Gary James' Interview With Athol Guy of
They've sold over fifty million records. They enjoyed considerable success on the charts with songs like "I'll Never Find Another You", "A World Of Our Own" and "Georgy Girl". In 1965 they won the Best New Group in the New Musical Express Poll Winners Awards and that same year performed at Wembley with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Moody Blues, Dusty Springfield and the list goes on and on. Who are we talking about? Australia's own The Seekers. Athol Guy, The Seekers' bass player, spoke with us.
Q - You've got your own group going these days called Athol Guy And Friends. Is that because The Seekers don't perform as often as you'd like to perform?
A - Well, it's one of the reasons because this is basically a show for regional Australia, because a lot of our friends live out of the region and can't get to the cities where we play our concerts. There's never enough time to cover all our regional theatres, which are really terrific and then small ones as well, up to five hundred people. We all had our own musical directions. This is my show. That's why it's called And Friends. (laughs) I can bring anybody in and x anybody out.
Q - The Seekers could probably still get work in Australia or any place else, couldn't they?
A - They could. That's true. Because of the rigors of touring, we're all in our 70s now, we just like to keep it condensed to the times when there is another sort of national tour to have the group back out on the road and by then you've done all your capitol cities. Last year we went over to Europe as well, a seven, eight week season over there, finishing at The Royal Albert Hall, which was a sell out. The whole season was a sell out. So in a sense, I suppose, like a lot of bands, we could be a little more seamless and been out on the road, but that's not our desire these days. We'd just like to wait for our moment to celebrate like our fiftieth anniversary, which is what we did last year.
Q - So, this group was formed in 1962.
A - Yeah.
Q - And it looks like your debut album was out in 1963. That means you were together for a year, maybe a little over a year, before you got your record deal?
A - Well, it was probably six months actually from the time we were enticed to going into the studio because in actual fact we did some backing vocals for a couple of our Pop stars here who had big records with us in the background. They guy who ran the record company said to us one day, 'cause we all worked during the day, we weren't full time musicians by any stretch of the imagination in those days. So we went into the studios of W&G Records in Melbourne. It's similar to the way the Elvis's and a lot of the others came to Sun Records and other places. In our lunch hour and after work we laid down twelve or fifteen tracks, basically a lot of cover songs. Some Gospel songs that Judith brought to the group and lo and behold we had an album. It was a nice feeling. It was a terrific thing to get a recording contract for an album in those days as a group. As I said, most groups were used just as a backing group. We took that with us to London when we jumped in the boat in 1964 and that was our calling card. That got us two albums with a company called the World Record Club. They actually ended up being owned by E.M.I. At the back of that catalog we still didn't get a recording deal with a commercial company until our manager had Tom Springfield write a song for it and we recorded it in Abbey Road one morning in a three hour session. We did the A and B side. We leased "I'll Never Find Another You" through our managers's company to E.M.I. and as they say, it took off and the rest is history.
Q - What connection did Judith Durham have with W&G Records that led them to sign the group?
A - Well, she'd been in to see a guy by the name of Ron Tudor, who ran the company. She was singing Jazz with one of our big Jazz bands here in Melbourne and Ron heard the songs she wanted to put down on an E.P. He heard a half dozen songs The Seekers had recorded for just a bit of fun, for ourselves. He heard them and said, "These songs are great for the group. Bring 'em in!" (laughs) He loved what he heard and he was really the one who got us fired up.
Q - You played a stand-up bass. Did you ever play an electric bass?
A - Oh yeah, sure. Not very often, but on the cruise to England they needed us not just to be the afternoon group, they needed us to be the Rock 'n' Roll band from nine o'clock to midnight. (laughs) We turned ourselves into a little Rock 'n' Roll unit. Keith got himself an electric guitar and I got myself an electric bass guitar. Built myself a speaker and an amplifier set. Bruce (Woodley) had himself a set of drums and we played Rock 'n' Roll. I actually practiced and did a lot of work with a fretless electric bass guitar which I haul out ever now and then when I play with my Athol Guy And Friends band because we play anything. We literally do. We play a lot of fun gigs in air clubs and bars. That's all a bit of fun on our level and playing the electric bass guitar as well.
Q - The Seekers' music has been described by Australian music historian Ian McFarlane as "Too Pop to be considered Folk and too Folk to be Rock." I don't understand that statement. The Seekers were a Pop group, weren't they?
A - Well, we morphed into the Pop group. You're quite right. Tom Springfield was the one who hauled us across the Rubicon if you like with "I'll Never Find Another You". He had his group The Springfields of course that had broken up before we arrived in London. We met Dusty Springfield first and that's how we met up with Tom (Springfield). Tom sold Keith a twelve string guitar, so we had a personal connection. Certainly "I'll Never Find Another You" was distinctly different in a sense to the songs we'd been singing, yeah. Our repertoire was bluesy and Gospel, but Tom recognized what the group had and the musicality with the arrangements and he created the perfect vehicle. You're quite right. We morphed immediately into a Pop group and then of course "A World Of Our Own" is not a Folk song. It's a Pop song. "The Carnival Is Over" was really national ballad and then of course "Georgy Girl". You're quite right. We were a Pop group.
Q - What made The Seekers sound? Was it Judith Durham's voice? The arrangement of the songs? The production of the songs? The harmonies? Your records are quite unique. You own "Georgy Girl". That is your signature song.
A - Yeah. You're quite right. One review called it "The perfect Pop song" for all the reasons you're just mentioned. It happened naturally for us. We got naturally more into that melodic harmonic... a lot of groups can sing harmony, but a lot of them don't blend. We blended normally because of the timbre of our voices and we recognized we were really good harmony singers. When we decided we wanted a girl in the group who had the kind of timbre that would help us blend in our voices, that's where Judith was remarkably correct for us. We were lucky. The first time we opened our mouths together, we said that's the sound. That's what we want. You sing through your ears most of the time and then you blend in. Harmonies are one thing, but to get a really good blend that we got, it's quite unique. You've got to have a really great lead singer to be able to do that. And you've got to have a lead singer that forgets that they're the soloist. They have to hold the notes while you wrap the harmonies. It just happened. It was wonderful.
Q - You appeared at Wembley with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Moody Blues, Dusty Springfield. John Lennon walks past your dressing room and says, "You've got a nice little group here, but the people have come to see us." What would have prompted him to say that? Was he so insecure?
A - (laughs) No. John had a great sense of humor. It wasn't a nasty jab. He was just walking past during rehearsal in the morning and we were inside the dressing room. He walked up to Eddie, our manager, and with a big grin on his face said, "You're not a bad little band, Ed, but they're all here to see us." He had a real laugh and then he wandered off his way. Three weeks later our song "A World Of Our Own" knocked "Ticket To Ride" off the top of the U.K. charts. (laughs) We had our chuckle, but it was never a nasty thing. It was a lot of fun. That was John.
Q - I know you did The Ed Sullivan Show, but did you tour America?
A - We did. We were desperate to get to America. Columbia Records were desperate to get us over there, but we were stuck regionally in the British showbiz scene, the Summer season, pantomimes, theatres. In our day full of concerts for any group was unheard of. In England it was called Variety. In America you had that great college circuit which we were desperate to get out and play through the William Morris Agency. We eventually got there. We did a tour and it was a fabulous tour. It was absolutely great. We were really wanting to come back to the States. We wanted to sing some more Jazz and record some Classical stuff and we had some other stuff in mind as well. I'll tell you, in Albany, New York, at the University, we had someone on the bill. He opened the show for us and we were listening. He just had his first hit record. We were going, "Wow! He's pretty good." The audience loved him. Ten thousand kids in this auditorium. Anyway, we got a great response when we walked on stage. It was very lovely. We had a great night. And the young man who opened the show was us was none other than Neil Diamond. (laughs)
Q - This clip of The Seekers on YouTube shows you performing at the Sidney Meyer Music Bowl in Melbourne in front of 200,000 plus people. You're singing "Georgy Girl". Was that 'live' or were you lip-synching?
A - It was 'live'.
Q - That was just like the record. It was perfect.
A - Isn't it. Remarkable when you consider how far we're standing away from the microphones. We really had a great sound. And that's another thing, limited monitoring in those days. It was a natural inclination, we really listened to each other. In those days you heard more from the P.A. system and the venue rather than the monitor on stage. That was really an incredible day. The traffic was five kilometers down the main boulevard. They stopped traffic at one point because the cars were lined up five kilometers trying to get into the place.
Q - Did you like being famous?
A - I never thought about it that way. The identity of the group, which remains strong, is a tribute to the wonderful music we had on records, on our albums and our repertoire that we'd play in our concerts. So for us it's the identity of the band and the music that's more important to us. Fame is very fleeting. It's nice in one sense. It'll never stop the pressure of it. It was a natural thing for us. We went our own way in '68 and got back together in '92. We had a wonderful reunion. We were in our 50s of course. Fame doesn't come into it, it's because we get to go around the world with our music. Families have grown up having our music played in their schools, "Morningtown Ride" and "Georgy Girl" of course. It's a beautiful legacy to have. It's the identity of the group and the music that's the critical factor, if you call that fame. I guess you can.