Cinema Review: Working Class Boy

Jimmy Barnes, lead singer of the much-loved (by others) Cold Chisel, is something of an icon in the Australian music scene. Because I have never been a fan, I approached this doco with some misgiving, but I was quickly won over by it. It begins with Barnes recalling his early childhood in Glasgow, where he was born in the kitchen of the family’s cramped slum terrace. ‘I weighed fourteen pounds and came into the world screaming – and I’ve been screaming ever since,’ he says with a refreshing degree of self-deprecation. Archival footage of post-War Glasgow is horribly grim, and Barnes paints a depressing picture of growing up in an environment where deprivation, drunkenness and domestic violence were the norm – and not just in his house, but virtually the entire city. Things didn’t improve much when the family migrated to Australia where, after being accommodated in a hostel, they were eventually provided with a home in Elizabeth (Adelaide) – ‘I’d never played football on grass before’. The alcoholism of Barnes’s thuggish father remained unabated, however, and it ultimately led to his mother leaving him for another man – the ‘Dad’ from whom young Jimmy took his surname. It is the story of triumph over adversity and Barnes, in delivering it, creates an easy rapport with the audience at Sydney’s State Theatre, where much of the film was shot. The punters lapped it up, but Barnes never quite descends into bathos. Interspersed with the personal narrative are songs performed by Barnes, including a beautiful take on the classic At the Dark End of the Street, with his daughter Mahalia (named after Mahalia Jackson) doing backup vocals, and, most surprising, a touching rendition of Around the World I Searched for You (I was relieved that Barnes never broke into Chisel mode). Interviews with wife Jane, son David Campbell, sister Linda, as well as Don Walker and Ian Moss, reveal a forgiving, a humble and thoroughly decent human being. And he’s a much better singer than I ever imagined.

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