IT’S NOT EVERY DAY YOU GET TO HAVE A CHAT WITH A LOCAL HERO IN THE HEART OF TRASHY MAYFIELD, SO WHEN I SAT DOWN WITH THE INCREDIBLE MARK ‘TINNO’ TINSON, I SAVOURED EVERY GODDAMN MOMENT. AMIDST ALL THE CAR SIRENS AND QUIRKY PEDESTRIANS, I GOT TO LEARN ABOUT A MAN WHO HAS DONE SO MUCH WITH HIS LIFE, AND ALMOST ENTIRELY WITHIN OUR VERY OWN NEWY. HAVING JUST RECENTLY RELEASED HIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY, THE 64-YEAR-OLD ISN’T READY TO CRACK OUT A CANE JUST YET, AND IS STILL MAKING AN IMMENSE DIFFERENCE TO OUR LOCAL MUSIC INDUSTRY.
Originally from Maitland, musical talent wasn’t actually a family trait for Mark. Instead, it was something he took on himself at a very early age.
‘I grew up in Maitland, but I’m okay now,’ he laughed. ‘Mum used to sing around the house, Dad couldn’t hold a tune to save his life. So yeah, I don’t know how I turned out! I’ve been a professional musician since I was in high school… In fact, my school band Bluegrass did a concert at Lizotte’s last year. How much fun is that? We hadn’t played together for almost 40 years.’
Mark continued to strum his way through life after high school, playing in a bunch of successful pub-rock bands, including local outfits such as Rabbit and Heroes. But shredding the stage wasn’t enough for Mark, so he began jumping on some new ventures.
‘I’ve just had various strands of a music career, almost in parallel. So when one strand isn’t raging, another is… I started recording things because I needed to record demos for my band Rabbit,’ he explained. ‘We had a record deal with CBS Records and we had to provide demos. There were no recording studios around so I just bought a four-track and started recording demos.’
Well, it turns out buying a tape recorder was one of the best things he ever did, with Mark going on to record some of Newy’s biggest and most brilliant acts.
‘It’s just another stream of income that I developed. And when I was playing, I was recording other bands in Newcastle,’ he told me. ‘I recorded some demos for Silverchair when they were 13 or 14, just kids. I recorded stuff for the Screaming Jets, and all their demos too.’
But the fun didn’t stop there, with Mark eventually taking a job at Reel Time Studio in Sydney, where he got to record even MORE terrific Aussie acts.
‘I spent four years in Sydney managing a recording studio down there. Worked with probably all the biggest acts in the country. The Angels came through, Gangajang… Dawn and Bobby Limb, who you probably have never heard of, they used to be on the teen telly when I was a kid; they came in. Did Rose Tattoo, all sorts of acts! Yeah, it was a good time. I probably met all of the great session musicians in Sydney, and I’m still good friends with some of them.’
As the performance side of his life started to simmer down, Mark embarked on yet another tuneful trek, setting up a music engineering school alongside the TAFE in Tighes Hill.
‘I taught at TAFE for 18 years; we set up the music industry department there in the early 2000s,’ he said. ‘I do a little bit of teaching at the Conservatorium now… Teaching is constantly under attack as a profession, but it really is a noble profession. And I can think back to some of my teachers and go, you know, they made an enormous difference to me. Especially at university.’
And it wasn’t just young brains that Mark was melding with his magic; he began educating the minds of the masses too!
‘I don’t do a lot of writing anymore, but I used to work for The Post newspaper, which is one of the Herald’s. I used to just do a music column every week, which was full of opinion, whether it was right or wrong,’ he laughed. ‘What was wrong with the industry, according to me, and a lot of those things are still what’s wrong with the music industry today.’
What are some of these so-called issues, you may ask? Well, according to Mark, a decrease in audience, the commercialisation of radio and really shitty wages are just a couple of the more prominent ones.
‘We made a living out of it [music], which was something bands can’t do today. I think that’s the defining thing: we could make a living out of it, and we could aspire to be professional musicians then. We did, and we were,’ he explained. ‘Musicians these days have to stack shelves at Woolies as well… As I used to say to my students at TAFE, if you continue to download stuff for free, what can you expect your audience to do? They don’t put value on it, to the point where they begrudge paying money at a venue. That’s why I’m lucky I’ve got an audience of baby boomers who’ve got a disposable income.’
Industry challenges aren’t the only things Mark has encountered; he’s had some personal ones too. But lucky for us, he hasn’t come across anything daunting enough to scare him into silence.
‘I think compromise is something I’ve learnt. Sometimes you can’t always do what you want to do. But eventually, whatever that activity might be, if you do it well, something rewarding will come out of it,’ he told me. ‘The challenges are “I don’t really want to do this”, but you go out and do it anyway. Sometimes it was simply because I needed to make a living. But I think that’s all worked out, because a lot of the people I’ve worked with, in situations that I perhaps didn’t really want to be in, are still my friends, and they now offer me opportunities that weren’t around before.’
Speaking of opportunities, if you get the chance to read his new autobiography, Too Much Rock and Roll: A Life in Music, then you absolutely should. That’s right, you heard me: Mark has gone and written an entire book about his legendary life! I’ve already had a flick through, and it’s very easy to see why he is popularly dubbed Newcastle’s Godfather of Rock.
‘I had time, I think that was the main thing. My 64th birthday, which is a rock and roll milestone according to Paul McCartney, was coming up, and I decided I was going to release a book,’ he said. ‘I wrote for 12 hours a day for about four months.’
And as for his ‘Godfather’ nickname? ‘Well, let’s hope that it’s just a fond way of saying “He’s still working at it”!’ he chuckled.
And by golly, is he still working at it! Not only does he still frequently record artists in his Adamstown Heights garage, he’s also a regular guest at Newcastle’s ABC radio, where he hosts his own music program from 12.30am to 3am.
‘I grew up in the 60s, so all of those 60s pop bands… The Stones and The Troggs and The Kinks… Probably The Who was my biggest influence,’ he said. ‘But now there’s too much around, and too much has been corporatised. That’s part of the reason why I do my show, so that people can hear something different.
‘I still do a lot of stuff; I’m actually flat out at the moment, and as I say, as soon as one thing dies off, another thing carries me through. So it’s working really well at the moment.’
It’s clear our friend has made a considerable Mark on Newcastle’s huge musical community. If the book isn’t enough for ya, you can also catch him performing with another one of his old bands, Raiding Party, at Lizotte’s on the 29th of June.
‘Still having fun! Got some ventures in the wind that I won’t tell you about, but you know, hopefully I can keep making a difference,’ he concluded.
Tinno for Presso, I say. What a cracking legend he truly is.