John Farnham: Finding the Voice

This authorised documentary of a favourite Australian son charts his rises and falls and will damn well give you goosebumps.

He is undoubtedly one of Australia’s favourite sons, even if John Farnham had to be hurriedly naturalised before receiving the Australian of the Year in 1987.

But what better way to wrap our arms around Farnsy when he needs it most than with the documentary John Farnham: Finding the Voice? This authorised chronology at times will give you goosebumps.

Produced by Paul Clarke, Mikael Borglund, Martin Fabinyi and directed by Poppy Stockell, this is a project driven by Gaynor Wheatley, whose husband, the late Glenn Wheatley reignited Farnham’s career in the 1980s. The rest is history.

The doco features remarkable access to private vision, rare concert footage and interviews from family and influential names, both Australian and international.

While it charts Farnham’s trajectory, including the dark years in the second half of the 1970s, it lands as a collage of achievements, voices, clips, reflections, built around the man who would become an enigma.

Save for some fleeting audio comments, Farnham himself does not reflect through any principal interview. But the camera never leaves him through its jigsaw 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 1967 fame via Sadie the Cleaning Lady -a song he was reluctant to record amid hopes for a rock & roll career. Whilst Sambell’s clean-cut strategy worked, there are references to strained management relations (they would split in 1976).

Despite the successes of King of Pop, stage musicals, and hits such as Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head, Farnham would struggle to distance himself from the novelty of Sadie.

By the 1980s work was confined to the cabaret circuit until he teamed up with Glenn Wheatley, who was then managing Little River Band. An image makeover dispensed with the ‘Johnny’ brand in favour of a maturer ‘John Farnham’ and the hit Help from his first contemporary album, Uncovered. He would later replace Glenn Shorrock in LRB but there were still artistic differences, with Farnham feeling like a vocalist singing somebody else’s songs.

That would all change with Whispering Jack, the album for which Wheatley mortgaged his own house. The story of discovering You’re The Voice, heard via a songwriter’s cassette, is one of the doco’s better gems (he even rejected We Built this City before it was a hit).

“People never really saw 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 & 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 of Celine Dion and Robbie Williams.

Not all career moments are included, such as TV shows Bobby Dazzler, Farnham & Byrne, musicals Pippin & Jesus Christ Superstar, later tours such as The Main Event, albums The Chapel Sessions, I Remember When I Was Young, Human Nature collaborations etc.

Watching him perform You’re the Voice in Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall is magic and captures the revolutionary power of the anthemic song.

But through it all it is impossible to ignore his talent, humility, perfectionism, frustration -all of which surges to glory when he pulls off the biggest selling album by a local artist and record breaking arena tours.

Farnham was home.

Don’t miss it.

John Farnham: Finding the Voice screens 7:30 Monday on Seven.

7 Responses

  1. I Have ordered thr DVD Release today which will be great viewing no adverts at all they were annoying particularly the constant adds for the Voice every 2 minutes

      1. Me too – the point is they’ve put breaks in a film that didn’t previously have them, disrupting the flow. And then of course there’s the ads on-screen. Vote for Sonia Kruger over the opening two minutes, covering the credits.

  2. Farnham and Byrne was one of the best shows ever produced in this country. If you can find clips of the show on you tube its well worth a watch.

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