After an unpleasantly eventful month or so, tonight The Seekers, one of our country’s most successful musical exports, once more let their music take the spotlight as they are presented with the prestigious Ted Albert Award for Outstanding Services To Australian Music at the APRA Awards in Melbourne.
They’ve received no shortage of plaudits in the 51 years since they first formed in Melbourne, but bassist Athol Guy says this one feels particularly special.
“This one goes right to the grassroots of creativity in the music business really,” he says. “You can perform at the highest level and get a lot of success from the music that’s written for you or that you write yourself – the product that you’re putting out there, sometimes it’s assumed that it’s just lying around waiting to be performed, but that’s not always the case. The creative levels within any group require that, once you understand who you are, what you’re doing and your brand, if you like, you then try and find the best possible music.
“Fortunately for us as we came out of that folk/gospel/bluesy period in the early ‘60s our lives and our musical direction were transformed and made more commercial by the great songs of Tom Springfield. At that time in the 60s, great groups like The Beatles and the Beach Boys were writing their own material. It’s great to record other people’s songs, but it’s so much better when you’re recording songs that have been written especially for you – like Tom’s songs – and then from within the group; everybody started writing and now half our show is written from within our group’s creativity.”
Fortune followed the band from very early on, Guy admitting that he couldn’t in good conscience say that the band struggled early in their career.
“Things happened very naturally for us, it was like we were blessed a little bit,” he reflects. “I can’t say it was a struggle. We got a free trip to England and when we arrived there we had a TV show organised for the second night we were in England; we were on national television.”
This was early in 1964; the band provided entertainment on a cruise liner to get to the UK, met Springfield [who happened to be the brother the great Dusty] and were on top of the charts in five countries within a year of landing on foreign soil. The song was I’ll Never Find Another You, and its success remains a high point in Guy’s career.
“Nothing would beat your first number one, with your first single; out of the blue, over the top, oh my god,” Guy says. “But equally, we were so busy that we really didn’t have a lot of time to sit back and reflect on that.
“This trajectory that we were on just kept us moving at a very fast pace; I’ll Never Find Another You was such a monumental hit, one of the biggest awards we got was off the back of that. A couple of months after it went to number one we were voted as the Best New Group in the NME poll in its award concert – it was like an Oscar in the music business.
"We played the concert at Wembley Arena with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who, The Animals… I could rattle them all off. This little Aussie band was up there after their first number one, up there with the best of them – the trajectory got a hell of a lot steeper."
The band were on top of the charts in 1965 and continued with a string of hits until 1968, when it all came to a very sudden end. Despite the reality that such a huge part of these young musicians’ lives was coming to a sudden halt, Guy says it wasn’t the crushing blow one might suspect.
"Not really, there were a lot of options available for us at that time,” he says. "When you’re right in the middle of the pop scene and you’ve had nine or ten pop hits, you’re struggling to find the 11th or the 12th.
"You are getting a lot of songs written for you and the others are writing songs and you find, in a sense, that you’re locked into this ‘How do we top all this? What’s next?’ [mind set]. You’re getting songs that sound like the brother of Georgy Girl or the daughter of I’ll Never Find Another You, it’s too much similarity and you can’t find what might be the next turning point.”
The core quartet tried for a turning point with their final record, but it fell somewhat flat with their fans.
“We were trying to be a little more contemporary, our most contemporary album was probably our last one [1967’s] Seekers Seen In Green and our public actually didn’t take to it immediately when it was released,” Guy admits. “You get locked into this zone, locked into this image and locked into this sound; whilst the sound was still Seekers, there were some contemporary sounds on it. But the moment we broke up, it went to number one.”
It didn’t end there and then though, the band reformed, on and off, in all sorts of incarnations until 1992 when the four founding members met for the first time in two decades and eventually decided to continue the group at their own pace.
“When you’ve had four or five very intensive years in your 20s and you still haven’t really discovered what the hell it is you’re gonna do with the rest of your life the thing you would never have contemplated is that you could leave this alone and pick it up again and it would be even bigger than it was in those days,” Guy says. “It’s as if with our 50th we’ve started a whole new career move, with our website and Facebook we’re more in touch with our fans than we’ve ever been.”
When it comes to the legacy The Seekers have left thus far, Guy speaks proudly about the way his band has and will continue to be remembered.
“Coming back to it; it’s all about the strength of the songs, it’s all about the music, though the way we’ve been able to package it up I suppose is a bit unique,” he considers. “[The songs] have found their place and they get handed down; they’re the most pristine hand-me-downs you can imagine, musically.
"Kids still grow up on our songs – that’s not to say that will be the chosen direction for them musically, but they just contain all the right elements of music as we always understood it; melody, harmony, lyrics, rhythm – the combination is irresistible.
“We’ve never recorded a song that the four of us haven’t unanimously agreed on. There’s nothing in our repertoire or anything that we’ve ever recorded where we would say ‘I never want to hear that again’.”
The Seekers receive the Ted Albert Award at this evening APRA Awards in Melbourne. Full details of the event can be found here.