Sydney 1969-75

Robert "Slim" Barnett (bass)
Oli Chojnacki (guitar)
Philip Edwards (drums) 1970
Andy Imlah (co-lead vocals)
Dave Kaentek (bass)
Ron Mazurkiewicz (keyboards)
Geoff Watts (drums) 1971
John Young (aka John Paul Young) (vocals)


Sydney band Elmtree is mainly known for its role in the career of future pop star John Paul Young. John was born in Glasgow, Scotland and migrated to Australia with his family in 1966. After finishing school, he began his apprenticeship as a sheetmetal worker.

As his circle of friends became involved in bands, John was gradually drawn into the local music scene. John's decision to become a singer was largely pragmatic — he wanted to join in his friends' musical activities, but opted for singing mainly to avoid the cost of buying expensive musical equipment! Fortunately he proved to be a naturally gifted rock vocalist. In 1969 his friends formed a semi-pro band called Elmtree and John sang with them at night and on weekends when they performed at local dances.

Elmtree gained a moderate following around Sydney, and after being spotted by producer Martin Erdman they cut one single for Erdman's Du Monde label. Their cover of Marmalade's "Rainbow" (b/w "Lonely Nights") was released in November 1970, but made no impression on the charts. In mid-1971 they entered the NSW heats of the Hoadley's Battle of the Sounds and got as far as the Sydney finals, but didn't get through to the national final, and so never managed to break out of the Sydney suburban dance circuit.

Although it has previously been reported that Elmtree broke up at the end of 1971, they in fact continued for several more years, although without the services of John Paul Young (see below). Original drummer Phil Edwards left in late 1970 to work overseas; he was replaced by Geoff Watts for a short period. Dave Kantek replaced Slim Barnett on bass but Kantek died several years later in a car accident -- bizarrely, according to Phil Edwards, the last song Dave played before he died was "Stairway To Heaven".

Phil Edwards returned to Australia four years later only to join the band again. Elmtree had by then evolved from a pop outfit into a progressive rock band in the ilk of Yes, King Crimson, ELP and others. The last incarnation of Elmtree finished in 1975 when Philip Edwards and Ron Mazurkiewicz formed a jazz fusion band called Jupiter, who were well respected around Sydney; they enlisted one of Australia's best guitarists, Dieter Kleeman and a new bass player called Phil Laycock. Ron and Phil still play together, and Dieter was last seen playing in the backing band on Australian Idol.

In early 1972 John left Elmtree after he auditioned successfully for the role of Annas (one of the high priests) in the Australian stage production of Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice's rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Around the same time he was "discovered" by flamboyant English impresario Simon Napier-Bell (manager of The Yardbirds, Marc Bolan, Japan and Wham!) who visited Australia briefly during 1972 to work with Albert Productions. He produced John's debut single, the single "Pasadena", co-written by former Easybeats Harry Vanda and George Young (then working in London) and English actor David Hemmings. It was a major success in Sydney, reaching #10 on the local charts, although it made little impression nationally. It was followed by second single, "You Drive Me Crazy" / "For My Love" released in February 1973, which did not chart.

After John finished his stint in Superstar in early 1974, he was taken up in earnest by Vanda & Young, now returned from the UK and established as Alberts' house producers, and they set about moulding him into a major pop star. Assisted by regular appearances on Countdown he scored a huge national breakthrough hit with Vanda & Young's "Yesterday's Hero" in late 1975. From that flying start John went on to become one of the most popular and successful solo performers of the late 70s, scoring to a string of hit singles and albums written and produced for him by Vanda & Young, including the perennially popular "Love is in the Air".



"Rainbow" / "Lonely Nights" (Du Monde SDM-324)
Produced by Martin Erdman

References / Links

Special thanks to Philip Edwards for corrections and additional information.

Ian McFarlane
Encyclopedia of Australian Rock & Pop (Allen & Unwin, 1999)

Terence J. Stacey
Hoadley's Battle Of The Sounds (Moonlight Publishing)