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It was five years ago this month that Jon English took his final curtain call, with no encores.

Except that this month has also seen the publication of Behind Dark Eyes: The True Story Of Jon English, Jeff Apter’s biography of the singer, actor, Parra fan, composer, father, husband, good bloke.

Marking both, Wind Back Wednesday gives another run to this (considerably shortened, personal rather than historical – so you should still go out and buy Jeff’s book) summary of the man which ran on news of his death in 2016.


Most people, most musicians even, struggle to get one string to their bow. And they spend the rest of their lives working that single string hard. Jon English had a whole string section.

A rock star when that meant hundreds of pub gigs a year; a rock musical star when rock musicals brought in the cool kids and the comfortable folk; a straight musical theatre star when comic timing, a distinctive voice and personality earned respect; and an actor when no one asked that you be Brando (or Di Nero or Di Caprio).

Yeah, he did a bit.

Jon English - who was actually English, though few would have thought him anything other than quintessentially Australian and a classic success from Sydney’s western suburbs - was for a while in the 1970s as ubiquitous as his good mate and occasional Countdown companion, John Paul Young.

When his screen acting debut in the 1978 mini-series Against The Wind was accompanied by the release of the show’s theme tune and the wistful flute-flavoured song Six Ribbons - which he co-wrote with composer Mario Milo, a former member of his band Sebastian Hardie – English was everywhere.

A Logie for best new talent cemented his position; a Countdown Music Award for most popular male performer added lustre; and a number one single and album in Norway didn’t hurt either.

But of course he’d already been a star, not just with quietly dramatic hits such as Hollywood Seven (where starry-eyed hopefuls could dream their futile dreams for “seven bucks a night”) and his work as writer and producer for Sebastian Hardie but with his raspy voice and heavy-eyed face giving the role of Judas a deal of complexity six years earlier when Jesus Christ Superstar was the stage sensation in Australia.

It wasn’t a bad cast and crew on that show either, helping along the careers of Marcia Hines, Reg Livermore, Trevor Smith and a certain entrepreneur, Harry M Miller.

That he wasn’t a fly-by-night visitor to acting and the theatre was proven in the 1980s when English made a new career as a Gilbert and Sullivan specialist, appearing in The Pirates Of Penzance (which he would go on to perform more than 1000 times), HMS Pinafore and The Mikado.

On TV too he played with his image and history as a former rock star dealing with real life in the sitcom All Together Now, while offstage dealing with the inevitable pain that followed the glory years as a fan of the Parramatta Eels league team.

But even as this “front of stage” career was flourishing, English made a composer and songwriter with a strong interest in creating new musical theatre, such as the musical about the Trojan Wars, Paris.

And when that side of his life was in hiatus he would still be playing shows of his own material or revisiting classic rock hits in venues of all shapes and sizes across the country.

There were a lot of strings.

Behind Dark Eyes: The True Story Of Jon English, by Jeff Apter, is published by Woodslane


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