Thursday, November 22, 2012

(New addition to Greatest Rock and Roll Since Moses page)

The Seekers.

Once you've heard Judith Durham's voice you won't need voice recognition software to identify it. It's been haunting me for 45 years. I can't think of anything more beautiful.

I first heard The Seekers on my transistor radio in 1967 when they hit it big in the US with the single Georgy Girl. As many of their recordings were, that song was produced in a way that de-emphasized Durham's voice and emphasized the group's four-part harmonies and acoustic guitars, but Durham's voice is hard to contain, even when she tries to do it, as she often does when the group sings together. Even now when Georgy Girl gets played on an oldies show I'm straining to hear Durham's voice, and then suddenly there it is, a strong, beautiful instrument ringing out above and beyond band mates Athol Guy, Keith Potger and Bruce Woodley. One of the nice things about this collection is that it includes some songs where Durham really belts it out.

The compilation is also interesting in that it includes two version of many of their songs. One studio, one live. One now, one then. One with full backup by an orchestra and chorus, one with just two guitars, a string bass and Durham.

The Seekers are arguably the most successful Australians ever, but when Georgy Girl rocketed up the charts in 1967 the British Invasion was fully underway and for some reason I assumed they were from England. They may have been marketed that way. They looked and sounded that way, to me. They were living in England, and became huge there, during one period selling more records than the Beatles and appearing constantly on British TV. Georgy Girl would reach Number Two on the US Billboard chart, the highest any of their records reached in the US, and I'll Never Find Another You would reach Number Four. They've sold more than 60 million records in their now 50-year career. When they perform, as they occasionally do, it's with the original four members. Highly unusual.

The Seekers were always considered to be somewhere between Folk and Pop and were never overtly political, and I'm a fan despite that. Australians, to generalize about them, seem to me to do things with a kind of earnest, very non-cynical self consciousness, that affects me by loosening some of the cultural anchors by which I perceive and interpret things. That, the subject matter of many Seeker songs, subjects like yearning and loss, coupled with the way Durham sings, leaves me feeling moved, yet in a slightly eerie way. On the brighter, more contented side of melancholy. Australian. Their repertoire is diverse, from the Russian folk song The Carnival Is Over to gospel standards like We Shall Not Be Moved, but they always give everything The Seeker treatment, as it were. They have their trademark style.

Judith Durham now - Bayside Review
Their range gets highlighted on this collection, and also on a more than one hour YouTube video of their 25th anniversary reunion tour, which is a real treat to listen to and on which Durham's voice is undiminished in expressive ability, power and beauty.

Durham reminds me of Beverly Bivens, lead singer for the American group We Five, who had a big hit with You Were On My Mind. Both woman's voices contain combinations of tonal qualities that make them unique almost to the point of being quirky, and sound beautiful because of it, not in spite of it. Both have strong voices and have complete control over them. Both left the world of pop stardom after just a few years to get married. Both are very pretty, not in the sense a model or movie star is but in the way the girl who sat behind you in geometry class was. And they're alike in that I'm infatuated with both, in case you didn't notice.

Durham would leave The Seekers after five years to settle down to married life and solo pursuits, but the group, The Seekers, which is practically royalty in Australia, has performed many reunion concerts since then and Durham, now in her 70s, still performs. (Compare 1967 and 2009 performances of The Carnival Is Over.) She confesses that nowadays, "When I open my mouth, I never know what will come out," but what does is still uniquely, hauntingly beautiful.


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