1965 – The Carnival Is Over – The Seekers
It’s hard to overemphasize just how big The Seekers were, how they eclipsed by some distance the achievements of any other Australian band in Australia and the UK with the exception of INXS. Eight top ten singles in Australia, Seven in the UK including two number ones, this at a time when pop was at its most fertile and competitive. The band were an enigma for their time. A folk band veering towards pop with no electric guitars but with a double bass, about as fashionable as a bonnet in Swinging London. With no concessions to the Beatles or Stones or the plethora of nascent rockers emerging in their wake, The Seekers stuck to their guns and won over the world with a combination of indelible melodies magnified by the angelic vocals of Judith Durham.
Their first single ‘I’ll Never Find Another You’ topped the charts in Australia and the UK and rose to number 2 in America, instantly spotlighting the band as a charming and unique anomaly in the pop scene. A World Of Our Own was another monster hit in all three charts.
Tom Springfield (brother of Dusty) was the song-writing Svengali for The Seekers. When he adapted an old Russian folk song, ‘Stenka Rasin’ (who would you pay copyright to? The Kremlin?) into ‘The Carnival Is Over’, The Seekers hit a sweet and deeply melancholy spot which made for their most exquisite track.
Covered by Nick Cave who might have preferred the Russian version since it concerns a young girl being sacrificed, tossed overboard from a boat, for the glory of the nation, The Seekers sang instead of the desperate last hours of a romance which will end when our hero, a carny forever, shifts base, and heads off to the next town. The briefest of loves, compressed into days that will live on forever, “until I die”.
The song moves at a funereal pace but this is not something you notice as Durham stretches each perfect note and a percussive shuffle lifts the tempo. The song shot to the top of the UK and Australian Charts. The band won Best New Act at the NME awards defeating nominees who would themselves become household names.
When they returned to Australia 200 000 people attempted to squeeze into The Myer Music Bowl to see the group perform a brief set (they were completely unprepared for the leviathan nature of the crowd). In the mid ‘60s The Seekers with their unfussy captivating music were, against all odds one of the biggest bands in the world.
Michael Witheford is a freelance writer and author. He has been published by RAM, Juke Magazine, On The Street, Beat, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, the Launceston Examiner, The Melbourne Sunday Sun, Melbourne Times and various periodicals. His novel Buzzed was published by Penguin in 2002.
He wrote songs, played bass guitar and sang in the Fish John West Reject and ARIA nominated Lust In Space, among many bands.
He now lives in Tasmania and is working on a memoir and personal account of the Tasmanian and Melbourne Music scene in the ‘80s and ‘90s.