“I wake and sleep in its rhythm and cadence.
It consumes me and simply demands to be brought to life.
And that’s Tangier.”
Here it is. Finally. Billy Thorpe’s musical opus, TANGIER.
A decade in the making, TANGIER is a work of breathtaking scope. It is the final defining statement in the extraordinary music career of the late, great Billy Thorpe. TANGIER is a hypnotic, beautiful, bewildering musical trip. Prepare to be swept away on an aural journey like no other, bringing together dozens of musicians from different cultures, orchestras, choirs, epic symphonic pieces from another time and place, other worldly sounds and rhythms, rock jams, funk outs, unforgettable ballads. Centre stage in this musical maelstrom is the unmistakable voice and spirit of the irrepressible and visionary Billy Thorpe.
Has there ever been a bigger name in Australian popular music than Thorpie? Billy was a true idol to several generations of Aussie music lovers. Sadly, of course, the irrevocable heartbreaking fact at the core of the story behind TANGIER, the unavoidable void, is that the great Billy Thorpe himself cannot be here with us to bask in the fruition of his expansive labour. However, in TANGIER, Billy Thorpe has left us a truly extraordinary work. It is the pinnacle of an unparalleled career spanning five decades – from a child star in Brisbane in the 1950s, Australia’s biggest pop star in the ’60s, our biggest rock star in the early ’70s, a new wave rocker in America in the ’80s, a best-selling author back in Australia in ’90s, star and producer of the Long Way To The Top tour in the ’00s.
For all that music and history and experience, Billy knew TANGIER would define his legacy. He had road-tested several of the songs during live shows and the immediate reaction from his audiences was incomparable to anything he’d ever experienced. Billy spent his final years obsessed with TANGIER. In early 2007, he was all set to finish it. After seven years of tireless work and refinement, after literally thousands of hours of writing and demoing and recording the many multilayered elements that go to the breadth of TANGIER, he was very nearly there.
But then…the unfathomable. In the early hours of 28 February 2007, the world lost Billy Thorpe. And time stood still.
In the wake of the national and international mourning that followed, once the shell-shock started to subside, some of Billy’s closest friends and music associates began discussions with his family about the idea of completing TANGIER on Billy’s behalf. Everyone who knew Billy knew that TANGIER meant the world to him. To leave it incomplete, to not deliver TANGIER to Billy’s lifelong fans and the music world at large would be a travesty, a legacy left unfulfilled. With this resolve, a conglomerate of family, friends, musicians, music industry heavyweights and a couple of superstars set about piecing together and putting the finishing touches to Billy Thorpe’s almost finished masterpiece. And now, finally, here it is. Billy Thorpe’s TANGIER.
How it got here, the story behind the making of TANGIER, is almost as epic as the work itself. “BILLY WAS INSPIRED in Tangier,” says the singer’s old mate and legendary Australian actor, Jack Thompson. “Billy really discovered something musically in Morocco, but it was more than that. It was a whole opening up of Billy in a way, beyond his trajectory as a rock and roller, from very early in his life, into something that incorporates rock into an orchestral form.”
Certainly, TANGIER started out as much more than just a music project for Billy. It began as a family affair. In the year 2000, on the insistence of a close friend, Billy decided to take Lynn, his wife and life partner of over three decades, to Morocco with a group of their closest friends to celebrate her 50th birthday. Billy himself would describe the experience as the “most amazing time I’ve had in all of my life.” “The whole Moroccan thing was very much an experience for Bill, Lynn and his family together,” says Jack Thompson, who voices the role of the narrator on the TANGIER tracks “A River Knows” and “In A New World”. “And it’s an expression of that, of his life opening up in particular way. ” Billy planned an extravagant surprise birthday party for Lynn, trekking across the desert on camels on their way to Rabat, flying in the couple’s daughters from New York and Sydney, and staging the whole event in a palace overflowing with local musicians. “It was f**king unbelievable,” remembers Michael Chugg, Billy’s one-time manager and long-time confidante. “He met Morocco’s Consul-General in Sydney who arranged with a good Moroccan friend in Rabat to stage Lynn’s surprise 50th birthday in his palatial home. He organised some incredible local musicians and dancers. So here’s Billy jamming with the locals at his wife’s surprise 50th birthday. And out of that came Tangier. “The first night we were there, I was up in the bedroom and I heard this riff. Billy’s sitting downstairs and he’s got the riff of the song ‘Tangier’ within an hour of being in the country. I went down and he said, ‘What do you think of this?’ Over the two weeks, we’d be walking through the souks and down into the bazaars and he’d see a Moroccan band playing in the corner and he’d go over and start rapping to them. “The second or third night we were there, we had a big dinner at a broken down palace. The Moroccan band he’d befriended in the souks were actually playing there, so he ended up playing with them for about two hours. “That’s where it started. When he got back to Australia, Billy was determined to do this concept – TANGIER. He came back with three or four ideas and he started work on it.” Billy was so determined that he abandoned a whole other album that he’d built up with his touring band. Instead, he locked himself away in his private studio in Sydney, along with his sound engineer Greg Clarke, and dedicated himself to developing, writing and recording the TANGIER project.
The one big interruption to work on TANGIER came when Billy devised, co-produced and starred in the mammoth national concert tour, Long Way To The Top, which played to over 250,000 music fans in 2002 and early 2003. That tour saw Billy perform with both the 1960s and 1970s incarnations of his legendary outfit, the Aztecs. Two of Billy’s co-producers from the tour, Michael Chugg and Amanda Pelman, would soon also become central players in TANGIER. Back in the studio, one of Billy’s earliest collaborators on the TANGIER project was the celebrated Hungarian-born, Sydney-based musician, Jackie Orszaczky. Along with providing his brilliant bass playing to the early recordings, Jackie also wrote complex orchestral arrangements for several pieces [including the remarkable instrumental “Gypsy”]. Sadly, Jackie Orszaczky would also not survive to see TANGIER completed.
In the years that followed, Billy would pull all kinds of players into the studio, including trips back to Morocco to record local musicians. Ever so gently, Billy’s wider vision for TANGIER, was now starting to take shape. It wouldn’t be just an album – it would be an event. Along with Amanda Pelman, the pair devised a stage spectacular, a world music event that could be performed anywhere, with or without Billy’s direct involvement. Amanda says that, in Billy’s mind’s eye, TANGIER would do for Moroccan music what Michael Flatley’s Riverdance did for the Irish. “It was to be a live presentation on the scale of a Michael Jackson concert,” adds Jack Thompson. “Dancers and orchestras and big screens, individual soloists… you see Billy never thought small! And he talked about and had arranged to record with the Moroccan orchestra.”
To complete the recording, Billy had always wanted to record TANGIER’s complex orchestral elements live with the Symphone du Maroc – the Royal Moroccan Symphony Orchestra – inside one of Morocco’s ornate ancient palaces. And it was all set to happen. Through friends of friends and various international diplomatic maneuvering, TANGIER was given the blessing of all concerned. The orchestra was booked, the recording set to take place inside the beautiful ancient palace in the Taourirt Kasbah in Ouarzazate. “It’s a very exciting time for me,” Billy said on the eve of the final recording. “It’s wonderful to watch things come together. Sometimes there’s a synchronicity to stuff that’s out there in the ether. There was a question there: Will I try to see this thing through? Because I realised what was involved. “We’re coming down to the wire on it now. The synchronicity of how this has fallen into place over the past two or three months is nothing short of magical. There are times for things to happen and this is the time for Tangier.” Billy was also set to sign a deal with Sony Music Australia for TANGIER’s imminent release.
Then came 28 February 2007. FOLLOWING BILLY’S DEATH, it was Amanda Pelman who began the drive to get TANGIER completed. “When Billy shuffled off his mortal coil, we never questioned completing TANGIER as a duty of care to our friend,” says Amanda. “I said to Chuggi the only way to do this is to forensically go through everything that’s in the studio.” With Chuggi’s financial backing, the exhaustive and emotional process was undertaken to trawl through all of Billy’s studio hard-drives to see exactly what had been captured. There were literally hundreds of takes, arrangements, different vocals – seven years worth of recording which took nine months to analyse. ARIA Award-winning producer Daniel Denholm was brought in to pull all the pieces together. Daniel, a celebrated composer and arranger in his own right, set about reconstructing Billy’s vision. More extraordinary multinational players from around Australia and the world were brought into the mix. Among them, the great Mick Fleetwood, Billy Thorpe’s former band mate in the early- ’90s LA rock outfit, The Zoo. “I played on about three or four songs on TANGIER,” says Mick. “It was very haunting and meaningful for me, sitting alone in the studio with Bill coming through the speakers. I spent three or four days over-dubbing, just me and Bill. That was a trip. “Billy had told me about his connection in Morocco, how he’d been working on ideas for long time. I felt so much a part of what he was doing and I understood it and it was an honour for me to do that.” Other guest performers on TANGIER include Egypt’s Tawadros brothers, Venezuelan-born flautist Pedro Eustache, Sydney violinist Richard Tognetti, as well as Australian singers Vanessa Amorosi, Brian Cadd, Connie Mitchell, Ian Moss and Melinda Schneider. “I’m sure Billy would be proud of what we’ve done and that it’s finally coming out,” says Daniel Denholm. “For anyone to express themselves in the way he has done is no small feat. And thank God there was such great support from Billy’s family and [executive producers] Michael Chugg and Amanda Pelman, to give me the opportunity to pull it off. It was a very special time and it was an honour to be given that responsibility to finish Billy’s work.” TANGIER has now come full circle, set to be released through Sony Music Australia.
Billy’s wife Lynn has no doubt her husband would have loved this final version of TANGIER. “This is a magnificent work reflecting Billy’s deep thinking about the wonders of the world and love and life and death,” says Lynn. “He was an enthusiastic musical traveller, always pushing things to the limit. “TANGIER consumed most of his working days in his studio in Sydney. He wanted the world to see that he was still a vital musical force and not the ‘heritage’ act that a lot of people perceived him as. He burned with an intense flame. TANGIER is the legacy that Billy left to his family and the world.” Yes, it’s a tragedy that Billy Thorpe isn’t here to enjoy this, his great musical vision finally fulfilled. But even before he left us, Billy already had a sense that TANGIER might outlive us all. “It’s a substantial thing,” Billy said shortly before his death. “It’s something I’m already proud of, and something I think will stand up for quite some time.”
“Morocco, its King Mohamed VI and its people had a profound effect on me, and like many before, I left with an unbridled passion to tell the world about it. With every passing day, mankind sadly becomes more and more fragmented by political, cultural, ethnic and religious differences. Morocco, however, although sadly caught up with the rest of the world in the mania that engulfed the planet since 9/11, is still one of the few places in the world where, thanks to its King and his people, everyone still comes together in peace and harmony through song, dance and mutual respect to share in a magical celebration of life, regardless of cultural and religious differences.”
– BILLY THORPE, 2005