Jon English is an Aussie icon and one of the few performers to forge a successful career in music, stage AND television. He is currently touring with The Rock Show: More which is selling out at all venues. FOCUS chats to Jon about his flourishing career.
You live on the Coffs Coast, don’t you?
Yeah, I’ve got a place up here in Boambee. I’ve been in this house for about 3 Christmases now, but I’ve been on the Coffs Coast for about 5 years.
What do you love about this part of the world?
What’s not to love? It’s a terrific spot; it’s pretty much got everything … apart from a couple of really good delis. I’d like to see a couple more good European delis here.
What brought you here in the first place?
I needed to get out and get away. I found a woman up here, and life’s been good ever since.
So in terms of your career… you’re probably one of the few Australians who has had a successful career in music, television AND stage … but what would you say was the first instance you really broke into the entertainment industry?
I was in little bands all around the Western Suburbs of Sydney from about the age of 17 onwards. It was Rock ‘n’ Roll. I was a guitar player / singer in a band, and that exposure got me out there.
You worked with Johnny O’Keefe early on in your career …
Yeah, for a little while there. We worked with him when he came to Sydney to do the pub /club circuit. I was still at school or uni at the time, so we were all very young, and I think he kind of liked our energy. We weren’t the best players in the world, but we could play his stuff all right. That was an interesting time. We spent about 3 months working with him.
Did you learn much from him about performing during that time?
It was nice to play on a stage where you weren’t like incidental music. It was nice to know that there were people actually watching the guy who was singing while you were playing for him. That was a moment where I thought, “Oh, that might be good”. He was very professional too … so yeah, I guess we did learn a bit from him.
Did you have any mentors who helped you break into the industry?
It was more scratch and see. There were a lot of live venues around in those days, so there were lots of little bands touring around the country, and we’d watch in envy as some got places and others crashed and burned. But everyone seems to follow a cycle that’s exactly the same. We would watch the guys who were doing ok and try and figure out how to follow in their footsteps. It all changed for me when I auditioned for Jesus Christ Superstar. I loved the album, so I thought I’d go down and see what it was like doing an audition and thinking that just maybe I might get the chorus or something like that. But I got the gig … and that was that, really!
It’s probably safe to say that Jesus Christ Superstar is what made you a household name …
To a degree, yes. It certainly opened a few doors. One of the things you do learn is how little people actually know when they say that they know everything! I had a little band called Sebastian Hardie that went on to bigger, better things after I left, actually! But we’d spent all this time doing a demo and took it down to a record company and got in to see them. And the guy said there wasn’t much hope for us; our style was out, and we couldn’t really do it. A few months later, after the opening of Jesus Christ Superstar, he came up to me at the bar and said, “Have you ever thought about a recording career?” And I said, “You knocked us back 3 months ago!” He didn’t even blink! He just said, “Oh, but you’ve improved a lot.” So I guess the moral of the story is for all those people starting out – believe nobody! Just take it as you feel.
How dramatically do you think that stepping into that public spotlight has changed your life?
I’ve tried not to let it change it too much. In fact, I get nagged about it … if I want to go up to the shops, Coralea tells me that I haven’t shaved and what not, but it never even occurs to me to bother – because I never have!
Well, it’s nice that you’ve found a balance there …
Yeah, I think so. I think if you just look at it as being a job, it’s good. And sure … part and parcel of it is to maintain some level of decorum out in public, but I think most people should anyway! But you’ve just got to be aware that if you get pissed and fall over and carry on like a ratbag, it will make the newspapers! Then your friends and family won’t be very happy! So we try and behave ourselves quite a lot.
I’m a Gen-Y baby, so I remember you best from the show All Together Now. Tell me about your time on that show. Was that a fun time?
Absolutely! It was the first time I’d worked for a network and that was … funny. It was weird, because it was a very shut shop. If you work for Channel Nine, then you’re hardly likely to appear on Channel Seven talking about your new record, and things like that. So that was quite weird to do, and I don’t think I’d rush back into a situation like that again. But the show itself was fine – it was great!
So these days you’re travelling around with The Rock Show, and you’re bringing it to Sawtell RSL in September. How has the show evolved?
Well, this is The Rock Show: More, so it’s the second Rock Show. The first one was so successful, that people just wanted more. When you consider the first one took a couple of years to put together and they expect you to wave a magic wand and pull out another in a couple of months, I’m feeling very pleased with it! It’s going very well. We’re doing two shows at the Sawtell RSL this time.
You cover classics from the likes of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan. What is it about these artists and their music that inspires you?
My generation are the Baby Boomers – it was the largest explosion of babies that the world has ever seen from about 1945 – 1960. In the ‘60s, we were all just turning into pimply faced, angst ridden, hormone threatened teenagers, but there were millions and millions of us! So the music became immensely popular – if you had a hit single in those days, you sold MILLIONS! There’s a huge market for that music. The interesting thing is that there are a LOT of people coming to the show now, and if they’re any way musically inclined, it seems to be the music they like to listen to and play. I don’t know why … I wish I did. Maybe because it was all played as opposed to sampled, like it is now.
Yeah, I heard that the first one sold out …
Yeah, it did – so we had to put on another show. It’s got a real good vibe on the ground, and people are talking about it all the time. It’s a real showcase of young musicians, and that’s what I’m enjoying about it. It’s the same band as the last Rock Show, with a couple of extra crew. This show is very theatrical, so we encourage everyone to come and enjoy it!