Remembering the Australian country singing legend, Frank Ifield

Read The Weekly's interview with the late Frank Ifield from 1982.

Before the likes of The Easybeats and The Seekers represented the Australian music scene on a global stage, there was Frank Ifield. Frank was a British-born country music singer who grew up in Dural and would go on to dominate the charts with his smooth vocals and impressive yodel. He was so popular in fact, that before they became global sensations themselves, The Beatles were Frank’s opening act for a show in London.

Sadly, it was announced on Monday May 20 that Frank passed away on May 18 aged 86. Here’s an interview The Weekly did with the country singing legend way back in 1982 after returning to Australia.

Frank Ifield

Coming home to tour the country he loves

Frank Ifield brandishes his latest awards, a music festival gold trophy and a Freedom of Kansas City shield from the mayor. The blond hair is kept in the same neat style it was back in the early “60s, the rows of white teeth still sparkle at you when he grins, and that unmistakable pointed nose could belong to none other but Frank Ifield. 

He’s stouter now than when he yodelled his way into everyone’s heart with “I Remember You”, and there are deep wrinkles etched around his green eyes. He turned 43 in November and, although Frank Ifield hasn’t had a smash hit in 20 years, he wants everyone to know that he is no has-been.

He can yodel as fast as ever and follows, at breath-taking speed, a circuit of country music clubs and festivals throughout Britain, Europe, South-East Asia, the United States and, of course, Australia (he arrives next month for an extensive four-month tour). 

All of which makes him supremely happy. “Not only can I equal my success of the ’60s, I can surpass it. When I first came to England in 1959 I was fresh and ‘I Remember You’ had a lot of emotional things going for it. In fact, that time was quite overwhelming for me and I found it difficult to adjust to. 

Now the fever has gone out of it, but people know me better. It’s like a stormy romance which has grown into a mature love,” said the articulate Frank, chatting over lunch in a London hotel just before Christmas. 

Frank Ifield

He was delighted that just the night before, as he was driving back from a Birmingham country club, he’d stopped at a motorway restaurant and literally dozens of fellow-diners had recognized him and asked him for his autograph.

His following, it seems, is immense, especially in the US where he dons his rhinestoned catsuits and wows them in such hallowed halls as the Hilton International, Las Vegas and at Nashville. All of this makes him considerably richer than he was during his “golden” period, when he had five number-one hits in succession. 

He lives now in a splendid Tudor house in Hertfordshire with his wife Gill and children Mark, 14, and Sarah, 6. He also has a villa in Fiji and is hoping to buy something on the Great Barrier Reef.

“Home is still Australia, mainly because my family is there,” he said, referring to his parents and five brothers with whom he still feels incredibly strong ties.

Frank Ifield

He harbours nostalgic memories of an idyllic childhood, rambling free in Dural, NSW, which was bush when his family moved there after the war.

He’d like to return to Australia, he says, to give his own children the same benefits of the outback, the sun and the sea, but he’s driven by this consuming ambition which is, simply, to be known in every town in the world. 

That is why he keeps moving, all over the globe. “Opening up” a place, is what Frank calls it. “I want to be able to get off a plane anywhere in the world and be confident that someone there knows me. It’s not a question of wanting to leave my mark, it’s more the thrill of going into a totally different environment and feeling that you can conquer the people, and that they can conquer you. I love meeting people, travelling. I want to communicate, become part of those people.” 

He’s in a hurry because he knows time is running out – and there’s still Japan to open up. “I’m aware I’m getting older and you can’t open up a country when you’re 60. I want to do the best I can. while I can,” he said. “It’s like riding a bicycle. Unless you keep pedalling you fall off. I enjoy being on it and if I do happen to fall off, I’d like it to be in Australia.”

This article originally appeared in the January 1982 issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly and was written by Vicki Mackenzie.

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