Jon English - Behind Dark Eyes

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Jon English - Behind Dark Eyes

Jon English. Image via YouTube. 

Jon English was a massive fan of The Who, and indeed performed a number of their songs, including "My Generation", "Pinball Wizard" and “Won't Get Fooled Again”, towards the end of his life in a touring musical production called The Rock Show. So, it’s kind of appropriate that the title of Jeff Apter’s English biography, Behind Dark Eyes, is taken from the classic song "Behind Blue Eyes" from Who’s Next. It's also a title that gives you an instant glimpse of English’s unforgettable dark-eyed visage – a visage that reflected a voice and music that was both tough and tender. 

English, who got his major break playing Judas in the Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar in the early ‘70s, was an adept hard rocker who too often was not allowed to rock. His acting aspirations impacted his music in that regard - his biggest TV role as the lead in the mini-series Against The Wind in 1978 gave him his biggest hit with the ballad "Six Ribbons", and from the mid-'80s on he became synonymous with musical theatre, most famously in Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera The Pirates of Penzance.

However, English first made a name for himself in the early '70s Sydney rock scene. Having played in the usual garage bands in the '60s, he spent a number of years with the band Sebastian Hardie, before landing in Harry M. Miller's production of Jesus Christ Superstar in '72. He had his first major hit single with a version of Bob Seger's "Turn The Page" in '74, which was followed by the even-bigger hit "Hollywood Seven" in 1976. His harder rock aspirations were perhaps dashed as his acting career really took off with Against The Wind; he continued playing the pub circuit with backing band Baxter Funt and he had huge success with the best-of collection English History - at home and in certain European countries, where Against the Wind had made him a star - but by the mid-'80s he was an actor first and foremost. 

Leading Australian rock biographer Jeff Apter, who has written books on Angus, Malcolm and George Young, Daniel Johns, the Finn Brothers, John Farnham, Jeff Buckley, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and others, has this month published Behind Dark Eyes: The True Story Of Jon English via Woodslane Press. The book was written with the full cooperation of English's family. 

ILYOS asked Apter to consider his favourite Jon English recordings, and this is what he came up with. 

“Hollywood Seven” (1976) — Bizarrely, this song was written for Terry "Seasons in the Sun" Jacks, but he found it too heavy. It’s a classic case of Jon not just interpreting a song but giving the impression he actually lived it. (JA)

“Carmilla” (1980) — Jon would always chuckle when reporters asked him if he’d written this for his wife, Carmen. It was, in fact, inspired by the story of a lesbian vampire, who was definitely not his dearly beloved. (JA)

“She Was Real” (1983) — Another of those songs that Jon didn’t so much sing as narrate — it was a killer live with his band the Foster Brothers, as they laid on the spooky lighting and effects. It came to him while riding his motorbike at night near his property on the Hawkesbury River. (JA)

“Glass Houses” (1986) — This is the most obviously autobiographical song Jon ever recorded; I sense a link to Pete Townshend’s "Behind Blue Eyes", which Jon often covered. He was a big Townshend fan. (JA)

“Love Has Power” (1990) — The rock opera Paris was Jon’s biggest albatross; he failed to see it get the big budget production he hoped for, despite recruiting Harry Nilsson, Francis Rossi, Demis Roussos, Doc Neeson and even the London bleeding Symphony Orchestra for the album. This is the key track. (JA)

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