Jonathan James "Jon" English (born 26 March 1949 in Hampstead, London) is a rock singer, musician, actor and writer. English emigrated to Australia with his parents in 1961. He was an early vocalist and rhythm guitarist for Sebastian Hardie but left to take on the role of Judas Iscariot in the Australian version of the stage musical Jesus Christ Superstar from May 1972, which was broadcast on television. English is also a noted solo singer, his Australian top twenty hit singles include "Turn the Page", "Hollywood Seven", "Words are Not Enough", "Six Ribbons" and "Hot Town".
English was acclaimed for his starring role in the 1978 Australian TV series Against the Wind - he won the TV Week Logie Award for 'Best New Talent in Australia'. He also co-wrote and performed the score with Mario Millo (ex-Sebastian Hardie). The series had international release, known as Mot alla vindar (1980) in Swedish, where both "Six Ribbons" and "Against the Wind" were released as singles, both singles and the soundtrack album peaked at No.1 on the Norwegian charts; the first single, "Six Ribbons" and the album, peaked at No.4 on the Swedish charts.
From 1983 to 1985, English won four Mo Awards with three consecutive 'Entertainer of the Year' awards and a further 'Male Vocal Performer' in 1985. English has performed in Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas The Pirates of Penzance, The Mikado and H.M.S. Pinafore from 1984. Performances of Essgee Entertainment's productions of the Gilbert and Sullivan trilogy from 1994 to 1997 were broadcast on Australian TV, they were all released on VHS and subsequently on DVD.
1949-65: early years:
Jonathan James English was born in Hampstead, London 1949, to Sidney and Sheila English, with siblings Janet, Jeremy and Jill. Sheila had worked as a hospital worker, teacher and ambulance driver; Sidney was working in air cargo for KLM and was moved to Sydney Airport. Sheila and the children followed, when the family emigrated to Australia in 1961 on RMS Orion with English turning 12 years old just before calling-in at Fremantle. Sidney had bought a house in Cabramatta, where English attended Cabramatta High School. Sidney was a self-taught piano player and dabbled with guitar and drums, he bought a guitar for the young Jon English. Janet took her younger brother to the Sydney Stadium to see the Beatles perform during their 1964 Australian tour.
1965-72: first bands:
English's first rock gig occurred when his neighbour's band needed a guitarist, he was about 16 and mid-performance was called upon to do vocals, he sang the Beatles' "Twist and Shout". His earliest known band was Zenith in 1965, formed at Cabramatta High School, and according to English "they were crap". Next was Gene Chandler & the Interns, which included guitarist Graham Ford, drummer Richard Lillico, bass guitarist Peter Plavsic and English as vocalist and rhythm guitarist. Ford founded Sebastian Hardie Blues Band in 1967 with Lillico and new band members, they played R&B and soul covers but disbanded by early 1968. When Ford reformed the band later in 1968, he recruited English and Peter Plavsic again, and added Anatole Kononewsky on keyboards, and Peter's brother Alex Plavsic on drums. They had dropped the 'Blues Band' part to play more pop oriented music and were the backing band for legendary Australian rocker Johnny O'Keefe during 1969. Covering songs from the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett they built a reputation in the Sydney pub scene. Also attending Cabramatta High School, but one year lower was Carmen Sora; Sora and English married in September 1969 when she was 19 and he was 20. In January 1972, English left Sebastian Hardie when he won the role of Judas Iscariot in the Australian version of Jesus Christ Superstar from May 1972. Sebastian Hardie were later joined by Mario Millo on vocals and lead guitar and Toivo Pilt on keyboards, by 1974 they had become Australia's first symphonic rock band and released Four Moments in August 1975, which was produced by English.
1972--1979: Actor and solo performer:
Australian theatre producer Harry M. Miller and theatre director Jim Sharman had worked on the stage musical Hair and kept some of the cast and crew for their next project, the Australian version of Jesus Christ Superstar by Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber. Miller and Sharman chose English, from over 2,000 applicants, to take the starring role of Judas Iscariot alongside fellow stars Trevor White (ex-Sounds Unlimited) as Jesus Christ and Michele Fawdon as Mary Magdalene. The initial run was from 4 May 1972, at Sydney's Capitol Theatre, to February 1974 with over 700 shows, it included other Australian music/theatre performers Reg Livermore (from Hair, later in The Rocky Horror Show), John Paul Young (later a solo singer with "Love is in the Air"), Marcia Hines (from Hair, took over as Mary Magdalene in 1973, later a solo singer with "You"), Doug Parkinson (Doug Parkinson in Focus had a hit with "Dear Prudence", took over from Livermore) and Stevie Wright (ex-the Easybeats, later a solo singer with "Evie").
Jesus Christ Superstar - Original Australian Cast Recording was released by MCA in 1972 with English and other cast members performing vocals for a studio recording. A documentary of the production was broadcast on national TV, it contained footage of performances and interviews with cast members. English reprised his role of Judas in the 1975 and 1978 productions. During 1974, English co-wrote, with Roy Ritchie, the ballet Phases which was performed by the New South Wales Dance Company at the Sydney Opera House. While performing in Superstar, English also performed as a rock vocalist both with bands, Tapestry, Pulsar and Duck, and solo. He sang on the rock opera soundtrack, Ned Kelly, and used some of the Superstar chorus band to help record his debut solo album, Wine Dark Sea released on Warm & Genuine Records/Phonogram Records in March 1973. His debut single "Handbags and Gladrags", released at the same time, was a cover of the Mike d'Abo composed song, which had been a Top 40 hit in the UK for singer Chris Farlowe in 1967. English's version peaked at No.50 on the Australian singles charts. His second single from the album was the Webber / Rice song "Close Every Door" from their Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat stage musical.
It's All a Game, his second solo album, was released in February 1975 on Warm & Genuine/Phonogram and featured "Turn the Page", which peaked at No.20 on the national singles charts. "Hollywood Seven", the title track of his third album, was released in May 1976 on Polydor Records and had Sebastian Hardie as his backing group, it peaked at No.13. English performed a duet with fellow Superstar lead, Trevor White to release a single "Laid Back in Anger" but it had no singles chart success. His next album, Minutes to Midnight from 1977 had three singles but neither singles nor album had Top 40 success. English created the Jon English Band for touring with Steve Doran (keyboards), Danny Grose (drums), Eric Macitchka (guitar), Rick Mellick (keyboards), James Rattray (bass) and Mike Wade (guitar). His next album Words are not Enough from 1978 contained the title track which peaked at No.6 and "Night in Paradise" which peaked at No.44. English also found time to perform in stage musicals, Ned Kelly in 1973 and Bacchoi in 1974; and in minor TV roles in police dramas Matlock Police in 1975, Homicide in 1976 and Chopper Squad in 1978. English described these roles "I was doing a lot of police shows in those days. I got to do them all. I was always a drug-crazed axe murdering hippy."
In 1978, TV's Seven Network and Pegasus Productions approached English to take the role of Jonathan Garrett in the historical romance miniseries Against the Wind. Prior to production he asked if he could organise the score and soundtrack with his friend, Mario Millo. From the soundtrack, "Six Ribbons" was released as a single by English and Millo, it peaked at No.5 on the National singles charts and the soundtrack peaked at No.10 on the National albums charts. On 16 March 1979 English won the TV Week Logie Award for 'Best New Talent in Australia' for his acting performance in Against the Wind, the programme won two other Logie Awards. English also won the 'Most Popular Male Performer' award at the 1979 TV Week/Countdown Music Awards. He released his first compilation album English History in August, which peaked at No.4 on the national albums charts. Singles success with "Get Your Love Right", which peaked at No.27 and "Hot Town", which peaked at No.11; prompted English to form Baxter Funt, containing John Coker (bass), Greg Henson (drums), Tony Naylor (guitar; ex-Bootleg Family Band/Avalanche), Mike Wade (guitar) and Peter White (keyboards). Henson and Wade had been in the Superstar chorus band from 1972 and, as part of Baxter Funt, they were taken on a national tour and then internationally.
1980s: International success and more:
in April 1980, English released Calm Before the Storm which peaked at No.17 on the albums charts, with a single "Carmilla" peaking at No.27; this was followed by the less successful Inroads from January 1981 and singles "Hold Back the Night" and "Ask no Questions". Meanwhile, Against the Wind was shown on international TV stations in United Kingdom and other parts of Europe as Gegen den Wind in Mot alla vindar in Scandinavia. Success in Scandinavia included the soundtrack peaking at No.1 on the Norwegian Albums charts and two singles, "Mot alla vindar" and "Six Ribbons" both peaking at No.1 on the Norwegian Singles charts, all in 1981.English History, his compilation album also peaked at No.1, follow up albums Calm Before the Storm and Inroads both reached the Top Ten in Norway. In Sweden the soundtrack and the "Six Ribbons" single both peaked at No.4 on the relevant charts in 1980, later English History and "Hollywood Seven" reached the top twenty in their charts. During 1981, English toured UK and Scandinavia with Mario Millo (guitars, ex-Sebastian Hardie), (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). The live double album, Beating the Boards was released in early 1982 with backing by the Foster Brothers containing John Coker (bass), John Dallimore (guitar, flute, vocals; ex-Redhouse), Peter Deacon (keyboards, vocals), Greg Henson (drums) and Keith Kerwin (guitar, vocals; ex-Southern Star Band). English teamed with former Superstar co-lead, Marcia Hines, to produce July 1982's mini-album Jokers & Queens and its self-titled single, the album peaked at No.36 on the Australian albums charts and the single reached No.62 on the singles charts.
English took on the role of Pirate King for the first time in the 1984 production of Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera Pirates of Penzance alongside June Bronhill and fellow actor/singer Simon Gallaher as Frederic. English estimates he has performed his favourite role of Pirate King over 1,000 times. He later took on other stage musicals, including Rasputin (1987) and Big River (1988), toured with various lineups of the Foster Brothers and released Some People (1983) produced by David Mackay, Dark Horses (1986) and The Busker (1988), with his best charting Australian single from these being "Some People (Have all the Fun)" which peaked at No.50 in 1983. During 1983-85, English won four Mo Awards with three consecutive 'Entertainer of the Year' awards and a further 'Male Vocal Performer' in 1985.
1990s: All Together Now:
During 1990--93, English played the main role of Bobby Rivers in the TV sitcom All Together Now. His role of a faded one hit wonder rock star displayed his acting and comedy skills during 101 episodes. English returned to stage musicals to play roles in Simon Gallaher's production company Essgee Entertainment's trilogy of updated Gilbert and Sullivan works: Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance (1994), Pooh-Bah in The Mikado (1995) and Dick Deadeye in H.M.S. Pinafore (1997). A performance of each production was broadcast on Australian TV, then released on VHS video and later on DVD.
In 1995, Jon English, a portrait by artist Danelle Bergstrom, won the 'Packing Room Prize' in the Archibald Prize.
Aside from being a noted theatre, stage, television and rock music performer, English has written film and television scores/soundtracks and numerous songs - his writing credits include co-writing the ballet Phases with Roy Ritchie in 1974. Back in 1982, English wrote a song called "Oh, Paris", about the mythic hero Paris, Prince of Troy rather than the French capital, just to see how many people actually listened to the lyrics. His discussions with producer/composer David Mackay on Trojan War mythology led to the 1990 2CD release of Paris: A Love Story as a soundtrack recorded in London during 1989-90. The cast for the recording included: Australian actor Terence Donovan, the Angels singer Doc Neeson, John Waters, Philip Quast, Demis Roussos, David Atkins and Barry Humphries, backed by the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Choir. It sold 50,000 copies and won the 1991 ARIA Award for 'Best Original Soundtrack / Cast / Show Recording' for English and Mackay. The musical Paris was first performed by both the Regals Musical Society Inc. (Sydney, Australia) and the Laycock Street Theatre (Gosford, NSW, Australia) with English assisting in the direction of the production and appearing as the Fisherman in one performance of the Gosford production.
The Melbourne premier was on 29 January 2004 at the National Theatre, and the Adelaide premier was on 25 July 2008 at the Marie Clark Musical Theatre. In April 2008, a re-worked version was performed at Laycock Street Theatre. In this production, English appeared as Menelaus. This revised production was met with generally positive reviews, but resulted in English travelling to the UK a few months later to completely update the show in conjunction with co-writer David Mackay. English appeared as Sergeant Wilson in stage productions of Dad's Army touring through Australia and New Zealand in 2004. In early 2007, after his marriage to Carmen Sora had ended, English moved to a farm near Bellingen with his domestic partner Coralea Cameron.
In 2009, English toured in a new production titled, "The Rock Show", a revue featuring classic rock music of the '60s and '70s featuring songs by the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Deep Purple and Elton John and other high profile musicians of those eras. It conceived by "Paris" collaborator and director Stuart Smith with musical director Isaac Hayward. As of August 2010, he was performing the title role in The Removalists by David Williamson at the Perth Theatre Company.
In 2010, "The Rock Show" made two appearances in Tasmania in support of the "Save the Tasmanian Devil" breeding programme. English is an ambassador for the programme.
In March 2012 English was again in Tasmania, working with Encore Theatre, for a revival of Jesus Christ Superstar, with English in the role of Pilate Funds raised at each performance and at the Launceston preview were donated to the programme.
In 2013 Jon English was invited to play the famous Sweden Rock Festival, the biggest rock festival in Scandinavia where he performed in front of a huge crowd, backed up by Swedish hard rock band Spearfish and shared stage with bands like Kiss, Rush, Europe, Accept, Saxon, Asia etc. Jon English entire show was recorded and filmed for a possible future release.
Interests outside the arts:
English describes himself as "passionate" supporter of the Australian rugby league team Parramatta Eels.,
English also supported the Fitzroy Football Club and launched his "Some People" album at Dallas Brooks Hall in Melbourne in May 1983 as a benefit for the club.