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by Cheryl Goodenough

South African Idols judge Dave Thompson is taking on a different music challenge from his new home in Perth.

Offered permanent residency by way of a ‘distinguished talent visa', Dave moved to Australia, together with his wife Lee and their children Daniel, who is 11, and nine year old Luke, in May.

“I was really happy at Sony Entertainment Africa, but at the same time felt I needed one last music challenge at the age of 52. So gathering all my industry knowledge and contacts together I set out to create Royal Hotel Records.”

Dave's goal is for the company to become the leading distributor of South African music and entertainment in Australia, New Zealand and further afield. The company is launching a mail order service this month and a digital download store will be in operation next year. Dave's exciting plans include assisting to bring South African artists to tour in Australia and he intends to launch his own Idols-type competition for ex-pats.

Many of us saw the Idols judge on television, but how much of the real Dave Thompson did we get to see? Fellow judge Gareth Cliff says that Dave was very caring, kind and considerate to contestants, well from the top five show onwards! Says Dave: “Ag, there's not much difference between the two. I'm very much an introvert and prefer living a quiet life. Gareth's description is very generous and I guess is true, though I've never consciously taken that route. It's just that my work really began after Idols ended, so it helped to start developing positive relationships with those contestants with whom I might later work.”

Dave, whose first job at a record store led him to Gallo Records, has been working for record companies for most of his life, apart from some time spent travelling overseas and a few years in advertising. He describes his selection as an Idols judge as partly due to ‘being in the right place at the right time'. “BMG had the global rights to Idols and as I was head of music for the South African company, I was approached by the Idols producers asking if I was interested in becoming a judge. I didn't really know much about it – at that stage the first season of the United Kingdom's Pop Idol was only halfway through. Anyway, I passed the audition and am very pleased that I did.”

The first rounds of Idols auditions, which included some of the really dreadful singers, were a lot more fun than they looked, according to Dave. “All the judges got on really well, so we had a lot of laughs off camera. Also, the entire production team, from producer to director, cameramen and so on, were a bunch of nutjobs, so we kind of fed off one another. It was great fun!”

Idols judges are, however, known to come under fire for their responses to some of the singers, and it was no different in South Africa. One journalist portrayed Idols contestants as meek lambs off to the slaughter with no right of reply, as Dave puts it. However, singers are encouraged to launch their own verbal attacks and if not inclined to engage with the judges directly can do so to the camera in the ‘rant and rave room' after the audition, according to Dave. “Plus, by now, contestants should know what they're letting themselves in for,” he says, adding that for some reason judges never get any credit when they're being complimentary!

Dave's sons were probably too young to notice much about the Idols competition during the first two seasons, but after that started to tease their dad about his fame. “They could never understand why anyone would want my autograph. (Neither could I.) Their school friends were fantastic though. We tried to get as many as possible to the live shows and they were all avid Idols watchers!”

One contestant who really sticks in Dave's mind is Heinz Winckler. “He was so close to not making it past the first audition. I pushed him through, but only just. He's been a great ambassador for Idols and a true professional.” Another contestant is Zamajobe. Although she only came seventh in Idols, Dave spotted her talent early and signed her at the end of the series. “She's gone on to great success.”

Talking about their move to Australia, Dave says that they selected Perth partly because Lee has a brother who has lived in the city for seven years. “Having settled family is a big bonus,” he says. “I also wanted to live somewhere slower than Johannesburg. I'd travelled to many Australian cities and the laid-back Perth lifestyle appealed to me the most.”

Like most immigrants, Dave misses his family and friends, as well as colleagues and musicians. However, he says: “Perth is so similar to home and I'm not sentimental about Highveld storms or things like that.”

He does miss Ursula his amazing assistant at Sony, who worked with him for over 10 years. “Ursh really looked after me, so I've had to learn some of the most basic things from scratch, but I think the hardest thing was the processing of the application, and then the endless wait. After that, it's pretty easy with the right attitude.”

We'll certainly be hearing more about Royal Hotel Records in 2010, but so far, Dave's achieving some of his most important goals: Getting better at adjusting to the slower pace in Perth, getting more exercise and seeing more of his wife and kids.

Dave's advice to budding musicians…

Be as original as possible. Work on songs. If you don't write songs, find someone who does. Put in the hours. Use all the modern networking technology, such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, to your best advantage. Get going!

Posted in feature |
Posted by Cheryl Goodenough
10 Dec 2009

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