5 March 2010

"We have the power to be powerful..."

You're The Voice by John Farnham. To us in the UK, a one hit wonder with daffy rock star's hair. To the good folk of Australia, an unofficial national anthem sung by a rock god.

I knew Farnham was popular in Australia, but didn't realise just how much. He was having hits in the 60s as a teenager and still releasing anthologies in the noughties that were reaching number one in the album charts. It is easy to be cynical and predictable regarding the alleged "cultural desert" that Australia represents in the attitude of a tightly-sphinctered Brit, but this is a serious case of credit where credit is due.

You're The Voice
was released here in the UK in 1987 after Farnham had left Little River Band (no, me neither). It was one of those chuckaway releases that record companies barely noticed until radio listeners began pleading for it. It got to number one in Australia and then a cursory release over here. Presumably the story of its rise to the top down under had reached at least one DJ in the UK, as it huffed and puffed its way to number 39, ready to become a hit.

Farnham looked and sounded just like any other 30-something 1980s rock singer when we first saw him. Slightly craggy face, long blond mullet, fiery and emotional vocal style - indeed, he was simply John Parr with a more exotic accent. But the song was chest-beatingly fantastic, if rather clich├ęd as far as sorting the world out through humanity and compassion, yada yada yada, was concerned. It had a hook, the lyrics were strikingly clear, and the chorus was one Benny and Bjorn would have been happy with.

The video, meanwhile, does the shtick of the lyrics - old war zone footage etc - complete with some resolutely hammy soap opera acting from a couple having a row at the dinner table while the young child, under instruction, looks sad while glancing at each parent just as Farnham sings "how long can we look at each other...". Naturally, the wife throws a full dinner plate at the husband and misses by an absolute mile ("Careful Sheila, that could've hit me!") while Farnham, whose profile is singing away with an earnest expression, quietly grabs the child to remove her from the danger.

After the second verse - Farnham singing profile, sad pensioners, bit of third world struggle - his band appear on the battered TV screen in the background and then he suddenly runs off his profile screen, then re-appears on the TV. Smart work. It is here where we get the full resplendence of the mullet and discover that Farnham wears way too much make-up and has a guitarist who inspired the clothing preferences of Henry Ramsey from Neighbours.

And then we get the bagpipes. Have a go at fathoming why, because I can't. The song was written by some serious names from Procul Harum, Manfred Mann's Earth Band and Icehouse, but I can't figure out a Scottish connection there. Farnham himself was born an Englishman. I suppose there doesn't have to be a Scots link, of course, but I bet it made performing the song live a real ballache. The scenes of conflict and destruction replay in the background while our heroic bagpiper finishes his turn, then we get Farnham and his band onstage for the remaining minute or so.

It took a while to be noticed, even after getting into the Top 40. It climbed to number 32 and then 28, therefore only the radio play was doing it any good. One assumes Farnham's commitments elsewhere prevented him from performing all-importantly on Top Of The Pops but then he got a climb to 15, then 9, then 7 and finally a peak at number 6. That's a very hardworking single, right there. Six separate climbs within the Top 40 was extremely good going in the 1980s.

Inevitably, we never heard from him again, and the only thing I can remember afterwards was a cameo appearance on Home & Away when, like mega rock stars do, he agreed to give a private concert to young Sally (who would have been probably ten or younger at the time, and therefore hardly in the target Farnham audience) after she won tickets for a concert of his but then missed it through illness.

While searching for the video, I also found this. Despite the fact that it is Coldplay, I challenge your spine not to let out a shiver. The concert was to raise funds for the victims of the Victoria bush fires. Keep the mute button handy for when Chris Martin's foggy monotone threatens to turn a great chorus into a dirge.

Notice how many times Farnham asks the audience to sing the highest bit of the chorus. It's that fantastic Frank Skinner encore routine about Can't Take My Eyes Off You in real life...

3 March 2010

Writing to reach you

I'm trying to write a book at the moment. It's a maelstrom of emotions I'm going through.

I've never written one before. I don't know if I can. I am not sure what the normal procedure is. I need to learn and work out what markets and targets are. I worry about my lack of university education. And, of course, I'm faced with the likelihood of its publication being nil without me shelling out a fortune to a self-publication company. I have days where it looks fantastic and then other days where I feel like pressing the delete button on the whole folder and going to the pub for, well, the rest of my life. The few authors I know, really gifted people, have offered generous advice and encouragement and that, at times, has kept me going.

It's a non-fiction project. I've had the idea for a while and have decided to give myself the time, in 2010, to see if the idea is actually any good. Heaven forfend that you may think I'm a novelist in waiting. I'm writing about something I know about, as opposed to something I have yet to know about. It strikes me as the natural thing to do, and also as an easier thing to do.

I'll never forget the anecdote told by a writer who claims that people in any job will, upon learning of her profession as an author, will casually pipe up that they will also write a book one day. It's writing, you see. It's easy, innit? You just pick up a quill or switch on your PC and off you go.

I've seen and heard people say the same kind of thing about radio, which is something I really can do. They say you just switch on the microphone and off you go. Talking for a living. It's easy, innit? Then I have laughed at them, inwardly of course, when they have seen the red light go on and you could almost hear the moisture vanish from their mouths and touch the numb silence that greeted the audience.

This writer, by the way, once got the standard reply regarding her profession from a brain surgeon. She retorted: "Yes, and one day I'll do some brain surgery." I expect he got the message.

So I'm out of my comfort zone. I can arse about on this blog, nattering about all sorts but now I'm trying to write something that will take me to the next stage. I'm 37 this year and I have to give it a try. I love writing, but have always been afraid to believe I actually can write. Time will tell but, for the moment at least, it's fun, of a sort, trying.