The Seekers were Australia’s first international supergroup, who dominated charts here and overseas in the period 1964-68, took three songs to the top of the charts in the UK and Australia, and were the first Australian group to make #2 in the USA with Georgy Girl in 1966.They were not a trendy beat group, and yet they consistently knocked the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks and other British bands off the top of the charts in the 60’s, selling over 50 million records, and even now, some 50 years later, the Seekers currently rank only behind AC/DC/ and The Bee Gees, in the roster of all-time best selling Australian groups, in equal third place with INXS.The Seekers were four Melbourne performers who worked the burgeoning coffee club, jazz dance, and folk song circuit of that city, Athol Guy, Bruce Woodley, and Keith Potger had all attended Melbourne Boys High School, and had variously played in doo wop and folk groups until, with lead singer Ken Ray, they became The Seekers, and commenced a regular gig at the Treble Clef Coffee Lounge (see above) in Toorak Rd; South Yarra (Melb). Following the departure of Ray, the band looked for his replacement, local jazz singer Judy Jacques was invited to join the band but declined, however a chance meeting at the J. W .Thompson marketing agency, between account executive Athol Guy and a new secretarial staffer Judith Cock, would ultimately lead to the formation of the famous quartet, and once Judith had adopted her mother’s maiden name Durham, the Seekers began to perform together. Initially there was no formal offer made to Judith Durham to join the group, no audition was held, and there was a distinct possibility that Judith’s love of jazz and blues music, and her intention to pursue a career in classical piano or opera, would deter her from joining a Weavers-style folk group like the Seekers. Judith had already established a reputation in Melbourne as an accomplished jazz/blues singer at Kemble Miller’s Memphis Club in Malvern, the Downbeat, in Russell St, the Purple Eye, the Black and Blue, in Balwyn, and she regularly performed with Frank Traynor’s (below) Jazz Preachers, and had a brief fling with the older Traynor.She performed solo before 9,000 people at a Moomba Concert at the Myer Music Bowl in March 1963 and appeared at a packed Melbourne Town Hall as “Judith Durham and the Seekers” three days after the Moomba performance, so a solo career for Judith Durham was definitely a real prospect, but her fellow band mates had other ideas, and after she released her debut solo EP on Ron Tudor’s W&G Records, Athol Guy moved quickly to convince Judith she should become a Seeker.The album Introducing the Seekers, was released in Nov 1963, and it comprised a mix of folk and gospel standards, the single Waltzing Matilda backed with Just A Closer Walk With Thee was released but failed to chart, the album would be re-released in 1967 after the group became famous, and climb to #5 locally. The group were fully professional by 1964 and quickly became an attraction with cabaret-style bookings throughout the Federal Hotels chain, and several on-board singing engagements with Sitmar Lines to Japan, Tonga, and Fiji.Prior to departing for London in March 1964, former Kingston Trio lead singer Dave Guard (above), who had settled in Sydney, asked Judith to form a group with him, but as she had committed to the ten-week cruise engagement with the group she declined the offer. At this time Judith did not envisage a career with the Seekers beyond the term of the cruise, believing she would return to Australia on July 30th. Yet fate would once again intervene after the Seekers secured a spot performing at a charity concert with Dusty Springfield in Blackpool, Dusty recommended the group to her brother Tom Springfield (below), while all the while Athol Guy had been talking to Eddie Jarrett of the Grade Organisation following their arrival in London, about managing the Seekers.Deals would be done in the following months that would not only launch the group internationally, but also sow the seeds of Judith’s discontent, and ultimately lead to her defection from the Seekers in 1968. It had always been Judith’s understanding that the group would be promoted as Judith Durham and the Seekers, after all she was the lead singer and star attraction, also the band quickly segued to become a pop group, again a direction that was inconsistent with Judith’s musical tastes and aspirations, she was also homesick, but this was allayed to some extent as her older sister Beverley was then resident in London.The pressure for the group to commit to Jarrett and the Grade Organisation built rapidly, a 16-week engagement at Bournemouth was locked in, the group scored a regular slot on Ronnie Carroll’s (see above) ATV afternoon show Call On Carroll, they inked a deal with the World Record Club and released The Seekers album with a photo of the group on the Westminster Bridge. The album Hide and Seekers followed which they recorded at Olympia Studios in London with musical arranger Bobby Richards, and again it was a critical but not a commercial success.Tom Springfield and Eddie Jarrett however realized that the Seekers with Judith’s lead vocals, could replicate the success of Tom’s former group the Springfields, and before a management contract had been executed with the Grade Organisation the group found themselves back in the Olympia Studios recording their debut hit single I’ll Never find Another You. Jarrett and Springfield put up the £200 required to fund the recording session, yet there was still no recording contract in place, and only after much haggling, did EMI Records agree to distribute the record, believing that the Seekers were already signed with the Grade Organisation, which they weren’t. With tour dates being finalized, a distribution deal already inked, the song beginning to chart in the UK, and with Jarrett threatening to resign if the group did not execute a contract without further delay, the band were pressured into agreeing to a contract that would restrict their earnings to 2% of the sales revenue from the record, to be shared between all four of the group. The contract was also signed jointly and severally by the group, which meant that Judith was locked into a one-sided contract with Eddie Jarrett regardless of whether she went solo within the 4 years of the agreement; not for the first time, Judith felt powerless and unsupported by her bandmates.Durham had struggled with issues of body image and agonised over her weight, so with the success of I’ll Never Find Another You, which was a global smash selling 1.75 million copies, Judith found the additional public attention she received quite daunting, she felt like an overweight pop star, who ran up sensible dresses on her own sewing machine, and did not look like the trim, trendy, well-coiffured and professionally-gowned Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black and Sandie Shaw. British tabloid comments like “she looks more Queen’s pudding than King’s Road”, really hurt, she was insecure, fretful and sought reassurance from her band mates, but they didn’t really understand how she was struggling.The Seekers would nevertheless enjoy a string of chart-topping hits and were regarded as one of the best live groups in the world, and yet the way in which Eddie Jarrett managed the group would limit not only their chances of becoming a celebrated global concert act, but also severely limit their earning potential. Jarrett was locked into the Grade (Sir Lew Grade above) promotional strategy of cabaret clubs, variety concerts, and Xmas pantomimes, as the best way to sustain a career in show business. The unrelenting round of such tours would take the group to such places as the Winter Gardens in Bournemouth, the Empire Theatre in Liverpool, Mr. Smith’s in Manchester, and the Greaseborough Social Club in Derbyshire, where they were sandwiched between bingo sessions, an appearance by Profumo Affair call girl Mandy Rice-Davies and an emcee who included the following words of advice to the patrons before introducing the group “ …it has coom to ar attention soom of ar members ‘ave been relieving themselves against the west wall of cloob. This as goot to stop. Now a little shush please for Seekers”. On variety bills at such places as Montfort Hall in Leceistershire they supported The Rockin’ Berries and Mrs. Mills, an overweight jolly woman who played piano with great gusto but little finesse, and even when they played the more salubrious venues such as the London Palladium, they would share the bill with dove acts, comedians, honky-tonk pianists, and occasionally Tanya The Adorable Elephant!Even after three #1 UK hits, a chart-topper in the USA, being nominated for an Academy Award for Georgy Girl, making two highly successful tours of Australia, filling the Myer music Bowl twice (200,000 attended in 1967 above), and consistently rating in the top two or three acts in the New Musical Express annual ratings in London; the group were still appearing on variety show bills, always playing for a flat fee and not a percentage of the takings, the Beatles in contrast were performing in front of 50,000 fans at Shea Stadium (NYC) as early as 1965, and definitely not for a flat fee.By 1968 the group would disband, Judith would marry Ron Edgeworth (above) and together they would explore new forms of religious and musical expression, the New Seekers (below) would be formed in 1969 by Keith Potger, and enjoy a successful period into the 1970’s with several #1 hits in the UK including I’d Like to Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony) and You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me, and the original Seekers would reform several times in the 1990’s and 2000’s and each time tour and release compilation albums of their hits, greatly appreciated and warmly supported by their many fans.
This week we will re-visit the great Seekers hits – I’ll Never Find Another You, A World of Our Own, Morningtown Ride, The Carnival Is Over, and Georgy Girl, as well as the two big hits for The New Seekers.