John Peter Farnham (born July 1, 1949) is an English-born Australian pop singer.
Domestically he has remained one of Australia's best-known performers over a career spanning 40 years. He is the only Australian artist to have a number one record in five consecutive decades (echoing Sir Cliff Richard in the United Kingdom).
Born in Dagenham, Essex, United Kingdom, Farnham spent the first years of his life in England before migrating to Australia in 1959. As an undistinguished student, he began a plumbing apprenticeship before taking leave from that to pursue music.
The early days and Strings Unlimited
He did his first semi-professional performances as lead singer of a local band, Strings Unlimited. After making the State finals of the Hoadleys Battle of the Sounds, they made some demo recordings which led to his being offered a solo record contract. His first commercially-successful recording was a novelty song entitled "Sadie (The Cleaning Lady)". Released in November 1967, it hit No. 1 on the Australian charts in January 1968 and remained there for 6 weeks. Selling 180 000 copies in Australia, it was the largest-selling single by an Australian artist of the decade. The clean-cut pop star made several more successful albums, but by the 1970s his recording career began to dwindle and he turned to television, appearing in a situation comedy and narrating documentaries, whilst singing in clubs. He also performed in a number of musicals and in the Australian television comedy series Bobby Dazzler as the leading character of the same name. His one recording hit in this period was a reworking of the Beatles' "Help!" in 1980. In his early career he was known as Johnny Farnham.
Farnham married Jillian Billman in 1973. They had two sons, Robert and James.
The Little River Band era
From 1981 until 1984, he fronted Little River Band after singer Glenn Shorrock departed. This was a move away from cabaret and into rock music. As Little River Band was a successful band prior to Farnham joining the group, it was a surprise that with Farnham the band found little success initially. Due to the previous success by Little River Band and Farnham's own early career, Capitol Records continued to fund the band for albums and tours, but still to no avail. In their desperation to bring a return from the cost of the band, Capitol Records brought out a "Greatest Hits" album, however that caused even more financial problems for the band.
During this time, Farnham did vocal tracks for movies just to earn some extra money including for the movies "Fletch," "The Slugger's Wife," "Savage Streets," "Voyage of the Rock Aliens" and "Rad".
With Farnham, Little River Band recorded three albums, which had some modest success, though not enough to pay back the advances the record company had given the band. The first album, The Net, was already written and Farnham had no say in the songs, he just had to record his lead vocals.
They recorded a concert in Melbourne that aired in the United States on HBO. The concert video was only one hour long, and it highlighted some of the songs from The Net as well as reworked versions of Little River Band classics such as "Cool Change" and "Reminiscing". "Please Don't Ask Me", a song written by Graeham Goble, and a hit for Farnham almost three years previously, was played during the Australian opening of the show. Despite positive Australian and US reviews and responses, this performance has not yet been released on VHS or DVD (nor is there any plan announced to).
In 1986, after releasing the third Little River Band studio album, No Reins, Farnham left the band. In an interview with Channel Seven, he stated, "I'll be better off leaving, rather than putting myself under pressure that I've created." Through this matter, it became apparent to the band that Farnham was intending on leaving and No Reins' lead single "Playing to Win," a song believed by all to be the band's return to success, then started having authorship disputes. As a result, Farnham's relationship with the band was further sullied. To date, the roylaties for the song are meticulously divided with different shares to each of the song's contributors.
Whispering Jack and the return to solo
Farnham's first solo experience since 1980, was doing some live shows with a band consisting of Brett Garsed, Sam See and Derrick Pellicci. Only two weeks' worth of bookings were made but the reaction was so good that they extended it for another week. Because of this success, record producer, Ross Fraser suggested to manager, Glenn Wheatley that it might be time to start working on a solo album.
In 1986, with the aid of Wheatley, and under considerable financial pressure that forced Wheatley to use his house as collateral to fund the album, Farnham began work on Whispering Jack, searching for songs with Fraser. "A Touch Of Paradise" was one that came in, written by Mondo Rock's Ross Wilson. The album was almost ready to be recorded when a tape arrived from London with similar material as "Pressure Down". Fraser listened to the song "You're The Voice" and knew they had found a once in a lifetime song.
Whispering Jack took a year to plan, 6 weeks in a garage, 1 week putting it all onto a tape in the studio, another week of keyboard adjustments, and a further week adding guitar, bagpipes, and saxophones, before laying down the vocals in 3 weeks.
Initially, public interest in the rebranded former teen-idol was difficult to cultivate, and radio stations refused to play the album. Things however started to change when Sydney radio station 2Day FM started to play the first single from the album, "You're the Voice". Henceforth, radio stations began receiving requests for the song.
Whispering Jack would go on to become the highest-selling album in Australia at the time, selling over one million copies and remaining the number one album on the Australian ARIA Charts for 27 weeks. "You're the Voice," was also a number one hit in several European countries, as well as in Australia. It was written by Chris Thompson, formerly of Manfred Mann's Earth Band. With the varied selection of songs used as well as meticulously singing his part, Farnham's pop-rock release was a highly successful breakthrough after a difficult time in his career in the events leading up to and the time with the Little River Band.
After the success of the album, the next step was a tour. The "Jack's Back Tour", originally had four performances in Melbourne, two in Sydney, two in Perth and two in Brisbane. Although at the time they thought this would have been enough considering they were up against such people as Michael Jackson and Billy Joel, the ticket sales suggested extending the tour. As a result, five more shows were added in Melbourne, three more in Sydney, and Brisbane's concert was moved to a larger venue. At that time the "Jack's Back Tour" was the highest grossing tour by Farnham to be surpassed fifteen years later with "The Last Time Tour".
In concert with Olivia Newton-John and Anthony Warlow
John Farnham, Olivia Newton-John and Anthony Warlow in their concert tour
"The Main Event". (CD)
John Farnham toured with Olivia Newton-John and Anthony Warlow in "The Main Event". The concerts included comic musical "rivalry" between John Farnham and Anthony Warlow. The album from "The Main Event" tour with Olivia Newton-John and Anthony Warlow, was multi-platinum.
The next year, he took his birthday party on the road with the "I Can't Believe He's 50 Tour", teaming up with Kate Ceberano, Ross Wilson, James Reyne, Merril Bainbridge, Human Nature, and his son's band, Nana-Zhami. The first half of the show is a tribute to Farnham. Each guest sang two songs, one of their own and the other was their interpretation of a Farnham song. Some great home movies with some never before seen shots of John played in the background and each of the guests pay tribute to John in their own words, via a pre-recorded tape. The show opened with a huge blast of heavy metal from Nana-Zhami. They sang their own song, 'The Program' followed by their interpretation of John's 'Infatuation', from 'Uncovered'.
A major event of 1999 was the "Tour Of Duty" concert in Dili for the Australian troops, which featured Kylie Minogue, Doc Neeson, Gina Jeffreys, James Blundell, The Living End, Dili Allstars and the RMC Band. "Tour Of Duty" was the first concert of John Farnham's to be webcast. Held at Dili Stadium in front of 4000 troops, it was a special Christmas present to show appreciation and support for the troops stationed in East Timor, away from their families for Christmas. It was also a special treat for the thousands of East Timorese who danced and sang from every vantage point they could find.
Millions around the world watched as Farnham sang "Dare To Dream" with Olivia Newton-John at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
The Last Tour - The Last Time
In 2002, Farnham released a new album, The Last Time, and held a countrywide concert tour, taking a circus-style tent to smaller towns. As the title suggested, this was to be Farnham's last major tour, but the singer, from the start, insisted that he was going to work live and hit the road for short periods of time again. He broke Australian touring records, performing with his 10-piece band from November to June 2003, becoming the seventh most profitable touring act in the world.
"I'm not retiring, I'm just never going to undergo a major tour ever again," Farnham told a press conference promoting the album and the tour.
The album was launched in St. Kilda, at the famous Esplanade Hotel. Farnham had mentioned at a media conference that he would like to play someday at the Espy. A notice was put in a street magazine challenging John to do just that. Devotees of the singer gathered in the front bar of St Kilda grunge icon for an invitation-only gig.
Farnham returned to Cohuna where he had been "discovered" by Darryl Sambell in 1967. Following the announcement of regional dates, Farnham and the band performed a free concert. There were signs, yellow balloons, streamers and his music playing from speakers. The all day event was capped off with a huge party featuring the music of Farnham's former band, Strings Unlimited and fireworks.
The Last Time Tour included 6 states, 7 capital cities and 28 regional centres beginning with the preview show in Melbourne on November 6, 2002. The Last Time Tour capital city concerts were held in large entertainment centres, whereas the regional concerts were performed in a 4000 seat air-conditioned tent. Two tents leapfrogged the country to enable the shows to set up on time. The site took 100 workers 1 1/2 days to set up but only 6 hours to pull down and the equipment was carried by a fleet of 6 semi-trailers, 13 trucks, 4 four-wheel drives and 2 cars.
After 89 shows and more than 210 days on the road, the Last Time Tour returned to Melbourne for the home town finale fans were hoping for. The final concert on June 15 2003 at Rod Laver Arena was telecast on Channel 7 enabling millions of people to witness Farnham's final "last time" concert. When Farnham left the stage, the crowd gave him a standing ovation that lasted more than 10 minutes. The night brought a close to the most extensive tour Australia has ever seen.
There is only "One Voice"
Later in 2003, Farnham worked with Queen to produce a new version of the worldwide favourite "We Will Rock You", released on his greatest hits album, "One Voice". Farnham was inducted into the ARIA Hall Of Fame before a roof-raising performance of "You're The Voice". Media reports of Queen asking Farnham to join the band were subsequently denied by both Brian May and John.
In Concert With Tom Jones
Again feeling success in 2005, Farnham did ten concerts in Perth, Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne with Welsh music veteran, Tom Jones. Two musical heavyweights walked out from the sides to perform "That Driving Beat" and "Mama Told Me Not To Come" together. Farnham then left the stage to let Tom perform a few solos before returning with 1972's "One" and raging through hits like "Pressure Down", "That's Freedom", "Heart's On Fire", "Playing To Win", "Every Time You Cry", "Man Of The Hour", "Age Of Reason" and "Burn For You". The pair did five duets to close the show - Sam and Dave's "Hold On I'm Coming", Otis Redding's "Try A Little Tenderness", Ray Charles' "What'd I Say", Stevie Wonder's "Sweet Soul Music" and AC/DC's anthem, "Long Way To The Top". The DVD released debuted at No 1. He also made an appearance at the Melbourne Music Festival, raising much needed funds for rebuilding after the 2004 Asian Tsunami.
Farnham remembers when he was young
Towards the end of 2005, Farnham pinned his colours firmly to the mast with a new studio album, I Remember When I Was Young: Songs From The Great Australian Songbook - covers of classics, written and performed by Australian artists over the last forty years. Farnham listened to over 150 Australian songs and chose just 13 tracks for the album, which was recorded with a quartet of double bass, Steinway piano, drums & guitar and augmented by the Sydney International String Section and a six piece brass selection.
The first single off the album was "Downhearted", a song the Australian Crawl famed on, but the title track was Matt Taylor and Chain's "I Remember When I Was Young". This was Farnham's first jazz album after thirty-eight years in the business.
Promoting the album on Channel Seven's "Dancing With The Stars", he explained his desire to make the album, "I left my heart back in the Orient, down on Bali Bay. It's not the way that I should feel, but it's the way I'm going to stay."
In February 2006, for four shows at the Sydney Opera House, he performed with the Sydney Symphony. He furthered this with shows at Hamer Hall, Melbourne. These shows were sponsored by Dairy Farmers and a percentage of revenue received from the 'I Remember When I was Young' concerts went to the Dairy Farmers 'Creating Greener Pastures' program to help farmers and their communities.
"For a singer, to be able to perform with a full symphony orchestra is as big as it can get. It is a rare opportunity that does not come often, and in February, I get the chance to do this in both Melbourne and Sydney," Farnham told journalist, Jim Mitchell.
On February 10, the morning before his third show with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, he was interviewed by Channel Nine's entertainment reporter, Richard Wilkins where he said, "It's great to be on stage with some of this country's greatest musicians. Tonight though is not just about the music. It's about something very close to my heart, Australia. I've seen first hand the sorts of challenges that Australian farmers face so through these concerts we're able to make a direct contribution into the Dairy Farmers 'Creating Greener Pastures'program to lend some added support to the rural community. It is a great cause. I hope you enjoy the show."