The Seekers were one of Australia’s more popular ‘60’s groups. With folk, gospel and jazz influences, the Seekers had a distinctive sound that mainly relied on the lead singer, Judith Durham. They are most famed for such ballads as “The carnival is over”, “A world of our own” and the funkier “Georgy Girl”.
The Seekers formed in the early 1960’s, but the group that found fame was formed in 1962 when Judith Durham, a jazz singer, was invited to improvise with the Seekers trio in a Melbourne pub. The resulting combination proved melodious, and Durham joined Athol Guy (vocals and double bass), Bruce Woodley (6-string guitar, mandolin, vocals) and Keith Potger (12-string guitar, banjo, vocals), in the Melbourne club circuit.
The group recorded an audition LP, and in 1963 scored work with W&G records – mainly through Judith Durham’s connections. They recorded their first album “Introducing The Seekers” - and reached the lower levels of Melbourne’s Top 40 with the classic “Waltzing Matilda”. Shortly afterwards the group signed on for a 12 month stint entertaining passengers with the cruise company Sitmar. With a 10 week break scheduled in the UK, the group sent some of their work on ahead, hoping for some gigs while waiting for the next cruise. They arrived to find agents ready to act for them, and gigs already planned. They signed a recording deal with the World Record Club, and cruise plans were abandoned.
A single (Myra) and two albums: “The Seekers” and “Hide and Seekers” were brought out in quick succession. Eddie Jarrett, their agent, found them regular spots on UK television, and linked them up with songwriter and producer Tom Springfield (brother of Dusty Springfield). It was a perfect arrangement – the Seekers would never have come so far without Springfield, and they were the ideal vehicle for Springfield’s talents. A recording contract with EMI’s Columbia label soon followed, and The Seekers made history by being the first Australian pop group to have a single (A World of our Own) in the top five in England, Australia and the USA simultaneously.
The Seekers returned to Australia in 1966 for a concert tour – and their success in the charts continued. In 1967 they were jointly named “Australian of the Year”. This year also marked the peak of their success in America, with the hit “Georgy Girl” – recorded for the film – which sold 3.5 million copies worldwide and was nominated for an Academy Award as “Best song from a movie”. However, the music scene in the US was changing, and that single was to be the Seekers' last US hit. Their successes in Britain and Australia continued, but Judith Durham was growing restless. She recorded several solo singles, before giving the rest of the band notice that she was quitting. They finished their 6 year career with the album “The Best of the Seekers” at the end of 1968. It reached #1 in Britain, and stayed on the British charts for 125 weeks.
Judith Durham’s solo career did fairly well. The Seekers lingered on for some time, with the band “The New Seekers”, then with Bruce, Athol and Keith reforming in 1973 with Louisa Wisseling as lead singer, then again in 1989 with Julie Anthony. Both reformations were moderately successful, but broke up after short periods. Eventually in 1992 the Seekers truly re-formed – this time billed as Judith Durham: The Seekers. The group performed and recorded sporadically until 2000, with a “last” performance (again) at the Paralympic Games in Sydney. The rather aptly named March 2003 “Never say Never Again” tour has just finished.
The Look and the Sound:
The Seekers were always hard to categorise. Ian McFarlane labelled them “too pop to be considered strictly folk and too folk to be rock”. Without question, it was Judith Durham’s distinctive voice that brought them such phenomenal success. She had trained in opera, and was born with perfect pitch. With a sound similar to the group “Peter, Paul and Mary”, the Seekers’ sound is deceptively simple – fairly standard harmonies, predictable chord progressions – yet extremely difficult to reproduce. It has been suggested that Durham’s perfect pitch allowed her to sing just fractionally sharp of every note with uncanny accuracy, giving the amazing brightness of tone that is so typical of The Seekers’ sound.
The group was always very clean cut – suits, ties and a rather bank clerk look for the guys, long skirts and often demure pigtails for Durham. 40 years on, they actually look more like musicians now than back then. This image may well have contributed to their sudden dive in popularity in the US: when the music scene was dominated by Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and the like, the Seekers would have seemed way too “square”.
I cannot admit to being a Seekers fan. Good ol’ Dad has the depressingly large 5 disc boxed set, and I haven’t brought myself to look at it. There’s only so much bright and chirpy harmony with trite lyrics you can take, especially when after a while (two songs) they all start to sound the same. But still, when Georgy Girl comes on the radio, I will joyfully sing along, and when there’s nothing else to listen to but Mum’s specially burnt Favourite Music CD, the Seekers come as a welcome surprise after The Singing Nun (shudder). Too much of the Seekers is a painful thing, but as an occasional descent into clean-cut happiness, they can be good fun.
Discography (not including huge number of compilations):