“I didn’t believe it,” admits Dennis Nguyen, keyboard player and organiser of Burgmann College’s entry into the 2012 Big Night Out. “I hate hearing the announcements because I get too nervous. I was outside when my friend gave me a call and told me that we’d won. I didn’t believe it. I just don’t believe it.”
Sitting beside him is Madeleine McCloy and Harry Lawless, the band’s vocalist and trombone player, still beaming from ear to ear even a week after their victory. And who can blame them? Winning the biggest event of the Interhall Arts calendar is no mean feat but, like true victors, they are modest to the core.
McCloy says, “I thought we were going to come fourth. The two bands we heard during sound check were amazing, which is why we didn’t think we’d do as well.” “Yeah,” Lawless agrees, “the band after us, Fenner, they were fantastic. They had a computer, and fancy guitars. I thought Fenner were all over it.”
Burgmann’s performance was unique in their preference for soul and Motown classics over the expected direction of rock ‘n’ roll and indie tunes. As Nguyen relates, “When we came in our first year, the guy who was organising the band at the time chose those type of songs. Next year we did the same thing, so this time we just followed the same pattern.”
But what was different about this year? “Our brass section. Harry playing the trombone, and our friends Eddie and Millie on trumpet. We wanted songs that would show the brass off as much as possible.” And just as important, as McCloy relates, was the use of two female vocalists; “For the first time we had two female singers. It had a pretty big impact on the song choices that we made as well.” So goodbye ACDC and Guns ‘n’ Roses, and hello Marvin Gaye and Amy Winehouse.
But perhaps the greatest feature of Burgmann’s approach to choosing the perfect set for Big Night Out was their versatility; “We kept changing the setlist until we got it right.” As Nguyen said, “We had some ideas [before rehearsals]. We brainstormed a list of twenty-five songs but it changes when you’ve got different types of singers and instruments.”
Lawless laughs, “Superstition’ was the only one that actually stayed the whole way through. Literally, we started learning “Young Hearts Run Free” three or four nights before. It was ridiculous, but so good! Literally everyone except Dennis came in hating it. But we heard it once and everyone converted.” Nguyen admits, “When I told our drummer that we’d be doing it, the first thing he said to me was, ‘We’ve already lost.’ But I think he warmed up to it in the end. I’m really glad we did it.”
And were there any hidden secrets to Burgmann’s success this year? “There was plenty of Red Bull around! So much Red Bull!” But other than that, there were no pre-show rituals to report; “We had dinner together, had some drinks, a bit of a chat, then just went on.” And did playing in the latter half of the night help their chances of winning? “You could really tell that everyone was drunk!” Lawless laughs. “Best crowd ever!” McCloy joins. “It was good playing late,” Nguyen agrees, “I liked it. There were lots of people there and it meant that you didn’t have to wait nervously for the results. You played then heard it straight afterwards.”
Of late, Burgmann College has had an extraordinary run in Big Night Out, coming in third place last year after coming first the year before. But, as Nguyen admits, “We were a bit worried this year. Normally we have a core group that stays on year to year but they all left. Luckily we picked up so many great musicians. Last year we had one person who studied music, this year we had about four or five.” “We had so much musicality overall!” McCloy agrees. “A lot of talent from the first years coming in.”
“Hopefully quite a few will stay around,” continues Nguyen. “As organiser, my main aim was for the first years to enjoy it enough to come back. I was worried we rehearsed too hard in the week leading up to it, but it was definitely worth it in the end. They’ll have a really strong band next year.” Lawless agrees, “The highlight of my year by far.”