 40-plus. You can tell some of them never saw us in our day. They were about 11 and they saw us on Countdown so it’s great to come out and see us live. As far as playing Mi-Sex again, it was something we thought that if we don’t do now we’ll never do it!’
One of the greatest challenges was finding a frontman capable of filling Gilpin’s shoes.
‘Steve died in 1992; we had stopped touring in 1987, but Steve was a massive part of our lives… he still comes to me in my dreams.’
Steve Balbi is the new frontperson, giving Mi-Sex a distinctive new flavour.
‘We re-formed accidentally. The four of us never thought we would play again. Don had a birthday coming along and he said he’d like to play for his party and got Steve Balbi to sing for us – and it worked. Steve loved getting to be a front guy without a guitar and said this is the best fun. He took on Steve’s persona but did his own thing. I think Steve Gilpin would be rapt!’
Burns believes that as a musician you have to take the opportunities when they come your way, and with Rolling Stones as inspiration it’s a reminder that there’s actually no official ‘stopping age’.
‘Once you hit 50 you are on the other side of the fence, everything is moving so fast – but being a musician is clearly healthy for your ego… it keeps you on the youthful side!’ jokes Burns.
Mi-Sex play the Bangalow Bowlo on Sunday. Tickets are available at the venue.