No Major Label Would Sign The Seekers Even Though They'd Overtaken UK TV

6 November 2015 | 4:52 pm | Michael Smith

"I think we were on television nearly every week in the first six months that we were in England, on either folk programs or other big musical programs."

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"I hawked our W&G record around London till I wore my desert boots out," The Seekers' affable double bassist Athol Guy points out, recalling the days before their UK first single was released. "No one wanted to know. I mean they were very kind — 'Oh yes, lovely group, saw you on television, but your stuff's not commercial.' We shared a big house with a mate of mine who worked with the World Record Club, so in the midst of our doing all this television, World Record Club asked us to cut an album and then a second album, and our albums with them really started to take off because of the television appearances. And then of course EMI bought the World Record Club, so those songs became part of their catalogue, but then I'll Never Find Another You took off."

"I got a telegram the day before the boat docked that said, 'Welcome to the United Kingdom. We look forward to seeing you in London.'"

Not that anyone in the group was complaining. The Seekers had had something of a dream run. Within a few months of Guy and acoustic guitarists Bruce Woodley and Keith Potger deciding to invite an aspiring young jazz singer named Judith Durham into the group to replace their departing lead singer Ken Ray, The Seekers had recorded their debut album, Introducing The Seekers, for W&G, released in November 1963; appeared on the biggest TV show of the day, Graham Kennedy's In Melbourne Tonight and, through Guy's day job as a young accounts executive at an advertising agency, had scored a job providing the entertainment on a cruise ship bound for London, leaving March 1964. It was supposed to be a ten-week turnaround, but when they got to London, they found that not only did they have a manager but they already had bookings.

On the advice of Australia's international harmonica wizard, Horrie Dargie, Guy had sent a copy of the album, some press shots and a black and white kine (a predecessor to the video) of their IMT performance to The Grade Organisation, then the biggest entertainment agency in the UK.

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"And lo and behold," Guy explains, "I got a telegram the day before the boat docked that said, 'Welcome to the United Kingdom. We look forward to seeing you in London. Next Tuesday you will be on the BBC Today Tonight program.' Eddie Jarrett was looking after us and he chucked us in at the deep end because the moment he saw us and what we could do, he knew he could book us almost anywhere.

"So he had us audition for Sunday Night At The London Palladium within four weeks of our arriving in England. I think we were on television nearly every week in the first six months that we were in England, on either folk programs or other big musical programs. Then of course we met up with Tom [Springfield], who brought us I'll Never Find Another You."

Since no major label would sign them, Jarrett and Springfield set up their own production company, recorded the single and leased it to EMI. Despite the massive amount of TV exposure however, it was the pirate radio stations broadcasting outside UK territorial waters (remember that movie, The Boat That Rocked?), manned by not a few expat Australian DJs, which broke the single, which topped the UK chart in January 1965.

A World Of Our Own followed, then The Carnival Is Over, Someday, One Day, Walk With Me and Morningtown Ride, all top 10 if not #1s, and, after returning to Australia to tour with the Dave Clark Five, The Seekers found themselves voted the NME's Best New Group of 1965 and performing at Wembley Stadium as part of the NME's All-Star Poll Winners concert alongside The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Dusty Springfield. A Royal Command Performance at the London Palladium followed. 

Then they recorded the theme song for a feature film, Georgy Girl. The Americans loved it and it was nominated for an Academy Award. Unfortunately, they were locked into a contract to perform a pantomime, so in the event fading Hollywood star Mitzi Gaynor performed it at the awards. No matter — their third tour of Australia, in April 1967, saw The Seekers perform to an estimated 200,000 people at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, the largest concert audience in Australian history. They'd left Australia just three years before complete unknowns.

In July 1968, Judith announced her intention to pursue a solo career in jazz and The Seekers parted ways. In the five years since they'd formed, they'd recorded seven studio albums and a live album and released a dozen chart-topping singles. In the years before the original line-up reunited for their 25th anniversary on what would become a series of rolling reunion tours that saw them through to their 50th anniversary tour in 2014, there were countless best of albums, each selling better than the one before. In December 2015, Palais Theatre will host the premiere of Georgy Girl — The Seekers Musical.