Bernard Fanning (born 15 August 1969) is an Australian musician and singer-songwriter. He is best known as the lead singer and frontman of Queensland alternative rock band Powderfinger from its formation in 1989 to its dissolution in 2010.
Bernard Fanning performing in 2010
|Born||15 August 1969|
|Genres||Alternative rock, blues, acoustic folk|
|Instruments||Vocals, piano, guitar, percussion, harmonica|
Lost Highway Records
Born and raised in Toowong, Brisbane, Fanning was taught the piano by his mother at an early age. At the age of 12, while attending St Joseph's College, Gregory Terrace, he began writing music, and upon graduating from St. Joseph's, moved on to the University of Queensland, where he studied journalism for a short time. He dropped out to pursue a music career, after meeting Ian Haug in an economics class. Fanning joined Haug, John Collins, and Steven Bishop, who had recently formed Powderfinger, and took the role of lead singer. After Bishop left and guitarist Darren Middleton joined, the band released five studio albums in fifteen years and achieved mainstream success in Australia. During Powderfinger's hiatus in 2005, Fanning began his solo music career with the studio album Tea & Sympathy. Powderfinger then reunited in 2007 and released two more albums before disbanding in late 2010.
While Powderfinger's style focuses on alternative rock, Fanning's solo music is generally described as a mixture of blues and acoustic folk. Fanning plays guitar, piano, keyboards and harmonica, both when performing solo and also with Powderfinger. Often speaking out against Australian political figures, Fanning has donated much of his time to philanthropic causes. He is an advocate for Aboriginal justice in Australia.
Fanning was born in Brisbane on 15 August 1969. He was raised, alongside two brothers and a sister, in an Irish Catholic family in the inner Brisbane suburb of Toowong. The death of one of Fanning's brothers to cancer would be the inspiration for Vulture Street's "Since You've Been Gone". Fanning's mother began teaching him to play piano as a young child, although his siblings were not interested in music.
Fanning attended St. Joseph's College, Gregory Terrace and began writing his own music at the age of 15. Fanning has described these early works as "terrible", but notes that he enjoyed writing and arranging them. After graduating from St Joseph's, Fanning entered the University of Queensland to study journalism; however, he was equally interested in pursuing a music career. He left university at the age of 19 to pursue a music career.
Powderfinger era (1989–2004)Edit
Fanning first met Powderfinger guitarist Ian Haug in a University of Queensland economics class in 1989. At the time of the meeting, Haug had recently formed Powderfinger with high school friends John Collins and Steven Bishop, who would become the band's foundational bass guitarist and drummer, respectively. Haug was the lead guitarist and lead singer. On discovering Fanning's singing abilities, Haug replaced himself with Fanning as lead singer and frontman. Haug stated that "It was a big thing to convince the others that we needed a singer. They were like, 'You're OK,' and I was like, 'No I'm not. We can do better than that.'"
In 1992, current guitarist Darren Middleton was invited to join Powderfinger by Fanning and Haug, after they were impressed by his work in Brisbane band Pirate. Middleton accepted the offer and became the fifth member, joining Jon Coghill who had replaced Bishop as drummer. The line-up of Fanning, Middleton, Haug, Collins, and Coghill then remained unchanged.
Throughout the late 1990s, Powderfinger rose to prominence throughout Australia, receiving several accolades and achieving highly successful record and concert ticket sales. As the most vocal and prominent member of the band, the popularity for the group elevated Fanning as a powerful individual in the public view of the Australian music industry. Fanning was called upon by film-maker Gregor Jordan in 2003 to perform the folk song "Moreton Bay" (named after the bay of the same name in the Brisbane area) and his own original composition "Shelter for My Soul" in Jordan's film Ned Kelly. Fanning then enlisted Jordan to film Powderfinger's first live DVD, These Days: Live in Concert.
Solo venture (2004–2006)Edit
On 31 October 2005, Fanning released his debut solo album entitled Tea & Sympathy. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Australian ARIA Albums chart, and spent 58 weeks in the top 50. It peaked at No. 11 during its 18-week stay on the New Zealand albums chart.
Tea & Sympathy comprised songs Fanning had written in his time with Powderfinger, as well as new content written after the band went on hiatus. Most of the writing was done in what Fanning described as a "creative burst" between March and May 2005. Much of the inspiration for the work on the album came from Fanning's reaction to the death of his brother in 2002, and to the ending of a 12-year relationship with his girlfriend, Philippa Sison. The majority of the album was recorded at Real World Studios with Tchad Blake in June 2005, except for "Not Finished Just Yet", "Believe", "Wash Me Clean", and "Hope & Validation", which were recorded at Fanning's Brisbane home. Fanning was supported by musicians Jerry Marotta, Keith Duffy, and John Bedggood, who also formed part of his live band. The album was developed in a relaxed manner, with Fanning stating, "We had a ball putting the songs together."
Three singles were released from the album. The most successful of these was the lead single, "Wish You Well", shortly followed by "Songbird". These releases were only sold as digital download singles. The third single from the album, "Watch Over Me", was the only to be released as a CD single and achieved minor success on the Australian singles chart. It entered the chart on 9 July 2006 at No. 16, and spent eight weeks in the top 50. On 26 January 2006, "Wish You Well" was voted No. 1 for the Triple J Hottest 100, 2005. Following "Watch Over Me", Fanning digitally released a fourth single "Weekend of Mystery", which was not officially on the album, except for those who purchased the album from the iTunes Store. Fanning also took home the award for Best Music Video at the 2006 ARIA Awards for the iconic 'Wish You Well' clip.
On 2 December 2005, Fanning announced a nationwide Which Way Home Concert Tour, named after the song on the album of the same name. Fanning played seven shows between 25 February and 10 March 2006, in all of Australia's major capital cities. He was supported by Perth band The Panics and Brisbane singer Andrew Morris. He followed this with the "Yesterday's Gone" tour, announced on 11 August 2006, and concluding with Powderfinger re-uniting and returning to the recording studio— Fanning later stated that while he enjoyed making Tea & Sympathy, "Powderfinger is my real job".
Powderfinger return (2007–2010)Edit
Throughout 2006, Fanning had hinted towards Powderfinger ceasing their hiatus to release a sixth studio album. Recorded in Los Angeles, Dream Days at the Hotel Existence was released on 2 June 2007. The title of the album came from a chapter of Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster, a book that Fanning had read during recording. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Australian ARIA Albums chart.
Powderfinger toured around Australia and New Zealand with Silverchair on the Across the Great Divide tour in 2007. The tour's aim was to promote the efforts of Reconciliation Australia to reduce the 17-year life expectancy gap between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians. Fanning said of the tour, "The idea is to show both bands are behind the idea of reconciliation."
Return to solo venture (2011–present)Edit
After the disbanding of Powderfinger, Fanning moved to Spain with his family where he began writing and recording demos for his next solo album. In January 2013 Fanning announced on his website blog that he had been recording the follow up to 2005's Tea and Sympathy in Los Angeles. In March 2013 he announced via his blog that recording had been completed and he had returned to Australia. The album Departures was released on 7 June 2013, with the first single "Battleships" released on 22 April.
Fanning released his third studio album Civil Dusk on 5 August 2016. It was preceded by the single "Wasting Time".
Style, technique, and influencesEdit
Fanning has been described as having a strong vocal range when singing, but has stated that he is not highly confident in his voice. In a 1998 interview, Fanning said, "I don't think I have the perfect voice or anything", and stated that delivering the message of the song was more important than "showing off [his] chops". He noted he was not interested in singing for the purpose of singing alone, but rather because he enjoyed getting the purpose of the song across. Fanning has stated: "For me, writing songs comes from anywhere", drawing inspiration from his experiences.
In his work on Tea & Sympathy, Fanning noted less of a collaborative song style, referring to his inability to play guitar solos as causing different elements to become a focus of the songs. In an interview, he said, "I wasn't relying on solos to be big features because I simply can't play them." Fanning explained that the shorter length of songs was due to him not having "four other people" to back him up when producing independently.
Political and moral stancesEdit
Fanning has stated that although political messages may be common throughout his and Powderfinger's music, it is not the central focus when writing songs: "A balance has to be struck in a lot of ways, in the sense that primarily I'm a musician. I'm not a political commentator. So if I write a song that has political content, then hopefully that song is a good enough song to make it onto my record. And if it's not, then that's just a song that I've written. So I don't think it necessarily needs to be that you're definitively trying to make a political statement." He has stated that he has no interest in "doing a 'Peter Garrett'", who entered politics after a successful Midnight Oil career.
On 8 July 2007, Fanning wrote a piece for Adelaide's Sunday Mail, telling of his recent trip to Uluru. In the piece, he criticised those who climbed the rock, stating that he was "appalled that kids were being taught to disrespect the wishes of Aboriginal people on their own land". Upon returning from Uluru, Fanning wrote "Black Tears", which intended to "document a relationship gone wrong". In his piece, Fanning also criticised the 17-year life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, and encouraged all to join a conversation on reconciliation.
Fanning takes a left-leaning political stance, although he claims he is not fond of discussing the issue. Rather, he attempts to discuss the issues through his songs; "I approach writing a song about something like [Aboriginal affairs] the same way I would approach writing a song about a relationship, because it's something that I feel strongly about." However, he has occasionally stated his views on social and political issues, giving The Dominion Post his stance on Aboriginal affairs in light of the Across the Great Divide tour;
|“||The trial of the policeman [Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley] that was charged [over the death in custody of 36-year-old Palm Island man Mulrunji Doomadgee in 2004] has gone ahead and he was acquitted. In terms of that issue, that's out of the way, but the whole idea of Aboriginal people in custody dying is certainly not out of the way. And Aboriginal people being treated like shit in Australia is certainly not out of the way either.||”|
Fanning has performed numerous philanthropic tasks independently and with Powderfinger. The band played at the 2005 WaveAid concert to raise money for victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, and the Across the Great Divide tour in 2007 to promote the efforts of Reconciliation Australia. Fanning has contributed to charities including "A Just Australia" and Youngcare Australia, and donates his time to youth detention centres in Brisbane by running songwriting workshops. In an uncharacteristic outburst, Fanning once referred to fellow Australian artist Ben Lee as "a precocious little cunt", after Lee referred to himself as "the saviour of Australian music". Fanning later apologised for the comment.
Fanning married Andrea Moreno in February 2007 in Brisbane, Australia. Moreno is from Spain, where the two met while Fanning was writing and recording Tea & Sympathy in Europe. This relationship followed a twelve-year union Fanning had had with his previous girlfriend, and it was this break-up (along with the then-recent death of his older brother) which influenced much of the lyrical content and sombre atmospheric mood of Tea & Sympathy. Through Moreno, Fanning has learned to speak some of the Spanish language. Fanning and Moreno have performed together while Powderfinger was on hiatus and Fanning was touring as a solo artist.
Awards and nominationsEdit
|2004||Powderfinger – Fanning, Jon Coghill, Ian Haug, Darren Middleton, John Collins||Songwriter of the Year||Won|
|"On My Mind" – Fanning, Darren Middleton, John Collins, Ian Haug, Jonathan Coghill||Most Performed Australian Work||Nominated|
|2006||Bernard Fanning||Songwriter of the Year||Won|
|2007||"Songbird" – Fanning||Most Performed Blues & Roots Work||Won|
|"Watch Over Me" – Fanning||Most Performed Blues & Roots Work||Nominated|
|"Wish You Well" – Fanning||Most Performed Blues & Roots Work||Nominated|
|2008||"Lost and Running" – Jonathon Coghill, John Collins, Fanning, Ian Haug, Darren Middleton||Song of the Year||Nominated|
|Most Played Australian Work||Nominated|
|Year||Album details||Peak chart
|Tea & Sympathy||1||11|
|2005||"Wish You Well"||—||24||Tea & Sympathy|
|2006||"Watch Over Me"||16||—|
|"Weekend of Mystery"||—||—|
|2014||"Bittersweet" (with Kasey Chambers) ||—||—||Bittersweet (Kasey Chambers album)|
|2016||"Wasting Time"||—||—||Civil Dusk|
|"Better Be Home Soon/Fall at Your Feet/Distant Sun (Medley)"
(with Missy Higgins and Crowded House)
|2017||"Isn't It a Pity"||—||—||Brutal Dawn|
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart|
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