This was Australian folk quartet The Seekers’ second and last reign at the top of the hit parade. 1965 had been their peak year in the UK, with I’ll Never Find Another You at the top of the charts early in the year, and A World of Our Own also performing well. They were also charting high in the US as well as back in their own country.
Their chief songwriter and producer, Tom Springfield travelled to Brazil at some point that year and witnessed the Rio Carnival. Feeling inspired, he wrote some lyrics and adapted an old Russian folk song, Iz-za ostrova na strezhen from circa 1883 (although the tune goes back much further).
This was quite a different beast to the pseudo-religious cheer of their previous number 1. Set to an ominous drumbeat, it’s very similar to Roy Orbison’s It’s Over from 1964. But as strong and distinctive as Judith Durham’s vocal is, she’s no match for the Big O if you ask me.
The lyrics seem to suggest the carnival is a metaphor for the end of an affair, and the reference to Pierrot and Columbine suggests a woman running away with another man (Pierrot is the classic Italian sad clown, and Columbine broke his heart by leaving him for Harlequin). It’s a bit of a grower, and takes a few listens to make an impact, but pales into comparison with some of the number 1s at the time, and it’s a shame this kept The Who’s My Generation from the top spot.
At some point in 1965 The Seekers met a struggling American folk singer called Paul Simon. They got on well, and Simon collaborated with Seekers member Bruce Woodley on a few songs, including Red Rubber Ball. In 1966 the group released their cover of Simon’s Someday One Day, which gave Simon his first taste of chart success. Also that year the Seekers were named Best New Group of 1965 in the New Musical Express Poll Winners Awards.
They narrowly missed the number 1 spot with Morningtown Ride and Georgy Girl. This theme to a film of the same name starring Lynn Redgrave and James Mason was co-written by Carry On star Jim Dale, and is their best-known song in the UK to this day.
They returned to Australia in 1967, where they made the Guinness Book of Records for a performance at Melbourne’s Sydney Myer Music Bowl. It was the largest ever concert in the Southern Hemisphere. On Australia Day in 1968 they were named joint Australians of the Year – the only group to hold the title. However, on Valentine’s Day that year while touring New Zealand, Durham announced she was leaving to pursue a solo career. Going out while still on top was a brave but canny move, and their greatest hits album was a huge seller at the end of the decade.
Woodley, like Durham, went solo, while Keith Potger formed The New Seekers, later to have two UK number 1s with I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing in 1972 and You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me in 1974. Athol Guy became a TV presenter and then went into politics.
However, The Seekers eventually reformed several times over in many different line-ups, and The Carnival is Over grew in importance to the group as the years went by. They performed it at the World Expo 88 in Brisbane and it was also covered by a diverse array of artists, notably Nick Cave and Boney M.
In 1992 the original line-up reunited and have performed on and off ever since. In 2000 The Seekers were supposed to perform it at the Sydney Summer Olympics closing ceremony but Durham was in a wheelchair due to a broken hip so they performed at the Paralympics ceremony instead. Unlike many bands that reform sporadically, their appeal is still huge.
Written by: Traditional (words by Tom Springfield)
Producer: Tom Springfield
Weeks at number 1: 3 (25 November-15 December)
Children’s author and illustrator Lauren Child – 29 November
Comic book writer Paul Jenkins – 9 December
Rugby player Will Carling – 12 December
Pianist Dame Myra Hess – 25 November
29 November: The 60s may have been a time in which all kinds of barriers were pushed aside in society, but one woman had had enough of the impact of the permissive society on television. Mary Whitehouse founded the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association. It far succeeded her initial crusade as vangaurd of taste and decency, when she ran the Clean-Up TV Campaign in 1964. She ran the NVLA until 1994, and it still exists today as Mediawatch-UK.