The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world






JULY 2015



Simon Meli has one of our favourite voices in Australian Rock and this year he's back again with the 'Whole Lotta Love' Led Zeppelin tribute show as they hit Sydney and the Central Coast in August. If you haven't seen 'Whole Lotta Love' yet then this year is the year you should! It's a night of Zeppelin music that is difficult to forget with a rotating ensemble of players and singers taking you on a trip through the music of arguably Rock's biggest act.

And if you love soulful, heartfelt, blues-infused classic rock Simon's band the Widowbirds also has a new album and European tour on the horizon...

Mark: Hi, Simon, its Mark from The Rockpit, how are you?

Simon: I’m good, buddy, how are you?

Mark: Good, thanks. It’s the twelfth year this year of “Whole Lotta Love”, which is about as long as Led Zeppelin lasted before they split up!!

Simon: Haha! Yeah. It is, but it’s been twelve great years for the production, and I’ve been part of it for a good six or seven years, coming in as a Greenhorn, and now a common staple, so I’m very grateful as it never ceases to inspire, I suppose.

Mark: Yes, a great band. You are playing North Gosford, The Laycock Street theatre on Friday the 28th August and Saturday 29th August, and then down to The State Theatre, in Sydney on Saturday the 5th September, is it just NSW dates this year, or are any more dates planned?

Simon: Well, yeah, I know there’s always the opportunity, I know CCE have always got their ear to the ground as to any opportunities that may come up, and if they’re worthwhile take them to the stage, because we have done pretty much, right around the country in previous years. This year I guess we’re just watching the dollars; it takes a lot of money and a lot of time to put this sort of production together. So we are keeping it in the backyard for this year at this stage.

Mark: It is one of those things we love to see when you take it around the country. The big question is are you doing anything special this year, anything different? Has the set list been decided yet?

Simon: It has, and only recently I spoke with Joseph about his ideas for the set list. The great thing about Joseph is that he always tries to make it different, not only from an audience’s perspective, but also from the players’ perspective. There are a lot of people who form part of “The Whole Lotta Love” experience, that haven’t done this show before, or who haven’t performed a lot of the Led Zeppelin catalogue before, and so in doing so you obviously widen the musicians’ appreciation, and then when we execute it, give the audience something different to hear. It’s also governed by the line-up changing, Joseph likes to have a bit of a roulette of different singers or players at times, and each one brings a different sort of quality that they can embellish in certain parts of the Led Zeppelin catalogue, as opposed to others.

Mark: There are some great singers in the line-up, including yourself, and speaking of which, I hear you’ve got a new album out in September.


Simon: Yeah, we’ve just sent it off to mastering, for the Widowbirds, so that record comes out September 19th, and we quickly launch it here and then jet off to Europe for a good four weeks, I just looked at the roster today and I think we only have about four days off, so we really hammer it home!!

Mark: Are you going to the UK?

Simon: No, we don’t get to the UK, there are a few more limitations with visas, and how you earn your money as a musician over there. We tend to stick to places like Slovakia, Spain and Germany, and up in to the Netherlands, and sometimes we get to Scandinavia too.

Mark: Where’s the best place for people to find out where you’re playing, as we get quite a few European readers at the website?

Simon: Basically, is the global nest for the band! And that’s where we’ll be releasing the tour dates, this week in fact, so by the time this gets put up, they should be up there.

Mark: Is it similar in vein to your previous material, or are you trying something a bit different?

Simon: It’s probably got a harder edge than the first record, the second record came out with that implied harder edge, but this time it’s sort of a mix of both, more soulful, but still has the Free and Led Zeppelin “air” about it, as that is the music that we live and breathe as The Widowbirds! It’s very John Paul Jones inspired, Black Crowes meets Rival Sons, but done by some “Westie” blue collar boys from Australia!!

Mark: Sounds good!! You’ve played with some great musicians over the years and you’ve supported some great musicians, who have been the most inspiring for you?

Simon: In terms of international artists, the most impressionable was Paul Weller. We did two national tours, as The Widowbirds, supporting him, and wow, he has so much soul, his band is so groovy, that he knows how to entertain! Regardless of his age, the show is dynamite; it’s up there with the soul power of people like Joe Cocker, it’s so deep and so moving.

Mark: Yeah, he’s a big Steve Marriott fan, so I can forgive him almost anything, I think!!

Simon: The best part was, even at one of our gigs he came out and had a jam with us, as we didn’t tour on one of these tours with Paul Weller, with a Hammond player at this time, so he came out, and jumped on the B3, and we turned around and it’s Paul Weller!! He was at the keyboard with a bloody fag in his mouth, and giving us the nod!! It was classic!

Mark: Sounds great! I actually love some of his later stuff, it’s pretty cool.

Simon: Yeah, I think a lot of his later stuff is a lot more soulful, coming in to a sort of older headspace, and having lived a little more, he’s getting a lot more soulful I’ve found, and dropped the pop stuff off a little more to the side. I’m a big fan of soul music.

Mark: It’s sort of re-examining his roots as well.

Simon: Totally!


Mark: For you then, doing the Zeppelin show, you must have a few set pieces on there, but what for you is the song that epitomises what Led Zeppelin are or were??

Simon: That’s a hard one to answer! Because I’m lucky enough to sing a lot of their songs, in my bread earning travels around town, in different line ups with different bands, I sing a lot of Led Zeppelin songs. I’m always torn between something like The “Rain Song”, which I think is just an orchestral rock and roll masterpiece, but then I also love doing tracks like “Ramble On” which I’ve taken under my wing over the last couple of years and really appreciate the light and shade of that song. Then you’ve got the killers like “Communication Breakdown” or “Babe I’m Gonna Leave you”, they are some of the best that they have done.

Mark: It was quite interesting the other day; I was reading that Europe is having a bit of a classic rock resurgence, so it’s great you’re taking The Widowbirds over there, there are apparently 11/12 year old kids walking round in Led Zeppelin T shirts and listening to the albums instead of downloading all the new “music”!!

Simon: I think the good thing about Europe I suppose, is, and I’m saying this politely, is they are not “Americanised”, to the point of having to keep up with the “Pop” market, or the Jay Z’s, they are a working class part of the world, especially in like Spain and the middle lands of Germany, they’re all really working class and they earn and work just as hard as we do down here. That’s what’s great about the music of Led Zeppelin; it speaks to those people that are more, I think. The working class have always had this representation by rock and roll, and those young kids must get it from their older siblings, or their parents, as in my case, and once those kids see the light there’s no turning back.


Mark: That’s right, and with music being so accessible these days, it’s relatively easy to go out there and find the good stuff. Do you listen to any contemporary music at all? Or, are you like me and find yourself visiting the past more and more often?!!

Simon: Well, I suppose you’d take one bloody look at me and think that I would never leave the past!! I live and breathe classic rock, every day! For me it’s the best period of music, but I do listen to contemporary music, I get in to people like Beck, which is probably an unusual call for me, also I suppose it’s contemporary but it is retro, there’s a lot of great artists out there, like Charles Bradley who’s in his sixties, but he’s bringing soul music back, it’s got this production on it, which I suppose you could class as contemporary.

Mark: “The screaming eagle of Soul”!! I saw him live last year; I think at the West Coast Blues and Roots Festival, here, he had a slot.

Simon: He’s been out here a few times, and I think the first people to have him, and push artists like him, like Sharon Jones were  Deftone Records, who played a big part in the resurgence of these lost legends, who have now become stars! There’s a phenomenal documentary about Charles Bradley, someone who’s pretty much living on a newspaper lined mattress, to earn his gig money as a James Brown cover band, to pay for his mums house whist she’s struggling to get welfare, again it’s just working class material!

Mark: It is an incredible story, and the fact that I just imagined he was a guy who’d been around in the sixties, and I’d just missed him! But to actually find out he’s not been on the scene that long was incredible!
Simon: You see, there is always hope!

Mark: There is! Is there anyone out there you’d like to collaborate with? What would be the ultimate musical dream ticket?

Simon: The only one dream that I’ve maintained is to keep producing music and keep the opportunity alive, where I can give it to people in the live arena. More and more the world is becoming a palm pilot driven experience, for music and performance, and I think that’s what’s killing the opportunity for live gigs to continue. As far as being on stage with the stars, to be on stage with Jimmy Page, would be phenomenal! But, I think it’s the greater desire to keep live music, exactly that, alive and live!


Mark: Live and original music is what we all need more of! The last person I spoke to was Dave Davies, and I asked him the question about his influences, and that sort of put me on a collision course with huge back catalogues of people that I haven’t really listened to for years and years! I guess, similar to Dave you grew up in a house full of music, so where did it start for you, what was the one defining moment for you when you knew that this was going to be your life??

Simon: There wasn’t really a defining moment; it was an ongoing definition that was sort of being written. My parents are not musical, but my dad, especially, just loved music and he had a great selection of vinyl, that without a doubt, on every Saturday afternoon after we’d washed our cars out on the drive, we’d go in, and whilst I was cutting my teeth on learning how to play guitar, it would just be going on out there in the suburbs in the lounge room, just jamming along to Deep Purple or Rod Stewart and the Faces, and Roy Buchanan and people like that. I felt the charge, it was just that sort of boogie, it was something about the singers voices, that really drove me to find that in myself, not necessarily sound like them, but connect with their phrasing and connect with, I suppose the topic, and the raw and slightly cheeky and dangerous appeal that that music had. It was just something I couldn’t put down.

Mark: Now you only have one choice for this next question! What session would you have loved to have watched happen in the studio, any album??

Simon: Ooh, gosh, “Cashmere”, I think. I am fortunate to be actually singing that this year, which is a step up for me, as it’s usually given to Jeff Martin or Steve Balbi, but I think that is the song that epitomises Led Zeppelin the most. Going back to the question, imagine sitting there listening to John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page coming up with these amazing melodies and rhythms, and still keeping that raw rock element there, it’s probably one of the best rock and roll masterpieces ever written, above even, “Stairway to Heaven”, and songs like “Dream On” by Aerosmith, which is in the same sort of catalogue.

Mark: Well, thanks very much for taking the time to talk to us, Simon, it’s been a pleasure.

Simon: Thank you for believing in rock and roll!

Mark: No problem! So, for the best night’s entertainment you can find in Gosford, the dates are Friday 28th August, and Saturday 29th, they now have two shows for that one, and the following week at the State theatre in Sydney, 5th September.Good luck with the show, and the new album, “Black in to the Blue”, thanks mate.


Simon: Thanks very much, take care.


Simon Meli spoke to Mark Rockpit - July 2015  







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