Australia

Australia mourns Seekers’ legend Judith Durham, dead at 79

Live

Judith Durham was the sweet, petite, Aussie secretary-turned-pop star who outsold The Beatles in the swinging sixties wearing home-made frocks and singing folksy songs with three clean-cut blokes in suits and ties.

The word “wholesome” could have been invented for her as she led The Seekers to 50 million record sales worldwide and resonated with audiences for over half a century, all the while spurning drugs, alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and meat.

She died at the age of 79.

“Nobody in a million years could have predicted our success,” Durham had said of the musical fairytale that started Hollywood-style in a suburban coffee lounge.

On her first day as a secretary at the Melbourne advertising agency J Walter Thompson in 1962, Durham met an account executive called Athol Guy, who played bass and sang in a group once a week at the Treble Clef coffee lounge in Toorak.

That same Monday night she joined Guy and the two other Seekers, guitarists and singers Bruce Woodley and Keith Potger, completing a quartet that soon became the first Australian group to hit number one in Britain and the US.

Older but still the best of friends, Judith Durham and the Seekers (left to right) Keith Potger, Athol Guy and Bruce Woodley collected the keys to Melbourne in 2006. Photo: AAP

Durham, born in Essendon on July 3, 1943, was well prepared for a career in music, if not exactly pop. The second daughter of World War II airman William Cock and his wife Hazel gained a music degree studying classical piano at Melbourne University after returning from Hobart, where the family lived for seven years in the 1950s.

She started singing with the Melbourne Uni Jazz Band at 18 and within a year, using her mother’s maiden name, made her first record, an EP for W&G with Frank Traynor’s Jazz Preachers.

Singing her way to England

Life changed for The Seekers when they sailed to England in 1964 on the SS Fairsky, performing on board and literally “singing for our supper”, as Durham recalled, on what was supposed to be a 10-week trip.

The sexual revolution was underway but Durham’s “trendsetting idol” was the Queen.

“I’d have my matching handbag and matching gloves,” she said. “I would go to great pains to do that and make my own clothes to suit. I was not at all tuned into the London dolly birds and Carnaby Street.”

The song that changed everything was I’ll Never Find Another You, written by Tom Springfield, the brother of pop star Dusty Springfield.

Exposure on pirate radio helped it to soar up the charts, and it was followed by a succession of other hits, including A World Of Our Own, The Carnival Is Over, Someday One Day, Walk With Me and Morningtown Ride.

Their first three singles hit number one and they topped Britain’s charts with the highest-selling record of 1965, eclipsing The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

#1 in America

Eventually they scored an Australian first by hitting number one in the US with Georgy Girl, from the film of the same name starring Lynn Redgrave, James Mason, Charlotte Rampling and Alan Bates.

In 1967 The Seekers set another record when they drew more than 200,000 people – almost 10 per cent of Melbourne’s entire population – to a concert at the Myer Music Bowl. They were also named Australians Of The Year.

When the bubble burst the following year it was Durham holding the pin.

On a tour of New Zealand she gave six months’ notice, honouring an agreed pact, to pursue a solo career, oblivious to the shock caused to both her colleagues and their fans.

A year later she asked London-based freelance musician Ron Edgeworth to be her musical director, pianist and arranger. He also became her soul mate. They married and enjoyed 25 wonderful years together before he died in 1994 of motor neuron disease, Durham becoming patron of the association fighting for its sufferers.

The Seekers sang for their supper to get to England, then had the world at their feet. Photo: Getty

The pair entertained audiences all over the world with a mixture of folk, country, jazz, pop, blues, gospel, original songs, ragtime piano and even classical.

Fans of The Seekers finally got their wish when Durham reunited with “the boys” for a 25-year reunion tour which sparked an intermittent series of performances and recordings throughout the 1990s and into the new century.

In 1993 she had a hit with the patriotic anthem I Am Australian, co-written by Woodley.

In 1995 The Seekers were inducted into the Australian Record Industry Association’s (ARIA) Hall of Fame and Durham received an OAM for services to music.

She continued her solo tours, playing to standing ovations in Australia and Britain, where her 35-date Diamond Tour included a memorable performance at London’s Royal Festival Hall on her 60th birthday.

Courage after a stroke

The Seekers’ Golden Jubilee Tour was cruelly halted in 2013 when Durham suffered a brain haemorrhage. She spent six weeks in intensive rehabilitation in a Melbourne hospital and had to learn again to read music and play the keyboard.

Fortunately, her singing was unaffected and doctors gave her the okay to resume touring.

She marked her 75th birthday in 2018 with her first solo studio album in six years, So Much More. She said when she sang the track You Are My Star, “my vision is of the whole universe surrounded by the love in my heart. It’s a love that defies time and space to encompass everything”.

“I will love you til I die,” she sang in The Carnival Is Over. Now her carnival is over.

-AAP



File source

Tags
Show More
Back to top button
Close