THE SEEKERS: THE BEST OF THE SEEKERS, CONSIDERED (2023): You say goodbye, then wave hello

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The Carnival is Over
THE SEEKERS: THE BEST OF THE SEEKERS, CONSIDERED (2023): You say goodbye, then wave hello

At some point in the late Nineties I interviewed Judith Durham of the Seekers, the Australian band which had half a dozen memorable hits in the Sixties.

Their album The Best of the Seekers seemed to be in everyone's home at the time and is now readily found in charity shops and secondhand stores alongside Neil Diamond's Hot August Night.

I can't remember if Durham was touring under her own name or with the Seekers who had periodically re-formed. The reason however was a farewell tour (for her or them) but she was very pleasant, although I can't remember a damn thing she said.

A few years later I was offered another interview with her, another farewell (again, for her or them I don't recall).

And much later there was another farewell.

When I check the Herald website – which doesn't go back before 2000 as far as I can tell, a Y2K thing perhaps? – I see that any number of my colleagues interviewed her over the years: Russell Baillie, Peter Calder, Greg Dixon, Linda Hall (in 2016 for her Farewell New Zealand Tour!) and probably others.

You could beat the Seekers with a stick and they still wouldn't stay down.

Of course despite the sheer number of copies of The Best of the Seekers in suburban homes in the late Sixties – yes, we had one – they were never hip and fashionable among those who had grown up with the Beatles, Stones, James Brown, Motown, Dylan and so on.

They were a polite folk-rock group playing acoustic instruments and fronted by the girl-next-door who just happened to have the most extraordinary, clear soprano voice this side of heaven's gate.

Oh, and they had hits.

Screenshot_2023_12_21_at_9.31.27_AMWithin their ranks were decent songwriters and musicians – Athol Guy, Keith Potger, Bruce Woodley – but also on hand was producer/writer Tom Springfield (Dusty's brother, real name the handsome-sounding Dionysius PA O'Brien).

Springfield wrote such classics as the Seekers' radio-clogging I'll Never Find Another You, A World of Our Own, The Carnival is Over and Island of Dreams which the Springfields had done originally (the song which announced the voice of Dusty to anyone with ears).

The Seekers also covered Paul Simon's Someday One Day, Dylan's Times They Are A Changin' and Pete Seeger's Turn Turn Turn: all of them contemporary folk classics.

The album in hand, pulled of the shelf at random for this on-going column, includes all those hits and covers but kicks off with a song most commonly associated with them, the lullaby Morningtown Ride by Malvina Reynolds, and I confess it wasn't until somewhere in the late 2000s that I learned it was actually about Morningtown Peninsula near Melbourne.

What was missing from this particular collection was their other massive hit, Georgy Girl, the theme to the film of the same name (although with different lyrics for the movie), at least not on the New Zealand edition of the album. It is on the UK version which drops the Seeger and Dylan in favour of other more traditional folk.

But to the album in hand: The Best of the Seekers – listened to at this considerable distance – confirms why they should have been so popular: Durham could sing with clarity and power on material which was instantly memorable.

Screenshot_2023_12_21_at_9.31.07_AMThe Carnival is Over is perhaps their finest musical moment, Springfield adapting a Russian folk tune with new lyrics which has a sense of downbeat drama and tension. It's like Bolero without the rage.

You can understand why Springfield – with Dusty going her own way after their folk group the Springfields broke up – gravitated towards Durham and their folk-pop style.

It's worth comparing their version of Island of Dreams with the Springfields' more upbeat and augmented version: both are similar in arrangement but Durham brings a purity to her solo spot, Dusty is more earthy even as she takes flight.

Perhaps it was that wholesomeness of the Seekers which appealed to parents and middle New Zealand?

Actually it was, more so as the rock artists starting in on the drugs and hedonism as the decade progressed.

seekersAnd their songs like I'll Never Find Another You and A World of Our Own were as catchy as hell, optimistic and domestic.

The Best of the Seekers is without doubt the most mainstream album we've ever posted at The Album Considered.

But for people of a particular generation it was always there in the background behind the gales of Hendrix guitar and visible through the smoke of stoner rock.

It's worth revisiting for the sheer clarity of its sound, messages and folk-pop.

And it is readily available, as Russell Baillie noted in his interview with Durham in 2014, "I've known that record cover image almost all my life, and the songs within. That record seems to exist in every stack of old vinyl in just about every second-hand shop in this country".

However for subsequent generations, any memory of Seekers' songs is perhaps not so pleasant.

In my time as a school teacher passing through primary schools, I heard Morningtown Ride sung by wee kids everywhere. Any song forced on you in school probably doesn't hold positive memories, it's something to be endured rather than enjoyed. 

Few artists covered Seekers songs because their versions were definitive, which is why for decades Judith/The Seekers could keep doing those farewell tours.

Durham died in 2022 but it seems Guy, Potger and Woodley – all of whom had interesting careers and lives outside of the Seekers – are, at the time of this writing, still out there.

Could they be considering in 2024 -- the 60th anniversary of arriving in Britain -- something like  . . . a Final Farewell Arrival Tour?

.

This exact New Zealand "best of" isn't available at Spotify but there are any number of similar compilations here.

Elsewhere occasionally revisits albums -- classics sometimes, but more often oddities or overlooked albums by major artists -- and you can find a number of them starting here.

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Mike P - Jan 9, 2024

Whilst I don't have a copy of the Seekers greatest hits, I do have a copy of Judith Durham with Ron Edgeworth called the Hot Jazz Dou. It is recorded live with only her on vocals and hubby Ron on a stand-up Piano. Her Australian accent is very noticeable and it sounds to have been recorded in a bar somewhere, as you can hear people in the background. A good album to listen to and it puts a different spin on The Seekers as a whole, as they were not a band that I would listen to in my youth.

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