AUSTRALIAN rock legend and Medal of the Order of Australia for services to the community, John Swan from Coffs Harbour, known as ‘Swanee’, graced the stage at Red-C Events on Sunday afternoon with Lead Guitarist Tony Harvey.
Swanee wowed the audience with a combination of classics and originals from a back catalogue of 11 albums and 18 singles which include three number one albums and one number one single.
Swanee has lived in Coffs Harbour for three years but has spent much of his time based in South Australia performing in front of packed stadiums and helping people until the pandemic struck.
Swanee caught up with the News Of The Area before the gig, wearing a Jimmy Barnes Killing Time T-shirt, which prompted the first question about his connection with one of Australia’s greatest bands in history, Cold Chisel.
“I was a founding member of Cold Chisel, my Brother (Jimmy Barnes) was just starting to come good then, but it was just cover songs.
“Everything changed when Don Walker joined, the covers stopped and Cold Chisel became a rock and roll band, they became good, the best.”
For over 20 years Swanee and guitarist Tony Harvey have been sharing their gift of music and their time to help other people, visiting charitable organisations such as hospitals, charitable organisations and rehab centres.
“The greatest thing you can give is your time, we’ve been going to cancer wards, brain trauma wards, visiting homeless people, Salvation Army or people with alcohol or drug problems, we just sing songs and then have a good chat, communication is really important,” said Swanee.
“For 20 years it was something we just did, we didn’t tell anyone about it but after a number of years the word got out and in 2015 South Australia announced me as Senior Australian of the Year.
“Then in 2017 I was given an OAM (Medal of the Order of Australia for service to music as a performer and to the community through charitable organisations) and Jimmy (Barnes) received an OAM for his contribution to music at the same ceremony.
“The OAM helped me because I was able to reach more people, it was never about recognition but the OAM helped open doors so I could help more people, to encourage people,” said Swanee.
Swanee shared how he wants to help and contribute more to people in his hometown Coffs Harbour.
“I would like to help more people in Coffs Harbour but they don’t know me as well here.
“In South Australia I used to call hospitals and organisations and we would go along and sing and talk to people and help people, it was easier in SA because they know me but it’s not been as easy in Coffs.
“I used to visit a brain trauma ward in SA and got to know some of the patients, they used to say ‘But you aren’t one of us, you don’t look like us’, they were referring to the ‘caps’ that brain trauma patients wear, I disagreed and said I was no different.
“The next day I arrived at the ward and there was a cap with Swanee written on the front, I immediately put it on and I became part of the group,” laughed Swanee.
Swanee shared some of his personal problems and his philosophy on how to fix them.
“We were just young boys singing songs, our sponsors back then gave us an endless supply of alcohol which ended up becoming a problem, especially if you come from Glasgow, it starts small and gets bigger, half a bottle of vodka turns into one or two and it becomes a habit, then the drugs became freely available and that made things worse.
“I almost died, I had a week left, I had a big problem with alcohol and drugs, a big problem, I didn’t know how to fix it.
“In my opinion, if you have a big problem then you need to find another problem to replace it, one that does good for people and not harm, that’s when I started helping people, I am here to encourage people.
“We did a charity event with Charlie Teo (Brain Surgeon) for a 9 year old girl, she now plays guitar and became SA Junior Citizen of the Year for helping people, that’s what helping people does, it encourages, I am so proud of Shelby,” said an emotional Swanee.
The conversation about Swanee’s fifty year music history could have lasted into the next week but it was Swanee’s passion for helping people and encouraging people that shone.
The energetic 68 year old has no plans of slowing down.
“I’m singing at the Golden Dog in Glenreagh on Friday 26 February and I have a box set of 8 albums being released very shortly and they will be on Vinyl too, plus a new album band and solo,” said Swanee.
Jane Reidy, Director and Licensee of RED-C Events said she was excited to have the rock legend here in Coffs Harbour.
“I recently met John when Tony brought him in to show him around RED-C, he’s a lovely guy, an absolute legend, and we are so stoked he wants to play here.
“We’re also keen to collaborate with John on events to fundraise for community causes, we already partner with a number of community organisations for homelessness and refugees, not to mention supporting local live music, so Swanee’s suggestions and encouragement are much appreciated, and we look forward to his next gig,” said Reidy.
By David WIGLEY