Ain’t no mountain high enough
Hurlstone Agricultural High School, 1989 – four friends decide to sing together for an end-of-year concert.
“We had like a three-song repertoire – The Penguins’ Earth Angel, the national anthem, and Waltzing Matilda,” laughs vocalist Phil Burton.
“It was so enjoyable, though, that we expanded the repertoire and started entering talent quests.
“From there, people started hiring us. So, it wasn’t a sudden decision of, ‘Okay, we’re going to do this as our job,’ but it took a few years of feeling this had potential.”
This potential would blossom into a more than 30-year career spanning four number one albums, a hit Las Vegas show and more than 2.5 million in Australian album sales alone.
The turning point, as Phil explains, was when the group – previously known as 4Trax – landed a record deal with Sony Music and changing their name to Human Nature.
While success in Australia and an appearance at the 2000 Sydney Olympics followed, it was in 2005, with the release of their ARIA award-winning album Reach Out: The Motown Record, that the band reached new heights.
“The success of the Motown record came at a really pivotal time in our career,” he tells North Shore Living.
“We’d just before that released an album of original music that, even though we were really proud of it and the songs were fantastic, just didn’t connect for whatever reason.
“When the Motown record came out, it was risky. We didn’t know whether people would accept us doing a covers record at the time and we didn’t know whether Australians were that familiar with the material.
“It turned out to be our biggest album ever.”
Two more albums of jukebox hits and a national tour later, Australia’s beloved boy group were faced with the opportunity to make a name for themselves overseas in notorious Sin City.
“Originally, we went over there to just test the waters and thought we would be there for maybe 12 months,” Phil recalls.
“Then 12 months became three years, three years became six, and then, eventually, 11 and a half years later was when we wrapped it up.
“The challenge for us initially was that Americans didn’t have a clue who we were. That was something I think we really relished – the challenge of trying to convert people into fans.”
Ultimately, U.S. audiences embraced the boisterous Aussies, with their show ranking among the likes of Celine Dion and Elvis Presley as one of the longest running on The Strip.
In the end, it took a global pandemic – and the casinos to shut down – to halt the band’s dream run.
“It was unbelievable,” Phil says.
“My family and I would drive down the street at night and just see these empty, blacked out buildings. All these buildings you’ve seen in movies lit up like Christmas trees, and all of a sudden there’s nothing. It was so surreal. A bit apocalyptic.”
With the situation across America worsening and The Venetian resort forced to end the band’s contract, Phil and his North Narrabeen born and bred wife, Justine, decided it was time to pack up and bring the family home.
Now, settled in the leafy North Shore suburb of St Ives, and with his three bandmates also back in Sydney, Phil reveals he’s eager for the group to once again take Australia by storm.
Kicking off this month, the band will be performing three ‘stripped back’ acoustic shows at Chatswood’s The Concourse.
“It’s a unique show, very different than what we’ve done before, just the four of us and one musician,” Phil explains.
“It’s really taking fans on a journey through our career, with stories and songs people may not have heard before.”