- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Colin Hay likes what he calls the simplicity of performing solo. The former frontman for the ‘80s band Men at Work will play all by himself Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria as well as Wednesday at 8 p.m. at the Rams Head in Annapolis.

“It’s very simple, and I know how to do it,” Mr. Hay, 52, says of his acoustic solo performances. “It’s uncomplicated. It’s very quaint, or something. People seem to like it when I am on my own.”

For Mr. Hay, going solo sort of completes the circle.

“I enjoy it because it’s what I’ve been doing since I was 14. I would say it’s my natural game,” he says. “When the old band broke up, [playing solo] was my way of figuring out what to do next.”

At age 14, he moved with his family from Scotland to Australia. In 1979, Mr. Hay formed Men at Work in Melbourne. The group went from being one of Australia’s most popular pub bands to worldwide fame at the top of the charts, merging new wave and pop. All Music Guide reports that the band’s No. 1 hits “Down Under” and “Who Can It Be Now” spawned humorous popular music videos.

The group’s first American album, “Business As Usual,” set a new record by staying at the top of the charts for 15 weeks in 1982. The band received a Grammy that year.

The follow-up record, “Cargo,” reached No. 3 and also had two Top 10 singles, “It’s a Mistake” and “Overkill.” A third album, “Two Hearts,” went gold but failed to produce any hit singles.

The group disbanded in 1985. Saxophone player Greg Ham and Mr. Hay revived Men at Work in 1998 with new musicians and toured for four years, issuing a live disc, “Brazil.”

However, Mr. Hay continued writing his own songs. His 2000 disc, “Going Somewhere,” was reissued on Compass Records last year following the success of his song “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You,” which was featured in the soundtrack for the film “Garden State.” His version of “Beautiful World” was featured in the NBC series “Scrubs.”

Now, he says, “I’m halfway through a new record” of original songs.

“Hopefully, I will have it out by September. I’m very happy with the way it is going,” he says.

Mr. Hay says he still plays the old Men at Work hits such as “Down Under.”

“I don’t mind playing it,” he says. “It’s been very good to me, that song, so I respect it. It’s part of the important part of the whole thing, to make a living out of what you do.”

He calls Los Angeles home. He sometimes performs accompanied by his wife of three years, Cecilia Noel, and says he plays about 150 dates a year.

Mr. Hay takes a workman’s approach to songwriting.

“I don’t necessarily get inspired, really,” he says. “More than anything else, it’s my line of work, my job. I find that the more you work, the more likely it is that you come up with good songs.”

• • •

Folk music icon Tom Rush is scheduled to appear tonight at the Rams Head in Annapolis in a 7 p.m. show and tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. at the Birchmere.

The New England native was among the first to record the songs of Joni Mitchell. Rolling Stone magazine reported that his 1968 album, “The Circle Game,” ushered in the singer-songwriter era. Mr. Rush’s songs run from aching ballads to gritty blues, and his performances often are laced with humorous stories.

Mr. Rush, who lives on the West Coast, has kept alive the tradition of Boston’s Club 47 coffeehouse, where he garnered a weekly slot in the 1960s, while still attending Harvard, by organizing popular periodic tours with artists such as Janis Ian, Richie Havens, Nanci Griffith and Shawn Colvin.

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