John’s earliest musical memories are of sing-alongs around the family piano in the Brisbane suburb of Moorooka. As a result, a disturbing number of music-hall favourites formed his early repertoire (traditional numbers like, “If You’re Irish, Come Into the Parlour”)
In 1975, John joined the St. Stephen’s Cathedral Boys’ Choir in Brisbane. Singing with them over the next six years, he developed a love of harmony singing and unaccompanied vocals.
(Here’s a track for you of one of the pieces John learnt back then, multi-tracked by him one dark still night on the island of Iona)
After leaving both the choir and school in 1981, John’s life was relatively music-free until he walked into the New Exchange Hotel one Saturday afternoon in 1983 to find a traditional folk session in full swing. He stayed on and has maintained his involvement in Brisbane sessions ever since.
John’s next musical move was into busking, with the madness of Contraband in the Queen Street Mall. Away from the street, John joined a second group, which quickly evolved into No Right Turn. Their tight harmonies and political punch made them a mainstays of the Brisbane folk scene. After No Right Turn, John was a founding member of One Step Forward, developing his trademark harmonies with Maree Robertson and Ann Bermingham.
While all of this music was going on, John was also studying law at the University of Queensland and working with the Legal Aid Office. In 1992, his legal work took him to Townsville where he launched himself into the local folk scene.One Step Forward continued to perform at festivals around Australia and in 1994 played at the National Folk Festival in Canberra. John’s unique vocal style and strength earned him the inaugural Lis Johnson Memorial Award for vocal excellence.
It was in Townsville that John started to perform with Martin Pearson, their madcap adventures evolving into Never the Twain. (A difficult to describe duo, you’ll find more details (as well as three free-to-download albums) by clicking on this pic.
It was also in Townsville that John met and fell in love with Nicole Murray. In the early years of their relationship, they each performed with different groups (John with Never the Twain and Nicole with Hot Toddy) before Maree Robertson asked them to support Chris While and Julie Matthews at their first Brisbane performance. It went well and shortly after cloudstreet came into being as a vehicle for their ongoing collaborations.
Three years of festivals and two albums later, in 2003 John left the legal world and took up full-time performing. cloudstreet travelled to the UK for the first time that year and threw themselves into the folk scene there. As well as 8 trips to the UK, touring has seen them perform around the globe, with performances in Japan, the USA, New Zealand, Denmark, Morocco and Germany under their belt, as well as performances at dozens of festivals and clubs around Australia.
John plays guitar, English concertina and whistle and has recently starting learning trombone and violin. Singing remains his passion and his remarkable vocal range provides some enthralling listening in cloudstreet’s arrangements.
As well as singing with cloudstreet, John performs as a debater, master of ceremonies, songwriter, and parodist. He is also a registered marriage celebrant and the principal of Australian Ceremonies. In 2009, he toured the UK with the legendary Spooky Men’s Chorale (John’s 2nd from the left).
In 2012, John was invited to join the Australian tour of War Horse, the National Theatre of Great Britain’s worldwide phenomenon. He played the role of the Song Man from December 2012 to the conclusion of the tour in August, 2013.
Other recent projects include recording with One Step Forward and creating a one-man show, The Great War. In 2015, John was awarded a QANZAC100 fellowship by the State Library of Queensland to undertake a research and song-writing project around the conscription debate in Queensland in the First World War.