Georgy Girl - the Seekers
Judith Durham, lead singer of the Seekers, died three weeks ago on August 5th.
On 25th January 1968 the double album "The Beatles", more commonly known as "the White Album" was displaced at the top of the UK album charts by the hits compilation LP, "The Best of the Seekers". Over the next couple of months, the two records alternated at Number One, between them keeping the superb Rolling Stones' "Beggar's Banquet" off the top spot. All proof of the eclectic nature of the UK and US music scene in the sixties.
The Seekers were Australia's greatest cultural export of the decade, and the first Australian band to achieve chart success in the UK, with the single "I'll Never Find Another You" which reached number one in February 1965. There followed a string of hit records until lead singer Judith Durham left the group in 1968.
Over the next 24 years, five replacement lead singers were tried in turn, but the problem was that none of them were Judith Durham, and Durham's voice and delivery WERE the sound of the Seekers. The original classic line-up of Durham, Athol Guy, Keith Potger and Bruce Woodley reformed for a reunion tour in 1992 and followed by a successful new album five years later.
The Seekers were a sixties hybrid of folk and pop/rock, incorporating the acoustic guitar sound and harmonies of the former with the up-tempo drumbeats, punchier rhythms and guitar solos of the latter. The main songwriter and producer of their records was Tom Springfield, ex member of the successful pop trio the Springfields and brother of the iconic Dusty, who, by the time he met them, new a thing or two of what might constitute a hit song, and recognised the star quality of Judith's voice.
Judith Durham's voice had a sense of purity, akin to the hugging of your teddy bear on a cold night or the innocent love for the slightly older than you girl next door. While most of the band's recordings now stand as "nice" but fairly humdrum folk music, a handful of their songs, seven or so, including "A World of Our Own", "The Carnival is Over", (both Springfield compositions), Someday One Day, Mornington Ride and the aforementioned "I'll Never Find Another You" transcend the mediocrity of the sixties folk/pop genre thanks to Durham's measured yet subtly exultant vocal. Each song she sings is like a quiet triumph over the adversities of life.
Perhaps her finest achievement is her singing on the title theme tune of the 1966 movie "Georgy Girl". Somehow or other the 11 year old me got in to see the film - I think it was an "A" (adults only) or it could even have been an "X" (explicit content). Back in '66, it was considered pretty risqué and it was certainly the most shocking film I'd ever been to, though nowadays it seems fairly quaint. The film is about a young, naïve but whimsical woman, Georgy, played by Lyn Redgrave, making her way in a hip, swinging London. The theme song was written by Springfield, improbably in collaboration with Carry-On film actor and fifties pop star Jim Dale, and perfectly captures the dreamy side of the lead character.
On the attached clip, in a rendering suspiciously close to the original studio recording, the band are performing at the Moomba Festival in Melbourne in 1967. In a very Australian way, the authorities claimed this was the largest audience for a performance in the Southern Hemisphere, although the attendance estimate of 200,000 has clearly been "bigged up" by the addition of all those at the festival (ie within hearing distance) to those in the 2,000 seater amphitheatre. Durham's perfectly pitched delivery, not only vocally, but also through her projection and poise, reeks of class and contrasts sharply with the staid, almost cardboard cut-out remainder of the group, a sort of amalgam of innocence and experience
that was still there thirty years later on their reformation studio album "Future Road".
But Judith Durham didn't need "bigging up". Her distinctive voice and understated delivery resonated with ordinary people, somehow articulating the ordinary courage that it can take to make it through the day. Which is why it's entirely appropriate that she's been honoured with a state funeral and state memorial service by the Victorian government.