On Thursday I sat next to one of the music scene’s best blokes, Marcus Wright, on a patchy leather couch to soak up some juicy industry knowledge and hear about what it’s like to work with some of the world’s dopest humans. Director of Newcastle’s biggest booking agency, Big Apachee, Marcus is a mad surfer-turned-muso-turned-band manager with a cheeky smile and a career to match.
Born in Newcastle and raised on the Gold Coast, Marcus Wright spent most of his teen years shredding waves and enjoying a full head of hair. ‘I used to have hair, and I used to go surfing,’ Marcus laughs. ‘I used to chase the waves up in Hawaii, Indonesia… I used to camp at Lombok just to get the best wave at Desert Point.’
Unfortunately, the hair didn’t last long, with 15-year-old Marcus deciding to adopt Peter Garrett’s impressive hairstyle. Or, more accurately, lack of. ‘I was heavily into Midnight Oil,’ explained Marcus. ‘I even shaved my head as a young boy for a “Red Sails in the Sunset” concert… I got a belting off my father when I got home.’
But what Marcus lacks in hair follicles, he definitely makes up for in character, having spent more than 20 years contributing to the music industry. His raunchy relationship with Australia’s music scene began when his best mate bought him a bass guitar after he moved back to Newcastle at the age of 20.
‘I always loved music but I never had that passion until I came back to Newcastle,’ he said. ‘Just going to the Palais and seeing Midnight Oil, Baby Animals, Screaming Jets, Noiseworks… It just blew me away, and I got addicted to music.’
At the age of 21, he ditched the sex wax and spent six years flogging the bass for three different bands instead, before shifting his talents to band management. After establishing his own studio and record label, Marcus eventually paired up with tour manager for the Hilltop Hoods and ‘really cool sound guy’, Andrew ‘Muga’ Kelly, to create Big Apachee – a booking agency and music promoting company based in Newcastle. They later established the ticketing system, BigTix.com, bringing all the industry’s elements together in a delightfully handy online bundle. ‘We’ve always sort of considered ourselves as the innovator, not the imitator. We’re like a one-stop shop for touring bands and the Australian music industry.’
Big Apachee also proudly represent a cool cluster of local bands, including Pat Capocci, Morgana Osaki, Venom Lips (formerly known as In Motion), and Goons of Doom. ‘We strongly believe in quality over quantity, so we’ve never wanted to have 30 or 40 bands,’ Marcus explained. ‘We’ve always had a boutique sort of roster, I guess, and we focus on and work tightly with those bands… We’re more about the music than the money, and we always have been, and we always will be.’
To non-locals, Newcastle is known for at least three specific things: its earthquake, its beaches, and its totally grouse music scene. Marcus agrees, although he thinks there has been a slight drop in the area’s musical output since the early 2000s. ‘I think the last two years has changed a bit in Newcastle… We hit a lull. I think the 90s were very, very strong. Even in the late 80s people were saying you could tour up Hunter Street, and for a week be on tour on Hunter Street.’
Marcus, who works as a Music Business teacher at Hunter TAFE, is also concerned about the way musicians are being treated economically. ‘I’ve worked with and nurtured a lot of creative people. It saddens me that the money for musicians has gone down over the years. Bands 15 years ago were getting paid more money than bands today… That’s scary.’
But according to Marcus, it’s important for people to keep joining the industry. ‘It is very competitive, but I like that… I think competition makes business healthy,” he said. ‘I’m a big believer that the more venues, more agents, more managers, the bigger the scene… I think Newcastle is starting to lift its head again, and I think people are starting to notice.’
Despite the dip in output, Marcus assures me that Newcastle’s music scene is still bloody brilliant in comparison to other Aussie areas. ‘I think it’s awesome. I’ve always believed, and have done for many years, that we’ve got the most talented musicians in the country. And I know that from touring the country and seeing different areas and territories; I just think we’re the best.’
Over the past two decades, Marcus has hung out with a whole bunch of drool-worthy acts, including Silverchair, David Hasselhoff and the Vengaboys, who, by the way, don’t even own a bus (don’t worry, I’m crying too). One of his favourite artists to work with, however, is Scottish singer-songwriter, Sandi Thom; otherwise know as that punk rocker chick with flowers in her hair.
‘I like working with Sandi because she is extremely talented, and she’s just so down-to-earth,’ Marcus explained. ‘I remember the year before last we were up at Airlie Beach, and Sandi cut her finger, and just played a whole set with a bleeding finger… She’s the real deal.’
Another favourable mention is Mike Patton, the famous frontman of acts such as Faith No More, who Marcus reckons is one of the sickest musos of all time. ‘My favourite international artist that I ever worked with was Mike Patton, or Mr Bungle… He’s just an amazing man, and to me, probably the most talented musician alive. So to meet him and work with him and put on a show in Newcastle was pretty cool.’
Although the Big Apachee team has graced Newcastle’s stages with an impressive number of talented lads and lasses, getting the bands here in the first place isn’t always an easy task. ‘Sometimes it’s a bit of an argument to get them to come here because we’re a regional town, but most times [it’s] through our networks and connections that people come here, so we’re pretty proud about that,’ he said.
Overall, Marcus is chuffed with what he has achieved during his time in the music industry, and honestly, who can blame him?
‘I’m lucky to work with talented musicians, and I think the secret of Big Apachee’s success is that we only work with talented people, and that’s always been a strict rule of our company… I’m proud of everything we’ve ever done, and the musicians we’ve worked with,’ Marcus concluded. ‘I’ve been doing it for 23 years, and I still love every day at my work.’
NEWCASTLE APPRECIATES YOU MARCUS! Keep doing you, boo.