Pop Quiz: Who was the first Australian band to make it big in the U.K., U.S. and elsewhere other than Down Under?
If you said the Bee Gees, or the Little River Band, you failed. It was the Seekers who first came from Oz to conquer the world — and that folk-pop-rock group is current newsworthy because of the passing of their first female lead singer, Judith Durham.
Durham was born Judith Mavis Cock in 1943 in Victoria, Australia, but performed under her mother’s maiden name. She died Aug. 5, in the Australian state where she was born.
What would become the Seekers was formed 60 years ago, by three guys who had attended the same boys’ high school, Athol Guy, Keith Potger and Bruce Woodley. Initially, they were a doo-wop group called the Escorts, but a fourth member left to get married; he was replaced as lead singer by Durham, a traditional jazz singer and classically-trained pianist, and the band’s name was changed to the Seekers.
The new group released its first LP the following year, and its first single release was the traditional Australian song “Waltzing Mathilda,” considered by some to be the national anthem. They also signed as on-board entertainment with a cruise ship line, which took them to London. They intended to stay only 10 weeks and then return to Australia, but they started getting club dates and TV show gigs building a following in the U.K.
One of their live performances was on a bill headed by British pop star Dusty Springfield, during which they met her brother, producer/songwriter Tom Springfield. He wrote “I’ll Never Find Another You” for them, they recorded it in late 1964, and it turned into a huge international hit, No. 1 in Australia and the U.K., No. 4 in the U.S. in February 1965.
The Seekers followed that up with “A World Without You,” a U.S. No. 19 later in 1965. A year later, “Georgy Girl” — theme song from the British comedy-drama romance starring Lynn Redgrave and James Mason — hit No. 2 on the American pop chart. Oddly, although I remember “Georgy Girl” — our younger Golden Reriever’s name was inspired by the song’s title — I associate the band more with their first two hit singles.
The Seekers returned to Australia in early 1967 for a homecoming tour which included performing at a concert that was said to have drawn the largest attendance of any such event in the Southern Hemisphere. But the following February, Durham informed the other band members that she was leaving to start a solo career. The group disbanded after that, although it has reunited several times to perform and record, Durham joining them for some of those reunions.
The reunited Seekers produced several Australian hits that failed to chart in the U.K. and U.S. But a testimony to their U.K. popularity was The Best of the Seekers, a 1968 greatest hits compilation that reached No. 1 there; it knocked The Beatles (the “White Album”) out of the top spot, and kept the Rolling Stones’ Beggar’s Banquet from reaching No. 1.
Durham recorded 11 solo albums, the most recent in 2013, three of which charted in her native land. A 1997 reunion LP with the Seekers was a No. 4 in Oz.
One of her solo projects, The Australian Cities Suite, was a benefit, all proceeds going to several charities. Durham also received awards for her civic and charitable activities, and was Victorian of the Year in 2015; she and the other Seekers were named Australians of the Year in 1967, and the group’s members were made Officers of the Order of Australia in 2014
Durham had a wonderful voice, and she and the Seekers made some really good music back in the mid-60s. May she rest in peace.
Oh — the Brothers Gibb left the Land Down Under for the U.K. in 1967, their first album reaching No. 7 in the U.S. and No. 8 in Britain. And, at least in terms of chart success and record sales, they were much bigger than the Seekers, who sold “only” 60 million records worldwide — about half of what the Bee Gees did.