For those of us who grew up through the 60s and 70s, weaned on the tunes of The Beatles, The Stones, Janis Joplin, The Eagles, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, the music from these decades is sacred ground. It formed the soundtrack for our most formative years. Even today, the music of our youth is respected and valued by ‘the new generation’ (to quote The Who). And that has never been more evident than in Jon English’s ‘Rock Revolution’. Showcasing a long list of hits from the swinging, psychedelic sixties and the hippie culture and glam rock of the seventies, this is a stage show that takes us back in time but with a new and vibrant energy, courtesy of an extremely talented young cast breathing new life into old classics like ‘Wild Thing’, ‘Itchycoo Park’ and too many more to mention.
Leader of the Children of the Rock Revolution is Jon English, a veteran rocker who lived these songs and experienced the social and cultural changes of the time. Other than English, not one of the musicians on stage was even born when these classic tunes first hit the airwaves, but rather than letting that lack of personal connection create an irreverent performance of the songs we baby boomers hold close to our hearts, it allowed for new and inspired interpretations by an enthusiastic team who bounced off each other with ease.
The young cast is made up of some fine, multi–talented musicians, namely Andrew Sampford (guitar, keys, clarinet), Joe Kalou (guitar, percussion, flute, bass, piano), Jonathan Sora-English (guitar and bass), Emma Barlow (fiddle, guitar, mandolin), Gabrielle Steele (violin and viola), Christie Lamb (guitar and piano), Scott Bowcher (sax and violin), Paul Watson (drums) and John Var (guitar) and all, of course, on vocals.
The divine vocals and violins provided by Emma Barlow, Christie Lamb and Gabrielle Steele were at times literally breathtaking. Barlow’s version of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ simply reached into my soul and made every other version I have ever heard, pale by comparison and her mastery of the violin had a chance to truly shine with an amazing performance in ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’
Lamb’s hauntingly beautiful rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Songbird’ seemed to envelop the room in a hushed trance and literally brought tears to my eyes with the depth of emotion she brought to the song.
The powerful combination of vocals from Gabrielle Steele and Andrew Sampford served up a decidedly delicious slice of Meatloaf’s ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’, with a light hearted theatrical finish, courtesy of Sampford’s natural comedic talents. Indeed, the performer maintained a rhythm of humour and theatrics throughout the evening, keeping the crowd smiling, laughing and having a damn good time.
There are too many highlights to include them all here but Sampford’s take on the Led Zeppelin classic ‘Black Dog’ would undoubtedly be right up there. For someone who was most likely not even a wink in his old man’s eye (to coin an old phrase), he certainly had this one down. I would bet that even Robert Plant would want to shake his hand.
Donning a pair of spectacles that made him look like John Lennon, guitarist John Var ripped into a fantastic version of ‘Twist and Shout’.
And sporting dreadlocks, Joe Kalou won more than a few hearts in the audience with his flautist skills, guitar work and an incredible rendition of ‘Brown Sugar’. He also did a pretty good Michael Jackson and consistently nagged Jon to let them perform some Jackson Five songs. Ironically, The Jacksons were also in town that night, performing at the Entertainment Centre. Eventually, Jon relented and joined Joe and Christie in a choreographed performance of the old Jackson Five hit, ‘I Want You Back’.
Jon’s son, Jonathan Sora-English is also part of the cast, playing both guitar and bass and delivering some dynamic vocals on Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ and The Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me’.
While graciously taking a back seat throughout the night to hand the stage over to his younger colleagues, Jon Snr did enjoy his share of the spotlight. The singer proved he can still rock with the best of ‘em, belting out The Stones’ ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ and, in one of my personal favourite parts of the show, he did a very impressive Alice Cooper, complete with black coat. And how could we not have a few Jon English songs thrown into the mix? Well, they were from the seventies, right? So the soft, folksy melody of ‘Six Ribbons’, and the ever popular hits ‘Turn the Page’ and ‘Hollywood Seven’ fitted in very nicely, thank you. And the fans were happy.
The whole cast joined together for the high energy closer, ‘Children of the Revolution’ which pretty much summed it all up.
For a couple of hours, we had a chance to turn back the hands of time and revel in the nostalgia and the music that many of us grew up with. And those that didn’t, could finally see what all the fuss was about.
Sad to say, this was the final performance of Rock Revolution. After four years of touring both this show and its predecessor, Rock Show, Jon English and his young crew have finally packed away their rockin’ dancing shoes (although, to be honest, the barefoot Sampford never had any to begin with) as they said their last goodbyes to the fans at Sydney’s State Theatre. All in all, a fun night of great entertainment and I predict a big future for all the talented cast. And as for the leader of the pack? We’ll be seeing quite a lot of Jon English again very soon. Keep your eyes and ears open for more news. We’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, click here to check out our interview with Jon.
by Sharyn Hamey
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