Colin Hay's flawless acceptance speech and Sydney Olympics story, APRA Awards, 2023
Men at Work's Colin Hay accepted the Ted Albert at the APRA Awards this week. His speech is truly magnificent, an early contender for best speech of 2023.
People send me links to great speeches. They ping in to my phone or inbox, and I’m always very grateful, because modern media is an ocean, not a stream, and a curator needs to cast more than one fishing net.
This week, Speakola subscriber Peter Whitehouse sent me a one line email:
‘I nominate Colin Hay’s APRA speech for Speakola’.
I opeend the link, then watched it on YouTube, and immediately started tapping out my email request to Colin Hay’s maanger.
What a speech! Hay takes the stage to receive the award from Kym Gyngell at 5.08.
It’s worth just reading and listening to the whole thing.
Watch out in particular for:
Open with anecdote. Hay says a one line thank you to his friend Kim Gyngell, and then he drops straight into one of the most exciting nights of his life. No faffing. No filler. It’s Olympic gold from the outset.
Set up and pay off. Like a good comedian, Hay plants the seed for the line that will climax his anecdote. It’s almost the opening sentence. ‘Australians have a strange use of the word "or".’ Funny at the start. Hilarious at the end.
Use direct speech in stories. If you can play both sides of conversations, it’s a really effective way of keeping people in the moment, of creating immediacy, and maximising humour. And it gives stories authenticity.
Including tiny and quick details about individuals being thanked. There’s so much more warmth if it’s not a straight out list of names.
Share vulnerabilities. Hay talks with humour and honesty about darker times.
Find a great quote to finish. Colin Hay chooses Vonnegut on the nature of art and creativity, and why wouldn’t you? It’s beautiful.
Anyway, I love this one. 10/10. Read along with the video. The transcript is up on Speakola, or below.
Colin Hay: 'To the stratosphere and back again', APRA Awards, Ted Albert Award - 2023
28 April 2023, Sydney, Australia
Well thank you very much, Kimmy. I was gonna say all that. Now I can’t say anything because you said it all.
Yeah, that Olympics gig.
We we were on our way to that show, that biggest gig in the world, the Sydney Olympics.
And first of all, Australians have a strange use of the word ‘or’. Like, if you're at an airport and you've got a bunch of musicians and guitars, drums and keyboards, someone will eventually sidle up to you and say, ‘youse in a band orrrr....?’ and there's nothing else you could possibly be! You're getting on a plane and you're going to Sydney. There's nowhere else you could be going and they'll say ‘youse going to Sydney orrrr...?’.
We were on our way to the Olympics gig and first of all, we're in this minivan with this guy who had a nose like a muscateale grape. He'd done some plucky elbow work and he kept on driving along. It was me and Greg and he's driving along and he's going, ‘Oh, I love youse blokes. Yeah I love youse blokes. I don't like this new stuff but oh I love youse blokes.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, can you just keep your eyes on the road?’ And he gets to a big hangar where we were rehearsing for three or four days and there's a gate and a guy with a clipboard.
He goes, ‘Who you got there, mate?’
And he goes, ‘Ahhh.... The men from Down Under?’.
And he says ‘not down here mate’.
‘Danger! Men at Work?’
‘No danger, mate. No, just Men at Work.’
‘Yeah that's it yeah'!’
So we go in and we get out of the car and this big civilian guy gets out of the car and he goes, ‘Don't worry about a thing. On the night, stand on one spot, somebody will come to get you. Stand on that spot, he'll take you to another spot. Stand on that spot and somebody else will come to get you, take you to another spot, all right? And then walk across the field, get on the stage. Don't worry about a thing, mate. We’re professionals.’
So we go and we rehearse this thing for three or four days and it's like everybody's there with thousands of big sharks and it's a massive production. And we rehearsed it very well. Eleven times. We went on after Kylie Minogue, and it's 160,000 people going to be in the stadium and, as they said, 4 billion people watching around the world. And it was quite nerve wracking.
On the night we're standing in one spot, somebody came to get us, took us to another spot. We stood in that spot, and then somebody gave us ears to put in. We stood in that spot. Somebody took us down the tunnel, and it's a big, huge, 160,000 crowd. And we thought ‘This is incredible!’ We stood in that spot. And then somebody else took us around to the very last spot before we had to walk across the field to the back of the stage.
And we're standing there for what seemed like too long. And I remembered when we rehearsed it at this point, when Kylie was doing her song, we were already walking up to the stage. And we weren't! We were just standing there. And I turned round to Greg, and I don't know what he'd taken, he was foaming at the mouth. And he said, ‘I don't think we're supposed to be here, mate …’.
And just as he said that, the girl said into the walkie talkie, ‘Somebody coming to get you, orrrr ...?’.
And then we just sprinted across the field and got on the stage just in time for the guy to say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Men At Work!’. And we did the thing, and it was incredible, singing the song, and Jimmy was there. He sang in the end, if you check out, it's really fantastic. Everyone was there. And afterwards we're out to the green room, and the guy that first met us from the minivan, he stood there and he goes, ‘How bloody good was that mate hey? Fuckin' enormous mate, fuckin' enormous! Yers CARVED it!’
And I said, ‘You know how you said to stand in one spot?’
He goes, ‘Yeah’.
I said, ‘Well, somebody came to get us.’
He goes ‘Yeah’.
‘And then we went to another spot.’
He goes, ‘Yeah’.
I said, ‘Somebody came to get us’.
And he goes, ‘Yeah’.
I said, ‘We stood in the last spot’. I said, ‘Fucking nobody came to get us!’.
He said, ‘Nobody came to get yers?’
He goes, ‘Well, mate, you worked it out. You're a professional.’
So I'm almost embarrassed at such an effusive intro.
Almost. But I failed the Leaving Certificate. First of all, I was born on the Southwest coast of Scotland.
One day my father said, ‘Right, pack your bags, were off to Australia.’
I said, ‘Is that a long way, Daddy?’
He said, ‘Oh, yes, it’s as far as you can go before you have to start coming back again.’
So we came here and everything was different. I had this kind of accent when I came, and people would say to me, ‘What kind of accent that you got, mate?’ I said it was a Scottish accent. ‘You can't talk like that mate. You gotta learn how to talk like us!’
So I learned how to speak like an Australian bloke, just to assimilate, not to get into too many fights. And it was very different. Accents were very different. I come from a small town called Saltcoats. You've probably never heard of it.
And everything was different from Saltcoats. And you would go surfing and your friend's mother would drive you down the surf and you fancied your friend's mother because she was hot. And that was also very different because you never fancied anybody's mother from Saltcoats. I apologise to all the mothers in Saltcoats.
Anyway, I failed Leaving, the High School Certificate in 1971, and I came to Australia. Over the next few years, I slowly became an idiot.
1971, I failed Leaving. And so I was devastated and so were my parents. I repeated it and now I did the matriculation year. And that's when I met my friend Kim Gyngell, some 51 years ago, as he said, and we connected immediately.
We would experiment with our respective floor shows for whomever would listen. And indeed, I was Kim's straight man for his first scribblings of Kim's character, Col'n Carpenter, which was born during that time. I was happy to be a straight man and still am. Indeed, Men At Work would not have existed if it hadn't been for Kim, because one day he introduced me to a beautiful, blonde, bright eyed, sharp witted, multitalented lad called Gregory Norman Ham, who I miss every day. So, Kimny, I thank you for your love and friendship this past half century and for making me laugh from a place that no one else does.
If I hadn't have failed Leaving, though, I would never have met Kim. Proof perhaps that apparent failure can later manifest into a more profound and successful destiny. I would like to thank a few people Milly Petriella, Dean Ormston and everyone at APRA AMCOS for bestowing upon me this prestigious award.
I love APRA. They were the first corporate entity that didn't make me feel weird or insecure about following the path of being a songwriter. I'd like to thank Peter Karpin for signing Men at Work back in 1981, Peter Mclan for producing the Men at Work albums, and John Anderson, who was at EMI Music Publishing for many years. Damien Trotter at Sony Music Publishing for looking after the songs, but also for being my friend these past 40 years or so. Nanette Fox for being such a great manager and friend down here in Australia. Michael McMartin, who received this award in 2007. Michael gave me some great advice in 1991 when I called him up, complaining about something. He said, ‘Oh, you're wallowing in self pity. If you try a little harder, you can become your better person.’
And he was right. So I thank him for that.
My friend Mario Maccarone, who's here, who gave me a gig at the Continental down in Melbourne, one of the greatest venues you could ever play at, which is, sadly, no longer there. He gave me a gig when I couldn't get one from anywhere else.
So tell me, by the way, I know you've been sitting here for a long time, but I'll just speak for a wee while longer, because as Kim said before, hearing Uncle Archie before was quite moving. One Song, that's it. It says it all for me. You start with nothing and then hopefully, at the end of some period of time, you have something. And it took me a long time to realize that.
My old band Men at Work, which I was very proud to be in. Unfortunately, we had a short but extraordinary run, and I'll kind of sum it up in a way with a few words, a little poem:
We opened up for Fleetwood Mac.
A lucky break. A sneak attack.
It was only going one way back then
To the Stratosphere and back again.
15 weeks at number one.
We toured two trips around the sun.
We were kings of the world in 1981.
I remember the moment it stopped being fun.
The end of 83, we were done.
It was over fast before we begun
To be sure, the music remains
it floats in the air through the supermarkets and summer state fairs
It was a once in a lifetime, I don't care.
I got to the summit, I was there.
At the end of the 80s I had to leave this fair land. I was getting divorced and I was having trouble with the drink. And I had a record deal based in Los Angeles.
So I thought, off I go. And all my friends thought I was mad. And I had all kinds of beautiful friends, highly functioning, successful people, but big drinkers. And I was becoming an alcoholic. And it's not the kind of thing you want to realise straight away. You want to get at least 35 or 40 years of heavy drinking behind you, before you realise that, but I realized it quite quickly. And they really thought I was crazy. ‘What are you going to go and live over there for, you’re fucking mad, mate? Stay here, mate. Stay here, mate. You're fine, mate. You're not an alcoholic. You’re just like us.’
So I went to Los Angeles and I made one record. Then I was promptly dropped by MCA Records. So I had no record deal, no booking agent, no management. So I just went on the road around 1991.
And I'm still on the road. I thought it would be a temporary thing, a distraction, while I plotted and schemed and figured out how to once again reach the lofty peaks of superstardom, where I firmly believed I belonged.
I thought I'd be offered another record deal from an LA based label. But that was not to be. Indeed, I continued to tour, solo mostly, for 13 years. It's not for everyone, it's not for the faint of heart. But it was the only way to find my audience out there in the world.
Gradually, I realized that the path I was on was where I was meant to be. Audiences wanted something from me. Old songs, new songs, in between songs, to connect at a deep level. Playing solo to audiences all over the world was habit forming. Nourishing, unpredictable.
A current forms and I feel connected. It's a frequency that's palpable. When I was finally able to stop drinking all those years ago, I remember standing out in the backyard. I stretched my hands up to the sky, yet my feet were on the ground. I felt plugged in. A part of everything. Not separate. I had a place in the world. I still have a place in the world.
Most of all, I feel useful. And to me, that's an important thing to feel. My professional life involves three stages. Writing songs, producing and recording them, and going on the road and playing for people. The rest of the time, I'm at home perfecting my recipe for seared Brussels sprouts, a much maligned vegetable which has seen, perhaps like myself, a welcome renaissance in popularity in recent times.
Someone asked me the other day if I would recommend songwriting as a vocation. I answered them by saying I started writing songs when I was 14 years old. I couldn't help it. Some ten years later, I co-wrote Down Under. It took 40 minutes to write (without a flute line) and it has sustained me for 40 years.
But even if it hadn't, I still would be writing songs. I can't imagine doing anything more worthwhile after breakfast. So, yes, I highly recommend it. Indeed, in the words of the great Kurt Vonnegut:
"Go into the arts. I'm not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow for heaven's sake! Sing in the shower, dance to the radio, tell stories, write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can.You'll get an enormous reward. You will have created something!’
Thank you very much.
You gotta watch it to get the power of the accent!
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I’m hoping Colin Hay will come on the podcast to talk about this speech when he next tours Australia. His manager suggested it was a good chance. For a strong anecdote speech featured on the podcast, try this episode with Rob Carlton talking about his stick:
Rob is performing three nights at Brisbane Comedy Festival, telling stories. Tickets here.
Here is a post on my personal Substack where I boast about my own speaking talents. Get in touch if you need the 27th best MC in Australia.