EXCLUSIVE

INXS: Northern beaches' band of brothers

BEACHES BOYS: INXS' Tim Farriss and Kirk Pengilly are still living in the northern beaches. Picture: Simon Bennett
BEACHES BOYS: INXS' Tim Farriss and Kirk Pengilly are still living in the northern beaches. Picture: Simon Bennett

AT their peak, INXS had 74,000 screaming, gyrating fans in rapture as they headlined London's Wembley Stadium 1991. But singer Michael Hutchence had just one wish - to know that what they were doing as a band mattered.

That concert was legendary. It was summer in the UK and INXS were playing on the same stage that Queen had played just a few years earlier. Luckily for fans of this northern beaches band, the gig was filmed and later released on VHS and album, titled Live Baby Live.

To know that what you do matters, that it may touch someone or somehow make a difference, was at the core of what the late singer and poet Hutchence hoped, said band mate Kirk Pengilly.

"He used to say often that all he really wished for was that we would matter, that INXS and our music and what we created would matter," he said. "I guess, to a certain extent since his passing, being inducted into the hall of fame and all these things - selling 50 million albums worldwide, now the diamond status here in Australia for the Best of [album] all that, I think that means we matter a bit. He'd be proud as, for sure."

EARLY DAYS: The six northern beaches guys first met at school and formed a bond over their love of music, they went on to become INXS. Picture: Supplied

EARLY DAYS: The six northern beaches guys first met at school and formed a bond over their love of music, they went on to become INXS. Picture: Supplied

The accolades for INXS read like a rollcall of the best the industry can offer. Among some of last year's gongs, their 2011 greatest hits album The Very Best of INXS was crowned Australian Album of the Decade by ARIA, reached diamond status on the ARIA charts and was recognised for sales in of more than half a million units. INXS also scored the coveted top spot on Triple M's Aussie G.O.A.T [Greatest of all Time] Countdown in a fan-voted competition. They also signed a deal to develop a major live production for Broadway and the West End.

When Hutchence died suddenly on November 22, 1997, he and his bandmates - Kirk Pengilly, Garry Gary Beers and brothers Tim, Andrew and Jon Farriss - had known each other a lifetime.

I don't know if it was suicide or what it was, but having had other people in my life since then suicide as well, there's so many unanswered questions.

Kirk Pengilly

The singer's sudden death still haunts the band today as they grapple with losing a mate and someone they considered their brother.

"I don't know if it was suicide or what it was, but having had other people in my life since then suicide as well, there's so many unanswered questions," Pengilly said. "At least if it's a health thing that someone dies from then you can get your head around it. But when someone goes missing or suicide or that sort of thing it enters you into a weird place because you never have answers. It's tough. For us, we were like a family and Michael was one of our family members. In some ways it's hard to accept."

FAME: Jon Farriss, Michael Hutchence, Kirk Pengilly, Garry Gary Beers, Andrew Farriss and Tim Farriss have played to sold-out crowds across the world. Picture: Supplied

FAME: Jon Farriss, Michael Hutchence, Kirk Pengilly, Garry Gary Beers, Andrew Farriss and Tim Farriss have played to sold-out crowds across the world. Picture: Supplied

Sitting down with Tim Farriss and Kirk Pengilly one sunny, summer afternoon in Manly, it's immediately obvious the close bond these two mates have. They laugh easily together, finish each other's sentences and, many times during the interview, there's a friendly jibe as they rib each other about the highs and lows in their lives.

They were still at school when they met - Tim, Kirk and Garry went to The Forest High School and Michael, Andrew and Jon were at Davidson High School - with a love of music drawing them together. At the time, the teens played separately until, in 1977, Tim suggested a jam session together and the rest, as they say, is history. Initially they called themselves The Farriss Brothers; there was after all three brothers in the band, but that soon became INXS.

INXS at Wembley Stadium in 1991

In their early days they had a residency at Manly Vale Hotel (since demolished) where the suburban beer drinking crowds were often the litmus test for any band. They also played the Royal Antler Hotel (now The Sands), where fellow Aussie band Midnight Oil had a residency.

Those heaving days in sweaty pubs gave INXS a chance to hone their skills.

"There is no other school like the pub scene we had growing up, it doesn't exist anywhere else in the world, it never really did, and it doesn't exist here now," Pengilly said.

SHOWMAN: Michael Hutchence on stage. Picture: Supplied

SHOWMAN: Michael Hutchence on stage. Picture: Supplied

In the early 1980s, INXS often played every single night, sometimes three gigs in the same night. They were so busy that the only studio time they could get to record their first album was during the "graveyard shift" in the early hours of the morning after they'd finished playing for the night.

From the start, INXS was also keen to write and play their own music, and Tim said while Michael was immediately brilliant at writing lyrics and melodies, "we all started so young and we just played live so much that everyone just grew and developed".

INXS weren't the only young Aussie band honing their skills in pub gigs. They often shared the stage with Flowers (to became Icehouse), The Angels, Cold Chisel, Mi-Sex, The Models, Divinyls, Machinations, Mental as Anything and Noiseworks.

By the time they did their first US tour in 1983, as support act for Adam Ant, INXS already had 500 gigs under their belt and Ant's manager pulled INXS' manager aside, ordering him to stop his young Aussies from stealing the limelight away from the headline act.

Love and living on the Beaches

ON TOUR: INXS during a publicity shoot. Picture: Supplied

ON TOUR: INXS during a publicity shoot. Picture: Supplied

Off stage, Tim Farriss was just 23 years old when he married his high school sweetheart Beth Reefman; this month the couple celebrate their 40th anniversary.

While he puts the success of his long marriage down to "awesome sex", he admits there were times when they hardly saw each other. "She'd be at home and I'd be say sitting on the veranda at the Palace Hotel at Montreux overlooking Lake Geneva drinking a cocktail and I'd think 'I better call the wife and see how she's doing' and all I can hear was babies crying and the cooking's boiling over and she'd say 'where are you' and I'd say 'in some dive, you don't want to know'," he laughed.

The couple recently moved to Narrabeen after having lived around Manly for the past 20 years, and while Tim said lakeside fishing is an option, the keen fisherman said his favourite spot is "off the shelf straight out of Sydney".

In 2015 Farriss, INXS' lead guitarist, suffered a shattering blow in a boating accident that, despite two operations, left him unable to play his beloved guitar. "My hand got caught in the winch and one finger was completely severed," he said. "It kind of ruined my whole left hand. It's extremely disheartening."

My hand got caught in the winch and one finger was completely severed.

Tim Farriss

Pengilly and seven-time world surfing champion Layne Beachley have just celebrated their 10th anniversary. The couple, who now live in Queenscliff, were set up 18 years ago by Jon Stevens, the former Noiseworks singer who was the first resident singer for INXS after Hutchence died.

"The first date was just crap and both of us were trying to work out a way to escape the dinner date," he said. "Then we found lots of things in common, initially most of all respect for each other's achievements and what goes with that as far as the public."

Pengilly might have grown up in Cottage Point, but he initially resisted moving back to the northern beaches to be closer to Beachley after they started dating, but since then he's grown to love the area.

"It's just got a real relaxed feel about it and I think it's in everyone's blood that lives here," he said. "Contrary to my wife's love of the beach my favourite thing is rainforests and waterfalls, I love hiking in rainforests.

Don't Change by INXS

Keeping the music alive

Music is still very much a part of their lives for this band of brothers. Most still regularly play; with Andrew Farriss launching a country music career.

In the years after Michael's death they were determined to play on. "In many ways we feel like we owed it to Michael to keep going otherwise we would have just closed the chapter completely and we wouldn't be honouring the legacy he left," Tim said.

For many people who grew up in northern beaches during the heady days of seeing bands in pubs, INXS matters. To the fans who saw them live and who keep buying and downloading their music, INXS matters. To the industry that keeps recognising their music and lyrics long after its original release, INXS matters.

Fresh heartbreak for INXS

INXS' last photo with their manager Chris Murphy (second from right). Picture: Supplied

INXS' last photo with their manager Chris Murphy (second from right). Picture: Supplied

Just a few weeks ago INXS' long-time manager Chris Murphy died following a short battle with cancer. Murphy had been right beside the six guys from the Beaches as he helped them become one of the biggest bands in the world.

"Without Chris' vision, passion and hard work, the INXS story would be totally different," the band said.

Andrew Farriss said that Murphy was "a passionate mentor to myself and many others".

Beaches' melting pot of music talent

The northern beaches might be famous for its laid back lifestyle and golden beaches, but it's also a place of immense musical talent. Many musos, bands and singers grew up here or got their start on the Beaches, here's a few of them:

  • Midnight Oil
  • Angus and Julia Stone
  • James Morrison (jazz musician)
  • Icehouse
  • Prinnie Stevens
  • Ray Thistlethwayte (went on to find fame in pop rock band Thirsty Merc)
  • Moving Pictures
  • CXLOE
  • Lime Cordiale
  • Dear Seattle
  • Seaforth - country-pop duo featuring songwriters Tom Jordan and Mitch Thompson
  • Flume
  • Ocean Alley
  • Winston Surfshirt
  • Dean Lewis
  • Jade MacRae
  • Courtney Barnett
  • Ruel
  • Martin Cooke (baritone opera singer)

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