Give me that rock ‘n’ role music

22 June 2023

The RocKwiz crew honour an Australian icon with their trademark mix of music and mayhem, writes Julie Hosking

RocKwiz Salutes Mushroom 50 
Astor Theatre, 22 June 2023 

Turn the dial up to 11! How else to describe the rare joy that is RocKwiz Live to the unfamiliar? 

Part quiz night, part rock concert and part comedy show, this national treasure gives members of the public the chance to show off their musical knowledge while simultaneously providing musicians – newcomers and veterans – with a platform to perform in front of an appreciative audience. 

The TV program that started it all ran for 12 seasons on SBS and was recently given a reboot on Foxtel after a seven-year hiatus. But the team – effervescent host Julia Zemiro, co-creator and adjudicator Brian Nankervis and the supremely talented RocKwiz Orkestra – never stopped touring, selling out shows and festivals across the country. You can see why. 

Mark Seymour struts his stuff at RocKwiz at the Astor Theatre. Photo: Duncan Barnes

Tonight marks the start of a national tour celebrating 50 years of Mushroom Records and the crowd and would-be contestants are clearly up for the occasion. Nankervis pulls out the first round of questions to narrow down an uneven dozen – someone extra snuck on stage and, after a bit of humorous back and forth, is allowed to stay – to four. They are divided into competing teams sitting on opposite ends of the stage, as we all await the evolving roster of talent who will join them to answer the questions. 

The “queen of the quiz” then takes over hosting duties, Zemiro building a rapport with the contestants with warmth and wit, as she peppers them with questions or asks them to identify songs from lyrics or riffs. 

Skyhooks fan Noel correctly answers the question that brings out the first surprise guest, Hunters and Collectors’ Mark Seymour. He launches into a blistering Say Goodbye, released almost 40 years ago, before fittingly joining Noel and Jody’s team. Adalita, of Magic Dirt and solo fame, appears soon after to sing The Sunnyboys’ Alone with You, and slip in between John and Isabelle. 


And on it goes, this magical mix of questions, banter and music. Just when you think you’ve been given all the treats you could imagine on walks another brilliant musician. The incomparable Bull sisters, Vika and Linda, share vocals on several songs, including The Black Sorrows’ Chained to the Wheel, their own When Will you Fall for Me and a joy-filled Six Months in a Leaky Boat (Split Enz). Freo legend Dom Mariani, from The Stems, performs their seminal At First Sight, as well as a showstopping version of Matt Taylor’s I Remember When I was Young, one of the first hits for Mushroom Records. 

As is the RocKwiz way, however, we are introduced to newer voices, too. WILSN, aka Shannon Busch, delivers the kind of smoky performance that evokes Amy Winehouse on The Teskey Brothers’ Pain and Misery and gives You Broke a Beautiful Thing, a song written by Paul Kelly for the late Renee Geyer, the tender treatment it deserves. Can’t wait to check out her debut album Those Days Are Over

WILSN belts out a number at RockWiz. Photo: Duncan Barnes

Shannen James, another rising Victorian singer-songwriter, brings a bit of pop-disco to the fore, with a lovely cover of Kylie’s On a Night Like This, and reminds us of The Sports’ canon with a moving Strangers on a Train. RocKwiz Orkestra’s Clio Renner and Olympia also demonstrate their impressive pipes on several songs. 

The spirit of Michael Gudinski, who had the audacity to start his own record label at 19 and went on to promote Australian music like no other, is omnipresent. We occasionally hear his voice, while the surprise guests – representing a mere fraction of Mushroom’s incredible roster of artists – share their (printable) Mushroom stories, from crazy parties at Gudinski’s house to raiding the cupboards for the latest releases. 

It’s the kind of celebration that brings out the best in people (with the exception of a clearly inebriated guy behind us who misguidedly believes his contributions are worth regularly shouting). As the show nears three hours, the musicians assemble for a cracking cover of The Models’ Out of Mind, Out of Sight followed by Paul Kelly’s Leaps and Bounds. 

In the end it doesn’t matter which team is victorious because we’re all feeling like winners. The laughs are huge. The music magnificent. The hosts marvellous. And the contestants a delight. It’s the kind of experience that makes you feel good from the inside out. Gudinski would be proud. 

For more information on RocKwiz Salutes Mushroom 50, see the website.

Pictured top: RocKwiz host Julia Zemiro and Brian Nankervis hold fort. Photo: Duncan Barnes

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Author —
Julie Hosking

A journalist with more words to her name than she can count, Julie Hosking has worked for newspapers, magazines and online publications in Melbourne and Perth. She has been a news editor, travel editor, features editor, arts editor and, for one terrifying year, business editor, before sanity prevailed and she landed in her happy place - magazines. If pushed (literally), she favours the swing.

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