50 years of The Seekers 

The Seekers are among Australia's most successful bands. JADE LAZAREVIC talks to Judith Durham about their humble beginnings and the highs and lows of life on the world stage. 

Judith Durham looks back on it as fate.

In a South Yarra coffee house on December 4, 1962, the petite brunette with the powerful, pure voice sang with Athol Guy, Keith Potger and Bruce Woodley for the first time, laying the foundation of a union that would remain strong 50 years on as The Seekers.

Last year, on the exact date of the group's 50th anniversary, the four-piece reunited to officially announce a national concert tour and accompanying album The Golden Jubilee Album - 50 Tracks For 50 Years, which contains two newly recorded songs, including a cover of The Beatles' reflective 1965 classic In My Life.

Speaking to Weekender from Melbourne on a day of interviews, Durham, 69, is humble as she recounts her incredible journey with the folk-pop band that became the first Australian group to achieve major chart and sales success in the UK and the US.

A singer trained in classical and jazz, Durham met double bassist Athol Guy on her first day of work as a secretary at J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in Melbourne on December 4, 1962.

Word spread around the office that she was a singer so Guy invited her to join him that evening at Prahran coffee lounge The Treble Clef, where he performed with two friends from high school, Keith Potger and Bruce Woodley on Monday nights.

"When I said I was a singer, the girls said: 'There's another singer in the office. His name's Athol Guy,"' Durham recalls.

"Of course I knew who he was and I had talked to him on the phone once and he was going to come and hear me sing, so it was like destiny plonked me. He couldn't avoid hearing me sing then.

"He said: 'Come along and sing with us tonight, have a bit of fun.' So that's what I did. It must have been a pretty big day when you think I had a new job to start that day and then went along and sang with them that night."

She pauses in thought.

"It's incredible isn't it? People would think you had made it up to say that was the beginning of us becoming international stars," Durham says.

"Oh, heavens above! You couldn't plan it; you wouldn't start it that way. You'd have auditioned girls to take to the group but that didn't happen. I was just put in their path."

Durham estimates 30 to 40 people watched on that night but conceded she was too busy concentrating on trying to harmonise with "the boys", as she affectionately still calls them, to recall exactly.

"I was quite in awe of the fact that they were three great looking guys and they were so polished," she laughs.

"I thought 'Wow! I'm here!' I was just in awe of it all. It was quite an upmarket place for me. "I wasn't used to going to anything [adopts posh accent] sophisticated so for me, it was quite special.

"And a new style of music. I'd sung with double bass in jazz bands but the combination of double bass with guitar and banjo, I'd never experienced before."

The group developed a small following, performing at the venue on Monday evenings for another year while still working day jobs.

In those days they did it for the pure joy.

"We shared £12 between us," Durham says.

"Nobody ever thought of the pop charts."

It was through Keith Potger's position as a producer for ABC Radio that the group was able to lay down a demo tape in their lunch hours. It was this tape that Durham produced when Australian label W&G records, which had agreed to record an album for the jazz group she sang in (Jazz Preachers), asked to hear a sample of her voice.

W&G were impressed enough to sign The Seekers for an album, Introducing The Seekers.

The album led to television appearances and in 1964 they received an offer to perform as the resident band on a cruise ship bound for England where they planned to spend 10 weeks.

They arrived to find they had already landed airplay and a gig on their first night, so signed a deal with a London booking agent at the promise of securing further work.

When they were offered a song, written by Tom Springfield, brother of singer Dusty Springfield, titled I'll Never Find Another You, they headed to Abbey Road studios to lay down the track.

In February 1965, the song topped the charts, making it the first song by an Australian group to hit number one in England.

It was the first of three consecutive singles to reach the top of the UK charts and left Durham - then just 21 - with the daunting task of explaining to her family back home that she was unsure when she would return.

"It was pretty devastating for mum because she was going to miss me, and my sister was away as well," Durham recalls.

"They liked the boys and I think they were very, very trusting when you think about it but when we got a number one record that was so unexpected and, of course, the world was just singing our praises.

"Of course, mum and dad would have been swept up in that because they were the parents of the girl who was in The Seekers so their lives changed considerably as well."

The song also climbed to number four on the US chart, which led to a performance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

With no expectation of matching the success of their number one, The Seekers recorded another of Springfield's songs The Carnival Is Over, which became an even bigger hit for the group, knocking The Rolling Stones off the top spot.

At one stage it was selling 93,000 copies a day. They were named Best New Group of 1965 at the 1966 New Musical Express Poll Winners Awards and appeared at the celebratory Wembley Arena concert, on a bill that included The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield and The Who, at which John Lennon reportedly told the band's manager they were "not a bad little band".

"He was sort of passing the dressing room and said: 'Not a bad little band but they're all here to see us, you know,"' Durham laughs.

"It was unreal."

The same year, The Seekers appeared at a Royal Command Performance at the London Palladium, before Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

"That was a very, very big thrill. It was a huge experience," Durham recalls.

"Mum and dad sent me a telegram saying: 'We feel like the parents of a star tonight."'

A succession of hits followed, including the song that is perhaps the band's most defining song, Georgy Girl.

Written as the theme song for the film of the same name, Georgy Girl became an international hit, selling 3.5 million copies and giving the band its highest chart song in the US.

The Seekers had conquered America.

"That was just amazing," Durham recalls with genuine enthusiasm.

"And that was the difference for us. Sydney had kind of regarded us as a Melbourne band to a certain extent, even though we were topping the charts around the world.

"But when we hit number one with Georgy Girl in the States, that really was different. We came in through Sydney airport on that occasion and we could just tell there was a huge respect from the media to just realise we were absolutely international.

"And, of course, it was Oscar-nominated too because it was actually written and recorded for the movie.

"Jim Dale, the actor, wrote the most brilliant lyric for that song. It just stood the test of time.

"It's a brilliant lyric, especially for me with my self-esteem problems. It's always been the perfect lyric for me to sing."

Hey there, Georgy girl

Swingin' down the street so fancy-free

Nobody you meet could ever see the loneliness there - inside you

Hey there, Georgy girl

Why do all the boys just pass you by?

Could it be you just don't try or is it the clothes you wear?

You're always window shopping but never stopping to buy

So shed those dowdy feathers and fly - a little bit

Hey there, Georgy girl

There's another Georgy deep inside

Bring out all the love you hide and, oh, what a change there'd be

The world would see a new Georgy girl

Hey there, Georgy girl

Dreamin' of the someone you could be

Life is a reality, you can't always run away

Don't be so scared of changing and rearranging yourself

It's time for jumping down from the shelf - a little bit

Hey there, Georgy girl

There's another Georgy deep inside

Bring out all the love you hide and, oh, what a change there'd be

The world would see a new Georgy girl

(Hey there, Georgy girl)

Wake up, Georgy girl

(Hey there, Georgy girl)

Come on, Georgy girl.

At the height of the band's success, Durham struggled with her sudden fame, feeling self-conscious about her image and the expectation of fitting the pop-star mould.

At the height of the band's success, she felt lonely, insecure and trapped.

"It was very difficult for me because I was battling weight problems, eating problems and I didn't feel that I looked the part and I had to dress supposedly like Carnaby Street, London," Durham says.

"It was very difficult for me really. I did a good job. Of course, I didn't let people know my insecurities - and the boys were great - so I just tried to do the right thing, have good manners and speak well and dress as well as I could.

"I took it very responsibly. I didn't feel like a pop star and go out and get drunk or something. I was very much the Melbourne-brought-up girl and tried to do what the Queen might do in a similar situation.

"She was kind of my role model."

In March 1967, The Seekers returned to Australia for a homecoming tour, which included a performance at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne, attended by an estimated audience of 200,000.

The Guinness Book of World Records listed it as the greatest attendance at a concert in the southern hemisphere.

On Australia Day in 1968, The Seekers were named joint Australians of the Year in recognition of their achievements.

In July that year, at the height of the group's success, Durham announced she was leaving The Seekers to pursue a solo career and six months later, after a farewell concert on the BBC drew an audience of 10 million viewers, the group disbanded.

Each continued in music, including Durham who rediscovered her jazz roots and released a series of solo albums while travelling the world, living in the UK, Switzerland and eventually in Queensland with British pianist husband Ron Edgeworth, who died of motor neurone disease in 1994.

She reunited with The Seekers in 1992 to celebrate the band's 25 year Silver Jubilee with a run of sold-out concerts in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, including shows at the Royal Albert Hall and Wembley Arena.

Three years later, The Seekers were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame and, in 1997, recorded an album of new material, Future Road.

Does it feel like half a century since they first sang together in that Melbourne coffee house?

"When I think about what's been packed in, I guess I could say yes, it feels like 50 years," Durham says.

"We had a lifetime together in the four years that we were first enjoying the '60s period - that very exciting, top-of-the-charts experience - that was a lifetime in itself.

"We don't know when it's going to come to an end. I like to think that many, many rich experiences are still to come."

The Seekers found themselves in good company commemorating 50 years in 2012.

The Rolling Stones also celebrated five decades together although, as Durham points out, not all the original members are still around.

Queen Elizabeth II too, celebrated her Golden Jubilee, and was among those who sent well-wishes to The Seekers on the anniversary, along with Sir Cliff Richard, The Wiggles, Andre Rieu and Olivia Newton-John.

"A letter from Buckingham Palace! Absolutely amazing," Durham says.

"It's overwhelming, absolutely. It's sort of make believe. It's beyond belief really.

"We want to make the most of this year of celebration."

The Seekers perform at Newcastle Entertainment Centre on May 11.

Bookings through Ticketek.

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