Bernard Fanning believes Unreleased is among Powderfinger's greatest work

THOSE DAYS: Powderfinger's new compilation Unreleased 1998-2010 features songs written for their most commercially-successful albums.

THOSE DAYS: Powderfinger's new compilation Unreleased 1998-2010 features songs written for their most commercially-successful albums.

IF These Days wasn't more than 20 years old, you would almost believe Bernard Fanning was singing about 2020.

"These days turned out nothing like I had planned/ Control well it's slipping right through my hands," he croons in arguably Powderfinger's most iconic song, which topped triple j's Hottest 100 in 1999.

COVID-19 has decimated the music business, crippling the livelihoods of thousands of performers and other people employed through the industry.

Tours have been cancelled. Albums postponed. Nothing has turned out like it was planned.

As the frontman of one of Australia's most beloved bands, and a successful solo artist in his own right, Fanning is in a more comfortable position than most.

So he and his Powderfinger bandmates - Darren Middleton (guitar), Ian Haug (guitar), John Collins (bass) and Jon Coghill (drums) - decided to give back. In May they performed their first gig, One Night Lonely, as a five-piece since breaking up in 2010 following their ground-breaking Sunsets Farewell Tour.

The band, sans Coghill, had previously made surprise appearances on stage together during Middleton and Fanning's solo shows in 2015 and 2017.

Powderfinger - Day By Day

The seven-track live-stream show was watched by 100,000 people, raising $500,000 for charities Support Act and Beyond Blue. It also got Powderfinger thinking of other ways to lift the spirits of music fans.

"It's been such a weird and unusual year and it may not have manifested in that way any other year," Fanning says.

"We spent a lot of time having meetings and getting organised for this sort of stuff, so that's where the One Night Lonely concert sprung from as well.

"That was the result of the amount of difficulty people were going through, not us personally, but people in wider society and especially in the music industry. We wanted to find a way to help."

Plans were fast-tracked to release a collection of unreleased material that was discovered on hard drives and tapes inside the band's archive while compiling the 20th anniversary edition of Odyssey Number Five.

Unreleased 1999-2010 features 10 songs that were written for the band's No.1 albums Internationalist (1998), Odyssey Number Five (2000), Vulture Street (2003), Dream Days At The Hotel Existence (2007) and Golden Rule (2009).

Fanning says there were 50 song ideas in the archives and at least 15 finished tracks.

"They were just songs we felt didn't fit with the rest of the songs," he says. "We always concentrated on making albums, rather than just having singles and hits.

"We wanted to put together a group of songs which worked together. There was always going to be casualties along the way."

Those casualties range from Rule Of Thumb, written for Internationalist 22 years ago, to new single Daybreak, the last song ever recorded by the band.

Besides being mixed by Powderfinger's long-term producer Nick DiDia, only several minor alterations were made to the recordings. A violin track was added to I Don't Want To Be Your Problem and Fanning had to re-sing a line on the closer Wrecking Ball after the file transfer was corrupted.

What is clear is the quality. Many of the songs on Unreleased would be singles for most of Powderfinger's contemporaries.

THESE DAYS: Bernard Fanning hopes the Great Southern Nights initiative creates momentum for the music industry to rebound. Picture: Cybele Malinowksi

THESE DAYS: Bernard Fanning hopes the Great Southern Nights initiative creates momentum for the music industry to rebound. Picture: Cybele Malinowksi

"I think it's up there with our best records, to be honest," Fanning says. "It's got some absolute belters on there."

It turned out to be a thrilling walk down memory lane for Fanning as each song came flooding back.

"It was actually a pretty weird exercise in memory for me," he says. "Because we were so invested it in when we were doing it, in the back of my mind as soon as I heard an opening riff of a song that I hadn't heard for 20 years, I knew exactly what it was and what the lyric was and what the melody was."

The issuing of Unreleased, of course, we only reignite one of the biggest questions in music over the past decade; when will Powderfinger reform? The band were even asked to play the AFL grand final in Brisbane earlier this month.

I think it's up there with our best records to be honest.

Bernard Fanning

Past tensions within the band have eased, but Fanning is firm about the future.

"We have no plans to get together and play," he says. "That's the obvious thing people would expect, but that's not on the cards at the moment."

However, Fanning is back performing live again after a year of writing songs for a potential fifth album and home-schooling his children Gabriela, 11, and Freddie, 8.

Last weekend he played a sold-out mini-festival with Ball Park Music and Thelma Plum at Sandstone Point. On December 5 he'll headline the biggest indoor gig since the start of COVID-19 in NSW at Homebush's Qudos Bank Arena with Matt Corby and Merci, Mercy for Great Southern Nights.

"It's really important to create some momentum and to give people a chance to work and also to give the public the confidence it can be done well and done safely, that's a really important part of it," he says.

"As well as we're travelling at the moment in Australia, there's always a chance that things could go wrong. It has to be very carefully managed and a lot has gone into the planning of this stuff."

Powderfinger's Unreleased 1998-2010 is out now and tickets for Bernard Fanning's Qudos Bank Arena show on December 5 are available through Ticketek.

This story Powderfinger unlock vault to reveal embarrassment of riches first appeared on Newcastle Herald.