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John Rowe loves Tonight Shows. He didn't leave them, they left him. When the format moved on late last century, Rowe found himself abandoned in an electronic lounge room. Alone, he nurtured the flame, waiting for the world to appreciate its great loss. Now, with the Great Lockdown, we've all joined Rowe, confined to our own living rooms. And through the magic of living-room-to-living-room technology, Rowe reconnects us to the fun, patter and sheer gauche of the decades that style forgot. The John Rowe Show is the original lounge act; broadcast live from his lounge to yours.
Rowe had given up all hope that the great tonight shows of the Hammond Organ Era, would again light-up the shag piles of the nation's lounge rooms. To spread the delights of the irresistibly irrepressible dagginess of the seventies and eighties, Rowe had to break the cathode-ray curtain. He developed The John Rowe Show as a virtual recreation of television when it was the comfortable centre of a national electronic village. Rowe knows the era; he lived it, loved it and worked it. He relives it again—for those who remember, and those who can imagine.
After taking the live show to Edinburgh and Darlinghurst, Rowe is back in his living room, broadcasting his special brand of dag.
With its harsher bits knocked off, memory reboots the seventies and eighties as an effervescent chimaera of glitter, bump, hustle and disco—fevered and otherwise. Memories recall the emboldened flamboyancy of the newly romantic...ashes to ashes… Unlamented, punk left few pretty traces. God saved the queen.
All the way from A-B (i.e. from Abba to Bowie), popular culture was ubiquitous, eclectic, sometimes risque. Pop could only be as inclusive as the term was then understood. It always seemed stuck at B.... i.e. B for bisexual. Bowie said he was straight! Elton married a woman! While the culture protectively rendered Boy George exotic, the Village People were unreal examples of pumped-up cartoon characters.
Double entendre however, was becoming increasingly singular… boom, boom, boom; relax till you want to come… But it was all peaking too early. There was no room yet for a KD Lang... what a constant craving.
Before distribution channels digitally atomised in the early 21st century, weekly widgets of televised pop culture, coursed through the narrow coaxial cables of just three and a half networks (“the half” is the ABC's Countdown—an ad-free confection of highly commercialised pop). In those days, broadcast television was the backbone of an electronic virtual village. People across the nation watched the same thing at the same time. And more, they could reliably share the experience the next day in the office tea-room.
The tonight show format of the era is Rowe's perfect vehicle for reprising the music he's always loved.
Rowe’s show pulls on his vast experiences as musical director at the very commercial end of live entertainment. It’s the end he loves. Since graduating in musical theatre, there have been few breaks between gigs.
He’s written, produced, directed, performed, composed, and/or sung in “a million, I mean a trillion children's shows,” he says. He’s taken shows to where ever there is and audience—shopping malls, fairgrounds, theme parks, cruise ships, theatre restaurants, arena stadiums... across to Asia, through the Gulf. He’s collaborated regularly with the Wiggles and been a performance coach on Australian idol. His success there was to ensure it didn’t disintigrate into a Young Talent Time segment. You got to know the genre, to avoid its traps.
The John Rowe Show belongs on television; but times have moved on. Be sure that Rowe hasn't left TV; it was TV that left him. It's seems he was abandoned in a suburban living room when the televisions titans pulled the plug on his electronic virtual village.
So, as Rowe awaits a call from Rip van Winkle of Programming, he is happy to keep presenting live in your living room. If TV wont take him there, he'll come to you. Rowe describes his show “as the singing tonight show, hosted you in your living room.”
One of the joys of the John Rowe Show is how he simultaneously plays with dag and camp—both of which are now fully "out"—gay pride and dag pride in tandem...
Dag is a specifically Australasian term, and it has a few more meanings beyond what hangs-off a sheep’s bum. It also suggests an unsophisticated yet endearing person—indicating more fun and less thinking. Rowe is a self-confessed dag. "I know, I know; I'm a dag, I am a dag, I'm a dag.” And what does dag mean for his show? “Well, I like to describe the show as treading the fine line between ultra-cool and ultra-kitsch.” That give him a delicious space to operate. And with consummate skills in channeling dag, maybe Rowe is more of a knowing dag than he cares to admits. He certainly know something. “I like bringing out the inner dag that everyone's got lurking inside.”
Camp was certainly implicit in the old tonight shows; barely concealed then, it's even more apparent when we look back. The performers were often cheeky and quite knowing, but rarely explicit. The hidden layers of meaning were part of the fun. Camp, too has several meanings. One suggests gay-like behaviour while broadly encompassing the theatrical and exaggerated. As applied to a panto, for example, it certainly suggests loads of unthreatening fun. And this idea of camp is a perfect release for people fo all persuasions.
When Rowe was working on The Kingdom of Paramithi—a Wiggles produced series for Nickleodeon—he says that he and his fellow cast members wondered if they were being too camp in playing their parts. Anthony Field, founding member of the Wiggles, implored them not to hold back; it's pantomime, and kids really respond to what we take as camp!
Today, there is no need for Rowe to separate camp theperson, from camp as a form of expression. He comfortably inhabits both. He is the very picture of a proud grandmother’s favourite grandson. Rowe insists; “I haven't deliberately gone for camp in the show. So if it's camp, it’s a byproduct of who I am.“
Other performers have played on the daggy-campy edge of the culture. But unlike Rowe, they've done it through a character. Rowe says there is “a difference between what I do and what someone like Bob Downe does, who I love. But, I haven't actually created a character; I would say this is just me...”
And what does Rowe want for the show? “It sounds corny, but you know, making people happy… have people leave and feel great.” It's a genuine response. Live, from the world of synthetic schmaltz John Rowe is the real deal.