THE GIFT OF SONG

Ju­dith Durham is de­lighted by a new mu­si­cal cel­e­brat­ing the legacy of the Seek­ers, writes Justin Burke

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Feature - Ge­orgy Girl: The Seek­ers Mu­si­cal

For Ju­dith Durham, the lyrics to Ge­orgy Girl have res­onated with ever greater mean­ing across the five decades since she first sang it with the Seek­ers. The song, which orig­i­nally fea­tured on the sound­track of a 1966 Os­car-nom­i­nated Bri­tish film with the same ti­tle, speaks of lone­li­ness and in­se­cu­rity, seem­ingly at odds with the lib­er­ated spirit of the 1960s. But its chart-top­ping suc­cess in Aus­tralia, Bri­tain and in the US con­firmed a re­mark­able and en­dur­ing con­nec­tion to au­di­ences.

“I thought I was the only per­son in the world who felt like I did at that time,” says Durham, 72, who strug­gled with self-con­fi­dence dur­ing the band’s dizzy­ing as­cent to fame.

“To­day there is so much more aware­ness of is­sues such as weight and self-im­age, and as I have ma­tured in many ways — spir­i­tu­ally as well as phys­i­cally, of course — I have be­come more ap­pre­cia­tive of the univer­sal mes­sages of the lyrics I’ve been singing for 50 years.”

The song’s ap­peal is to be tested in an­other in­car­na­tion, this time as the ti­tle song of Ge­orgy Girl: The Seek­ers Mu­si­cal, which opens on Tues­day in Mel­bourne, be­fore tour­ing to Sydney in April. (Pro­ducer Richard East, an orig­i­nal hand on the ABBA mu­si­cal Mamma Mia! in the early 1990s, says if the show is suc­cess­ful, Lon­don’s West End is a log­i­cal am­bi­tion.)

Based on the 1994 bi­og­ra­phy by Gra­ham Simp­son and writ­ten by Durham’s brother-in­law, play­wright Pa­trick Edge­worth, it tells the story of the young singer and her band­mates Athol Guy, Keith Pot­ger and Bruce Wood­ley, start­ing from their early days as a folk-pop quar­tet in Mel­bourne.

“Yes we are all plan­ning to go to the pre­miere,” Durham says with a laugh. “We don’t take things for granted at our age — but it is so mar­vel­lous that this is hap­pen­ing now, and not af­ter we are all gone.”

Durham has suf­fered sev­eral se­ri­ous health is­sues in re­cent years, most re­cently a brain haem­or­rhage in 2013, fol­low­ing a ma­jor car accident in 1990. Fewer peo­ple are aware of the lung con­di­tion bronchiec­ta­sis that she has man- aged since child­hood; it’s an ail­ment that log­i­cally would have ruled out a ca­reer as a singer, and one she con­tin­ues to man­age with a diet.

“I am to­tally blessed to be able to speak, given the brain haem­or­rhage” she says. “I have to be care­ful how I ra­tion my­self out on a daily Ju­dith Durham with ac­tress Pippa Gran­di­son, who is play­ing her in Ge­orgy

above; Gran­di­son with other cast mem­bers from the mu­si­cal, left ba­sis so I don’t blow a fuse, but the Lord has spared me to al­low my life to con­tinue to un­fold and per­haps be an in­spi­ra­tion to other peo­ple.”

While Durham hopes au­di­ences will find the story and mu­sic up­lift­ing, she says she just as ea­ger to sit back and see how ac­tress Pippa Gran­di­son will por­tray her, and how au­di­ences will re­act. De­spite the ador­ing fan mail Durham con­tin­ues to re­ceive, ques­tions about how fans see her still linger for her.

“All singers have an im­age, from Lady Gaga [to] Michael Jackson or Elvis Pres­ley, if I may put my­self in their cat­e­gory — it’s al­most like a for­mula,” she says. “When I go on open­ing night, I will ac­tu­ally be able to understand bet­ter how the pub­lic per­ceives me.”

For her part, Gran­di­son, an act­ing vet­eran ( A Coun­try Prac­tice; Un­der­belly) and no stranger to the way young women in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try are scru­ti­nised, says al­though play­ing Durham is daunt­ing, the role is not about im­per­son­at­ing the singer’s dis­tinc­tive vo­cals.

“Ju­dith told me when she went out on stage to sing, the au­di­ence com­forted her; that she con­quered her nerves by sim­ply see­ing the peo­ple and shar­ing the mu­sic with them — that’s what I will try to emu­late,” says Gran­di­son.

In con­trast to the band’s rock ’n’ roll con­tem­po­raries from the 1960s, or in­deed to­day’s mu­sic scene, the Seek­ers’ im­age has al­ways been de­cid­edly whole­some.

Durham be­lieves that mu­sic stars to­day are sell­ing short their mu­si­cal tal­ents.

“I sort of feel sorry for peo­ple that have bought into think­ing [hy­per­sex­u­alised per­for­mances] are nec­es­sary,” she says.

“For ex­am­ple, Lady Gaga is an amaz­ingly charis­matic per­son and puts an enor­mous cre­ativ­ity in her mu­sic, but she’ll never know whether or not she needed the con­stant wardrobe changes.

“Then you see an artist like Adele, who is writ­ing her own songs and is such a beau­ti­ful per­son, not re­sort­ing to gim­micks.

“I have been so bor­ing with how I present my­self, putting my hair to one side, singing the same way — aren’t we lucky that what­ever it was we did, which wasn’t con­trived in any way, just con­nected with peo­ple.”

opens on Tues­day at Her Majestys The­atre, Mel­bourne, be­fore tour­ing to Sydney in April.

Girl,

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