What inspired Cold Chisel’s hit Flame Trees?

22 Feb

I am lucky enough to be able to say that Icehouse was my very first concert and Jimmy Barnes was my second.

Now to some people, this would sound like the perfect introduction to live shows, and Aussie music at its best. But sadly, I can only report on one of them. And it’s not the Working Class Man. Here’s why …

In heartbroken-teenage circumstances best left undescribed, I had decided to make Jimmy’s concert my first real introduction to alcohol. And by the time we left for the gig, I had drunk the best part of half a bottle of vodka. Straight.

By the time we reached the venue, I had already begged (several times) to be left alone on a traffic island to sleep. So it’s no surprise the staff took one look at me and ferried me off to the sick bay. Where I remained until I made it out for the last two songs, although I could not hope to tell you what they were.

While the consequences at the time weren’t great, in the years since I’ve come to look back on the incident as a sort of homage to Barnesy, who was then a big fan of drinking himself. And I was reminded of it as I drove home from work tonight and the classic Cold Chisel tune Flame Trees came on the radio.

Though I can’t say it’s my favourite of the band’s songs – that honour goes to Khe Sanh and When The War Is Over – I have always loved its lyrics. So I decided to find out what inspired them.

And the answer, found in liner notes penned by music journalist Toby Cresswell, came from the band’s own website, which reveals the track was …

“Written about Grafton, where Don spent most of his formative years. The song was inspired by a girl whom Don had known in his youth and who “doesn’t live there anymore”. Grafton is actually known as the Jacaranda City but it had acquired flame trees as a result of a television program called The Flame Trees of Thaw, which starred Hayley Mills, an old flame of the lyricist’s dreams, and the flora stuck. It’s a song of lost love, of mortality and what’s left behind. Steve Prestwich’s melody and Don Walker’s words.” Their last hit before disbanding (although fortunately for us they eventually changed their mind).

I thought this was a great insight into the band. So I decided to look into the inspiration behind some of its other songs, And here’s what I found….

Rising Sun 
Jimmy’s vow of love for Jane, who was later to become his wife.

You Got Nothing I Want 
The response to a visit to America where their record label couldn’t have been less interested in the band or its East album.

But the most surprising of them all was Choir Girl. I had always assumed it was about a prissy schoolgirl discovering the joys of sex, but it’s actually about a girl facing an abortion. Powerful stuff and one of Don Walker’s few songs written from a female perspective.

But back to those Flame Trees

2 Responses to “What inspired Cold Chisel’s hit Flame Trees?”

  1. Angie Simms February 22, 2012 at 11:24 pm #

    My favorite…

    • whatcanilearntoday February 23, 2012 at 1:09 am #

      I’m also a bit partial to Shipping Steel and Bow River. In fact it would probably be shorter to list the Chisel songs I don’t like 🙂

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