Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 23 October 2014

Ciaran Gribbin: My great days of INXS and new family life in Australia

Exclusive: Northern Ireland's Ciaran Gribbin talks for the first time about that 'spilt'. By Maureen Coleman

Sound guy: Ciaran Gribbin, who followed in footsteps of INXS frontman Michael Hutchence in INXS
Ciaran with wife Donna and son James
Ciaran Gribbin lives in Australia

When Ciaran Gribbin was unveiled as the new front man of rock band INXS in 2011, the announcement was greeted with a global fanfare.

The story that the Castledawson man was to follow in the footsteps of the late and legendary Michael Hutchence made headline news not just in his native Northern Ireland and Australia, where the band originate from, but was picked up by the music press around the world.

Introducing this 'new sensation' to the fans, INXS member Andrew Farriss, who co-wrote most of the band's hit singles, credited Ciaran for helping to "reignite a new creative spark". In the Grammy nominated singer/song-writer, he said, they had found 'someone pretty special'.

In September 2011 Ciaran took over vocal duties from Canadian JD Fortune, after re-locating to Sydney with wife Donna and new-born son James. The latest INXS incarnation got off to a promising start. The fans welcomed the new addition with open arms, the band's live performances garnered positive reviews and plans were put in place for a new album.

So when INXS drummer Jon Farriss announced to the crowd at Perth Arena last November that the show was likely to be the band's last performance, it came as a bolt from the blue. As Ciaran was addressing the fans, Farriss took the microphone from him and broke the shock news. "I'm getting all teary," Farriss said, before the band launched into Need You Tonight.

The following day Ciaran took to Facebook to appeal to fans to be patient and await clarification.

As the story gained momentum and took on a life of its own, founding members Andrew, Jon and Tim Farriss, Kirk Pengilly and Garry Beers released a statement, which read: "We understand that this must come as a blow to everybody, but all things must eventually come to an end.

"We have been performing as a band for 35 years, it's time to step away from the touring arena. Our music will of course live on and we will always be a part of that. We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to all the friends and family that have supported us throughout our extensive career. Our lives have been enriched by having you all as a part of the journey."

Now, in an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Ciaran speaks for the first time about what really happened within the INXS camp and sets the record straight about the 'split'.

"I'd got wind of the INXS thing and knew the guys wanted a break but I didn't think it would come as abruptly as that," he explains.

"So yeah, it was a genuine shock to me. We were doing the tour with Matchbox Twenty and it was going really well. It was a wonderful tour, playing in big venues like Sydney Entertainment Centre, to crowds of 12,000 to 14,000 people.

"There'd been no word of the band splitting up. Then on the last night at the Perth Arena, I was talking about it being the 25th anniversary of the band's album Kick and introducing the guys. Jon walked on stage, took the mic and said "It's wonderful to be here", before going on to say that INXS would not be touring any more.

"There was a little bit of confusion then. The media put two and two together and got four and next thing the story was out there, that INXS had called it a day.

"But the thing is, the band hasn't split up. They announced they weren't going to tour any more. The way it was portrayed in the media though, well, I think that shocked and kind of scared everyone. The story that INXS had split was everywhere. And once that horse had bolted, it was hard to stop it.

"So they said 'What do we do now?' and decided to take a year off. At the end of the day, these guys have nothing to prove to anyone. They've played all the big venues, the Wembley Arenas, they've sold millions of albums.

"The whole thing is still a delicate matter and it's tough for me talking about it. Yeah, I was shocked when it happened, we all had such a great relationship. And I still have the utmost respect for them all, not just as musicians, but as my friends."

Ciaran says he has no idea what the future holds for INXS, but if there is a future, he says he would still love to be part of it. He points out that original member Kirk Pengilly gave an interview to ABC in Australia, saying the band had taken a year off and might re-examine the situation in 2014.

And he says he bears no ill will towards the band.

"There have been no feuds, no fall-outs, far from it," he says. "I speak to the guys regularly and I'm still writing music with Andrew Farriss.

"I have the utmost admiration for these guys. Whatever the future holds for the band, whether they get back together, whether I'm part of it or not, they'll still be my friends.

"I loved every minute of working with them and I'd love to work with them again. I really hope that will happen. But right now, they need breathing space. They all have different things going on this year. There's a movie being made in Australia about INXS and they're all involved in that.

"But they're all wonderful musicians and music is not a normal job. You can't walk away from music, it sucks you back in. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.

"I loved every minute of my time in INXS. I've never experienced joy like it, walking out onto the stage with them. It was mind-blowing stuff. It's just a shame it didn't last longer. I would have loved to have recorded an album with them."

Ciaran, who has been focusing on a number of solo projects since the surprise turn of events last November, says he has no regrets about the 14 months he spent with the band. Quite the contrary, he says he owes INXS a huge debt of gratitude.

"What's there to regret?" he says. "I got to walk on stage with one of the greatest rocks bands in not just Australia, but the world, full stop. I got to go on tour, see places I've only ever dreamed of, played to crowds of 10,000 people. I live in a great house, near the centre of Sydney and close to the beaches.

"I have a wonderful family and so many doors have been opened to me. I've made so many great friends.

"I can't thank INXS enough for what they've done for me."

And he's right. Doors have opened for him, opportunities have come his way. He hasn't exactly been sitting around idly twiddling his thumbs since the band's break last November. The hard-working Ulsterman says he gets antsy if he has no creative projects to keep him occupied.

To that end, he's been busy writing and producing for young, up-and-coming artists, has been scoring a number of television adverts and is about to release a new five-track EP. Its lead single, My Killer My King was co-written with Snow Patrol's Johnny McDaid. Ciaran performed his new single for the first time last Wednesday on Australian television but it received its first airplay on Alan Simpson's Radio Ulster show.

"The EP is a mixture of songs that I wrote before INXS," he says. "I always loved My Killer My King. It was written literally a couple of months before I got the INXS gig.

"We wrote and recorded it in Johnny McDaid's studio in London. Then I went off to Australia and joined INXS and he went off to Los Angeles and has since joined Snow Patrol."

A couple of tracks on the EP were co-written by Ian Green, with whom Ciaran collaborated on the Madonna hit single Celebration. The composition won the songwriters a Grammy nomination.

He's also been writing pop songs for the Asian market, teaming up with the same publishing house that looks after Psy, the South Korean musician behind the global hit Gangnam Style.

And he's set to perform his first solo gig in Rio de Janeiro next month as part of the Rock In Rio music festival.

Then there's the matter of penning a song for Al Pacino's new movie Imagine, in which the Hollywood actor co-stars alongside Annette Bening and Jennifer Garner. The film, due for release next year, sees Pacino play an aging musician, who is inspired by an old letter written to him by John Lennon and Yoko Ono to live life differently.

Not surprisingly, Ciaran, who scored the soundtrack for the Irish music-themed movie Killing Bono, is thrilled to have co-written the main song for Pacino's new project – Hey Baby Doll, which Pacino sings – along with his Australian friend Greg Agar.

"When I knew the lads in the band were thinking about taking a break I went out to LA for a week to meet with high-profile producers and music supervisors," he explains.

"It was a great week, I met some fantastic people, then I came home and did the tour.

"Then about two months ago, I got a call from one of those music supervisors, Julia Michels, who's worked on films like Sex and the City and The Devil Wears Prada. She told me this pitch was coming up.

"I was up against all the top dogs in Hollywood to get this song. And I did. It's amazing to think I'm written the big song for an Al Pacino movie. I mean, Al Pacino – he's a living legend."

Despite the roller-coaster events of last year, Ciaran says he's never been happier. Work is keeping him busy and Donna and son James, who turned two in June, love the lifestyle in Sydney. He says he'll never rule out the possibility of coming back home to Northern Ireland, but, for now, there are just too many golden opportunities in Australia.

One of his ambitions when he joined INXS was to bring the band to Belfast – but that never happened. However, he says he'd love to perform at home in his solo guise at some stage.

"I can't see myself doing the whole tour bus thing unless something crazy happens," he says. "But I'd love to do a few sporadic gigs and I'd love to perform at home – Castledawson, Magherafelt, Belfast, wherever will have me.

"Having the Madonna and INXS connections on my CV has certainly helped. It means people take you more seriously as a writer and producer. But there's still life in the old dog yet and I still love performing. I still have the hunger and the energy for that.

"Maybe I'll give it up when I'm 50. Who knows? It's like the INXS thing, I don't know what the future holds. I'd like to think that door's not closed yet. But whatever happens next with them, it's not up to me. All I know is that I'm a really lucky guy who gets paid to do what I love. I don't take that lightly."

Having worked the clubs and pubs of Northern Ireland in a number of bands then under the moniker Joe Echo, Ciaran's rise to fame hasn't exactly been meteoric. "All this has been a long time coming," he says. "You know, when I was standing in that television studio, watching the build up to my performance and hearing about all those people I'd worked with, I felt pretty proud, proud of where I've come from and proud of my achievements.

"I haven't done too badly for a lad from Castledawson."

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