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Starry starry Knight

Grace Knight and Bernie Lynch. Photo: Supplied Grace Knight and Bernie Lynch. Photo: Supplied

A chameleon of the Australian music scene, Grace Knight has carved a successful career both as a soloist and as the frontwoman of the Eurogliders. Almost 40 years after her ship arrived in the harbour, this amazing songstress is still going strong. WORDS Natalie Holmes

It’s hard to connect an Australian music icon with an English accent but Grace Knight’s British heritage is still detectable, almost 40 years after leaving her homeland. Born in Manchester, Knight spent much of her childhood in rural Hertfordshire, north of London. It was here that she connected with Celtic roots and music that would influence the rest of her life. 

“I come from Scottish and Irish music and a lot of family time was spent around a piano telling history and stories,” she explains.

“That was my first influence. And it felt nice to sing. It wasn’t like if I got up to sing in front of an audience and it felt unnatural.”

Knight grew into a young woman, and her musical tastes expanded.

“As I got older, I was learning to play the guitar. I liked Carole King, The Drifters and soul music, particularly Motown.

“Opera was also huge in my family as my father was an opera singer. His father also played to ex-pat Scots in Canada.”

In 1976, Knight became a cabaret singer, performing in folk clubs. At that time, she was part of a duo that reached the semi-finals of a hotel talent quest. They were spotted by a London agent who offered them a gig on a ‘floatel’ in Dubai, a cruise ship/hotel.

There she met one of her favourite recording groups, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.

“Only a few years earlier, my sister and I would sing into our hairbrushes and create dance routines with my sis’ singing Martha’s lead vocals and me singing a Vandella harmony.”

Knight was overjoyed to share drinks with them after her show.

“I hung off every kind word, encouragement and a piece of friendly advice Martha offered me. Hearing her say, ‘Oh you can do it, the more you do it, the easier it gets, eh girls?’ made it sound like a done deal in my head and I never expected after that I couldn’t become a ‘singer’; I just had to concentrate on being a better one.”

The following year, she landed a gig on a cruise ship to Perth, Western Australia, where she planned to catch up with her sister. She survived the gig by tapping into Harry Nilsson’s ‘A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night’ which was appreciated by the largely geriatric audience.

The trip would turn out to change the entire course of her life.

“I used the cruise as a way to pay my fare to Australia,” she explains.

“It was the only thing I knew how to do and because I could travel around the world singing, that’s what I did. If you have it, then it’s a wonderful trait to have.”

It was in Perth that she met Bernie Lynch. They formed a romantic relationship as well as a musical collaboration. When they met, Lynch was fronting new wave band The Stockings. He was singing and playing the guitar but also became known for his songwriting ability.

Together, they started the band Living Single which would later change to the Eurogliders. 

It featured Crispin Akerman on guitar, Don Meharry on bass, Amanda Vincent on keyboard and John Bennetts on drums who had replaced Guy Slingerland when the band name changed.

Lynch and Knight later married and split. Knight also had a relationship with Akerman, once (shockingly) telling morning television hosts that the band was an ‘Australian Fleetwood Mac.’ But where Lynch and Knight’s romance failed, their creative connection remains strong today.

“Meeting Bernie was fantastic,” Knight says. “We’ve got a really good relationship. I understand him musically and I can find a space in between his lyrics to interpret his stories.

“Bernie and I, we have a fantastic creative relationship. He really is a wonderful songwriter.”

Formed in 1980, Eurogliders went on to enjoy success as an indie pop band. Rock music historian Ian McFarlane described them as ‘the accessible face of post-punk new wave music; traditional in structure, yet sophisticated in style, displaying a ‘modern veneer’.

They attracted a legion of fans with a series of catchy hits such as “Heaven (must be there)”, which peaked at number two on the Australian charts in 1984, along with “We Will Together”, “The City of Soul” and “Can’t Wait to See You” which all reached the Top 10. Of their rapid rise to fame, Knight said they just dealt with it as it came.

“We just did it. It was just one of those things where one year, you’re watching the MTV music awards being filmed live in New York and the following year, you’re there in front of 65 million people.”

“We always had goals. With each goal, we had another goal. When you have reached one goal, you move on. We didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. We were always on the road.”

Nonetheless, becoming overnight sensations was all a bit surreal for the group.

“The first time we heard our song on the radio in the car, we really listened to it. It was just such a thrill. When you’re on the radio, it means you’re really famous.”

“The first time you sign an autograph, you look around to see who else is watching.”

Fame can have its flipside though.

“Things started to change when I was in Target one day buying the cheapest knickers they had and the manager announced that Grace Knight of the Eurogliders was in the store.”

Obviously fame hadn’t brought fortune.

“The truth is, we didn’t have money. We were as poor as church mice. But we were doing what we loved doing. If you were doing it for money, you’d get a real job.”

During their heyday, the Eurogliders toured all around the world, including Australia, the USA, Canada, Puerto Rico, Japan and New Zealand. But after nine years and four studio albums, they disbanded in 1989.

Knight went her own way, making a cameo appearance on the “Come in Spinner” television series and performing jazz on its soundtrack. It led to a new direction for the performer and she has released seven solo albums, the latest being more in the blues vein of music, interwoven with soul and a smattering of folk.

It’s reminiscent of her earliest influences and Knight says she just plays what she feels.

“I love doing what I do. I just hope the audience enjoys this. They may not like it because it’s not jazz. But then I think that they’ve been with me for nearly 40 years. They always seem to like what I do.”

Since originally parting ways at the end of the ‘80s, Eurogliders have twice reformed – from 2005 to 2007 and again in 2013, releasing a new album in 2014.

Currently on the ‘classic hits’ circuit, playing at festivals along with other well-known acts from the ‘80s and ‘90s, Knight is having a ball.

“It’s great fun. While the audience is going off, it’s an absolute party backstage as well – it’s just as good backstage as out the front,” she laughs.

Knight has a few good friends among the other performers, such as Wendy Mathews, Ross Wilson and 1927.

“Wendy and I in particular, we have similar interests, we are mates.”

Knight says she doesn’t really hang out with musicians at other times, so these events offer a great opportunity to see them.

“We don’t go to each other’s gigs. When you have got a night off, you don’t go to work.

“It’s good to catch up, it’s just lovely.”

As for her chosen career, Knight feels particularly blessed to be where she is today. And when she’s not working, she has plenty of creative interests.

“Only a few people can actually be excited about going to work. I’m really happy.

“In my down time, I have artistic pursuits, I get involved in making things.”

The people who go to her gigs are the ones that keep her going, Knight says.

“It’s Australian audiences who’ve kept me in the job. I get fed by the audience and energised by them.

“I love what I do for a living.”

  • Grace Knight will be among the lineup at Day on a Green in Mudgee on October 22.