You would have to be living under a rock not to know at least something of the work of Jon English. Jon was a prolific performer whose contribution to Australia’s entertainment industry covered just about every genre imaginable. He worked in theatre, television, musicals, wrote, recorded and performed an extensive catalogue of music, much of which has become an unforgettable part of the Australian soundscape and remains an important part of our musical history. Jon’s sudden passing in March last year came as a shock to all of us but particularly, of course, to those closest to the man; those who knew him well. Now, twelve months after we heard the shock news, some of his musical comrades will band together to honour and pay tribute to the man who gave so much to this country through his gifts as an all-round entertainer.
‘Six Ribbons – Remembering Jon English’ is a show that pays homage to this much-loved entertainer with performances by many of his peers who were all very keen to honour their friend. There will be two exclusive performances. One in Adelaide this Friday 24th February and the other in Melbourne on Thursday 9th March.
I met with Jon’s long term partner and manager, Coralea Cameron to talk about the shows and how the idea for ‘Six Ribbons’ came about.
Jon was one of a number of artists booked to perform on a ‘Cruise ‘n’ Groove’ cruise last October. Along with John Farnham and John Paul Young, he was one of the three headline acts. The cruise also included many popular Eighties artists, as it was an Eighties-themed cruise. Sadly, Jon passed before he could do it. “Rather than find a replacement for Jon, they asked me if I would put a tribute together. Jon had previously been a part of a tribute to Doc on a Rock the Boat Cruise a couple of years earlier when Doc had passed away before the cruise on which both he and Jon were booked to perform. “He sang ‘Fashion and Fame’ which he’d also done for Rock for Doc at the Enmore, so I thought to myself, well Jon took part in that tribute to Doc and I didn’t think he would have a problem with us doing one. He was honoured to honour Doc that way.”
The show was hosted by Jon’s long-time friend and colleague, Peter Cupples. “Peter had been a friend of Jon’s for twenty years and they were on the road together with their ‘Uncorked’ show at the time Jon died. The very last performance Jon ever did was with Peter.” And Peter was only too happy to be a part of it, as were many of the other artists that were on board. “We did two shows on the ship back to back. There were 2,000 guests on board. 1,000 at each show. And when we got to the end of it, and we were all together backstage, there was just so much love and the audience had loved it and there were tears and laughs and it was so beautiful. I think it might have been Totti Goldsmith from the Chantoozies who said to me ‘Coralea, we can’t just leave this here. When are we going to do it again?’”
Coralea admits that she hadn’t thought about going beyond that single performance but thought about the possibility later, with the first anniversary of Jon’s passing looming. However, it was when she was contacted by Jack Jericho, who runs the Arkaba in Adelaide, that the idea began to come to fruition. “He was actually on the ship and saw the tribute show. He contacted me and he said ‘Jon’s last performance was in Adelaide. I would love to do something like this to remember and honour Jon’.” It turned out that Jack had a vacancy on the exact date of the anniversary of Jon’s last performance on the 24th February. “It was part of the Fringe Festival and it just kind of seemed like it was all falling into place and I said ‘O.K. Let’s do this.’”
With the Adelaide show taking shape, Coralea then turned her focus to putting together a show in Melbourne on the actual anniversary of Jon’s passing, with the Melbourne-based artists who had been involved in the initial show on the cruise and the response from the artists was positive. The Athenaeum Theatre seemed a natural choice of venue when Coralea saw the statue of Athena out the front and it all seemed to fall into place with the association with ‘Paris’ which was the Rock Opera that Jon had written about the Trojan War; a project that meant so much to him. “Once I found that,” she says, “there was nowhere else to go.”
The original Six Ribbons show on Cruise ‘n’ Groove was an hour and a half but this one has been expanded to two and a half hours. As Coralea explains “I expanded what we did on the ship to include Jon’s stage shows: Jesus Christ Superstar, Paris, Pirates of Penzance, All Together Now. I tried to cover every facet, as much as I could, in two and a half hours. I brought in more people. I contacted the artists who worked with him in his Trilogy shows so there will be a bit of that in there as well. So, this show is not only paying tribute to Jon’s music but his life… his life in the entertainment industry, remembering all of it.”
Hosted by Peter Cupples, the Adelaide show includes Peter Deacon on keyboards, Steve Todd on drums, Rod Auld on guitar and Deb Leaney and Amanda Canzurlo (Bloom) on backing vocals plus performances by John Brewster, Swanee, Gail Page, Mick James (UK Blitz), Dino Jag, Graham Lawrence on sax, Virgil Reality on trumpet and flute and special guest Doug Williams plus many more.
The Melbourne show features The Chantoozies, Brian Mannix, Scott Carne, Lisa Edwards and Lindsay Field, James Morley and Amanda (Bloom). Other artists who will be lending their time and talent include Wilbur Wilde and, as Coralea explains, “Wilbur was going to be a special guest on the fourth instalment of Jon’s Rock Shows which were due to kick off in May. Jon died in the March so Wilbur never got to do those shows with him. Wendy Stapleton and Paul Norton will be there as well. Wendy sang on some of Jon’s albums and toured with him so she was another obvious choice as was Peter Deacon who was John’s keyboard player for forty four years, he’s one of the Foster Brothers and Dave Gleeson.”
“Dave Gleeson and The Angels shared a house with us over in Sweden at the Sweden Rock Festival 2015,” she explains. “There were twenty of us all living in the one house. It was all very cosy. Jon got up on stage and performed with The Angels. He did his own show at The Sweden Rock Festival and The Angels did theirs and Jon got up and sang ‘Fashion and Fame’ with them (which he had performed at Rock for Doc). I did an interview with John Brewster for the Adelaide show last week and I found out something I didn’t know. There were only three people who ever got up on stage to perform with The Angels. One of them was Jimmy Barnes, one was Bon Scott and the other was Jon and that was it.” She smiles proudly at the thought. “I didn’t know that.”
Dave Gleeson was also going to sing on Jon’s new album. “Jon was meant to fly to Sweden just weeks after he died to record his first studio album in twenty five years and Dave had agreed to be on it. There’s actually a song that Jon and Dave have recorded so he was an obvious choice for me to ask to be a part of it.”
The Melbourne show will also offer fans the chance to donate to the Save the Tasmanian Devil Appeal, for which Jon was a great supporter and, in fact, became their Ambassador, helping to raise awareness of the plight of this unique animal which is facing the threat of extinction due to devil facial tumour disease. It was a cause very close to his heart so it is fitting that funds raised from the sale of merchandise on the night of the Melbourne show, and a certain percentage of the ticket sales, will go to the Save the Tasmanian Devil Appeal. Donations for the appeal will also be taken on the night. In addition, a speed portrait artist by the name of Joe Zapp will be painting a montage of Jon with the devils on the night. “He will start when the foyer opens,” Coralea explains “and he will finish painting it while the first act is on and then that will be auctioned during the interval and all money raised from that will also go to the appeal. Joe was a big fan of Jon’s and he said he would love to be on board.”
Coralea is adamant that Jon’s passion for supporting this project will carry on. “I would like to think that Jon was very instrumental in the early days to lending his profile and name to that cause; just raising the profile and raising awareness and they were really happy to have him on board. He loved Tasmania and he was just horrified to think that the devil might go the same way as the tiger. He said we need to do something about this so we got involved and he ended up becoming the Ambassador for the Appeal. For 8 years, we did that.” There has been a lot of progress made since then. “It went from the devil being on the endangered list, 90% extinct in the wild and a very good chance of becoming extinct permanently within a very short period of time, 10 to 20 years and 10 years later we now have a healthy Insurance Population of over 500 disease free devils and there is a program where they are being released gradually back into the wild once they have been declared disease free. And I want to continue that”.
She points out that ‘Six Ribbons’ is not going ‘on the road’ and that the tribute shows will be limited to these two shows in Adelaide and Melbourne only and she is confident it is something Jon would have approved of and wanted her to do.
“I could sit at home and I could be sad and miserable for the rest of my life and cry and miss him or I could do what he probably would prefer and that is to get out there and let’s remember and laugh and have a good time with his peers and his fans and I’d like to think that they will be out there remembering and rocking on and giving him a standing ovation because he always liked one of those.”
by Sharyn Hamey
Copyright © Sharyn Hamey 2017. All rights reserved