The Seekers

From Academic Kids

The Seekers were a group of Australian folk-influenced popular musicians which was formed in Melbourne in 1963. They were the first Australian popular music group to achieve significant chart and sales success in the United Kingdom and the United States.

The distinctive soprano voice of lead singer Judith Durham, their sweet harmonies, memorable songs, and non-threatening image (encouraging the BBC to give them exposure) made them appealing to a broad cross-section of the pop audience, and they enjoyed a remarkable string of Top Ten albums and singles in Britain, America and Australia between 1964 and 1968.

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. Potger had 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 put them together 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 were introduced to singer Judith Durham (b. July 3, 1943), who worked at the same advertising agency as Guy. Born with perfect pitch, she originally planned to sing opera, but was bitten by the jazz bug in the mid-1950s. Durham recorded an EP, Judy Durham with Frank Traynor's Jazz Preachers for Melbourne label W&G, and although her preference was jazz, she 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. Her repertore included 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' career took off in 1963, when Durham's connections secured them a recording contract with the W&G Records; they were signed by the label's then A&R manager Ron Tudor, who later founded the influential Australian label Fable Records. They cut their debut album Introducing The Seekers soon after. In November, their first single, the perennial "Waltzing Matilda", made the lower reaches of the Melbourne Top 40 chart (#37).

Unlike the many pop and rock bands who followed them, an notable feature of The Seekers' career is that they left Australia before they had become nationally famous. 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 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 was willing to represent them, and Grade staff agent Eddie Jarrett had already lined up work for them.

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. Another vital break, thanks to Eddie Jarrett, was their regular appearances on British television, including The Ronnie Carroll Show and a spot on the prestigious Sunday Night At The London Palladium.

Their most important break came when Jarratt introduced them to singer-songwriter-producer Tom Springfield. Springfield -- whose real name was Dion O’Brien -- was the brother of singer Mary O’Brien, better known as Dusty Springfield. The pair had been two-thirds of the popular British folk trio The Springfields, which had recently broken up. Dusty had quit to launch her solo career and pursue her love of R&B, and she had scored a smash-hit with her debut single "I Only Want To Be With You", just weeks before The Seekers arrived in London.

Springfield immediately saw that The Seekers offered him the chance to continue and extend the work he'd done with The Springfields, so he and Jarratt formed a production company, signed The Seekers, and Springfield became their resident producer and songwriter. Despite their abundant talent, it’s unlikely that The Seekers’ would have been anything like as successful without Springfield’s patronage (and his songs), but it’s equally true that the group provided Springfield with the ideal vehicle for his songwriting and production talents. Another likely attraction was that, being relatively inexperienced, The Seekers would have been far more malleable than Tom’s 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.

They secured a recording contract with EMI’s Columbia label, and in November 1964 Tom Springfield’s "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. It was followed by another Springfield classic, the elegiac "The Carnival is Over", which 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, and reputedly sold 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. 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 it proved another fruitful collaboration. They recorded a cover of Simon’s "Someday, Oneday", which reached #4 in Australia in March 1966 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. American band The Cyrkle later enjoyed a #1 American hit with their cover of the song. The Seekers' 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 their biggest hit of all. Co-written by Tom Springfield and actor-composer Jim Dale (who later wrote the musical Barnum), it reached #1 in Australia, #3 in the UK and gave The Seekers their first and only US #1 hit in February 1967. Written as the theme song to Silvio Narizzano's feature film of the same name, starring Lynn Redgrave, James Mason and Alan Bates, the single sold 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. Rock critic Bruce Elder calls 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"."

But "Georgy Girl" was also their 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 former folkies like The Mamas & The Papas to hastily reinvent themselves as psychedelic minstrels. Measured against emerging acts like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane, the clean-cut image and sound of acts like The Seekers were starting to look distinctly 'square'. They also missed some crucial career opportunities -- according to Bruce Elder, The Seekers 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, attended by over 200,000 people. This is believed to be the largest audience ever assembled for an Australian concert event. The scale of their popularity in Australia can be judged from fact that the legendary Woodstock Festival in the United States in 1969 drew about 500,000 people, and that at the time of the Seekers' Melbourne concert, Australia's population was only around 12 million people. They filmed two hugely successful television specials during the tour, The World Of The Seekers and The Seekers Down Under; the latter program reportedly still holds the record as the highest rating TV special ever screened in Australia.

But inevitably, such great success led to growing tensions within the band, and Durham in particular felt that her contributions were being undervalued. Ironically, this was the opposite problem to that normally faced by lead singers -- who conventionally tend to dominate media attention. In the middle of 1967 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. Meanwhile, the hits just kept 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. Co-written by pop svengali Kim Fowley (who later masterminded The Runaways) the single was co-credited to one "John Martin". Years later it was revealed that this was actually a pseudonym for Keith Potger, who wanterd to avoid jealousy within the band. The Seekers returned to Australia for another national tour in December 1967, following their successful North American tour.

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 Mickie Most, who produced some of the biggest hits of the 60s with 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 considerably better, reaching #2 in the UK in September. Their BBC-TV special, Farewell The Seekers, also attracted a huge audience.

The Seekers capped their amazing six-year career with The Best of The Seekers which reached #1 in Britain in November 1968. It was a huge success, knocking The Beatles' White Album from the top position and staying on the British charts for an amazing 125 weeks.

Following the break-up in July 1968, Woodley returned to Australia to concentrate on songwriting. In 1971, he 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 from Hans Poulsen and Billy Green. Guy formed a marketing and promotions company in Australia and in 1973 he moved into politics and was elected to the NSW state parliament as a Liberal MLC.

Potger 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. Several other founding members left the band soon after 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 pop 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 had originally been written as a Coca-Cola jingle.

Durham launched her post-Seekers career in 1969. 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 subsequently 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.

Around 1972 Woodley, Potger and Guy began planning a new incarnation of the band. Singer-songwriter-producer Buddy England was a friend of the group and he became closely involved in the reformation:

"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 -- a division of Philips, 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."

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 1976). Woodley left in June 1977 to concentrate on songwriting and production, at which point England took over, remaining with them until the group split again. Guy 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, announcing a second reformation of The Seekers, but this time they surprised everyone by choosing popular solo singer Julie Anthony as the new lead vocalist. They toured successfully, recording The Seekers Live later in the year, but it was apparently not a happy teaming match, and Anthony quit in June 1990. She was briefly replaced by club singer and former Young Talent Time star Karen Knowles before the band split again.

Meanwhile, Durham had been dividing 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 smash outside Melbourne. The accident put her 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 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 was claimed to be the most lucrative domestic recording contract in Australian music history, 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 group 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 Australian album chart, and by the end of the year had gone 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 TV special. This historic farewell special for British TV, recorded in London and broadcast to an audience of over 10 million viewers, was previously thought to have been lost, but the video and audio tapes were rediscovered in the late '90s. Proving their enduring popularity, this recording of a 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 after much speculation (and a delightful send-up of the coming event by ABC TV’s Olympic satire The Games) The Seekers reunited again 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.

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