John Paul Young celebrates half a century in music

John Paul Young. Photo: supplied.

Australian music icon John Paul Young is celebrating 50 years in showbiz. He spoke with Danny Waterson ahead of a national tour to mark the milestone. 

In the lyrics to one of John Paul Young’s most popular songs, ‘Yesterday’s Hero’, a stranger asks: “Haven’t I seen your face before?” In John Paul Young’s case, we most certainly have; his face is familiar to most Australians as an enduring and much-loved performer. 

Born in Scotland, but firmly entrenched as an Australian icon, John Paul Young OAM has had a distinguished and varied career in showbusiness, straddling music, radio, theatre and constant sell-out concert tours.

He’s celebrating 50 years in music this year and recently turned 71-years-old. Now, he’s bringing the celebrations to the stage with JPY: 50 Years Young – The Anniversary Tour in September. 

Currently putting the show together, Young tells the Sentinel over the phone from his Lake Macquarie home: “I can’t tell you a lot because I haven’t written the darn thing yet!

“I’m halfway through it; I’ve nearly got the first half done. We will start off with a little bit of modern – modern my arse, 40-year-old year old pop – and then we will slide back into the Glasgow days,” he says. 

“Apparently the first song I ever sang when I was in the pram was ‘Wild Colonial Boy’, which I find incredible. I don’t remember this – my mum told me. I find it amazing I was singing a song about a colonial Irishman and I finished up in the colonies myself.”

Tour trailer for JPY: 50 Years Young – The Anniversary Tour. Video: Abstract Touring/YouTube.

As we speak, he’s mid-way through the national APIA Good Times Tour 2021 (with Kate Ceberano, the Black Sorrows, Leo Sayer and more). 

“It’s been great so far, full of hit songs. We are all getting along really well together. It’s been full houses along the way and standing ovulations, as I like to say,” Young says of the show, which is due to hit the Enmore Theatre in late August.

Young has had the same backing band for most of his career – the Allstar Band – the members of which he considers family. 

“Absolutely they are,” he says. “I still have the same keyboard player after 46 years. Our bass player sadly passed away last November – Rockwell T. James – so that was tough. Ronnie had been with me an awfully long time.”

He has released nine studio albums to date and multiple hit singles. These include his first Australian Top 10 hit, the aforementioned ‘Yesterday’s Hero’ in 1975. The single also did well overseas, reaching #1 in South Africa, the Top 10 in Sweden and the Top 50 in the US. 

Subsequent hits included ‘Standing in the Rain’ (Top 10 in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands), ‘I Hate the Music’ (#2 in Australia, #1 in South Africa) and the Australian Top 5 single, ‘The Love Game’.

But his best-known song is, of course, ‘Love is in the Air’, which became a worldwide phenomenon in 1978, peaking at #3 on the Australian charts, as well as #5 in the UK and #7 in the US. 

The song got a second burst of life when the 1992 Baz Luhrmann film Strictly Ballroom included a newly-recorded version on its soundtrack. 

Official music video for John Paul Young’s ‘Love is in the Air’ (1992 version). Video: vmichelotto/YouTube.

I ask Young what his reaction was upon hearing ‘Love is in the Air’ in the studio for the first time. Without hesitation, he enthuses: “I thought we were on a winner. After we recorded it, I took it home to Mum and Dad’s place in Fairfield West, and my Mum was there with one of her friends. Molly [Meldrum] and I put this thing on the record player and they just stood up and immediately started dancing – and it still has that effect on people today.”

He adds: “I think it’s a bit of joyous material, and people drag it out for all sorts of different reasons. I’ve even played it at a funeral – [the late Australian television presenter] Graham Kennedy’s. I recently played it at the War Memorial too. It’s a fairly gentle song.”

For those coming along to the 50 Years Young tour, Young promises the hits and maybe a few deep album cuts to keep fans entertained.

“There’s an album track, ‘Birmingham’, from my first album – we will probably go there,” he says. “Without sounding egotistical, there’s a lot of hits I’ve gotta get through, because that’s what people want to hear.”

As well as a lot of hits, Young also has lots of stories to tell – and he confirms an amusing anecdote which saw him turn to Google to fill in the gaps when writing his 2019 autobiography

“Absolutely,” he laughs. “A lot of it I really don’t remember, there was so much happening between 1976 to 1980, I get it all jumbled. Someone said to me, ‘What year did you come over to Düsseldorf and do that TV show?’ … I have no idea.”

John Paul Young in the 1970s. Photo: supplied.

During his concerts, there’s a slideshow on a video wall depicting various images and phases of Young’s long career. When I cheekily suggest he could use that as a prompt, he replies with a hearty laugh: “Yeah, they do help, they really do. The audience thinks it’s for them – it’s actually for me, to prod me along!” 

Despite a very full life packed with hit songs and memorable moments, Young is down-to-earth at heart. Speaking with him just before his 71st birthday, the Sentinel wished him a Happy Birthday and wondered about his birthday plans. He replied: “I might just go down to my local bowling club where they have decent Asian food and have a little dinner there.”

After 50 years in music, the Scottish-born JPY is still a star – but remains a quintessential Aussie bloke.

John Paul Young will perform as part of the APIA Good Times Tour 2021 at the Enmore Theatre, Newtown, 7.30pm Tuesday, 31 August, 2021. Tickets ($99.90 to $129.90) and further info available at ticketek.com.au.

John Paul Young’s JPY: 50 Years Young – The Anniversary Tour will play the Enmore Theatre, Newtown at 8pm Friday, 24 September. Tickets ($80.50 to &85.50) and further info available at www.abstract.net.au

John Paul Young’s website, featuring music, merchandise, info and more is located at http://johnpaulyoung.com.au.