John Farnham is one of Australia’s most popular singers. With his endearing, boyish appearance, Farnham—who was known as “Johnny” Farnham until 1980—possesses an inherently approachable nature, and it is such personal qualities that define his image and endear him to audiences in Australia and around the world. Farnham has won respect not only as a singer but also as an actor, having performed both on record and on stage in live musical comedy. He began his career as a solo recording artist in the late 1960s while still in his teens, and by 2000, had received five King of Pop awards, 15 Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) awards, and induction into the Victorian Rock Foundation Hall of Fame.
Farnham was born on July 1, 1949, in Dagengam, England and moved to Melbourne, Australia, in 1959 along with his parents and his three younger siblings. When he failed to distinguish himself as a high school student, Farnham turned his focus instead to an amateur music career with a band called the Mavericks. He worked part-time on weekends with that ensemble, and after a time, was invited to perform with another group called Strings Unlimited in Adelaide, Australia. Now 18 years old, Farnham continued to perform on a part-time basis while serving an apprenticeship as a plumber and appearing sporadically on Australian television in commercials and on local programming. With sufficient exposure, in September of 1967, Farnham came to the attention of BMG record executives who signed him to a record deal with EMI and released his debut single, “Sadie the Cleaning Lady,” that same year. The record sold in extraordinary quantities, making it the most popular hit single of the decade in Australia. Farnham continued as a solo recording artist between 1967-73, producing a series of hit singles during those years. His most popular releases included a cover of “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” which reached number one on the Australian charts. Additionally, he released a popular cover of Three Dog Night’s “One,” and a single called “Rock Me Baby.”
Farnham’s singing career was augmented by his ability to perform live on stage, both as a vocalist and as an actor. During the early 1970s, he appeared in a number of musical comedies including Dick Whittington and His Cat, Charlie Girl, and Pippin. In 1973, record company executives made preparations to expose Farnham more intensively to international audiences, yet the talented vocalist remained the quintessential family man, at that time preferring to settle into his responsibilities as a newly married man. Farnham failed to renew his contract, choosing instead to refocus his career, performing largely in clubs and other live venues until 1980. At that time, having abandoned the youthful “Johnny” appellation, he was determined to revive his recording career as John Farnham. His first success at that point was as an appearance at a royal command performance, broadcast on television, where he sang the Beatle’s song, “Help.” The song
Born John Peter Farhnam on July 1, 1949, in Dagengam, England; migrated to Australia, 1959; married Jillian Billman, 1973; two sons.
Played locally in Melbourne, Australia, with the Mavericks; sang for television commercials; discovered by recording executives while performing in Adelaide, Australia, with Strings Unlimited; signed with BMG and released first single, “Sadie the Cleaning Lady,” 1967; has released over 20 albums including Sadie, 1968; Uncovered, 1980; Whispering Jack, 1986; and 33 1/3, 2000. Stage musical appearances include Dick Whittington and His Cat, Charlie Girl, Pippin, early 1970s; television and live appearances in clubs, 1973-80; starred in Jesus Christ Superstar, 1992; founded Gotham Records/BMG International with Ross Fraser, 1995; Asia Pacific tour and Northern Queensland, Australia, tour, 1996.
Member: Order of Australia.
Awards: King of Pop Award, TV Week, 1969-73; “Most Outstanding Performance,” World Popular Song Festival, 1972; Australian of the Year, 1988; Hall of Fame, Victorian Rock Foundation, 1994; 15-time award winner, Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA).
Addresses: Record company —BMG Entertainment Australia Ltd., 194 Miller St., North Sydney NSW 2060, Australia, phone: +61 (02) 9900-7888, fax: +61 (02) 9955-4825.
became a popular piece in his repertoire. In July of 1980, Farnham released Uncovered, a well-received album, produced by Graham Goble of Australia’s Little River Band. The album led to a subsequent stint with Goble’s band beginning in September of 1982. By 1985, Farnham left the band, intending to record a new solo album. His first release, a single called “You’re the Voice,” shot up the charts to the number one position. It was his first number one song since the late 1960s. Farnham’s album Whispering Jack remained at the top of the charts for over 18 weeks and became the most widely sold album in Australia.
Farnham essentially faded from site in 1992, but returned in 1995 after establishing his own record label and sound studio with longtime friend and producer Ross Fraser. In March of that year, Farnham was the featured headline entertainer at the IndyCar Australia IndyCarnival, and in 1996, he released a new album called Romeo’s Heart to impressive advanced sales. Popular tracks on the album included “Little Piece of My Heart,” and “Have a Little Faith.” The album featured a popular duet called “Don’t Let It End” with Farnham and Taiwanese singer Chiu Hai Chen. The track, with Chen singing in Mandarin, contributed to the album’s appeal in Asian markets. Thus in August of that year, Farnham embarked on a tour through Southeast Asia. He visited the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Taiwan in barely more than two weeks. Additionally, Farnham toured in 1996 through Northern Queensland, Australia, where advanced ticket sales were reported at 200,000.
As the 1990s progressed, BMG declared Farnham its most popular Australian artist with an unprecedented 3.3 million albums sold. His memorable Melbourne Park concert with Olivia Newton-John and Anthony Warlow in October of 1998 played to a packed audience, including fans of all age groups. The Melbourne Park concert marked the premiere of a 290-concert national tour called The Main Event. The tour sold 65,000 tickets in Melbourne alone.
In 2000, Farnham released an album of R&B covers— songs that inspired his music as a youth. The retrospective album, aptly titled 33 1/3, was produced by Fraser and released on the Gotham Records label with BMG distribution. The release marked Farnham’s first studio-recorded album in four years and sold more than 210,000 copies by the year’s end. It settled at number one on Australia’s ARIA chart. The Otis Clay hit, “Trying to Live My Life Without You,” debuted in the ARIA Top 40. Additionally, 33 1/3 spawned a video and DVD, and a second hit single, “Man of the Hour.” Farnham’s band in the early 2000s featured Lindsay Field on guitar and vocals; vocalist Lisa Edwards of Melbourne, Australia; Joe Creighton of Belfast, Ireland, on bass and vocals; Chong Lim of Malaysia as musical director and keyboardist; guitarist Stuart Fraser; drummer and percussionist Angus Burchall of Melbourne; and Steve Williams on saxophone and harmonica.
On September 15, 2000, Farnham headlined with Olivia Newton-John at the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. That year he also appeared in two television specials and embarked on a national tour. He performed to sellout audiences with an estimated 150, 000 tickets sold.
Early in his singing career, on April 18, 1973, Farnham married dancer Julian Billman. The couple has two sons: Robert and James. Farnham became an Australian citizen in 1988 and was named “Australian of the Year” in conjunction with the celebration of the country’s bicentennial that year. He also holds membership in the Order of Australia.
Sadie, EMI, 1968.
Looking Through A Tear, EMI, 1970.
Christmas Is Johnny Farnham, EMI, 1970.
Everybody Oughta Sing, A Song EMI, 1971.
Together (with Alison Durbin), EMI, 1971.
Johnny Farnham Sings The Shows, EMI, 1972.
Hit’s, Magic and Rock And Roll, EMI, 1973.
Johnny Farnham Sings The Hits Of ’73, EMI, 1973.
J P Farnham Sings, EMI, 1975.
Uncovered, Wheatley Brothers, 1980.
The Net, Capitol, 1983.
Playing To Win, Capitol, 1984.
No Reins, Capitol, 1986.
Whispering Jack, RCA, 1986.
Age of Reason, RCA, 1988.
Chain Reaction, BMG, 1990.
Full House, BMG, 1991.
Then Again, BMG, 1993.
Full House, RCA, 1994.
Where Do I Begin? BMG, 1995.
Chain Reaction, RCA, 1996.
Romeo’s Heart, Gotham, 1996.
Anthology I, II & III, Gotham, 1997.
33 1/3, Gotham, 2000.
Billboard, August 20, 1994; September 28, 1996; August 5, 2000.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (January 19, 2001).
“John Farnham,” Click2Music, http://www.bmg.com.au/artist/farnham (January 19, 2001).
“Shaz’s John Farnham Page,” http://www.geocities.com/HotSprings/Spa/8089/Farnham/farnham.html (February 21, 2001).
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