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Iain Shedden: music writer, drummer dies at 60

Iain Shedden, The Australian’s beloved music writer and a professional drummer who toured the world with landmark punk band the Saints and with other groups, has died. ASHLEIGH WILSON remembers his colleague and friend.

Iain Shedden was widely respected in the industry, firstly because he was a talented writer, reporter and critic, and secondly because he had seen the music industry — warts and all — from behind the curtain.

As he recalled in a 2004 interview: “I have an understanding of (musicians) and I can talk about it from the inside … I might get a nuance in a story that someone else might not because maybe other writers haven’t spent 12 years staying up all night.”

He tracked the local music scene like few others, and also interviewed some of the world’s biggest acts, often multiple times, from David Bowie to Iggy Pop to Lou Reed, Jeff Buckley, Keith Urban, Kylie Minogue, Kasey Chambers, Patti Smith, St Vincent, Tom Waits and Elvis Costello.

Shedden, 60, worked for The Australian for almost 25 years and had met his wife, Christine, when they were both at the newspaper 20 years ago.

Editor-in-chief Paul Whittaker paid tribute to “our much loved and respected colleague” who “was a close friend to many, many people on the paper”.

“He was as brilliant a friend as he was a journalist and will be deeply missed.”

One of the highlights of his career was an interview with Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. “He is such a legend and I’m such a fan,” Shedden recalled in 2004. “I’ll always remember Keith sitting there with a cigarette and a vodka martini.”

When he interviewed Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham in the early 2000s, things got testy. “The two of them were sitting together on a sofa in a Sydney hotel,” Shedden told The Lismore Echo in 2011. “I knew they had a fiery relationship: the album Rumours was about their breakup. They seemed fine and were chatting away, when Lindsey said something about which month it was when he left the band. Stevie said ‘No, that’s not right’ and it set them off. For 10 minutes, the two of them were hoeing into each other while I waited for it to subside. Eventually she said ‘Sorry, we’d forgotten about you’.”

In 2010, he ate Thanksgiving lunch with Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman at in a private suite at Dallas Cowboys stadium while watching the Cowboys play the New Orleans Saints. Urban, as Shedden told it, excused himself to perform the half-time entertainment.

“I’ve gentled since I’ve gotten older,” Shedden told the Echo. “My tastes have broadened since my punk rock days but I still play Stooges records on Sunday morning at full volume.”

The tables turned in 2009 when Bernard Fanning interviewed Shedden and other prominent music journalists for an online feature. Fanning asked him whether he preferred live or recorded music, and Shedden replied: “I don’t have a preference. Both have taken me to nirvana and hell.”

Asked by Fanning to summarise his career in 50 words or less, he said: “I have been incredibly fortunate in being able to make a living from the two things I love most, music and writing, for the past 35 years (yeeugh), although I did enjoy a couple of years as a truckie somewhere in the middle. In muso terms, my best or at least most successful years are way behind me. In journalism, I think I’m at the top of my game, such as that is.”

‘We have lost a bright light’

Leading Australian musician Paul Kelly described Shedden as “a gentle, smart, wry man. A sharp wit with a crinkly smile. An average tennis player like me so we had good battles”.

“A big loss to us all. My sincere condolences to his family.”

Bernard Fanning said Shedden’s passing left a big hole in the music comunity.

“I think that because Sheddy was a musician, it gave him a unique voice in music criticism. He could see it from both in and outside. His writing and interviews and yarns were full of charm, like the man himself,” he said.

“It was always a great pleasure to see his name come up on a media sheet or to see him at a show and share a beer and a few laughs.”

Rock legend Jimmy Barnes said today: “Iain was a good man.

“I have done a lot of interviews in my time and most of the time, no matter who it is with, it feels like work. But whenever I spent time with Iain I felt at ease. Not just because he had that broad Scottish accent but he had a manner that just made me feel comfortable.

“He was calm and funny, and very, very bright. And I will miss him. I send my love and prayers to his family.”

Promoter Michael Chugg saw Shedden play with his band Summerhill only a few weeks ago at Borderline in London. Chugg had worked with Shedden on a memoir, Hey, You in the Black T-Shirt, published in 2010, and the pair of them had recently begun chatting about writing a follow-up.

Speaking from South Africa, Chugg said: “Sheddy was a wonderful person. He was a great music writer, a great music lover and obviously a very highly regarded drummer going back to the Saints to playing with Reg Mombassa.

“I regarded Sheddy as a great friend and when I was writing the book and was having trouble translating Chuggisms, sheddy got involved and wrote an amazing book. I spent a lot of time with him and I’m just shattered.”

Australian singer-songwriter Kasey Chambers wrote: “I am so saddened to hear of Iain’s passing. I have known him professionally and personally for most of my life and he was such an integral and well-respected part of the Australian music industry.

“I feel lucky to have worked with him a lot over the years but even more lucky to have been able to call him a friend. A loss to our industry and a loss to our hearts.”

Fellow artist Megan Washington also said: “I am deeply saddened to hear of Iain’s passing. He was wildly intelligent, and as a journalist his insight and compassion and mischievous manner always made me feel like I was talking to someone who truly understood me.

“He was funny and quick as a whip. We have lost a bright light of Australian music journalism. I send my love to his family.”

And singer Jenny Morris said: “Insightful, aware, open, clever, funny, sweet and a great writer and musician. That’s how I will remember this lovely man.”

Writer, drummer, mentor

Shedden was a drummer and journalist from the age of 17. He started his first band, The Jolt, with two friends while working as a junior reporter on his home town paper in Scotland during the birth of the punk scene in Britain in the late 70s.

Signed to Polydor, the band moved to London, made an album and toured extensively both on their own and with bands like The Jam, Generation X and The Saints. The Jolt split up in 1979, and Shedden joined another London band, the Small Hours, which featured the Saints’ original bass player Kym Bradshaw. Then in 1981 Chris Bailey, by then a close friend, asked him to join the new line-up of the Saints, and he spent the next eight or nine years touring the world and recording with them.

Shedden moved to Sydney from London in 1992, hoping to pick up another gig. When nothing substantial materialised he returned to journalism after a 15-year-break all the while continuing to perform regularly with various bands.

Shedden joined The Australian on October 12, 1993. He worked as a sub-editor before taking over as music writer, a role he held until his passing this week. It was, he once said, over a drink late one night in Surry Hills, the best job in the country.

He covered all the various upheavals in the industry, from the ending of parallel import restrictions on CDs in the late 1990s, to the rise of digital downloads and, more recently, the resurgence of vinyl records.

From such a long career, it’s impossible to single out any one story, but some recent pieces stand out. His profile on a still-grieving Nick Cave, published on the cover of Review earlier this year, was a masterpiece of compassion and subtlety. Then in July, following the death of Arnhem Land musician Dr G Yunupingu, he wrote a beautiful tribute to “one of the great Australian music success stories of the 21st century.”

An astute authority on all things music, Shedden brought a deep level of knowledge and contacts to the job, as well as a flair for writing that made all his stories such a joy to read.

Shedden was also a gentle, tender presence in the newsroom, always quick to laugh and generous in his encouragement to younger reporters.

His expertise and insights were keenly sought across the industry, with regular appearances at music conferences, on radio and elsewhere.

In addition to journalism, Shedden remained a passionate drummer, having most famously performed as a member of the Saints and later going on to work with acts such as Reg Mombassa’s Dog Trumpet.

His first book was published in 2010: a collaboration with music industry veteran Michael Chugg, Hey, you in the black t-shirt: the real story of touring the world’s biggest acts.

In March 1998, he wrote a story for The Australian in which he reflected on the heady years when he toured Australia with the Saints in the early 1980s.

“Touring the fleapits of northern Europe through rain and snow has its charms: the cultures change even if the weather doesn’t,” he wrote. “But playing in a country, sometimes for up to three months, where each day was as hot and sunny as the last, was, to this particularly pale Scot, too good an opportunity to pass up. What else were you supposed to do all day?”

By the end of the 80s, that golden era for live music had passed. “Now it’s tough financially for even established Australian bands to tour,” he wrote, “and visiting acts rarely step beyond the city centres. The 80s was a boom time for Australian rock music and, for some of us, the sun shone every day.”

Shedden is survived by his wife, Christine, and their children Molly, 18, and Conor, 16.

Many people within the media and music industry shared their condolences:

This article has been republished with the permission of News Corp Australia.

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