The Seekers’ vocalist Judith Durham tells STACK why she still loves performing, how she avoids arm-swinging mishaps on-stage, when the path to iconic hit I Am Australian was paved, and her thoughts on the strangely prophetic footage included in Farewell, the band’s brand new concert DVD out this month, which was filmed at their hometown show in Melbourne during the 2013 ‘Golden Jubilee’ tour.
The first thing that’s so clear from this performance is that all four of you still enjoy the stage – yourself in particular! You’ve a smile on your face for basically the entire running time. What do you love about performing?
I love listening to the music along with the audience. We are all on that same wave of emotion in our hearts. I sometimes forget that my own voice is that sound I’m hearing, and that I can’t just stop for a while and listen with everyone else.
The footage projected behind you seems to be taken from live performances and your TV specials – and it includes some fascinating footage of your audiences. What was a crowd at an Australian Seekers show like in the ‘60s? Did you notice any differences between us and your international fans?
Through the power of radio, television and the record industry, The Seekers became international popstars. Our audiences have always been the same around the world – people of all nationalities and abilities, all ages, multicultural and Indigenous – we have been embraced everywhere. With simple, uplifting melodies, there is no language barrier.
There is an awesome moment just before you play Someday One Day, wherein we see footage of a very young Judith, with voiceover pondering: “I wonder where we’ll all end up? Maybe we’ll never break up – maybe we’ll be touring in 50 years time, and then what?!” Do you remember believing you’d all still be friends, and hoping you’d still be in the music business, at that time?
I remember saying those words during the filming, and not believing it then, as I had already given my six months notice to our Manager Eddie Jarrett and the boys. Destiny has shown the words are truly prophetic and our friendship is enduring and our musical bond is precious.
Athol has said that The Seekers Down Under film ended up being an enormous promotion for immigration to Australia, and in ’87 Bruce (and Dobe Newton) wrote I Am Australian, which has long been considered an unofficial alternative Australian anthem. Do you think that the former inspired the latter in any way?
In 1967 everyone sang God Save the Queen, but in 1984 the Government Referendum voted for Peter Dodds McCormick’s patriotic song Advance Australia Fair, composed in 1878, so its words were a bit quaint even though everyone loves the melody.
In the ‘80s Bruce started working on a major project as a tribute to Australia, which included his iconic song I Am Australian, co-written with Dobe Newton… a song that unites all Australians and is inclusive of our First Nations. And everybody loves it.
What is it about In My Life that made you decide it was the right cover – indeed the right Beatles song – to include on the DVD?
The jigsaw fragments started falling into place when Graham Simpson’s archive unearthed a Robert Whitaker photograph of me rehearsing In My Life for the Seekers Seen in Green album. It remained, however, on the ‘to do’ list for nearly 50 years, until The Seekers were to record two commemorative clips for our Golden Jubilee (along with Silver Threads and Golden Needles).
Meanwhile, Keith unearthed some of his memorabilia from Expo ’67 in Montreal and it all blended into some evocative, emotional footage we all love reliving – including images of our parents, families and friends (and even my former boyfriend John Ashby!).
What do you remember about the first time you sang with the boys? From what I’ve read it sounds as if you were finding your spot in the harmonies as you went.
I was used to harmony singing from a very young age – around the piano with Mum, Dad and sister Beverley or school choirs and madrigals and doing the washing up with Bev singing along with the radio. My whole life we all loved similar music, and especially in the late ‘50s/early ‘60s: trad jazz, Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Kingston Trio, Lonnie Donegan’s skiffle, blues, etc.
So, it was a natural fit when Athol asked me to come along, at first Monday night, and have a bit of fun singing with his mates Keith and Bruce. I just joined in the chorus whenever I could sing along with the catchy words and music. Our four voices seemed to blend in a unique way, although I had never sung with masculine voices before (except singing All Through the Night, with Grandpa’s deep voice on long car trips).
Can you tell us about why your stage configuration is always the same: Keith on the far left, then Bruce, yourself, and Athol on the right? Is it a technical thing at all (for mic purposes or some such), or is it just tradition?
In the early days I sang with my arms by my side. We had no foldback and therefore no stage monitors. We would sometimes share two mics and would move closer or further away from the mics so we could gauge our vocal balance from front of house speakers. I used to stand a long way from the mic. As a solo artist I moved my arms much more – and now with The Seekers – I have to be careful not to hit Bruce’s guitar. Athol’s double bass seems to be out of harm’s way but I’m jolly glad I can grip a strong male hand on either side of me when we take those thrilling bows.
The Seekers: Farewell is out on DVD and CD on April 12, via Decca/Universal.
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