First published on 6 Nov 2011. Updated on 8 Nov 2011.
In 1965, the Beatles released ‘Help’, the Stones searched for ‘Satisfaction’, but the biggest-selling single of the year was ‘I’ll Never Find Another You’ by an Australian folk-rock band called the Seekers. It was followed by a string of hits, including the beautiful (Nick Cave-covered) ‘The Carnival is Over’, the Oscar-nominated ‘Georgy Girl’, ‘Morningtown Ride’ and more.
Talking to Time Out on the release of her new solo album, Epiphany, Judith Durham remembers it as, “such a happy time”. When The Seekers returned home to Melbourne in 1967 from their new base in London, 200,000 people turned out at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl to see them play for 20 minutes. Yet all along, the band steadfastly refused to consider Durham’s own compositions, even as album tracks. “It was a source of conflict,” she recalls, noting also that her classically trained trad-jazz piano playing was never really utilised. “It was a guitar band,” she rues.
Listening to Epiphany, you can imagine Durham’s own gospel-flavoured songs would have been just as successful as those penned by the band or Tom Springfield, brother of Dusty and the composer of their first hit, along with ‘A World of Our Own’, another cool million-seller in 1966.
Durham is 68 now, and yet in the most creative phase of her career. Epiphany is an eclectic record, covering family, love and loss, the climate, animal rights, the empowerment of women and even the holocaust. Conventional loves songs don’t get a look in.
“I felt I was being challenged by things I’d had no prior knowledge of,” she speculates. “I felt, too, that I was writing for younger voices, not for myself – a different demographic.”
It’s also a record dominated by her faith. “I feel that strength more so than ever,’ she says. “I wish I’d known way back that life is not in your hands. Give space, be open to ideas, from whatever source.”
Durham’s drawn on other source material for lyrics on Epiphany, setting the famous bush poem ‘Clancy of the Overflow to music, and doing the same, in lieu of the now notorious Four Corners live cattle export exposé, with a recent speech by native American Chief Seattle about animal rights. And out now, too, is Colours of My Life, a retrospective of Judith’s catalogue with fantastic versions of her own songs, Seekers tunes, and 50s standards.
You really should hit YouTube and witness her performance at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl (RocKwiz Salutes the Bowl), 42 years after the Seekers’ triumphant show at the venue. “It was just amazing”, she recalls. “I didn’t think anybody would be interested in me. All those young people.”
The lengthy standing ovation said otherwise.