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Farnham's Voice soars as mainstream media shuns Oz music

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Stills from the 'Yes' campaign advertisement featuring 'You're the Voice' (Screenshots via YouTube)

In the midst of controversy over the mainstream media not giving Australian music a platform to be celebrated, one song is finding new life. IA's music man, David Kowalski, shares the latest.

IN THE NEWS recently, John Farnham has gifted the song that has become his signature hit to the ‘Yes’ campaign for the First Nations Voice to Parliament. His 1986 hit single, You’re The Voice, while written by a number of overseas writers, has become something of a de facto Australian anthem in the years since its release.

Farnham was quoted in The Guardian as saying:

“This song changed my life. I can only hope that now it might help, in some small way, to change the lives of our First Nations Peoples for the better.”

It’s a stellar move on Farnham’s behalf to donate the song to the cause. I also think it is a shrewd one, too, mainly because a lot of older Australians who are unsure how to vote in the Referendum, or perhaps leaning towards ‘No’, grew up and older listening to Farnham in the '80s and '90s. This is the perfect song to catch their attention and perhaps change their minds.

Of course, the cookers are claiming the use of the song wasn’t a gift but rather a quid pro quo, as well as claiming that it is dividing his fan base right down the middle. However, it is hard to see that having this song in the advertisement will do anything other than align it to the right side of history, regardless of the Referendum’s outcome.

Also in the news this week comes the startling revelation that the 2023 ARIA Awards will not be broadcast live on prime-time free-to-air television. Rather, they will be streamed behind a paywall on Stan first, before a delayed broadcast on Channel 9 later on. This is yet another opportunity to ask when the mainstream media will start taking Australian music seriously enough to put it front and centre in the eyes and ears of the nation.

To add insult to injury, there are only two Australian songs in the ARIA top 50 singles chart this week and one of those is ten years old (Riptide by Vance Joy). Vance Joy and Troye Sivan are fighting against a huge onslaught of overseas acts, including five Taylor Swift tracks, four from Luke Combs, and decades-old catalogue hits from The Killers and Fleetwood Mac.

How did it get this way? The removal of physical media singles from the marketplace has had a lot to do with it, as well as the inclusion of streaming metrics from Spotify, Apple Music and others. It is really a count of what people are listening to on their phones, as opposed to what records people are handing over their legal tender for.

Either way, Australian music doesn’t feature very highly in the washup and so where does the responsibility fall? It’s not like there is a vacuum in the Australian music market right now. There’s plenty of brilliant new local music to discover and so why is it being left to die on the vine?

Speaking of local music, the very excellent Courtney Barnett has just released a luscious new record of music she created for Anonymous Club, the recent documentary about her career. The album is called End of the Day and it comprises a single complete improvisational piece, broken up into 17 tracks.

Barnett has always had a deeply emotional, often meditative, quality to her work and this new work takes these qualities to a whole new level. In an interview with Michael Dwyer in The Age newspaper, she cites the instrumental nature of the album as a catharsis. She says: “It was nice to not have that added stress [of lyrics].”

From Leeds in the north of England comes the band English Teacher. They play a very tightly arranged kind of post-punk, however, it comes with an added blend of other unusual elements to spice things up. Lyrically, vocalist Lily Fontaine is able to mix mundane concepts and contrast them in unexpected ways, elevating her imagery into something special. The chorus of the new single proclaims: “I am the world’s biggest paving slab, but I am the world’s smallest celebrity.” It’s the twist in the tail you never see coming.

Award-winning Melbourne-based songwriter Michael Waugh has released his new single We Are Here, ahead of a new album coming in the next few months. Lyrically, it chronicles the struggles of the queer community throughout history, those who risked their lives to be true to themselves in an age of oppression and hardship. He namechecks Oscar Wilde, Alan Turing and Allen Ginsberg among many others, as an encouragement to the next generation of LGBTQI+ people that they are welcome and they are loved.

Recent Instagram posts from Waugh indicate that his new songs will again cause grown men to weep, but rest assured that once again he will be telling it like it is and he will be telling stories that we all need to hear. 


David Kowalski is a writer, musician, educator, sound engineer and podcaster. His podcasts 'The Sound and the Fury Podcast' and 'Audio Cumulus' can be heard exclusively here. You can follow David on Twitter @sound_fury_pod.

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