JOHN FARNHAM 1967-1997 – PART 1.


Down On The Border (G Goble) 1982 and Playing To Win (J Farnham/ G Goble) 1985- Little River Band

LRB would be the first Australian band to break out in the US while doggedly remaining resident here in Australia, other Aussie acts had or would completely relocate to the States, and sometimes take out US citizenship, and enjoy success there – Helen Reddy, Olivia Newton-John, Diana Trask, Peter Allen, Rick Springfield, the Bee Gees, and more recently Gotye and 5 Seconds of Summer have all relocated. But by the early 1980’s LRB was fracturing, they were  never a homogenous group of people, Graeham Goble was a pedantic perfectionist, obsessed with numerology, who had even inserted a redundant letter “e” into his first name,  Beeb Birtles and George McArdle, were more spiritually inclined, and played it pretty straight, while Derek Pellicci was a hypochondriac. Glenn Shorrock was a mouthy, cheeky, party animal, who aligned himself with David Briggs, and Roger McLachlan, there were smokers and non-smokers, the single tour bus became two buses – “God’s Bus” and “Pete’s Disco”.  Glenn Wheatley was constantly resolving disputes and stroking inflated egos, there were signs that the camaraderie within the group was beginning to fray. There were also artistic disagreements about whose songs merited release as singles or inclusion on albums, with four songwriters competing, these sessions could be quite brutal and ultimately caused Goble and Birtles to issue solo singles and an album in the future independently of the band, quickly followed by a similar response from Glenn Shorrock.farnham 39After Graeham Goble had engineered the removal of Shorrock in 1982, the recruitment of his replacement was quite straightforward. John Farnham was desperate for a professional lifeline to save him from a future of regurgitating his past hits in RSL clubs and on the heritage circuit. LRB were an international band with a proven track record of hits, he was convinced by his manager Wheatley, who was also LRB’s manager, that this was the right career move. Clearly Farnham had no idea how unrewarding this move would prove to be, LRB were a band that traded on solid three- part harmonies, they did not encourage their lead singer to do solos, or develop his own stage persona, jokey cabaret-style audience interaction, the forte of both Shorrock and Farnham, was strictly forbidden by Goble. To limit Farnham’s onstage moves his mic cord would be drastically shortened and often his mike stand would be gaffer taped to the floor to prevent him from engaging too closely with the audience, this was most definitely Graeham Goble and Beeb Birtles Little River Band, not John Farnham and the LRB.farnham40Farnham’s first album with the band was 1983’s The Net which delivered more singles from Graeham Goble – We Too and You’re Driving Me Out of My Mind (with Beeb Birtles) that charted  top forty in the US and Down On The Border, a more blatantly political song than usual for the firmly MOR LRB. farnham41The song pilloried oppressive and autocratic regimes in Singapore and Iran and evoked the metaphorical link between international borders not only controlling freedom of movement but also suppressing freedom of expression. It was an odd song, not one of the greatest protest songs ever, and yet Farnham managed to imbue it with a sense of drama and importantly credibility, it hit #7 locally but failed to chart in the US.

Album sales were declining for the band and critics identified a shift in style with the arrival of Farnham, the band was not displaying their characteristic soft rock fluidity and laid-back melodic charm of the Glenn Shorrock days, Farnham’s vocals seemed forced and strained, and new producer Spencer Proffer was apparently moving the band away from their core MOR market.farnham43Beeb Birtles explained in his memoir Every Day of My Life how the vocal dynamics inside the band had changed with the replacement of Shorrock by Farnham “ The structure of our harmonies with Glenn in the band was such that I sang in full voice above his melody lines. Graeham sang in a very strong falsetto voice a third above me. That was our vocal sound.The sound changed when John joined because he sang in a higher range than Glenn. I had to revert to singing the low harmony underneath John in a range where my voice didn’t have anywhere near the same power … it took the edge away in our vocal sound.”farnham42By the time the next album Playing To Win appeared Beeb Birtles and Derek Pellicci had departed, the only original member of the band remaining was Graeham Goble, the title track was credited to Goble and Farnham although Farnham recalled that Goble took an unfair 49.5% of the writing credit for a song that Farnham had presented to the band to demo. Playing To Win was very different from previous LRB songs, it was a more frantic, up tempo song which really rocked, full of dramatic chord and tempo changes and featuring a bravura vocal performance from Farnham, it was used by the AFL as a promotional song for several seasons given it’s natural affinity with sport and sporting victories, it charted #59 locally but did not impact on the US market.

In 1986 Capitol Records dropped LRB from their roster and this hastened the departure of  Farnham back to a solo career, he had done 385 live shows with the band, recorded three albums and toured the USA unrelentingly, but he had felt like a hired hand, with his naturally gregarious personality and blokey stage persona suppressed; now he was battle-hardened for his next challenge, and he would need to be, financially he was broke, and living in rented accommodation in Bulleen (Melb)


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