GOING BEHIND THE GIG: Putting the Mugga in Band Management W/ Jess Moog / by Jessica Moog

They say it takes two to tango. Well, apparently it also takes two to run a hugely successful booking agency! Last year I introduced you to Marcus Wright, and this year I took my fantastic self down to the Wicko and had an equally fantastic chat with Mr Andrew ‘Mugga’ Kelly, the other brilliant brain behind the Big Apachee business. Not only is he an excellent band manager, it turns out he’s also a great conversationalist! So without further ado, meet my new mate Andrew.

Mugga Big Apachee

Growing up on the North Coast, Andrew’s keen interest in music originally stemmed from his consistent immersion in local surf culture.

‘I surfed tonnes when I was a kid. This is up near Coffs Harbour, Sandy Beach… I was a grommet, like anybody else up there,’ he said. ‘We formed a band for our Year 12 farewell that I sang in, and my brother and I wrote the song… So music has always been around us. It’s part of what you do, part of any culture growing up.’

Andrew went from surfing waves to watching musos surf crowds after moving south to Newcastle for university at the age of 18, where he spent an ample amount of time chugging grog and catching gigs.

‘At the uni you had a real culture there around Bar on the Hill, where you knew everybody, and on Thursday nights you just went there, if you know what I mean,’ he told me. ‘I think I started the first moshes when it really comes to it… Just the energy and the vibe of gigs is something we always loved.’

Usually, theft is a bad thing. But in Andrew’s case, a stolen surfboard was more than just a hassle; it actually marked the beginning of his long and wonderful partnership with music production.

‘We just drove around looking in op shops… Then we went into the dole office,’ he explained. ‘Handwritten on one of their red poles was “Workers wanted at The Quarry NYE Concert”… We went down there and worked on that, just doing some stage structures and fencing and loading. Then we went on tour through the holidays with the Angels and the Diesel Summertime Blues tour.’

When he got back to Newcastle, Andrew began immersing himself in more than just salt water. He started fiddling with a bit of sound production work, and took on a variety of roles at the Student Union.

‘A buddy of mine just said, “Well, I’ll teach you how to do sound,” so I went from labouring and crew work, or pushing black boxes, to learning sound,’ he told me. ‘Through that I actually became Activities Officer and Production Management at Bar on the Hill.’

Over the next two decades Andrew worked at the uni bar, booking bands and mixing bangers. His time at the university actually encouraged him to go farther with production, and eventually led him down the path of music management.

‘I’ve been doing gigs for many, many years. 1989 was probably when I started… Doing all the sound and production at Bar on the Hill was a catalyst. I knew the sound guy, I knew the band, I knew their agent; it was just a very large network,’ he said. ‘We had some amazing gigs.We put on Silverchair and You Am I, and it was five bucks for students. Then I started managing bands and touring, doing a lot of sound, bringing international acts in, stuff like that.’

After doing his own thing for a number of years, Andrew eventually joined forces with good friend and local gig legend Marcus Wright to create the biggest booking agency in Newy – a town that he reckons houses endless amounts of musical magic.

‘Newcastle’s always been a great music scene and has always got tonnes of musos – musos who are doing original material,’ he explained. ‘Big Management and Promotions was myself and a guy called Wayne, and Marcus was doing his thing at the studios… We struck a rapport and in the end it just kind of married in well, because I needed someone I could have on the ground while I was away a lot touring and doing stuff.

‘So Big Management ceased, Marcus was working at Apachee Reign Promotions, and then we became Big Apachee.’

Andrew has so far tour managed a whole stack of dope bands, including A.B. Original, Ash Grunwald and local rockers The Porkers. One of his biggest and most internationally successful clients, however, is the Australian hip-hop outfit Hilltop Hoods, who have been absolutely ripping up the music charts for the past several years.

‘I’ve been with the Hoods for about a decade, and I do all their tour management, production management and their front of house sound. They’re great guys to work with, fantastic commitment and professionalism,’ he said. ‘Their most recent tour was phenomenal. It was challenging but really rewarding, and we got an ARIA for it.

‘They took a massive hiatus, but they’re getting their stuff together. There’ll be some activity this year. I’m sure you’ll see the Hoods get busy again.’

Being a gig veteran means Andrew has unfortunately borne witness to the rise and demise of plenty of bands, Aussie ones in particular. He stresses the importance of building a crowd base and setting achievable goals.

‘Bands just need to be proactive about how they build their fan base. Family, friends and foes first, because if your foes come and check you out… At least they were there!’ he laughed. ‘You’ve just gotta make the most of your noise and be really on your game. No two bands have the same path; you’ve got to make your own way. In the industry, we say it’s timing, talent and luck.’

Touring around the world is undeniably one of the sickest jobs a bloke could bag, but behind all the shoeys and showmanship is a whole lot of hard work, which can often result in exhaustion.

‘I’ve toured overseas through Canada and America and Europe. Touring’s just touring, you know… It can be fatiguing. I recently had a little girl and it’s harder to go away every time,’ he said. ‘You have good times, loose times, crazy times… But you know, you just do it. I’ve been self-employed for 30 years. If you don’t just go and pick the barrel up and push it along, it’s not going to do it on its own.’

Understandably, acting as a parent to a bunch of musos while simultaneously lugging big black boxes halfway across the world can be pretty darn challenging – but it also gives you the opportunity to make some fair dinkum memories. For Andrew, mixing Silverchair and hanging out with the Hoods is only just the tip of the Ice-T-berg!

‘I worked production for P!nk at a Channel V show back in the day when she was doing one-armed push-ups… I also remember hanging out with Ice T in the production room on the Warp Tour,’ he reminisced. ‘I can remember seeing Rage Against the Machine do Big Day Out with Regurgitator; I was working as crew, and I got to watch them side stage again, like, 20 years later. It was funny, actually – Peter Garrett was standing next to me watching them the second time.

‘You soon learn that celebrity and all that stuff is bullshit. You strip away any of the fanfare and hoo-ha, and they’re just people who have a genuine commitment to their craft.’

And it isn’t just the big live acts who are committed to their job; Andrew has been head-banging his way through the industry for over 28 years, and still isn’t ready to hang up the headphones just yet.

‘Music stands the test of time. That’s why people still listen to Beethoven, you know? Because it is timeless and it’ll always mean something to someone at some time,’ he asserted. ‘I’m blessed having worked with great bands and great people, and I still get the opportunity to do that.’

Next time you’re hanging out in the nosebleed section, make sure to give an extra drunken holler for all the blokes behind the scenes, just like Andrew, who put in copious amounts of effort to satisfy your greedy little earholes!

As Grace from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off would say: ‘He’s a righteous dude’.