John Farnham: Finding the Voice - Documentary Review

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Posted 2023-05-26 by May Crossfollow
John Farnham: Finding the Voice follows Farnham's life from '60s pop fame, through highs and lows, to record-breaking success. John Farnham was 38 when he released the album "Whispering Jack" which is still the highest-selling Australian album of all time. This documentary features not only John Farnham himself but also Olivia Newton-John, Jimmy Barnes, Celine Dion, Robbie Williams, Daryl Braithwaite, Glenn Wheatley and many others. It was directed by Poppy Stockell and written by Paul Clarke and Poppy Stockell.

Johnny was not born in Australia but in the UK like many of our pop and rock stars, such as Jimmy Barnes, the Bee Gees and the Young brothers of AC/DC fame. Before he found THE Voice, he was the voice of a cheesy airline jingle when he was just a pretty 17-year-old apprentice plumber. Although he sang, played guitar and wrote songs, it was an era when musicians didn't usually write their own songs. "Sadie (The Cleaning Lady)" was released in 1967 and was a Number 1 hit within days and was the biggest hit in Australia in the 1960s. Surprisingly as it was a twee novelty song, bordering on vaudevillian. His good voice (and his good looks) were evident, and he became a pop idol but was definitely not cool nor Rock "n" Roll.

Like Olivia "Neutron Bomb" and many Aussie bands, Johnny went to London to have a shot at being an international star. However, he couldn't get a recording contract (EMI said that they didn't need him as they had their "Batchelor Boy" with Cliff Richards!) so Johnny retreated to Melbourne. But the days of manufactured pop stars was past and it was all about the battle of the bands. One of those bands was Masters' Apprentices with Glenn Wheatley who was Johnny's mate: they were two little blondie boys.

Wheatley went from bass guitar to management and successfully managed Little River Band, with frontman Glen Shorrock, to international stardom. By the mid-seventies, Johnny's star was fading, the hits had dried up and he was driven to drugs, depression and singing in musicals. People couldn't forgive him for daggy "Sadie".

In the '80s, pub rock was exploding with bands such as Cold Chisel and Midnight Oil. However, Johnny was not a pub person: you could put Farnsy into leather jeans but he was never going to be Barnsey!

When Glen Shorrock left Little River Band, John (no longer Johnny) became lead singer. Unfortunately, he left the band in debt and Wheatley mortgaged his own house to get the album "Whispering Jack" released. What an investment! It was Number 1 in Australia for 26 weeks, was popular in Europe and became a huge tour. It also won many awards and became the biggest-selling album in Australia.

On that album was the anthemic "You're the Voice" written by Brit Manfred Mann (who incidentally never gave John permission to record it). John had found his voice and become a superstar. It is a sad irony that John is now suffering from mouth cancer.

The film mainly consists of old photos and footage, and interviews with friends and family. I even spotted Ian Baker Finch, the legendary golfer and fellow Queenslander. There are some cracking songs as you would expect. My favourite was John singing "Amazing Grace" which really showcased his amazing voice.

There are some omissions and important events glossed over in the film, such as John controversially being awarded "Australian of the Year" during our Bicentennial in 1988. Not to mention his 20 Arias and his induction into the Aria Hall of Fame. What an icon and national treasure.

The film is dedicated to Glenn Wheatley who passed away in 2022 due to COVID. It is a shame that Wheatley is best remembered for his tax fraud conviction and 30 months custodial sentence rather than his contribution to music.

To paraphrase Molly Meldrum, do yourself a favour and go see this film.

82754 - 2023-06-11 06:34:12


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