3 April 2024

Wollongong's Liam Cooper resurrects his hit show - with a twist

| Dione David
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A smiling Liam Cooper sits at a piano on stage

Offstage, Liam Cooper is a one-man band. Photo: Jason de Plater.

For the Illawarra’s Liam Cooper, bringing his show King of the Keys to Wollongong next week will be more than a chance to showcase his magnum opus in his hometown – it’ll be a redemption round.

When the Wollongong born and bred musician premiered the show at Anita’s Theatre in 2018 he couldn’t have anticipated the result.

“Prior to that I’d been playing in piano bars and in clubs for years, doing three-hour sets of background music,” he says.

“I’d been testing my repertoire and crafting the ultimate set list of piano legends and wanted to present it in a show with a full band, phenomenal production value and wow factor. I wanted to share stories behind these beloved songs and blow the crowd away with some real ‘stadium rock-god moments.'”

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The result was a spectacular live concert of 40 classic songs from 15 rock legends including Elton John, Billy Joel, Peter Allen, Stevie Wonder and more, performed by a live band and punctuated by Liam’s captivating storytelling. It sold 400 tickets.

“To go from playing in piano bars to selling 400 tickets to a show nobody had heard of was incredibly reaffirming,” Liam says.

Nobody would believe that off the stage, Liam is a one-man band, managing everything from ticketing to venue bookings, musicians to marketing.

Liam, who has played piano since the age of five, attended Mount Keira Demonstration School and Wollongong High School of the Performing Arts, and rounded off his artistic education with a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in marketing at the University of Wollongong.

His performance experience combined with his talent and education to ensure he knew his way around organising a concert, which he did alongside an intense schedule of performing on cruise ships.

But it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Last year Liam planned a huge 25-show Australian tour in an attempt to make the tour efficient.

“I was fully immersed in preparing for this tour, but I was completely overwhelmed trying to do it on such an intense scale,” he says.

“The financial pressures associated with putting on so many shows and the risk of not breaking even, it all became too much.

“I wasn’t sleeping; I wasn’t eating properly; I wasn’t on track to be in the healthy state I needed to be in to pull off an undertaking of that magnitude … My wife and I had our first baby on the way, and I was still adjusting to performing again after the pandemic.”

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Ten weeks out from his first show, Liam made the heartbreaking decision to pull the pin on the whole tour.

“There was a lot of shame about it. I was so passionate about this tour and so many people were in on the project, my band, the venues, those who had bought tickets. To turn around and admit that I couldn’t physically do this, it was really hard to do.”

It’s why, when the show returns for a more modest three-performance run in NSW, Liam will donate a portion of all ticket sales to Support Act, an Australian charity that provides crisis relief, mental health and wellbeing support to musicians, managers, crew and music workers across all genres of music.

“If that service can help others in my position with the stress and anxiety of producing and promoting live entertainment, or musicians and theatre technicians like mine who lost work because of cancellations, I want to support that,” he says.

Though the tour is on a smaller scale, the show is bigger and better than ever, and has a new interactive twist: each audience member will have the chance to vote for who they think is the ultimate “King of the Keys” and influence the final song of the night.

“It’s a bit scary going through the motions preparing for a show I had to cancel less than a year ago, but I honestly can’t wait,” Liam says.

“I’m so ready for this.”

King of the Keys will come to Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre in Nowra on Thursday 11 April at 7:30 pm and Illawarra Performing Arts Centre in Wollongong on Friday 12 April at 7:30 pm.

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