|MILESAGO: Australasian Music & Popular Culture 1964-1975||Groups & Solo Artists|
Australia / UK 1962-68, and later reunions
Ken Ray (lead vocals, guitar) 1962
Until the mid-60s, only a handful of Aussie and Kiwi popular entertainers had made their mark internationally. The first local artist to score a major international hit was probably Slim Dusty, whose satirical country classic "The Pub With No Beer" topped the UK charts in early 1959. In 1962-63 Frank Ifield yodelled his way up the British and American charts with hits including the perennial "I Remember You". Rolf Harris scored his own 'novelty' hits in the UK, including "Tie Me Kangaroo Down" (1960), "Six White Boomers" (1963) and the influential "Sun Arise". But by 1963-64 the twin spearheads of Beat Boom, led by The Beatles, and the folk movement, led by Bob Dylan, were totally reshaping popular music, and leaving these earlier performers out in the cold.
Many of the local acts that emerged from these two "new waves" had high hopes of making it overseas, and many tried. But in the end only The Easybeats made any significant impression overseas, and even that was a brief one. While they are justifiably hailed as our most successful rock group internationally in the ‘60s, even their proud achievements pale beside the monumental popularity of The Seekers.
Riding with the success of other folk acts Peter Paul & Mary, they enjoyed colossal success in the UK, Europe and the USA. The Seekers were far and away Australia's biggest musical export of the decade and for the better part of two years their success as a singles band rivalled that of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. The Seekers are also a particularly interesting case study for music historians. They are somtimes marginalised in accounts of Australian "rock" history because, as Ian McFarlane points out, they were "too pop to be considered strictly folk and too folk to be rock". Their popularity crossed all boundaries and their success far outstripped that of any other Australian group in either field. Today they remain one of the most enduringly popular and successful Australian groups of the 20th century.
Here's how the late Lillian Roxon summed up The Seekers in her famous 1969 Rock Encyclopedia:
"If there hadn't been The Seekers some
shrewd manager would have invented them. One cuddly girl-next-door type
(complete with nose-crinkling smile) and three sober cats who looked
like bank tellers. They came from Australia, singing nice harmonies for
their supper on a boat bound for England. The English squares liked
them immediately because they represented something they could
understand and feel secure with. As for the rest, well, it was a good
clean sound and the tunes were catchy.
Their sound was, for lack of a better name, pop-folk with the strong and vibrant voice of Judith Durham giving it definition and added distinction. They didn't really click in America until 'Georgy Girl' (done for the film in 1966, which went on to become a White Rock radio commercial. After that there was success wherever you looked: back in Australia, where they visited in triumph, in England, with TV show after TV show, and in America. But by the summer of 1968, inexplicably, they were tired of it all. They had never meant to stay together, they said. Durham of the exceptional voice says she'll sing solo. Bruce Woodley, who wrote 'Red Rubber Ball' with Paul Simon, will probably come to America to write songs. Their last hit in England was 'The Carnival Is Over', and it was."
Without devaluing the other members in any way, Roxon and others understood that The Seekers' secret weapon -- the "powerful, crystal clear, Joan Baez-like soprano voice" of lead singer Judith Durham. Instantly recognizable, her precise but emotive tone and delivery became The Seekers' trademark. When combined with the harmonies of the three male members and augmented by their clean-cut good looks, their undeniable talent, and the string of classic pop-folk songs (many specially written for them by producer Tom Springfield), it proved an irresistible mixture.
The Seekers were formed by Athol Guy (b. Jan. 5, 1940), Keith Potger (b. Mar. 2, 1941, Colombo, Sri Lanka), and Bruce Woodley (b. July 25, 1942), who had all attended Melbourne Boys High School together. Keith led a rock'n'roll band in the late 1950s called The Trinamics, doing covers of Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran etc, while Athol had led a band called The Ramblers. The breakup of those groups reunited Potger and Guy with with Woodley. Adding singer Ken Ray, they formed a doo wop outfit called The Escorts. But they were soon drawn to the burgeoning folk movement and The Escorts evolved into The Seekers in 1962.
Later in the year, they met singer Judith Durham (b. July 3, 1943), who worked at the same advertising agency as Athol. Born with perfect pitch, she orignally planned to sing opera until she was bitten by the jazz bug in the mid-1950s. By the time she met thol, Judith was the lead vocalist with top Melbourne jazz band Frank Traynor's Jazz Preachers, with whom she had recorded an an EPon Melbourne label W&G.
Although her preference was jazz, Judith agreed to try singing folk music on the nights she wasn't playing jazz gigs. She quickly became 'the fifth Seeker' and late in the year she replaced Ken Ray as lead singer and Margret RoadKnight took Judith's place in Frank Traynor's band. Judith could sing opera, jazz, blues and gospel, and her soulful and versatile voice gave the group the crucial edge that soon took them the top of the thriving Melbourne folk scene.
The Seekers' rise to success began in 1963, when Judith's connections saw them signed to W&G by staff A&R manager Ron Tudor. W&G released their debut album Introducing The Seekers, and in November their debut single, a version of the perennial "Waltzing Matilda", made the lower reaches of the Melbourne Top 40 chart (#37).
Move to UK
Unlike the many pop and rock bands who followed them, the most interesting feature of The Seekers' career is that they left Australia before they were nationally famous. But this was not part of any grand plan, and their success was a mixture of some good planning, lots of good luck and being in the right place at the right time.
In March 1964, the Sitmar line offered them twelve months' work entertaining passengers on one of its world cruises. They readily accepted, since it would enable them to travel to the UK, where they hoped to get some exposure for their music. Seven weeks later, in early May, The Seekers landed in the UK. They only intended to stay for a ten-week working holiday before rejoining the cruise, but fate decreed otherwise. They had wisely sent some of their records ahead of them to London agencies, hoping it might lead to some work when they got to England. When they arrived they found that leading London agency, The Grade Organisation willing to represent them, and Grade staff agent Eddie Jarrett already had gigs lined up for them.
Meeting Jarrett was the turning point. In quick succession, they played a series of well-placed London gigs, and scored a UK recording deal with the World Record Club (the mail-order division of EMI Records). The cruise plans were abandoned, and The Seekers cut their first UK single, the infectious, calypso-flavoured "Myra", which came out on the independent Oriole label, quickly followed by two albums for the World Record Club, The Seekers and Hide and Seekers. In another vital break (thanks to Eddie Jarrett) they scored regular appearances on British television shows, including The Ronnie Carroll Show and a spot on the prestigious Sunday Night at the London Palladium.
But the crucial break came when Jarratt introduced them to singer-songwriter-producer Tom Springfield. Tom's real name was Dion O'Brien, and he was the brother of singer Mary OBrien, better known as Dusty Springfield. Tom and Dusty had been two-thirds of the popular British folk trio The Springfields, which had only recently broken up. Dusty had quit to launch her solo career and pursue her love of R&B, and she had scored a British smash-hit with her debut single "I Only Want To Be With You" just weeks before The Seekers arrived in London.
Tom Springfield immediately saw that The Seekers offered him the chance to continue and expand on the kind of music he'd done with The Springfields, so he and Jarratt formed an independent production company, signed The Seekers to it, and Springfield became their resident producer and songwriter. This meeting was perfect timing for both parties. Despite their talent, its unlikely that The Seekers' would have been anything like as successful without Springfield's tutelage (and his songs) but its equally true that the group provided Springfield with the ideal vehicle for his songwriting and production talents. Another powerful attraction was that the relatively inexperienced Seekers would have been far more malleable than Toms famously feisty sister –- Dusty's impatience with Tom's dominance over The Springfields and her desire have complete control over her music were the main causes of their split.
The final piece fell into place when The Seekers snagged a recording contract with EMI's Columbia label. With the world's biggest recording company now behind them, the first chart breakthrough came within months. In November Tom Springfields "I'll Never Find Another You" shot to #1 in Australia and the UK, and #4 in the USA. It went on to sell 1.75 million copies worldwide, earning them a place in the record books as the first Australian pop group to have a Top 5 hit in all three countries simultaneously, and the first to sell over a million copies of a single. This was quickly followed by another Springfield-penned smash, "A World of Our Own", which went to #2 in Australia, #3 in the UK and #19 in the USA during April 1965. Reaching another milestone, The Seekers appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, and then returned to Australia to tour with The Dave Clark Five. The album A World of Our Own reached #5 on the UK charts in July. This was issued as The Seekers in Australia.
The next single "Morningtown Ride" reached #8 in Australia and #44 in the USA in August 1965. The Seekers re-recorded it in 1966 for the UK market, and it reached #2 there in November. Yet another Springfield classic, the elegiac "The Carnival is Over" took The Seekers to #1 during November 1965 in both Australia and the UK, where it knocked The Rolling Stones' "Get Off My Cloud" from the top spot, reputedly selling over 90,000 copies per day. Springfield had lifted the melody from a Russian folk song called "Stenjka Razin". It has since become the group's most celebrated and popular song. (Dusty followed a similar pattern when she made an English adaptation of an Italian pop song that become her hit "You Dont Have to Say You Love Me".)
The Seekers returned to Australia in February 1966 for triumphant concert tour. During 1965 they had met American folk musician Paul Simon, who was then living and working in London, and this led to another fruitful collaboration. They recorded a cover of Simon's "Someday, Oneday", which reached #4 in Australia in March ‘66 and #11 in the UK. This was Simon's first British success as a writer, and his first hit as a composer outside of his work with Simon & Garfunkel. Woodley also co-wrote "Red Rubber Ball" with Simon, which The Seekers included on their second UK Top 10 album Come The Day and US band The Cyrkle later enjoyed a #1 American hit with it. Their last single for 1966 single, Springfield's "Walk with Me" took The Seekers to #10 in the UK and #31 in Australia in October.
In January 1967 The Seekers achievements were recognised at the highest level in their homeland when they were named Australians of the Year, becoming the first popular musicians to be so honoured. Their next single, "Georgy Girl" became the biggest hit of their career. Co-written by Tom Springfield and actor-composer Jim Dale (who later wrote the musical Barnum), it was #1 in Australia, #3 in the UK and gave The Seekers their first and only US #1 in February 1967. Written as the theme song to Silvio Narizzano's feature film Georgy Girl starring Lynn Redgrave, James Mason and Alan Bates, it was a huge success, selling a staggering 3.5 million copies worldwide. With the addition of this new hit, EMI released a US version of the Come The Day album, renamed Georgy Girl. Bruce Elder has called this “probably the best of all their LPs, containing a stunning array of originals by Springfield and Woodley, and superb covers of songs such as Tom Paxton's The Last Thing On My Mind.'
Ironically, "Georgy Girl" was also The Seekers' last US hit, and it marked the start of a rapid decline in popularity in the US. Only months later, the American music scene underwent a cataclysmic change, precipitated by the Monterey Pop Festival and the so-called 'Summer Of Love' in San Francisco. As a new wave of bands burst onto the scene, audience tastes – and record company priorities -- shifted dramatically, prompting even old folkies like The Mamas & The Papas hastily reinvent themselves as psychedelic minstrels.
Measured against emerging acts like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and The Jefferson Airplane, The Seekers' squeaky clean image and upbeat sound was starting to seem rather 'square'. In America it's fair to say that much of their audience was lured away by newer acts like The Mamas And The Papas, whose bohemian aura contrasted with The Seekers' clean-cut style, although the similarities in sound were probably not coicidental and in Cass Elliott they possesed a voice that was arguably one of the few the equal of Durham's and group leader John Phillips had LA's best sessioneers at his disposal for their recordings.
The Seekers also -– for the first time, it seems -– missed some crucial career opportunities. According to Bruce Elder, they were offered the chance to perform at the 1967 Academy Awards, which by this time were being televised internationally, but previous commitments in the UK clashed with the Oscars, so the group turned it down.
But at home and in Britain, their success rolled on. In March they set a new Australian concert record when they performed a 20-minute set before an estimated crowd of 200,000 people at the Moomba concert at the Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne. They filmed two hugely successful television specials during the year, The World Of The Seekers and The Seekers Down Under. According the book The Real Thing, the latter still holds the record as the highest rating TV special ever screened in Australia.
The late Sixties
Inevitably, with such enormous success, tensions within the band grew, and it has been reported that Judith Durham in particular felt that her musical contributions were being undervalued. Ironically, this was the opposite problem to that normally faced by the lead singer, who conventionally tends to dominate media attention, but given that this lead singer was a woman in an industry dominated by men, its not really so surprising. In the middle of ‘67 she gave the first signal of the her growing restlessness by releasing her debut solo single The Olive Tree, which reached a respectable #33 on the UK chart in June 1967.
In July, they traveled to America and with fellow Aussies like with Rolf Harris and Normie Rowe they appeared in a special concert, broadcast internationally via satellite from Expo 67 in Montreal. And the hits just kept on coming -- "On the Other Side" reached #19 in Australia in October, followed by "When Will The Good Apples Fall?" (Australia #35, UK #11) in November, and "Emerald City" (Australia #28, UK #50) in December. The song was co-credited to the legendary Kim Fowley (who later masterminded The Runaways) and 'John Martin'. Years later it was revealed that John Martin was actually Keith Potger, who had used the pseudonym to avoid causing friction within the band. The Seekers returned to Australia for another national tour in December 1967, following their successful North American jaunt.
After the release of "Emerald City" and the Seekers Seen in Green album, EMI UK issued Judith's second solo single, "Again and Again" / "Memories", but by the start of 1968 Durham had definitely decided to leave the band. The four had agreed that they would give the others six months' notice if any of them decided to leave, so she told them she wanted to go. The Seekers recorded a final single, "Days of My Life" (April 1968) produced by famed British independent producer Mickie Most, who was behind some of the biggest British hits of the 60s including The Animals, The Yardbirds, Donovan, Lulu, Herman's Hermits and many others. Ironically, despite the track record of both parties, it proved to be the least successful single of the group's career! Their final album, Live at The Talk of the Town fared much better, reaching #2 in the UK in September. Their BBC-TV special, Farewell The Seekers, also attracted a huge audience.
In a fitting farewell, they capped their amazing six-year career with the release of The Best of The Seekers which reached #1 in Britain in November 1968, knocking The Beatles "White Album" from the top position, and it stayed on the British charts for an incredible 125 weeks.
"Never say never again": the Seventies and beyond
Following the break-up of The Seekers in July 1968, Bruce Woodley returned to Australia to concentrate on songwriting. He began collaborating with up-and-coming singer-songwriter Hans Poulsen, with whom he co-wrote "Monty and Me" for Zoot and Hans' 1970 hit "Boom Sha La La Lo". In 1971, Bruce cut an album for RCA called Just Good Friends, and contributed four songs to the soundtrack of Tim Burstall's surf film Getting Back To Nothing, with other tracks provided by Billy Green and Hans Poulsen; Bruce and Hans collaborated on several songs in this period, including Hans' breakthrough hit "Boom Sha La La Lo". Athol formed a marketing and promotions company in Australia and in 1973 he moved into politics with his election to the NSW state parliament as a Liberal MLC.
Keith stayed in the UK, where he formed and managed The New Seekers, although he only only performed publicly with them for a short time and later handed over their management to others. His only hit with the group was "Look What They Done to My Song, Ma" (UK #44 in October 1970), a cover of the Melanie Safka original. Not long after, several other founding members left the band and among the replacements was Australian singer Peter Doyle (1970-73) who had travelled to the UK in 1969 as a member of The Virgil Brothers. The New Seekers went on to a string of worldwide M.O.R. hits including "Never Ending Song of Love", "You Won't Find Another Fool Like Me" and "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing", which was originally written as a Coca-Cola jingle.
Judith launched her post-Seekers career in 1969 and it was at this time that she met musician and arranger Ron Edgeworth and he became her musical director. The two were soon drawn together romantically and in late 1969 they married. Soon after, Judith (now emphatically using her full name, rather than the diminutive, 'Judy') released her first solo LP For Christmas with Love, followed by A Gift of Song and the singles "The Light is Dark Enough" and "Let Me Find Love" in early 1970. The album and single "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" were released in 1971. Durham then returned to her first loves, jazz, and blues, and with Edgeworth she formed The Hottest Band in Town. Her fourth solo album, Judith Durham and the Hottest Band in Town and the single "I Wanna Dance to Your Music", came out in 1973, followed by Judith Durham and the Hottest Band in Town II in 1974 and an Australian national tour in January 1975.
It's a great Aussie tradition, and as the saying goes, The Seekers have had 'more comebacks than Nellie Melba'. Around 1972 Bruce, Keith and Athol began planning a new incarnation of the band. '60s popster and Go!! Show regular, singer-songwriter-producer Buddy England was a friend of the group and he became closely involved in the reformation:
Buddy: "When they planned to reformed in 1972-3, I was asked by Athol to help find a suitable female vocalist to replace Judith. After some time looking and listening I came across Louisa Wisseling at a restaurant/club called The Swagman ... took Athol to have a listen ... made Louisa an offer and there you are. I was also asked to vet material for the group to record their return CD and also to write the charts for the vocals as well as the charts for the orchestrations. I signed them to the Astor label, then went to England to work on the production with the rest of the guys. The album was a success. Bruce left a year later and I joined the group. I stayed with them until 1981. This was about the time the group folded ...again until they reformed a few years later."
Against the odds, the "Mark II" Seekers jumped straight back into the Australian charts with Woodley's "Sparrow Song" (#2 in June 1975) and the album The Seekers (#17 in July). In September 1975, they undertook a national tour and released three subsequent singles: "Reunion" (October), "Where in the World?" (April 1976) and "Giving and Taking" (June '76). Bruce Woodley left in June 1977 to concentrate on songwriting and production, at which point Buddy took over, remaining with them until the groups split again. Athol quit in 1978, replaced by another veteran of the Melbourne '60s scene, Peter Robinson (ex The Thunderbirds, The Strangers). This version of The Seekers released one album, All Over the World in November 1978 and continued performing in Australia and overseas until 1981.
Almost a decade of silence followed, but Bruce, Athol and Keith re-emerged in 1989 and delighted fans by announcing a second reformation of The Seekers, but this time they surprised everyone by choosing Julie Anthony as the new lead singer. They toured successfully, recording The Seekers Live later in the year. The new Seekers delighted both Seekers and Anthony fans, but it was apparently not a perfect match, and Julie quit in June 1990. She was briefly replaced by former Young Talent Time star Karen Knowles before the band again closed up shop.
Meanwhile, Durham had been splitting her time between the UK and Australia, but she returned home for good in 1977. Festival issued a new single, "I Love You" later in the year. In 1978 Durham and Edgeworth went to New York to play at they appeared at the prestigious Newport Jazz Festival and the live recording of this performance was included on their Hot Jazz Duo album in April 1981. For most of the 1980s, Durham toured internationally, but played at home only infrequently.
In May 1990, after an Australian tour, Durham and Edgeworth were badly injured in a car accident outside Melbourne, which put Judith out of action for over a year. She returned to recording and performance in late 1991 and Polygram issued her new single, "Australia, Land of Today" in January 1992. To mark the opening of the Melbourne Cricket Ground's Great Southern Stand later that year, Judith performed the song before 100,000 people at the World Cup Cricket final.
To mark the thirtieth anniversary of their formation, Durham, Potger, Woodley and Guy ended years of speculation and buried the hatchet by reforming the 'classic' Seekers lineup in late 1992. Now co-billed as 'Judith Durham: The Seekers' the group recorded two new songs, Woodley's "Keep a Dream in Your Pocket" and the Judith Durham-Johnny Young collaboration "One World Love", to promote the release of their latest 'Best of' collection, The Silver Jubilee Album. "Keep a Dream in Your Pocket" came out as a single in April, and at the end of the month, they kicked off their wildly successful 'Judith Durham: The Seekers Silver Jubilee Reunion Tour' in Australia and New Zealand. The Silver Jubilee Album peaked at #3 on the national chart in May 1993, eventually selling an extraordinary 140,000 copies (double platinum), making it the third highest selling Australian album that year, behind Jimmy Barnes' Heat and John Farnham's Then Again. It also sold double platinum in New Zealand and did similar business in the UK (where it was issued under the title A Carnival of Hits), and it reached #4 on the British charts, proving once again the group' enduring popularity.
During April 1994, Judith Durham: The Seekers performed two sell-out concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, and they returned in 1995 for a full-scale British tour. On the back of the reunion, Judith's seventh solo album, Let Me Find Love, made the Australian Top 10 in May 1995.
In early 1997, amidst a flurry of media attention, The Seekers signed a new deal with EMI Australia, which claimed to be the most lucrative domestic recording contract ever, with each member reportedly paid $1 million each for a two-album deal. The Seekers' new CD single, "Far Shore" came out in March 1997, followed by two comprehensive boxed-sets, The Seekers Complete (five CDs, 126 songs, including live tracks, rarities and previously unreleased material) and Treasure Chest (three CDs, including the Seekers Seen in Green and Live at The Talk of the Town albums, plus the "Far Shore" single and groups interviews).
In May 1997, Judith, Russell Hitchcock (Air Supply) and Mandawuy Yunupingu (Yothu Yindi) collaborated on the Bruce Woodley-Dobe Newton single "I Am Australian", which was also used in an extensive government media campaign and reached #17 on the national chart in June. The next month Judith's ninth solo album, Always There was released.
Judith Durham: The Seekers' new album, Future Road, produced by Charles Fisher (Savage Garden), came out in October 1997. It reached #13 on the national chart, and by the end of the year had achieved platinum status with over 70,000 copies sold. A second single, "Calling Me Home" was released in October but evidently did not chart.
The band went quiet again until March 2000, when EMI released an album and video of The Seekers 1968 BBC Farewell Spectacular. The video and audio tapes of the event, long presumed to have been lost, were rediscovered in the late 1990s. This historic TV performance was the group's farewell special for British TV, recorded in London and broadcast to an audience of over 10 million viewers. Proving The Seekers' enduring popularity, this recording of the 30-year-old concert reached #12 on the Australian chart, and sold over 35,000 copies. To promote it, The Seekers reunited for 'The Carnival of Hits Tour' in Australia and the UK in early 2000. These were -- supposedly -- their last concerts ever, with the farewell shows played at the Melbourne Concert Hall in April. According to a press release: "The band themselves want it to be made perfectly clear that these really will be the last times they play together."
But The Seekers once more proved the truth of the old adage "never say 'never again'". After much speculation (and a delightful send-up of the coming event by ABC TVs Olympic satire The Games) The Seekers reunited one last time for the closing ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games on 29 October 2000, with a performance of "The Carnival Is Over". They were apparently approached to perform at the closing ceremony of the main games, but unfortunately an injury to Judith Durham (a broken hip) made this impossible, so the band performed at the Paralympics instead, with Judith singing from a wheelchair.
In possibly their very last engagement (well, maybe...) The Seekers reportedly played a one-off concert in Geelong, Victoria in February 2001.
There have been scores of Seekers compilations over the years, and they are probably the most anthologized of all Australian music groups. Information on the complete Seekers catalogue can be found on any of the Seekers fan sites and from commercial sites like CD-Now and the All Music Guide.
A comprehensive Seekers international discography compiled by Dave Farmer can be found on the "World of The Seekers" website:
References / Links
Australian Encyclopedia of Rock & Pop (Allen & Unwin, 1999)
Encyclopedia of Australian Rock (Outback Press, 1978)
& Paul McHenry
Who's Who of Australian Rock (Five Mile Press, 2002)
- A Vibrant Life - Keith Potger
Wikipedia: Bruce Woodley
All Music Guide: THe Seekers
Paul website: Keith Potger
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