John Parr: Origins of Rock

John with his famous ‘Stars and Stripes’ Gibson Les Paul

John Parr talks to Festival Kidz about music through his life…

You might be forgiven for thinking that John Parr was a one-hit wonder, famous only for the huge 80’s chart-topping hit ‘St Elmo’s Fire’.

Granted that song did have most young girls of my generation singing away into their hairbrushes dreaming of kissing Rob Lowe in the mirror… but there is certainly a lot more to John Parr than that!

Early influences

Music featured strongly in John’s life from an early age.  He would spend hours listening to his mum and dad’s very modest record collection: The Shadows, Cliff Richard, Elvis, and Nat King Cole.  As he grew older and bought his own records he discovered The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.  Wistfully he recalls the big thick vinyl disks he played on the Radiogram.  Sensing my generational ignorance, he describes a
large oblong piece of polished furniture with speakers built in on each side and a drop down door in the middle to reveal the record player.  Stacked at the side were his Holy Grail… Albums.

“I loved the magic of the sound and the feel of the vinyl  – the thump of the needle as it lowered on to those spinning black disks…” John says emphatically.

Somehow I don’t think my children will foster such warm memories of the touch dial on their iPod!

Fledgling career

John began playing for money when he was just 12 and as he gigged in the Working Men’s Clubs in the North of England he saw a lot of groups and singers playing live to a very high standard. Watching professionals play and perform on stage is something that has always been a fascination for John.  In later life he toured with Toto, Tina Turner, Bryan Adams, and Journey, and though he was an established musician in his own right, he still watched every single show they did – cherishing every opportunity to witness their performances.

Great Inspirations

Many great artists have inspired John over the years from Stevie Wonder “a musical genius with a voice that could melt your heart or give you goose bumps”, Tom Jones for the power and delivery of his vocals, to Hendrix and Clapton for their guitars. But when pushed, The Beatles come out top for their “totally original vocal and musical sound, incredible songwriting and unique personalities”.

John likes to be physically affected by music – so Elvis, Hendrix, Clapton, Stevie Wonder, Jackson,… anyone who can really really perform and deliver on stage, do it for him.

The gift of music

I asked John if there was a significant point at which he knew he musically gifted?

I always felt I had something, a kind of feeling of destiny…” he replies, “…even at an early age – I felt somehow different and a little isolated from my friends. I lived a lot in my imagination. I do believe we all have gifts, the trick is opening your heart and mind to find it. Some people miss this and feel they don’t have anything special but each and every one of us has something. You just have to look for it.”

Parental guidance

John’s parents obviously agreed and were very supportive.  When he was 8 they bought his first guitar for £8 from Mr Berry’s music shop.  That was a lot of money in the Sixties.  It was a Madrigal Beginners Acoustic guitar and John still has it to this day.  He had lessons once a week from Mr Vardy.  John also plays piano a little, finding unusual and ear catching chords to inspire his writing.

John Parr used Bert Weedon’s famous ‘Play in a Day’ guitar lesson books, as did most of the ‘greats’ including Jimmy Page

John’s mum was his number 1 fan and when he formed The Silence with his classmates at the tender age of 12, his dad became the manager. They were relatively successful and toured Europe.  His dad never missed a single gig and drove them 150,000 miles in their old army ambulance band truck over the next 4 years.  As a manager, John’s dad was pretty tough, making sure the first sound the audience heard from the band was the beginning of the song and no “tippy tappy on drums or tuning up” to dilute the impact of the music.

I asked John if his sons also shared his love of music but because he was locked in a bitter legal battle for 20 years while they were growing up, music was not high on the agenda at home.  John was not recording at the time and wanted to close the door on music for a while.  They are great ‘shower singers’ he says with a smile, and the eldest dabbled in drums, but neither moved towards a musical career.

And current artists?

With so many legendary performers having such a strong influence over his work, does John like much of the music around at the moment?

“I still love music and still gravitate towards really gifted people. There are a few out there but for me I lived in an era of true greats and was inspired by those legends – I still think that their legacy lives on to inspire the new generation.”

John Parr headlines the Acoustic Festival of Britain on Saturday 21st May 2011

What have you got planned for the Acoustic Festival?

“I still practice around 20 hours a week so there will hopefully be some hot guitar licks, inspiring tunes and rocking vocals. A little tenderness here and there, a dash of soft  dreamy stuff on the acoustic and a few surprises…”

Sounds great – I can hardly wait!

For more information about the Acoustic Festival of Britain (20-22 May 2011) visit or see our Facebook Note.

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You can also see John Parr caught by hidden camera on YouTube doing some covers:

Bruno Mars – Grenade (impromptu live cover by John Parr)

Katy Perry – Firework (acoustic cover by John Parr)

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