Bjorn Again drummer and manager John Tyrrell on money, money, money
John Tyrrell is a drummer and the world's foremost tribute band manager.
The ABBA-themed Bjorn Again franchise has celebrated more than 30 years of touring, including playing for the 100,000-strong Glastonbury crowd three times.
In 2016, Tyrrell took over the management of Queen tribute band, Queen Forever, which, following the huge success of the film Bohemian Rhapsody, sold out stadiums in Australia and overseas.
What was your first job?
My first job was doing paper founds at the age of 13 to save up for my first drum kit. (I was always the drummer in Bjorn Again!) Before the drum kit I only had plastic ice cream containers to use as drums. My dad was a teacher, and I was one of five kids. We didn't have anything materially, but we were really happy.
I worked really hard doing the paper run and when I got halfway to the goal, my parents said, well you've saved half and we'll chip in the other half. I was so thrilled that they did that and I was able to buy a second-hand drum kit.
Did you always know you'd end up in music for a living?
I used to watch Countdown and think I wasn't good enough. I thought 'let other people do that, it's not my world'. When I got to my late teens people said I was a good drummer, but I didn't know how to get onto Countdown. My school had shit musicians, not like U2 where four guys met and formed U2! When I finished high school, I did two engineering degrees - manufacturing engineering and chemical engineering - and worked at Comalco (now Rio Tinto) as a research scientist but I always played in a band.
I left Comalco when a mate and I started Bjorn Again, and I always thought I'd do that for a couple of years and fall back to engineering if that didn't work. During COVID, particularly during the second lockdown in Melbourne, I thought I'd better find my lab coat and helmet but I didn't need to do that.
What's the best money advice you've ever received?
Not to take out loans for an asset that depreciates. It was firmly ingrained by my mum and dad that if I wanted something I had to save up and get it. My mum and dad were very down-to-earth people - if the telly went bung we couldn't watch telly. We prioritised food on the table, schooling, then other things.
What's the best investment decision you've made?
The best investment was when Bjorn Again moved to London in 1992 and we decided to buy a little place in London when everyone else was renting. After first year there we knew the band was going to take off, so rather than the company paying for hotels, we realised we'd have to set up base, and we grit our teeth and bought a place.
The goal wasn't to make money but to save it and by 1997 the place had tripled in price. We bought another place - a bigger place and that did well, too. Our first two houses were our first investments and when we relocated back to Melbourne, the exchange rate for the pound was three times that of the AUD which was amazing (it's about two now).
Also, when we bought in London, interest rates were 3-4%. We did the calculations and realised we'd be paying half for a mortgage that others would be paying in rent over that time.
What's the worst investment decision you've made?
A couple of marketing decisions with the business. We put our faith in a marketing company when social media was taking off, about nine years ago, but I think they completely ripped us off and I was really unhappy with that.
What is your favourite thing to splurge on?
I'm not a splurge but when I do, it's usually holidays. We've got three daughters aged from 17 to 22 and every two years we go on a pretty splurgy holiday.
If you had $10,000 where would you invest it?
I'd put it towards our various investment property loans.
What would you do if you only had $50 left in the bank?
I've got confidence in myself and my wife and we'd roll our sleeves up and do anything we needed to do for the girls. I'd mow lawns, teach, go back to engineering ... as long as we're together we don't care. Even though we've done well, I've never been money-driven.
Do you intend to leave an inheritance?
Yes, to our daughters and to some charities. My youngest sister died of bowel cancer at age 39, so from time to time we help out charities like Bowel Cancer Australia and the Breast Cancer Foundation.
What's been your best money-making career move?
Definitely Bjorn Again and taking the punt. We toured all around Australia, before taking the band to the UK in 1991. We had to save our pennies and proceeds from gigs. Not one agent promoter or anyone wanted to help - they said you can't take a cover band overseas. Michael Gudinski, Michael Chugg and Paul Dainty all said it's never been done.
I rang all the UK venues and said, 'I'm John Tyrrell calling from Melbourne, Australia, can I book the venue?' I had to book venues myself and we took two weeks of little clubs and the public really got behind it from the very first gig in Notting Hill. To take that over to the UK when everyone said don't do it, it won't work - we backed the product.
In 2016 we went to a tribute show and met the guys from Queen Forever. They were pretty good but they didn't know how to run a band - and even though they had been around for 10 years, hadn't made a cent. I took over the management, and changed everything about them, even their name and then Bohemian Rhapsody came out. We had booked a whole lot of big theatres and after the film came out in December 2018, everything was sold out. We'd ridden the big wave - it was a hell of a gamble.
Finish this sentence: money makes...
... some people truly happy but only very few. But in the words of ABBA, "Money money is always sunny in a rich man's world."