Meet Tracy Dann….
He’s a jack of all trades that’s mastered way more than one: so it’s lucky for Australia that someone as incurably curious as Tracy (“Trace”) Dann decided to give the entertainment industry a go at the beginning of this decade. As managing director of Lockhouse Productions, an independent promotion and entertainment consulting business, Trace works alongside artistic director and talented performer Nicki Gillis and iconic musician Frank Ifield to bring shows such as Carole King’s Tapestry The Concert and Ashes to Ziggy: The David Bowie Tribute Show, to life. All Things Entertainment had a chat with Trace…
“I realised if I ever want to do something then I need to make it happen myself.”
He’s worked in the military, as an international lecturer, a marketing manager, a tarmac rally co-driver, a bass player in a rock band, as a motivational speaker. An endless, diverse list of experiences and interests. So, what would Trace’s category of choice be if he ever went on Tom Gleeson’s Hard Quiz? “British Glam Rock of the ’70s!”
Trace is supremely curious about life, constantly doing and trying different things. He sees life as a journey, and, “like any journey, it has many different paths and directions that you can take until you get to the end. It would be easy to sit back and go along for the ride, but I much prefer to do the driving and I like to see what new and wonderful things are ‘off the main road’.”
This sense of curiosity is rooted in a fairly independent childhood. Trace remembers that his parents, “for whatever reason”, never had much time to entertain him or take him places, so he had to either create his own entertainment, or find his own way to get to see it. “My first recollection of this was around 1970 when, despite my pleading and begging to be taken to the Edinburgh Air show in Adelaide, my parents never did. So, as a strapping young 10- or 11-year-old, I walked the five miles from home to the air show by myself, stood all day watching the displays and then walked home again. This was when I realised if I ever want to do something then I need to make it happen myself – not wait for others.”
His life journey has nurtured a fierce, independent spirit, and created a man not scared of speaking his mind about what he sees happening in the world around him. And that’s where the self-proclaimed “grumpy man” comes in: Trace says that he’s become less tolerant of “foolishness, idiocy and incompetence” as he’s got older – “the inability nowadays to tell someone that they are not good at what they do and should, perhaps, seek other paths to their future is frustrating – it devalues them as individuals and devalues society by lowering standards and expectations. I also find it sad to see our once thriving and positive society turning on itself and relinquishing many of the freedoms for which our elders fought so strongly.”
“What have I learned from Lockhouse Productions? Humility.”
Trace’s varied career required that he juggle many different hats – and it all ultimately brought him to his current role, producing shows for stage and television. He doesn’t regret any of his previous jobs, even the less fun ones. “While it may not have been clear at the time, I can now look back and see where I gained all the skills I now use in Lockhouse Productions. I do get bored easily so I try to keep myself busy and my mind active!”
It’s not surprising that music is the love he ultimately returned to, either – Trace has wanted to be involved in theatre and entertainment since a young age. He took part in media and theatre productions from very early in high school, and his interest never stopped growing. “When I stage managed for the first time at the Narooma Blues and Rockabilly Festival I knew that I had found what I wanted to do. Actually, I wanted to be a musician myself, but I was really crap at it! So I set up Lockhouse Productions with Nicki Gillis to manage artists, tours, events and any other stuff I was interested in.”
Trace speaks with respect and admiration of his Lockhouse colleagues, calling Frank , one of the biggest pop stars in the world in the early ’60s, and who even had The Beatles as a support act, a “humble, thankful and gentle soul – and one of the nicest people you could ever meet”. He cites Nicki as one of the “finest entertainers and singers in Australia” – and then touches on an entrenched problem in the Australian entertainment landscape that causes much frustration for serious musicians. “Because of how the industry is today, there are no avenues for artists like Nicki to be recognised. There are no TV shows for variety entertainers, there are no CD sales anymore. The value of live entertainment has been reduced by second rate performers flooding the market with cheap and crappy performances and there is nowhere for independent artists to build a fan base – yet Nicki continues to perform, have great success in the UK and provide a good role model for young performers.”
Trace feels strongly about changing the value placed on good entertainment, improving the pay scales so that artists can earn a decent fee, and getting “second-rate” performers out of the mainstream. He talks of solo entertainers doing “professional karaoke”, because venues won’t pay what a good act is worth.
“The failure to pay a decent fee reinforces the second-rate nature of the industry, and we also lose many very talented people who need to get ‘a real job’ to make ends meet – they end up giving entertainment away so they can provide for their families. We need a thriving industry, we need bands, we need professionals and we need decent fees paid to these professionals.”
“All of our projects excite me – if they didn’t I wouldn’t be doing them.”
It’s not all doom and gloom, though – and Lockhouse Productions aims to improve the entertainment landscape. Trace believes that there’s a big opportunity to aim new, quality entertainment offerings to the 45 to 65-year-old demographic. “The oldies from the ’60s and ’70s have now become empty-nesters and many have a little bit of disposable income. It’s time to focus on them now instead of on the ‘internet generation’.”
Conceptualising and creating these projects excites Trace – “if they didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing them!” Ideas come to him randomly: “I think them through, and see if I really like them, and if I think we could do a good job in presenting it to an audience. If either answer is no, then I file it away for future consideration. If I answer yes, then we start to write it up and release it, giving All Things Entertainment first refusal.”
He’s particularly excited about Frank and Nicki’s upcoming UK tour. For the first time in 30-something years, Frank will be doing a series of concert shows where he’ll perform all his big hits, with Nicki also performing her two UK number ones, and other songs she has written.
Trace is proudest (so far) of his first theatre production, “When Aussies Ruled Britannia”: “This was the life stories of Keith Potger (from The Seekers) and Frank Ifield and how they were both top of the charts in the UK in the ’60s and ‘70s. It was so great to see these two legends on stage together and to hear the vast repertoire of songs they both had. We toured this one in Australia and the UK and audiences loved it.”
At the end of the day, that’s where the reward of this type of work comes from: the audiences. It’s what keeps you going, even when times are tough. “Seeing the joy on the faces of people as they walk out from one of our shows – to feel the buzz of their excitement and, as weird as it sounds, to stand in a toilet cubicle after the show and listen to the comments of the audience when they don’t know you are there… That’s rewarding!”
“I don’t want to die wondering…”
Trace and Lockhouse Productions chose to work with All Things Entertainment because of the “vision and fresh attitude” that their shows need, and ATE offers. “Many other agencies have predetermined approaches, processes and contacts – Nancy (Nancy Hillary, ATE Director) proved to us that she was willing to try new things, take a few risks and have the dogged determination to push our shows to a new audience. We love Nancy’s banter, her willingness to try new things, her desire to succeed and her ability to listen and try new things. We trust her with making decisions regarding the booking of our shows and I really love how she doesn’t give up despite setbacks.”
This love of trying new things ties in with Trace’s core approach to life – an ideal that we at ATE find inspiring, and love about working with Trace and Lockhouse Productions: “We are all going to die one day, you can spend your remaining days stuck in a rut or you can get out there and experience things. I don’t want to die wondering…”
What gets you into trouble?
Trace: My occasional outbursts about the stupidity of people and how political correctness is out of hand.
Who is the coolest/ most interesting person you’ve ever met?
Trace: Mick Flinn – lead singer of The Mixtures, member of The New Seekers and half of Pussyfoot (his wife Donna Jones is the other half). I now class him and Donna as good friends and we catch up whenever I go to the UK.
And the weirdest/most random one?
Trace: Dave Hill from Slade.
Best band/performance you’ve ever seen live?
Trace: There are so many! If I had to choose one it would be ELO – followed by Alice Cooper, Paul McCartney, Hush (at the Countdown Spectacular), 10cc and John Paul Young with his Vanda and Young Songbook.
Person you wish you could meet – and why?
Trace: Jeff Lynne – a guy who can keep coming back. The Move, ELO, Jeff Lynne solo, Travelling Wilburys, Jeff Lynne’s ELO. What a brilliant writer, singer and producer.
Five people you’d invite to dinner… And why!
Trace: Alive ones:
Jeff Lynne – just to say I had dinner with him.
Tina Turner – The rockiest chick in history – against all the odds.
Elton John – A great showman and doesn’t take himself too seriously.
Mike Myers – Love his movies and his love of early ‘70s UK music.
Richard Branson – because he is Richard Branson.
George Martin – How did you create that stuff for The Beatles?
Buddy Holly – So young and so talented, what could he have gone on to achieve?
Liberace – what a showman.
George Michael – despite all the odds was still a superstar and did so much to help others.
Rick Parfitt – no one can ever rhythm guitar like him.
What is the best advice you ever got?
Trace: Make sure business decisions will pass the ‘A Current Affair’ test. This just means – How would this look if it was on ‘A Current Affair’? How would the public react to it?
And the worst advice?
Trace: You really need to slow down a bit – you will give yourself a heart attack. I did it the wrong way around, I had a heart attack then slowed down – but only for a few weeks.
How do you refill your creative reservoirs when they become empty?
Trace: Three ways:
• I put headphones on (not in), turn off the lights and escape into the world of music,
• I sit on a cliff or beach and enjoy nature’s beauty, or
• I turn off the stereo in the car when I’m driving to Sydney and come up with all sorts of ideas – the staff hate it when I do this…
What’s your favourite saying? (As opposed to the second favourite, ‘Everyone is entitled to my opinion…”
Trace: If you expect to be disappointed, you will never be disappointed.
Book: Losing My Virginity – Richard Branson
Movie: Galaxy Quest
Song: The Famous Instigator – Gary Glitter
Getaway: Getting out in nature
Thing to do that is NOT work related: Snorkelling, bush walking, cryptic crosswords
More about Lockhouse Productions’ offerings:
“Our shows are always high quality, and vary from original songs through to shows that highlight the life and songs of famous artists or themes in music,” says Trace. Here are his thoughts on some of Lockhouse Productions’ shows:
Frank Ifield and Nicki Gillis in Concert: “A two-hour show where both artists perform the songs they’ve previously released in the UK and which reached the top of the charts. Based on a traditional variety show format, the show is a great trip down memory lane with Frank and a quality presentation of past hits and contemporary music with Nicki.”
Carole King’s Tapestry: The Concert: “Our salute to the music of Carole King combines all the big hits she wrote for other people with a ‘sounds like the album’ performance of the entire Tapestry album – all done live with a band.”
Herstory: “Our latest show salutes many of the women who had rock music hits between 1959 and 2010. In a two-hour show, three quality singers with a live band present the evolution of women’s rock. This is a fantastic celebration of women’s music as well as the strength and power of women in general.”
Dancing in The Street – Bowie and Jagger (a tribute): “A new show for 2018, this two-hour show celebrates the brilliant songs of David Bowie and Mick Jagger, combining a full band and interesting costuming to fully recreate the sound of the original songs.”
Written by Donnay Torr.