by David Robinson.
As a founding member of one of Australia’s first supergroups, Athol Guy knows what it’s like to scale the heights of music industry success. The Seekers took their sound to the world, where it was accepted almost universally by the record-buying public. Hit followed hit, and each achievement seemed to better the last.
Athol is preparing to tour Athol Guy – The Seekers Story throughout this year, beginning with a series of South Australian dates. The show features rarely seen footage from The Seekers’ history, as well as live performances of their classic songs. We catch up with him and ask how the idea for the show came about.
“I have a little band at home, up in the Macedon Ranges in Victoria,” Athol begins. “It started when I sat in with a couple of mates, and we’d play almost anything, doing local one-off shows for a bit of fun. We call the group Athol Guy and Friends, because we warmly embrace one or two of my other mates every now and then; it’s pretty flexible.
“We put a little show together, for Morning Melodies, on a couple of Queensland runs,” he continues. “It was an hour-long show based around ‘60s music, and I used a lot of videos from The Seekers’ days. A friend of mine, a well-known agent, knew I was putting my memoirs and stories of the group together and suggested that it would make a wonderful little mini-musical – a “rockumentary” of The Seekers’ life story. He said ‘You’ve got to put all this together and put it on stage’. I thought that I’d like to play some of regional theatres, and also get into the smaller city theatres to perform it. That’s how The Seekers Story evolved.”
What can audiences expect from the show?
“The whole show is full of live music. We play all the great songs,” Athol says. “For these shows the band is Buddy England –one of our pop icons from the ‘60s – Jenny Blake, Rod Hulls and Michael Cristiano. We play songs from the late ‘50s and early ‘60s; music that The Seekers’ members individually loved. We show the audience a bit of history about how we put our love of harmonies, lyrics and various types of music into what eventually became The Seekers’ sound.
“There’s a retrospective that actually starts the show,” he goes on. “It’s narrated by George Fairfax, one of our great theatrical icons here in Melbourne, and it briefly tells the story of the group from our humble beginnings all the way to topping the charts around the world. It gives people an insight into things they possibly didn’t know: How many times we topped the charts, knocking The Beatles off, knocking The Stones album off… People know that the group was hugely successful, but they don’t know all the details or the stories behind the success.”
The Seekers played with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones at the New Musical Express All-Star Poll Winners Concert, in front of a huge crowd at Wembley in 1965. They were also named Best New Group at the Top Of The Pops Awards. That must have been a great experience.
“There were 30 chart-topping acts from all around the world on that [NME] show,” Athol explains. “We won the Best New Group award on the back of our first single, I’ll Never Find Another You. We also performed A World Of Our Own.
“In this show we do all these songs live in The Seekers Story, and show the film footage. We take people through some of the many funny moments from our lives together, culminating with our recent 50th Anniversary Tour. Audiences will get an insight into who The Seekers really were. There are a lot of laughs, and maybe a few tears in the poignant moments.
“We’re not a tribute band but we are paying tribute to the group and the songs,” he adds. “It’s all about the great songs; the show is full of live music.”
Do you have a stand-out memory from those days of the first iteration of the group?
“Too many! The first number one was amazing. With all that competition in the music world in the ‘60s, to win a gold medal was outrageous, given who we were – a little folk group from Australia. We suddenly broke through into the charts with I’ll Never Find Another You. It was staggering.”
Has putting this show together been a difficult task, or more a labour of love?
“It’s fallen into place pretty easily,” Athol says. “The only discipline was to ensure it made sense – making sure that there wasn’t too much chat, that it was full of music, and told the story in a really entertaining and fun way. The fine tuning was a little bit harder; we’ve played the show a few times just to tweak it a bit. It’s been great fun and the audiences have loved it.”
To what extent is this a personal recollection? How will it differ from the The Seekers’ story that people know?
“Audiences will see me singing Ave Maria as a little choirboy,” Athol laughs. They’ll also see some clips from my first two groups. One was The Ramblers, a little group that I started when I was 18. We did a lot of television work out of Melbourne. The second was The Escorts; you couldn’t call a group that these days! I joined up with Keith and we morphed through bebop and more jazzy style songs, fell in love with folk music, and the great harmony groups of the time. In the show we sing through a medley of songs that helped create The Seekers sound.”
You must be relishing the prospect of getting out and touring the show.
“We are really looking forward to being over there at Her Majesty’s Theatre,” he says. “I hope we meet up with all our mates over in Adelaide, and at the other places we are touring. It’s nice, after the show, to come to the foyer and touch base with friends.
“It’s going to be a great time,” Athol concludes. “We do it because it’s a lot of fun.”
Athol Guy – The Seekers Story performs at Her Majesty’s Theatre from 8pm on Mon 4 May.
Book at BASS on 131 241 or bass.net.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.