Wednesday, 16 May 2007

At the Forefront of Cool?

If ever there was a band that defied pigeonholing it was the Seekers. In mid-1960s swinging London, Carnaby Street fashion was king and style was everything. The Beatles were pushing the boundaries of popular music into uncharted territory and summer of love psychedelia was just over the horizon. Yet amongst all this hipness were a bunch of Australian folk singers who seemed completely oblivious to the cultural revolution raging around them. In their unconscious isolation, they are forever represented by George, Martin Clunes’s work colleague in ‘Men Behaving Badly’ with his traditionally staid middle class, middle-aged demeanour and comfy cardigans, constantly playing Seekers’ songs on a portable cassette player.

Recently, I had a peek at their performance of ‘The Carnival is Over’ from a 1965 edition of the UK’s Top of the Pops on and marvelled at their oddness. OK, even the Beatles wore suits, but to see band member, Athol Guy sporting, as well as the suit, thick framed National Health glasses and a stand up double bass amongst the hip young things in the audience is nothing short of bizarre.

Then there is Judith Durham, an established traditional jazz singer slumming it in popular music looking like the ultimate girl next door dressed like your mother in a strangely unflattering cocktail dress. She never moves but appears superglued to her mark, toes pointing, arms by her side during the whole performance. No dance routine, no backing troupe, nothing.

Everything points to disaster. And yet…and yet, it is riveting. Written by Tom Springfield, Dusty’s brother, the song has a sort of military bearing, all stiff upper lip in the face of adversity and wartime Vera Lynn overtones but it suits their traditional no-nonsense style perfectly. But ultimately it is that voice that saves the day. It’s the sort of delivery that cuts through mixes like a knife and gives even the most weak-kneed production a toughened edge. Whilst the boys beaver away with complex harmonies, it is Judith’s pure soprano that rises from the mayhem like a phoenix to grab your attention. Agnetha Fältskog did the same job for Abba and saved them from unbearable tweeness. There is an inherent toughness about these voices that defies you not to take them seriously.

Whatever you think of the Seekers and I’m still on the fence, there is no doubt that ‘The Carnival is Over’ is a triumph for non-conformity and in the hip fashion conscious mid-1960s, how brave was that?


TR1-Guy said...

Wow! Judith had (has?) a fantastic voice! I have to admit being raised on this side of the "pond" near Chicago, I grew up listening to power house AM radio stations WLS and WCFL, the two top-40 stations in town. So, I was exposed to the New Seekers and have their single "Look What They've Done to My Song Ma" and didn't really realize that there was a Seekers before them. DOH!

So those big, black rimmed glasses were some sort of standard issue? Explains a lot of those who wore them! Also, very few performers really did much of anything back in the 1960's when they appeared on TV (except Elvis). I can remember somewhere that James Brown (or someone similar) appeared just before the Rolling Stones back then and Mick tried to add "jumping" and dancing while he sung (the video clip shows him being very ackward as one would guess). Just a memory that popped up...

BTW, I love ABBA. I even modeled one of the groups I was in after them. My best memories of playing in ANY band was in that particular group. So hats off to ABBA! :)

musicobsessive said...

Nice memories (I won't hold the New Seekers single against you!). Pop was very strait laced in the 60s and I've seen several clips of Mick Jagger's self-conscious attempts to liven things up. Which makes Jimi Hendrix' appearance on the LuLu show even more extraordinary - the one where he changes songs in mid set and then overruns his slot (live TV!) and the studio manager having kittens!