He is undoubtedly one of Australia’s favorite sons, although John Farnham had to be hastily naturalized before being awarded Australian of the Year in 1987.
But what better way to give Farnsy a hug when he needs it most than with the documentary John Farnham: Finding the voice? This authorized history will sometimes give you goosebumps.
Produced by Paul Clarke, Mikael Borglund, Martin Fabinyi and directed by Poppy Stockell, this is a project spearheaded by Gaynor Wheatley, whose husband, the late Glenn Wheatley, reignited Farnham’s career in the 1980s. The rest is history.
The doco features remarkable private viewing access, rare concert footage and interviews with familiar and influential names, both Australian and international.
As it traces Farnham’s trajectory, including the dark years of the second half of the 1970s, it comes as a collage of findings, rumors, footage, reflections, built around the man who would become an enigma.
Except for a few fleeting audio commentaries, Farnham himself reflects not through any lead interviews. But the camera never leaves him in his puzzle of entertainment history.
His early years include home movies with parents Rose and John Sr. where he was discovered by manager Darryl Sambell, to his instant fame in 1967 via Sadie the cleaning lady -a song he was reluctant to record amid hopes of a rock & roll career. While Sambell’s net strategy worked, there are references to tense management relationships (they allegedly parted ways in 1976).
Despite the successes of King of Pop, stage musicals and hits like The raindrops keep falling on my head, Farnham would be hard-pressed to distance himself from the novelty of Sadie.
In the 1980s work was limited to the cabaret circuit until he teamed up with Glenn Wheatley, who was then managing the Little River Band. An image makeover eliminated the “Johnny” branding in favor of a more mature and successful “John Farnham” Help from his first contemporary album, Discovery. He would later replace Glenn Shorrock in LRB but there were still artistic differences, with Farnham feeling like a singer singing someone else’s songs.
Everything would change with Whispering Jack, the album for which Wheatley mortgaged his house. The story of the discovery you are the voice, heard through a songwriter’s tape, it’s one of the doco’s best gems (he even turned it down We built this city before it was a hit).
“People have never really seen me as a credible singer. I think this is the best record I’ve ever made,” he said.
Interviews in the doco include (the late) Glenn Wheatley, Gaynor Martin, Jimmy Barnes, Daryl Braithwaite, Richard Marx, Bev Harrell, Cherie Romaro, David Mackay, Tommy Emmanuel, David Hirschfelder, sons James and Robert Farnham, Venetta Fields, Paul Dainty, Graeham Goble, Ross Fraser, Brett Garsed, Angus Burchall plus quotes from wife Jill Farnham, Olivia Newton-John and footage from Celine Dion and Robbie Williams.
Not all career moments are included, such as TV shows Bobby Dazzler, Farnham & Byrnemusical Pippin & Jesus Christ Superstarlater tours like The Main Event, albums Chapel sessions, I remember when I was youngHuman Nature collaborations etc.
Watching him perform You are the Voice in Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall it is magical and captures the revolutionary power of the anthem song.
But despite it all it’s impossible to ignore his talent, humility, perfectionism, frustration – all of which rise to glory when he brings out a best-selling album by a local artist and record-breaking arena tours.
Farnham was at home.
Do not miss it.
John Farnham: Finding the Voice airs at 7:30 on Mondays of seven.