Singer Jon English (b. 1949) was one of Australia's most successful solo performers. Like John Farnham, English has enjoyed an across-the-board appeal. He has been able to divide his time between rock music, stage musicals, television and cabaret without fear of over-exposure. His biggest chart successes came during the 1970s, but his talents continue to be highly regarded and sought after into the 1990s.
The English-born singer fronted the original Sebastian Hardie (when it was an in-demand suburban dance band) until January 1972. English then joined the Australian stage production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Jesus Christ Superstar (directed by Jim Sharman) in the role of Judas Iscariot. He remained with the musical for a lengthy and successful run (705 performances between May 1972 and February 1974), appearing on the Original Cast album issued on MCA during 1972. During that time he had also sung with studio band Duck, appeared on the soundtrack to the rock opera Ned Kelly and recorded his first solo album.
English's debut album, Wine Dark Sea, contained the singles Mike D'Abo's `Handbags and Gladrags'/`Horsehair and Plastic' (March 1973) and `Close Every Door'/`Summer Song' (July 1973). Backing musicians on the album included Mike Wade (guitars), Michael Carlos (keyboards; ex-Tully), Ken Firth (bass; ex-Tully), Jamie McKinley (piano), Bobby Gebert (piano), Teddy Toi (bass; ex-Fanny Adams, Wild Cherries, Duck), Steve Webb (drums; ex-Blackfeather, Duck) and Greg Henson (drums). It's All a Game yielded English's first hit, `Turn the Page'/`Just the Way I Am' (#7 in February 1975). English then joined a new production of Jesus Christ Superstar, after which he recorded his third album, Hollywood Seven.
Following on from `Turn the Page', the next single, `Hollywood Seven'/`Sandcastles' (a #17 hit in May 1976), established English's penchant for dramatic rock ballads. The album's other two singles were `Lovin'Arms' (July 1975) and `I'm A Survivor'/`Walk Across the World' (August 1976). Sebastian Hardie (at that time enjoying success with the album Four Moments) backed English on the album's title track. Minutes to Midnight yielded three singles in `Lay It All Down'/`Whole Lot More' (December 1976), `Behind Blue Eyes'/`Hey Moonshine' (May 1977) and `Everytime I Sing a Love Song'/`Don't Let Me be Misunderstood' (August). English formed the Jon English Band for touring purposes. The line-up comprised Mike Wade (guitar), Eric Macitchka (guitar), Steve Doran (keyboards), Rick Mellick (keyboards), James Rattray (bass) and Danny Grose (drums). Words are Not Enough produced the hits `Words Are Not Enough'/`Up to No Good' (#5 in July 1978) and `Nights in Paradise'/`Fantastic' (#21 in October).
1978 and 1979 were to be English's most successful years. With Words are Not Enough selling well, English starred in the television miniseries Against the Wind in the role of convict Jonathan Garrett. English and Sebastian Hardie guitarist Mario Millo composed, recorded and produced the Against the Wind soundtrack album, which went on to become the best-selling middle-of-the-road album for 1979. The single `Six Ribbons'/`Mary's Theme' (#5 in January 1979) was the best-selling male pop single for the year. English was voted Best New Television Talent at the 1979 Logie Awards. Against the Wind later became a hit series when screened on UK and Scandinavian television.
The `Best of' album English History reached #4 on the charts in August 1979. `Get Your Love Right'/`He Could Have Been a Dancer' (#27 in May 1979) and `Hot Town'/`Show No Weakness' (#11 in December 1979) were hits. English toured nationally and overseas with his new band, Baxter Funt. At that stage, the band comprised Mike Wade, Tony Naylor (guitar; ex-Band of Talabene, Bootleg Family Band, Avalanche), Peter White (keyboards), John Coker (bass) and Greg Henson (drums). English's association with Wade and Henson extended back to 1972 when the musicians were part of the Jesus Christ Superstar backing band.
Following up such a flurry of successes must have been a daunting prospect. English kept up the pace with Calm Before the Storm (#17 in April 1980) and its singles `Carmilla'/`Survivor' (#27 in April) and `Little by Little'/`I Hope It Turns Out Right' (June 1980). Inroads contained the singles `Hold Back the Night'/`King of the Blind' (January 1981), `Ask No Questions'/`Straight from the Heart' (June) and `The Shining'/`Josephine (Too Many Secrets)' (September 1981).
In early 1981, English undertook a sold-out Scandinavian tour. English's backing band comprised Mario Millo (guitar), Jackie Orszaczky (bass; ex-Syrius, Bakery, Marcia Hines Band), Coz Russo (keyboards), Richard Gawned (tenor sax, flute; ex-Marcia Hines Band) and Nick Lister (drums; ex-Kush). As well as Against the Wind being popular on television, the single `Against the Wind' reached #1 in Sweden, while the follow-up, `Hollywood Seven', roared into the Top 5. The Against the Wind soundtrack album peaked at #2 and sold over 100 000 copies.
English's next album, the live double set Beating the Boards (May 1982; #22 in June), yielded the single `Beating the Boards'/`Turn the Page' (April). English's backing band, The Foster Brothers, at that stage contained Keith Kerwin (guitar, vocals; ex-Southern Star Band), John Dallimore (guitar, flute, vocals; ex-Redhouse), Peter Deacon (keyboards, vocals), John Coker (bass) and Greg Henson (drums). Some People included `Some People (Have All the Fun)'/`Beating the Boards' (July 1983) and `Waterloo'/`Oh Paris' (November). English's duet with Renée Geyer, `Every Beat of My Heart', came out in 1984. Previously he had recorded `Jokers and Queens'/`Best of Me' and the Jokers and Queens mini-album with Marcia Hines (1982).
In 1984 English joined the stage production The Pirates of Penzance in the role of the Pirate King. Over the next decade he appeared in a number of successful stage musicals, including Rasputin (with Terry Serio and Angry Anderson), The Mikado and H.M.S. Pinafore. English also collaborated with producer David MacKay on an elaborate adaptation of Homer's Illiad under the title of Paris. WEA issued the double album of the Paris opera in late 1990, which featured contributions from such musical luminaries as John Parr, Demis Roussos and Doc Neeson, plus Barry Humphries. Despite lacklustre reviews, Paris won English and MacKay the Best Original Soundtrack or Cast Recording at the 1990 Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) Awards.
English kept up his solo recording schedule with the singles `Emotion'/`Best in Me' (September 1985), `Dark Horses'/`I Can Do Better than That' (May 1986), `Another Brand New Day'/`Best in Me' (August 1987), `Younger Days'/`Carmilla' (April 1988) and `We'll be There'/`Glass Houses' (October 1988), plus the album Dark Horses (May 1987). The Foster Brothers circa 1985 comprised Kerwin, Deacon and Henson plus newcomers Peter Greenwood (guitar; ex-Marc Hunter Band) and Tony Mitchell (bass; ex-Sherbet).
The 1990 album Always the Busker contained the singles `Always the Busker', `High Windows' and `Love Has Power'. In 1993, English starred in the television comedy series All Together Now. Playing the part of absent-minded, washed-up rock star Bobby Rivers was a good example of English's talents and the self-deprecating sense of humour that has made him a popular figure for so long. English issued `All Together Now' as a single. A new `Best of' album came out in July 1993, and English issued a single in September 1994, `Stand by Me'.