Frontier Touring’s Sahara Herald talks Midnight Oil, Ken West and that Bowie offer
Sydney-based Sahara Herald’s music career has been mostly associated with concerts and tours.
But growing up in Brisbane, her ambition was to become an investigative journalist.
However a collaborative University of Queensland project, a fanzine called BUMS (Brisbane Underground Music Scene) saw her, at 19, writing about the city’s emerging acts.
Her writing was considered sassy enough for her to land a regular column in Brisbane street weekly Time Off.
At the same time she was also working in clubs, first behind the bar and then booking them, where her logistics background, hardcore passion for Australian music and aptitude for making things happen, came into play.
Herald not only helped many bands get their first gigs – one of these was Powderfinger, with whom she had gone to school – but she specifically championed the new generation of women with guitars, like Adalita of Magic Dirt and Alannah Russack of The Hummingbirds, “holding their own and completely owning the stage. They mesmerised me!”
She could do this on a larger scale when Big Day Out founder Ken West offered her a job.
“Part of my job at Big Day Out was programming Australian content in particular, and there were a lot of Australian acts that I gave their big breaks to – not only getting them into Big Day Out but onto the big stage as well.
“We were able to provide a platform for Australian artists to be seen and heard (alongside) acts of quality and international acts as well,” she adds. “Whether on their billing on posters or positions on stage or just getting an equal sized dressing room, they were treated with respect.
“We all, Ken West in particular, was very mindful that we were very inclusive.”
She recalls the continual excitement of seeing the final production come together just before the season’s first show, after months of working on separate components like contracts, art design and emergency services.
More so, it was watching the anticipation and joy on the punters’ faces, after carrying the ticket around in their wallet for ages, and the importance of the event to them.
“It gives them hope, thrill and on some occasions, a reason to live,” she says. “The arts are important, they carry a message of hope and reconciliation, to bring people together and to learn by being exposed to new things.
“At the end of the day that’s how culture grows.”
She finds this equally as gratifying in her current Frontier role, in addition to working with people who equally live and breathe music.
“Frontier is pretty much a family company, really, and the people work here within the Mushroom Group are passionate about music and they bring that to the workplace every day.”
What was the first day at Big Day Out like for you?
Before I started working full time at Big Day Out (in Sydney), I was working at the first Gold Coast show, backstage doing riders for the dressing rooms, things like that.
A cyclone had come through a few days beforehand so the grounds were just a quagmire with revolting mud. It just stunk.
I’d be clogging trough this mud all day and covered in it.
I saw Bjork come out of her dressing room, on her own, in an exquisite outfit. She had these beautiful shoes on and she was looking at this mud obviously wondering how she was going t get to the stage.
I looked at her, she looked at me, I’m 6’1”, a big girl, I asked if she wanted a ride and she nodded.
I just scooped her up and took her through the mud to dry land. She turned to me and nodded, then turned, went up the stairs and onto the stage.
What’s a major act that almost made it onto Big Day Out and which was never made public?
Somewhere I still got a fax sent through with an offer to David Bowie.
His manager sent a fax back, this was back in the days before email obviously, at what they were expecting a show.
It seemed like an outrageous amount of money but in hindsight it probably wasn’t!
Bowie was the very first act I saw live, I was 12 or 13, and I never got the opportunity to work with him, unfortunately.
I was hanging we’d get him that year but financially it got ruled out.
You’ve been at Frontier for five years now, what’s been an act you’ve worked with who stood out for you?
Without a doubt, Midnight Oil. Probably one of the most challenging tours I’ve ever worked on but incredibly rewarding as well … not only because it was so successful but we’d worked so hard together as a team, with the band and their management.
We all had a vision but it blew out. Who knew it would be so big? 225,000 tickets. For an Australian act that’s pretty staggering.
The challenges were the weather and the venues.
On the Sunshine Cast, a cyclone was coming through. In Coffs Harbour we had to move venues three days before.
Midnight Oil were the official drought breakers!
It was an incredible thing to be part of, the crowd was so responsive and so joyous to be in that space with the band, and to celebrate everything they’d done and achieved.
The line-up varied on every show, I think it ended up 25 different shows within the tour.
We were in really diverse venues, which meant we couldn’t replicate a show at the next one! Every single one of them was different.
It made it interesting and challenging, and I like to step up to a challenge. I really rolled up my sleeve on that one.
Did you ever work with an act who made an album which changed your life?
PJ Harvey and Patti Smith stand out.
Patti I’d been a fan of for a long time. At that point she’d started to play shows again and we got her on the Big Day Out and I was incredibly thrilled.
I didn’t have much interaction with her, other than embarrassing myself because I got so tongue-tied, which had never happened professionally in my life.
Having PJ Harvey on Big Day Out was wonderful. We were a similar age, we got on really well, and she was a really good woman.
I loved that album at that time, Stories From The Sea, it was a very challenging time for me personally.
My oldest daughter had just died, three months later we had a death at a Sydney show, and that album very much became a soundtrack for me at that point.
Probably right now, there are a couple of Australian acts, and which I’m totally girl-crushing on, and whom I’m looking forward to working with.
Thelma Plum’s new album has been on high rotation here.
WAAX have an album that’s about to land, and I’m just loving them.
I remember the first time I’d given them a support slot on Wolf Alice, and seeing Marie (DeVita) was like seeing Adalita for the first time – am incredibly wild kinetic energy onstage which I found completely inspiring.
Frontier Touring’s Sahara Herald will be delivering a keynote at BIGSOUND in Brisbane next month. Tickets are available here.
This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.