He is affectionately known to his fans as JPY or by the nickname made famous, thanks to Countdown’s Molly Meldrum, ‘Squeak’. But, whichever name you use, John Paul Young is as well known to Australians as meat pies or Holden cars. OK, bad analogies but I’m sure you’d all agree, he is something of an ‘icon’ of the Oz music scene. Yes, I know, John was actually born in Scotland and came here as a young lad but we do like to claim him as our own.
Ever since his first hit single, ‘Pasadena’, in 1972, JPY has captured the hearts of the Australian public, not to mention many in Europe and South Africa. ‘Love Is In The Air’ became a massive international hit for John when it was re-released in the nineties as part of the soundtrack of the movie ‘Strictly Ballroom’. The singer has won numerous awards and accolades throughout his career, been voted King of Pop and, last year, was finally recognised for his achievements when he was inducted into the Aria Hall of Fame.
When I spoke with John for this interview, he had just recently returned from a trip to western NSW. “I honestly just went out there to have a look at the change that’s come over the place with all the water,” he explains. “I’m very fortunate. I’ve got some very good friends and one of them flies a plane. He likes a little adventure every now and then and he likes me to come up with an idea that gets him out of the office. It was my idea at the time to go to Bourke, under the pretence of going fishing. Well, we did put a line in the water. We didn’t catch anything but it was good enough just sitting there, covering yourself with Aeroguard and just watching, as Michael Caton would say, ‘the serenity’. It was just magnificent.”
Earlier this year, John toured with the SBS music quiz show, Rockwiz, on the Rockwiz Live Tour. “We were in Brisbane and we went to Nambour, Sydney, Toowoomba, Canberra and….” He struggles to remember all the stops along the way. “We were in Perth for five days in January,” he recalls, then laughs “I’ve got a good rubbish bin upstairs in my head, you see. Once I’m done with things, I just toss them away! You don’t tend to dwell on things that way.” One of those Rockwiz shows will be televised, according to John. “That’s the one we did at Toowoomba in that beautiful old theatre. Kevin Borich was there. Kevin is a very old friend of mine and he was in the original All Star band way back in the seventies. It was great to catch up with him again and be on the same show as him.”
There have been numerous highlights in John’s career, including his great success in South Africa. “The whole South African thing was pretty amazing. It was kind of like Beatlemania. It was very weird,” he recalls. “Having a hit back in the old country was something amazing. Getting into the British charts was mind blowing. It was very special. I got to go to the FA Cup Final at Wembley. That was all part of the deal when I was over there. Things like that, you never ever imagined you’d be able to do. And the closing ceremony at The Olympics, you don’t even dare dream about it. When it happens, it’s just mind blowing! I’ve rubbed shoulders with some very famous and important people. I hate to use this expression but it has been an amazing journey!”
A versatile entertainer, John Paul Young is not only a singer but has also worked on several stage productions throughout his career and he has handled each role with ease. “I really have been blessed. I think that, with every major production I’ve been in, whether it’s been the Countdown shows or ‘Long Way to The Top’ or ‘Leader of The Pack’ or ‘Shout’, ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’… they’ve just been such a great experience. I’m very happy to say that, when I’ve been involved with these things and with the people involved, it’s been a great experience. I’ve really enjoyed the company and it’s always been smooth sailing. Each one is different in its own way. We like to laugh and joke about and put each other off.”
John toured with both Countdown Spectacular shows and found both experiences enjoyable. Catching up with old friends on the first tour was wonderful, he tells me, but the second one was great too. “It was mainly overseas people,” he explains. “An eightes kind of Countdown. It was very sad to hear that Doug Feiger (lead singer of The Knack) died. He had some sort of immune problem and was on all sorts of natural things and was getting through and sadly it all came to an end. He was a lovely guy.” And, if you’re waiting for a bit of nasty goss on any of the artists on the tour, you won’t hear it from John. “You know, you’re struggling to find a bad one in this business. I think that, regardless of what you read in the media, generally everyone in the music business is easy to get on with. When you’re actually on the road with people over a period of time, you do get to know them.”
The singer has long been known for his great contribution to charity. “I’m pretty well involved with Variety, the children’s charity. Newcastle has its own little ‘bash’. We drive around the state, give away things to needy schools and needy people. There’s another one in August as well. I’m going to try to squeeze in a time then to go and do that. We kind of involve the community in it but it’s basically a celebration for the fundraisers. That’s what the ‘bash’ is all about. I think, for years, people assumed, with all these stupid cars going out into the bush, that we were going out to raise money. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. We are actually going out to give away money. Well not money so much, because Variety doesn’t give out cash. It gives out goods and so, basically, they fundraise throughout the year. All that fundraising is met with appeals that Variety receives from individuals or schools around the state and sometimes interstate as well. And that’s our big ‘letting off steam’ and we go out and we dump a whole lot of cash in towns, in clubs and pubs, accommodation and things like that and sometimes fairly out of the way towns that may not see an awful lot of tourism and, like I said before, needy schools are at the top of the list. They’re the ones that are the recipients of the good stuff. They’re such a wonderful charity. They use very little of their donations for administration.”
It’s no secret that John Paul Young has always had a very relaxed, easy going attitude to life. “Yeah,” he agrees. “That’s just always the way I’ve been. I think, because I appreciate where I came from, and I’m just so happy for the life I’ve got. I’ve been pottering around the house today, put a couple of plants in and I just got a couple of chickens in the yard and I put them in a pen. I don’t think my wife’s too happy about it.” he laughs.
While John assures me that he always has ‘something in the fire’, there are no other major projects planned for the immediate future. “I’ve never really been one for planning. I’ve always just hoped to keep on going, just keep chugging along. I don’t want anything too difficult in my life.” The singer believes that he has a lot to be thankful for. “I’ve been absolutely blessed in my life. I had four years as a sheet metal worker so I know what it’s like having to get up and go to work five days a week. I’m so grateful for the life I’ve got. I’m not really a big go-getter and I never have been.”
The next few months, however, will see JPY and his band hitting the road once more, with gigs in NSW, Canberra, Queensland and Victoria as well as playing at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Featuring a variety of artists from around the world, the festival is in its tenth year. His busy schedule will take him up to early September.
And, for now? “Well,” says John, “For now, I’d better go check on the chooks!”
by Sharyn Hamey
Copyright © 2010 [Sharyn Hamey] All Rights Reserved.
For details of all John Paul Young’s upcoming gigs, go to our Touring page.