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Byron Shire
December 9, 2021

Interview with Jimmy Willing

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A Jimmy Willing show will always be more than just some dudes in a band singing songs

Jimmy’s Billi Garden of Eden

The Beer Garden of Eden at Billinudgel Hotel Sat Jan 5 | 6.30pm | $15 at the door or $50 with bus

For musician Jimmy Willing, when it comes to putting on a show it’s not just about a bunch of middle-aged dudes grabbing their instruments, plugging in, then blasting away. It’s about creating an experience that is unique. For this puppeteer who was the former lead singer of the legendary Sydney band Ragadoll, visual artist and now lead singer of the Real Gone Hick Ups, it’s all about curating the experience. And that’s just what he has in store for the Billinudgel with The Beer Garden of Eden.

Jimmy, what is your vision for The Beer Garden of Eden?

I’d like to see a starry night with a cool breeze blowing through the beer garden. I’d like to see a packed house full of smiling, cheering people wanting to be entertained because that’s what I’ve come to expect from this show and that’s what we are up there for. 

You have always loved curating shows that have a real mixed feeling. A Jimmy Willing show will always be more than just some dudes in a band singing songs… Why do you love putting art into your shows; how does it change the experience for an audience member?

I view it all as art whether I’m singing a song or painting a picture. My musicians are artists too and not just ‘some dudes’. What I have is a multi-practice: I paint, I print, I sculpt, I sing and dance, etc, and these artforms overlap and inform each other. What I do is add things to the band, such as dancing girls, marionettes, stage sets, posters, and costumes; as such I give the audience something to look at.

What’s the best comment you’ve had after one of your shows?

It’s always nice to be told that ‘you were on fire’ and I’ve always had comparisons with Iggy Pop and other such stuff, but it’s the worst things that I remember. This was pretty funny: my mate’s mother-in-law (who was taken to a rowdy rock’n’roll show under duress) exclaimed that I was ‘the sorriest excuse for a leading man that she had ever laid eyes on’.

What do you love about the burlesque of Bertie Page?

I love how creative she is. The very first time we worked together she appeared in the wings of the stage as a dead pirate queen from the depths. She had white pancake on her ghostly face and across her tri-corn hat crawled a huge lobster! It was a 1970s piece of fish-and-chip shop décor from an op shop but that lobster set her apart; it was so inventive. Right there and then I liked her and knew that I wanted to work with her.

You are also a puppeteer. Does that come into play? Or are you the puppet these days?

I bring out the marionettes once in a blue moon these days but there have been several requests, so I think you can expect to see Ginger Dreadlocks dance the Can-Can with The Buffalo Gals while I’m dressed in the suit of Napoleon!

How did starting out in Ragadoll set you up musically?

The Sydney of my youth was full of venues and had a huge rock’n’roll culture that, I’m sad to say, is no longer there. We had gigs every weekend supporting the older fellas like The Johnnys and The Scientists, so as a teenager performing in Ragadoll gave me an apprenticeship. 

What did you learn then that you still take to the stage now?

What we took onstage back then was probably enough to kill a horse! So I think the learning curve was about what not to take onstage. We were a very wild bunch of boys and the legends and urban myths that attached themselves to us were often well deserved. That being said, to this day my audience loves to see me push the boundaries and cause outrage. My contract allows me to dance upon the tables and do striptease without being thrown out so I suppose I learnt the very thing that my father told me not to do, and that is to make a spectacle of myself. I do it onstage to this day.

So what’s in store for the upcoming show at Billi?

We are going to create a garden of earthly delight and fill it full of burlesque and rock’n’roll.

Brisbane’s singing dancing sensation Bertie Page is starring as a very seductive Eve. She will also be cast as Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty, a Catholic girl, and Batman. Bertie will be joined onstage by The Buffalo Gals, a chorus line of Can-Can dancers that she created just for me and the music of The Real Gone Hick-Ups. The Buffalo Gals dance the Can-Can, old time, tap dance, rock’n’roll and bump and grind. The show is colourful, artistic, and sexy, but most of all it’s lots of fun. 

Tix $15 at the door. Tix with bus from Nimbin, Uki, or Lismore $50 or $15 at the door.

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