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WHISTLIN’ DIXIE

Dixie Battersby and mega-promoter Michael Chugg ponder John Lennon's 70th birthday with a bed-in at the One Movement Music Festival in 2010

When a regrouped Sex Pistols arrived at Perth Airport on the tail-end of their Australian tour in October, 1996, they’d already intimated the bejesus out of anyone who’d so much as stepped anywhere near them.

They were EMI Music artists, but pretty much every label publicist in the country had been too scared to approach them (and had been advised simply not to).

Then they met EMI’s publicist-and-newly-appointed-WA-State-Manager.

‘Hi, I’m Dixie from EMI Perth’, she said politely, yet firmly, as is her wont.

‘Well who gives a fuck?!’ spat John Lydon doing his best Johnny Rotten.

‘Well I gave a fuck enough to come and meet you here to make sure everything’s okay’, she fired back.

‘Well… okay then’, Lydon replied, a little less boisterously to someone who stood up to him for once. He was a bit more reasonable after that.

Welcome to Dixie Battersby. A Perth music industry veteran as infamous as they come – East or West Coast.

It’s 2018 and Battersby, it seems, has finally landed her own invite to the WAM Awards. Her attendance is requested to be inducted into the WA Music Hall of Fame, no less.

“I’m no longer Simon Collins’ +1,” she laughs, noting how she attended last year with The West Australian’s long-time Music Honcho. “Well I was last year. Simon Collins’ +1 is being put in the Hall of Fame, how about that?”

How about that indeed. This writer’s first memory of Battersby goes way back, to my early teens, in 1979-80, when she ran Thompsons Record Store in Zimpel’s Arcade in middle of the city. My schoolmate Sam worked in the store and we would go in and fumble through the vinyl records and stare at the rarefied black-and-white publicity shots - of the bands we heard on the radio and watched on Countdown - that adorned the walls and shelves. At least we would until we’d hear…

‘Sam! You don’t work when you’re here and when you’re not working you’re here with your friends who don’t buy any records’.

“That’s right!” she asserts now. “Scungy mates like you, probably looking to steal things from my shop.”

Honestly, we were saving up. But if anything would be stolen, it was our hearts.

And that of many others, with the likes of The Triffids, Dave Faulkner, James Baker and all manner of ‘80s indie-scenti coming by to hang out and talk music with ‘that scary lady from Sam’s shop’. (My phrase until I came to know her properly in 1993).

“I loved working in that shop,” Battersby recalls fondly. “It was a great time in music; the heyday of punk.”

It was the sort of connection with ‘music people’ that first displayed itself when Battersby made her way from Pinjarra to Perth in 1973 to see The Jackson 5 perform at Beatty Park Aquatic Centre (yes, really). But not before she stopped by the Parmelia Hotel and asked the most important looking African/American male in the foyer if she could meet Michael Jackson.

‘Why yes’, replied the singer/prodigy’s father, Joe Jackson. ‘Come this way…’

And so it was that Battersby spent the day with Michael Jackson and his brothers, eventually riding in their limo to the concert. Such gumption and tenacity from a 15 year-old was perhaps an indicator of the life that was to come. The Eagle, if you will, had landed.

“Well I just work on the theory that if you don’t ask you don’t get,” says the one-time country girl. “I just wanted to get out of Pinjarra; I would have done anything. I’ve always been centred around music, I guess.”

There was not so much a pathway in mind, merely a start.

“I got a job at a record shop in Gosnells,” she recalls. “Then I went to Thompsons and after that to EMI. So I’ve only ever really had two full on, long-term jobs, and that’s been it.”

From Thompsons record shop Battersby made the transition to EMI Music, a not-unusual move from retail into the ‘business’. For the longest time she was working the phone, selling to country outlets.

“The lowest rung of the ladder, pretty much,” she laughs. “I stayed there until 2013.”

The years in between were, of course, more colourful than that. Battersby became PR Manager in 1991 and then WA State Manager in 1996. These things may have happened sooner but she didn’t learn to drive until ’91 and in those days - before email or even mobile phones - personal mobility was everything.

Industry folks who have been around long enough call the ‘80s-‘90s the ‘heyday’ (also). It was a time of large staff and huge budgets. Battersby worked the biggest names and did so in a way that she became a trusted ally and confidante – to artists, management, promoters and media alike. There’s highlights aplenty…

“I had a great couple of days with the Pet Shop Boys,” she recalls (didn’t see that coming). “They were a massive band at that time. We did an in-store with Garth Brooks at Trax Music in Whitfords Shopping Centre and it lasted all day, like an eight-hour in-store. People might not know who he is now, but at the time he was massive. I had some wild times with Roxette, believe it or not (laughs), they were awesome to hang out with.

“Then obviously the Stones, McCartney, The Beach Boys, Radiohead,” she adds, seemingly adding the best ‘til last, “… and a lot of Australian acts. EMI, at that time, signed a lot of Aussie bands. We were working with Eleven Records, so we had Missy Higgins and that massive album, The Sound Of White (2004) and we signed The Living End. We signed the ABC label, so we had a lot of country stuff. Plus Ministry of Sound. So it was full on, and obviously we had people like Kasey Chambers, Alex Lloyd and Silverchair who were massive. From the Australian side of things there was shitloads happening.

“And as far as international acts, there was your Bryan Ferrys and your Iggy Pops. We had a lot of people on the Big Day Out all the time… Smashing Pumpkins, all those bands that were really massive at the time. But the highlight would be sitting in a studio with Paul McCartney.”

As a Beatles fan, it’s been Battersby’s delight to work on Paul McCartney’s last two Australian tours. My first-ever Press Conference was McCartney’s at Subiaco Oval in 1993, with Battersby sorting this junior-rock-journo’s spot in the experience. On the verge of being turned away from a Rolling Stones’ meet-and-greet at Perry Lakes Stadium in ’95 because quote/unquote from label hierarchy, ‘the band don’t allow press’. She threatened to ‘walk’ if I wasn’t allowed in.

The subsequent few minutes with the Stones will remain in my memory forever. She’s an amazing friend.

And friend, too, to the likes of artists she’s worked with such as Paul Kelly, Neil Finn, Missy Higgins, Paul Dempsey, Kasey Chambers, John Williamson, Russell Morris and many more. Battersby has seen many careers soar, dip and soar yet again from a unique vantage point.

“It’s great,” she says of watching these journeys. “Missy was 18, I think, when I first met her, and she became Australia’s biggest female recording artist. Kasey had been around before she signed with EMI, but she was made a massive priority and we all know what happened with The Captain (1999) album and how big she became. It was similar with Alex Lloyd, at one stage he was the biggest selling artist in Australia and was for quite a while.  It’s like one minute they’re not doing anything, then they’re selling a quarter-of-a-million albums and winning ARIA Awards. It’s great to see that.

“Obviously I wasn’t there at the beginning of Paul Kelly’s career, but I’ve worked with him since about 1997. Crowded House I worked with back when they were called The Mullanes in 1984.”

The latter was duly noted when Neil Finn thanked Battersby when Crowded House were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2016. Her phone shat itself with the amount of incoming text messages from around the country during the broadcast.

These days Battersby runs DB Publicity, looks after EMI Music part-time and works larger scale concert events. Appropriately, given her days talking with young bands in the record shop back in the ‘70s/’80s, she’s working again with many local grassroots acts.

“It’s great and I enjoy doing it,” she says. “Seeing how someone like Luke Steele become who he’s become is fantastic. From living in a caravan at his parents’ place, to now living in LA. And it’s great to see how Katy’s done as well.

“As far as some of the local bands I’ve worked with, they haven’t attained those heights, but they’re doing okay. They’re getting gigs. If people are gonna play their songs, they’re gonna play them. If the press are going to interview them, they’re going to interview them. You can’t force people to do anything, so you do what you can.”

Other WA artists Battersby has worked with (and is working with) include Bob Evans, Eskimo Joe, David Hyams, Ah Trees, Mitchell Martin, Aminah Hughes, Lucy Peach, Grace Barbe, Little Hawk and The Southern River Band to name a few. And the list continually grows.

Decades into her career in the music industry Dixie Battersby is proof that you can only become a survivor by actually surviving.

So what would she say to people who were hoping for an extended career in the music industry? Fittingly, her response speaks to reality and passion.

“It’s a hard thing to give advice on now because once when you had a job at a record company you had it for ages,” Battersby ponders, “and there were lots of jobs at record companies. People are cutting back. Radio stations – 99 per cent of them – are programmed from the Eastern States. Papers are… well, X-Press in print shut down and The West do what they can. There’s no fanzines anymore; now you’ve just got online stuff, really.

“I suppose if you’re really passionate and really, really want to get into it, you probably will by just persevering and making inroads. You’ll find an in, somewhere along the line.”

Congratulations on your WAM Hall of Fame induction, Dixie Battersby. The legend continues…

Dixie Battersby and The Stems will be inducted into the WA Music Hall of Fame tonight, November, at the WAM Awards Presentation at Perth’s Hyatt Regency Hotel.

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