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News October 27, 2015

Music publishing icon John Bromell dies, aged 71

Australian music publishing icon John Bromell – who was managing director of Warner Chappell Australia for 17 years and earlier set up Rondor Music in Australia – died in a car crash near his home in Coffs Harbour, NSW on Saturday (August 31). Early reports are that he suffered a heart attack.

During his career, Bromell had an incredible strike rate – 60 of his signings went on to have Top 10 success in Australia.

The biggest of these were Cold Chisel, with whom he did a handshake deal for $750 in 1977 for three years to assign their publishing to Rondor. They’d arrived a year before to Sydney from Adelaide to score a record deal but no label was interested. Chisel’s Jimmy Barnes recalled, “(John) told Warner Records that a couple of other labels were interested and Warners rushed us into a contract.”

Other signings included INXS, Midnight Oil, Lee, Tania and Fiona Kernaghan, Troy Cassar-Daley, Swanee, Garth Porter, Gina Jeffreys and The Radiators.

“It was obvious he had an ear and eye for great talent,” says Brian Harris, one-time chairman of Warner Music Australia. “He was willing to take risks and put his money where his mouth was. He’d pay for demos, video clips and studio time knowing he wouldn’t break even financially on them immediately.”

He was regarded as one of the biz’s nicest guys and a raconteur. “John was the kindest, most encouraging, giving and patient nurturer of talent in the contemporary music industry,” says Phil Tripp, long time entrepreneur. Bromell had signed two acts that Tripp managed in the ‘80s, Secret Society and Scrap Metal. The two retired to Coffs Harbour and were neighbours. “He had some of the funniest stories of the industry,” says Tripp who urged him to collate these into a book. The two were speaking to music journalists to collaborate with him at the time of his death.

Bromell was a key figure in setting up Support Act Ltd, the Australian music industry’s benevolent fund.

He started out in Melbourne as a drummer in the early ‘60s, joining The Cicadas whose single That’s What I Want through RCA/Victor went to #1 in Brisbane and #5 in Sydney. In 1964, they moved to England where they changed their name to The Gibsons (hoping to get free Gibson guitars) and found chart success with some of their 12 singles.

He returned to Australia in 1968 and took on the role of A&R manager at Essex Music. He produced bands as Taman Shud and found hits for The Flying Circus (La-La, Hayride, Run Run Run) and John Farnham (Rock Me Baby). In 1973, he started Rondor Music and in 1981 joined Warner Music which became Warner Chappell in 1988. He turned Warner Chappell into profit in his first year, Brian Harris revealed.

After his retirement, he served as vice-chairman of the Country Music Association of Australia, which awarded him its Industry Achiever Award in 1996. He was involved for a time in the Australian Institute of Country Music in Gympie, Queensland, and attended last month’s Gympie Muster.

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