Greg Ham: Flautist remembered for his 'Down Under' riff

 

The woodwind and keyboard player Greg Ham was responsible for several of the distinctive features that made the Australian group Men At Work such an early Eighties pop sensation.

 He came up with the infectious saxophone riffs that recur throughout "Who Can It Be Now?", the band's first US chart-topper in 1982, and "Overkill", their second biggest UK hit, in 1983, and the harmonica on "Dr Heckyll And Mr Jive". But he will best be remembered for the infuriatingly catchy flute motif he contributed to "Down Under", the worldwide smash hit written by the band's frontman Colin Hay and its lead guitarist Ron Strykert.

Three years ago, the authorship of said flute riff became the subject of a plagiarism lawsuit; the music publisher Larrikin successfully argued that it was based on "Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree", an Australian nursery rhyme composed by a music teacher, Marion Sinclair, and first performed at a Girls Guide event in 1934. Though Sinclair died in 1988, the "Kookaburra" copyright had not expired, and despite several appeals, Larrikin were eventually awarded 5 per cent of the "Down Under" royalties backdated to 2002.

Ham was not credited as one of the writers but still took the final verdict hard. "That's the way I'm going to be remembered: for copying something," he told The Age newspaper in 2010.

Born in Melbourne in 1953, he attended Camberwell Grammar School there. He was a popular boy and enjoyed acting in school plays, a harbinger of the goofy Men At Work videos that would become MTV staple in the 1980s. He met Hay and Strykert at La Trobe University in 1972 and subsequently quit Sneak Attack, his first band, to join them, drummer Jerry Speiser and bassist John Rees in the formation of Men At Work.

By 1979 they had honed their craft in the pubs of Melbourne. The following year they signed to the Australian arm of CBS and recorded their debut album, Business As Usual. Despite its success in their home market they struggled to secure an international release. In 1982, CBS finally made them a priority act and they opened for Fleetwood Mac in the US, where their easy-on-the-ear, new-wave-with-a-dash-of-reggae sound earned comparisons with The Police.

In Britain, "Who Can It Be Now?" stalled at No. 45 but "Down Under" contained enough Antipodean clichés – "Vegemite sandwich" and "fried-out Kombi", to mention just two – towin the Poms over, though the Australia-shaped blue vinyl 12in single might also have helped its chart rise. "We're proud to be Australian and we keep pushing that angle. 'Down Under' isn't an Australian anthem," Ham said. "It tells a story about Australians who have been abroad and come back home. The absurd Australian abroad. Fortunately for us, the song is all things to all people."

Indeed, over the last three decades "Down Under" has become a blessing and a curse, convenient shorthand for all things Antipodean at sports events, on radio and television and in films like Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles.

Men At Work went on to win the Best New Artist Grammy award, edging out Asia, Jennifer Holliday, The Human League and the Stray Cats. They also paved the way for the international breakthrough of Australian groups such as Icehouse, INXS and Midnight Oil.

Ham co-wrote two tracks on the 15-million selling Business As Usual – "Down By The Sea" and "Be Good Johnny" – and sang lead on his own composition "Helpless Automaton", as well as on Strykert's "I Like To" on Cargo, the follow-up album, issued in 1983. "Overkill", "It's A Mistake" and "Dr Heckyll And Mr Jive" all made the Top 40, but by the time of the release of Two Hearts in 1985, Men At Work were down to a nucleus of Hay and a more prolific Ham, who penned half the album and sang three tracks. In 1996 the two performed "Down Under" at the Olympic Games in Sydney.

Ham also acted, appearing inhalf a dozen episodes of the 1980s, Melbourne-set sitcom While You're Down There, and later ran Secret Garden Studios. He also worked as a music teacher and examiner.

Greg Norman Ham, woodwind and keyboard player, singer and songwriter: born Melbourne 27 September 1953; married Linda Wostry (one son, one daughter); died Carlton North, Victoria, Australia 19 April 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
US comedian Bill Mahr
people
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Sport
football
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
News
Friends for life … some professionals think loneliness is more worrying than obesity
scienceSocial contact is good for our sense of wellbeing - but it's a myth that loneliness kills, say researchers
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
Life and Style
Models – and musicians – on the catwalk in Dior Homme for the men’s 2015/16 fashion show in Paris
fashionAt this season's Paris shows, various labels played with the city boys' favourite
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Ashdown Group: PHP Web Developer / Website Coordinator (PHP, JavaScript)

£25000 - £28000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: PHP Web...

Recruitment Genius: Estates Projects & Resources Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in London, Manchester, Br...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us