FRANK IFIELD PROFILE
I have always been a person who lives for today - therefore not in the habit of constantly reminiscing. Nevertheless, due to my recent induction into the Aria Hall Of Fame I find myself doing just that.
On reflection, I feel I have been very fortunate in that I have always known what I wanted to do and just followed my heart. My passion to entertain was evident at a very early age, influenced mainly by Country music. Whatever talent I might have possessed may have been inherent, as my Grandfather toured in the days of 'Cobb & Co' with the minstrel show as the Song & Dance host 'Mr Interlocutor'. As a stripling 10 year old kid, I was wildly impressed by him and later, even recording some of his old-time music hall songs.
At the time, I was living in Dural, a rural area north of Sydney where, for my 11th birthday my parents gave me a ukulele and I quickly learned to make the chords fit any song I sang. It accompanied me to school one day, where the headmaster encouraged me to adapt Australian poetry to my own tunes and then perform them to the class. This experience whetted my appetite for what I instinctively knew was to be my calling.
Then at Christmas 1949, my beloved Gran bought me a proper guitar and there was no stopping me now. This 13 year old, soon conned his way to appearing on radio 2GB's Australia's Amateur Hour, which eventually led to a recording contract with EMI Regal Zonophone. Before long I was appearing on the Tim McNamara Show and touring the country with Big Chief Little Wolf. With nothing holding me back after leaving school, I appeared on many top-line radio shows and found myself headlining many Country venues throughout the environs of Sydney - Then in 1957, National Service put an abrupt halt to that. After being demobbed, I thought it would be difficult to pick up again, but luckily TV was about to offer the break I needed with 'Campfire Favourites' - the first music show on TCN Channel 9. Before long I was featured on every TV channel in Sydney and what's more, EMI promoted me to the more prestigious Columbia Label.
My sights were set high now and I was determined to try my luck overseas with the London Palladium as my goal. Enter Peter Gormely: He expressed his desire to manage me with the proviso I would go to England. So in November 1959, after many farewell TV shows, I embarked on the inaugural 'Comet' flight from Sydney to London.
Before the year was out, I appeared on BBC TV with comedian Ted Ray on 'Ray's A Laugh' which paved the way for more TV shows and the exposure needed for the long climb.
The achievement of gaining a two-year contract with Norrie Paramor, A&R man for Columbia EMI, took me to the next step. My first single 'Lucky Devil' made the lower regions of the pop charts and with it came my first major booking - a summer season in the Isle of Jersey with comedians Mike & Bernie Winters. Meanwhile my manager was setting a cracking pace by taking on 'The Shadows' who swiftly rose to #1 with 'Apache' - then by the time I returned, Cliff Richard too had joined our stable. Things were looking up and I took on my first Pantomime in the role of Dick Whittington with the Shadows toping the bill. Although my records were not faring so well, I was doing what I loved best by being on stage and touring the UK with the likes of Duane Eddy; Bruce Channel and The Everly Brothers. My contract with Columbia was about to elapse when in the nick of time came the winning format in 'I Remember You'. This mind-boggling record-breaking smash hit, which was acclaimed as the first single to sell one million copies in Britain, proved to be the catalyst needed to fulfil my goal of playing the Palladium. Yet this too was more than I dreamed of, for it was a Royal Command Performance and paved the way for me to regularly headline shows from the stage of this Mecca of Show-business doing Pantomimes; Summer Seasons; Variety Shows; Specials and TV productions.
Time brought about other accolades. The following two singles put me in the Guinness Book Of Records as the first artist in Britain to have three number ones in a row. The third #1 single 'Wayward Wind' did battle with a new band that I had just given a break to as support act on my one-night-stand touring show - The band was the Beatles, who up to then had only worked in Liverpool.
Meanwhile the USA had discovered my name and my first release on Vee-Jay Records reached #5 in the Billboard Pop Chart and #1 in the Country and MOR Charts, earning the position as the first Australian artist to have conquered the USA radio charts in the various genres of Pop, Country, and Adult Contemporary Music. With two major hit singles plus a chart toping LP on the American market, I was called upon once more to assist the Beatles - this time with a compilation coupling us on an album called 'Jolly What' which was angled as the oncoming British Invasion. Unfortunately, Vee-Jay became defunct and I found myself searching for a new US label.
Britain was now totally invaded by a plethora of British Pop Groups, and solo performers were feeling left behind. So imagine my surprise when my fifth single 'Confessin (That I Love You)' forged its way against all odds back to the coveted #1.
I always set high goals, and one was to play 'The Grand Ole Opry' in Nashville Tennessee. This occurred in 1964; Once again - more than I envisaged. I was there to record for 'Hickory Records' under the auspices of Wesley Rose and during the session I said I would like to see the Opry and Wesley said he would do more than that - and booked me to appear with Roy Acuff.
I did three songs on Roy's section and was called back on stage by Hank Snow to do an encore for his segment. If that weren't enough, the following day I was presented with an 'Honorary Citizenship Of The State Of Tennessee' from the Governor of Tennessee - Frank Clement.
During my career I have played all the places I dreamed of and more. However, during the 80's, I was to experience some of my greatest professional highlights - yet some of my deepest personal lows. While touring Australia in 1982 my dear father lost his battle with cancer. This had a devastating effect on me and I was still reeling from the enormity of it when returning to the UK to headline a show at the Palladium. Being an important date, I expected my wife and family to attend - instead, I was handed a writ for divorce. I guess she had simply had enough of me flitting around the world chasing my dreams, but coming at that untimely moment placed further pressure on me. On the outside all seemed well, I performed at the Wembley Stadium and was given my own ABCTV Special followed by a summer season in Blackpool. But stress took its toll ending with pneumonia. After treatment I headed back home to Sydney in order to recuperate. Instead, I was rushed into hospital with collapsed lungs. I felt fine after the operation but was told by the doctor I would never sing again.
I was devastated. After a time I began to feel that this was not the end but only a new beginning and adapted to doing other things that I now had time for.
I hosted TV and radio shows; Instigated the Galston Country Music Festival; Became the patron for The Music & Arts Talent Search (MATS); Started the annual presentation of 'The International Spur Award' given to Australian CM artists that I felt had overseas appeal and; lined up UK and European tours for the most promising. Meanwhile I have had lots of CD releases around the world. Now Rajon Music have released a collection of some of the best tracks I recorded from around the globe on a double album called 'Something Rare & Wonderful'. Many of the songs had not appeared before on CD format and some indeed are great rarities.
So there is life in the old dog yet!