Potger, Bruce Woodley, Judith Durham, Athol Guy
Rupert De Alwis
a warm day in Colombo in February,
1948 an impressionable young lad, barely seven-years-old, was to
embark on a journey of migration that would lead him to a world of
music and fame. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka was still dancing in the streets.
Celebrating freedom from British rule, rejoicing in nationhood,
renewing old traditions and going back to their roots.
the Potger family was travelling.
to Lucky Country Down Under in the care of his parents and grand
parents, young Keith, was not to know that fate will lead him up a
path that would make him for a space, as famous as the Beatles. For
now, there were more immediate and basic concerns. The family had
settled in Melbourne - a city that was later to become one of the most
popular destinations for Sri Lankan migrants - and his parents were
busy striving to improve their lot in life.
in Melbourne on February
29,1948 Keith Potger celebrated his eighth birthday on March
21, in a city that was later to become the birth place of the Seekers.
Little did he know then that he would be touring Europe as one of the
most successful folk bands in the '60s and topping the music charts
for years to come.
in 1941, Keith Potger was a child of the war years. So were Athol Guy,
Bruce Woodley and Judith Durham - the other members of the Seekers.
Surely this must have influenced their thoughts, their music. And in
the height of their triumph in the mid '60s, their music brought hope
and inspiration to a world now being introduced to rock n' roll and
the hugely popular Seekers were travelling to London in 1964, Colombo
was one of their ports of call. Keith, now famous and sought after,
still had several family members living in his country of birth. His
uncle Barandt was captain of the tug that brought in his ship - the
Fairsky into the Colombo Harbour. Another uncle, Trevor Bilsborough
was the Harbour Master at the time. Indeed, Keith's father, Vere
Potger had served in the Ceylon Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (CRNVR)
and his uncles were in the airforce during WW2. Despite these
connections, it was to be 28 years before Keith visited Sri Lanka
1992, he accompanied his mum, Joan on a holiday to the island. The
first stop on his itinerary so he could dust off his travelling shoes
was the Bishop's College Old Girl's Ball - which event he happily
attended as an 'old girl'. At the age of five Keith had spent a
profitable year at the Colombo school and his cousin Jennifer Ingleton
mischievously arranged an invitation for Keith to the gala event as an
'old girl'. Such rocking times aside, for Keith and his mum, the visit
to Sri Lanka was a frenzy of tourist activity as they visited many of
the land's best attractions and took in the spectacular Esela Perahera.
In late 1992 early 1993, Keith had also agreed to perform at a number
of hotels managed by the John Keells Group. This tour was a great
Keith Potger has drawn upon his many images of Sri Lanka, his
experiences, his belief in the Buddhist teachings and his life in
Australia to write a deeply personal and poignant new album. Based on
his extraordinary life experiences and his memories of Sri Lanka
during his most impressionable years, Keith Potger has released
Secrets Of The Heart, a collection of nineteen inspirational songs
that will warm the soul and thrill the heart.
about time" was the comment made by an Australian radio industry
guru when told of Keith Potger's first solo CD. As founding member of
the internationally acclaimed Australian group the Seekers, with over
four decades of accolades, Keith is already well known, dearly loved
by his fans and respected by his peers. So how come it took so long to
release his first solo album when by 1968 the members of the Seekers
had officially split up to pursue their own careers?
Keith - "I was busy with the Seekers, helping other artistes and
writing songs. Then in late 2002, I lost my voice and virtually went
into hiding while I worked on curing my problem with the aid of a
speech therapist. The happy ending was that I slowly regained my voice
and was able to complete the 2003 Seekers tour. Shortly after, I
resolved to make demos of my songs in case something similar happened
in the future. "I booked the recording studio for a few weeks to
put down some basic versions of songs I had written during the past
decade. Before I knew it, I had 19 tracks and was singing better than
ever." Keith describes his first solo CD as a 'window to my
I write this article, I listen to; Secrets Of The Heart. The deeply
reflective songs, inspirational lyrics and soul searching tunes move
me greatly and I am compelled to echo dreamily the Australian radio
industry guru's sentiments. "Yes indeed. It is about time."
Keith though, Sri Lanka remains very much a part of his experience. He
is surrounded by friends of Sri Lankan descent. He still thinks of Sri
Lanka as his first home. In his new song Island Nights featured in the
CD he sings poignantly.
down the halls of silence leading to my lonely room I feel my
bar-coded life... Everything changing but staying the same... I need
more of those lazy island nights With the sand crunching under our
feet As we crashed down the beach water like wine and my soul on
fire.. I need less of this stress and more of those island nights...
Wasted lots of chances waiting for the grand parade to start I wanted
trumpets and lights. Somehow they never came out to play.. that's not
what I had in mind. Give me the dream any day I need more of those
lazy island nights.."
Keith articulates in his own inimitable way the song that burns in the
heart of every migrant, far away from his/or her island yearning for
those sunny days and breezy nights, the care free attitude, the stress
his music playing in the background I am prompted to ask the famous
crooner, what is his most burning image of the land of his birth?
the innocence and wonder of one not having experienced the horror and
hatred of the JVP onslaught in the late '80s and the blood bath
perpetrated by terrorism in the '80s and '90s, Keith tells me,
"the freedom to move about."
Keith "My younger brother and I had a loving extended family and
we felt comfortable in the countryside and visiting the 'big smoke'
Colombo. Being barefoot was a major part of our attitude."
reflect for a space at this wonderful answer echoed no doubt by many a
Sri Lankan fortunate enough to have lived in that time. That glorious
time before 'Sinhala Only', disharmony, greed and ethnic cleavage.
Keith is not one to forget the island that gave him such lovely
memories. And Keith has long had an idea. An idea of how he could help
promote Sri Lanka worldwide. An idea that, if Sri Lanka were astute
she would soon support and help realise. Keith proposes to develop a
music programme based in Sri Lanka. To make a music video of his
inspirational songs in Sri Lanka, featuring various scenic spots.
main thrust of the programme", Keith clarifies, would be to show
a Sri Lanka that has bountiful sites and sights. However these would
not be limited to the acknowledged historical venues but would delve a
lot deeper into ecological and spiritual issues."
performing would be a side issue", he adds humbly, "but I
could be a wandering minstrel taking the viewer along for a unique
ride in a unique country."
is a splendid idea. The Sri Lanka Tourist Board and other relevant
authorities must take note.
Keith talks of his early recollections of Sri Lanka, why he left, his
belief in the teachings of Lord Buddha, kismet, and how he yearns to
What are your early recollections of the land of your birth?
freedom to move about. My younger brother and I had a loving
extended family and we felt comfortable in the countryside and
visiting the 'big smoke' Colombo. Being barefoot was a major part of
our attitude I believe.
were your parents, where did you live in Sri Lanka and have you
returned at any time during your immensely successful career as a
My parents are Vere and Joan Potger. My mother's maiden name was
Meier and I am lucky enough to have genealogies of both sides of my
family going back to the mid 1700s when my forebears arrived from
Holland and Germany. I was born in Bambalapitiya and my mother's
parents had a home in Ambegahawatte where I lived until about the age
of four. Then we lived in Colpetty prior to moving to Australia.
the Seekers were travelling to London in 1964 Colombo was one of our
ports of call. I had several family members still living there. I did
not have a chance to return until 1992 when I took my mother for a
holiday that included the August perahera. During that holiday I made
contact with the Keells Hotels Group management who booked me to
perform at some of their hotels at the end of that year and going into
Has Sri Lanka or images of your motherland influenced you, your music,
your life, your beliefs?
I always felt that Sri Lanka provoked in me a positive attitude that
is reflected in my lyrics. Also, one of the songs on my new CD, Island
Nights, is very much influenced by my image of Sri Lanka. My beliefs
are strongly influenced by Buddhist teachings and I look forward to
following this up by spending time in Sri Lanka as soon as I can.
What is the foremost image of Sri Lanka that has been etched in your
Early recollections are strongly coloured by the family photo
images that have survived. However I can recall places and events that
were not 'enhanced' by being in photos.
vignette that comes to mind is when my brother and I fell into rice
paddy fields and had to sneak in the back door of the house to change
into clean clothing before my parents saw us. Another was the day we
were in the care of my Uncle Lucien down at the beach (forgotten which
one) and were swept out by a rip. If he hadn't rescued us I would not
be here to tell the tale. I was forever thankful for his quick
thinking and bravery. The memory of aromas such as the fragrance of
cashew flowers came flooding back after many decades when I wandered
through a cashew grove in Bali some years ago, taking me right back to
my early childhood in Sri Lanka.
What drives you? What is your force? Or is it only all about music?
My force is giving. I have been lucky to have had wonderful
experiences and wish to give some joy to those folk I come in contact
with. Music is for me a tangible medium through which I can try to
achieve this. Another song on the CD, Everything In Your Love, while
it can be construed as a love song, really has a more all-embracing
message of thanks in the lyrics.
Your work throughout the years reflects more than ever that music
comes from your heart, but why is this particular CD a 'life event'
I believe that there are certain thresh holds in life that can
only be attained when one is prepared. There are many other thresh
holds that seem to occur when one is not prepared but that's a
different story. Somehow I feel that the making of this CD was
something I had prepared for without really knowing as much, all
through my musical career. I may record more CDs, who knows, but this
one is special because it happened almost like I had nothing to do
with it apart from being there at the right time.
Do you maintain any links at all with Sri Lanka?
My mother's cousin Jennifer Ingleton is the only blood relative I have
in Sri Lanka. I let other influences distract me through the years but
now I wish to reinstate my contact and forge fresh links. Jennifer
Ingleton is the head of the successful condiments manufacturer and
exporter, DAFI Foods. This was started by her husband, but after his
death, Jennifer took the reins and has developed the company from its
humble beginnings into a much larger operation than anyone could have
imagined. Australia is one of the main export destinations.
Do you have any recollection as to why your parents came to Australia
from Sri Lanka originally?
My father served in the Ceylon Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, and
my uncles were in the airforce during WW2. After 1945 countries
worldwide were feeling the impact of the protracted hostilities and
Ceylon was no exception. My parents and my uncles were aware that
opportunities were opening up in Australia and Canada with new
industries growing out of the war effort. So, in 1947, my father and
my mother's two brothers decided that Australia was to be the
destination and migrated in September to Melbourne. My father found
work at Fisherman's Bend in the fledgling car industry and he prepared
the way for my mother, my grandparents, my brother and me to come to
Melbourne in 1948. We arrived on February 29, it being a leap year. My
seventh birthday was on March 21 that year.
Did you attend a school in Sri Lanka even for a short period. If so,
I attended Bishop's College at five years of age for just over a year.
This being a girls' school, I have been ragged about it occasionally
by those who know this obscure piece of my past.
Potger a founding member of the Seekers, is a self taught guitarist
and excels on a 12 string guitar. He also sang vocals with the group.
During his school years Keith enrolled for subjects that were
necessary for his chosen path of medicine, but half way through
secondary school his hobby of music began to take a more important
role in his life. In 1957 he started his first vocal group and began
arranging and conducting performances at school level. The rock n'
roll era was 'too exciting for him to ignore' writes Keith in the book
Celebrations - Fifty Years Of Sri Lanka -Australia Interactions,
edited by C.A. & I.H. vanden Driesen.
1959, Keith immersed himself in the music industry and got involved in
every aspect - performing, writing, arranging and marketing. His vocal
group the Escorts were soon established on national and local
television music shows. Meanwhile folk music was becoming more
influential in his life and says he, in the book 'Celebrations et al;'
"from the ashes of my previous group The Escorts, a few casual
singing sessions turned into a group that was to dominate the rest of
my life - the Seekers. Though the Seekers started out as an all male
group in 1963 one member left and the remaining three asked a young
female vocalist making a name for herself in Melbourne jazz clubs to
sit as a replacement. Thus came together Judith Durham, Athol Guy,
Bruce Woodley and Keith Potger as the main line up of the Seekers.
Following a visit to London in 1964, the group were signed to the
Grade Agency and secured a prestigious guest spot on the televised
Sunday Night At The London Palladium.
Seekers also appeared on the Tonight Show on BBC TV, and a few days
later appeared in Blackpool, supporting Freddie and the Dreamers. They
soon became regular guests on Call In On Carroll, a popular Friday
night TV programme, and were offered an album deal with the World
Record Club.This album, entitled simply the Seekers, was so well
received that the group was immediately offered another album by the
WRC. This next album, Hide And Seekers, included several solos for
Judith, as well as a cover of Bob Dylan's Blowin' In The Wind. Tom
Springfield, of the recently-defunct Springfields, soon realised that
the Seekers could fill the gap left by his former group and offered
his services as songwriter/producer. Although 1965 was one of the most
competitive years in pop, the Seekers strongly challenged the Beatles
and the the Rolling Stones as the top chart act of the year.
trilogy of folk/pop smashes on November 4th, 1964, the Seekers
recorded I'll Never Find Another You by Tom Springfield at EMI's Abbey
Road Studios, and the record was released a month later. This soon
reached the Top 40, and by the beginning of 1965 was attracting
considerable airplay and climbing rapidly up the charts. By February,
it knocked The Kinks' Tired Of Waiting For You off the No. 1 position
to top the UK charts. The record also reached No. 1 in Australia and
No. 3 in the USA, selling almost two million copies. This was followed
by another Tom Springfield song, A World Of Our Own, which soon
reached No. 1 in Britain, No. 2 in Australia and No. 15 in the USA.
Soon the group released another album, A World Of Our Own (released as
simply The Seekers in Australia). The same year, the Seekers had their
third No. 1 single, The Carnival Is Over, again by Tom Springfield. At
its peak, this sold over 90,000 copies a day.
from Tom Springfields's compositions, such as Walk With Me, they also
scored a massive chart hit with Malvina Reynolds' Morningtown Ride and
gave Paul Simon his first UK success with a bouncy adaptation of
'Someday One Day'. In early 1967, the breezy Georgy Girl (written by
Tom Springfield and Jim Dale) was a transatlantic Top 10 hit but
thereafter, apart from When Will The Good Apples Fall and Emerald
City, the group were no longer chart regulars.
years later they bowed out in a televised farewell performance, and
went their separate ways. Keith Potger oversaw the formation of the
New Seekers before moving into record production. In 1975, the Seekers
briefly re-formed with teenage Dutch singer Louisa Wisseling Replacing
Judith Durham. They enjoyed one moment of chart glory when 'The
Sparrow Song's topped the Australian charts. In 1990 Judith Durham was
involved in a serious car crash and spent six months recovering. The
experience is said to have inspired her to reunite the original
Seekers, and they played a series of 100 dates across Australia and
New Zealand, before appearing in several 1994 Silver Jubilee Reunion
Concerts in the UK at venues which included London's Royal Albert Hall
and Wembley Arena.
group Seekers received several accolades which include the first group
ever to reach No. 1 in the UK with their first three singles, the
first Australian group to reach No 1 internationally (I'll Never Find
Another You), the first Australian group to reach No 1 on the American
charts (Georgy Girl), and they attracted the biggest concert crowd in
the southern hemisphere (200,000+ people). Their 1965 No 1 hit The
Carnival Is Over has won a legendary place in the UK Top 100 Singles
Chart of All Time, the group was named Australians of the Year in 1967
- the only time this annual honour has been awarded to a group
collectively, the record holders for Australian television ratings for
their TV special The Seekers Down Under 1967 inducted to the ARIA Hall
of Fame 1995.
Keith Potger's solo CD Secrets of the Heart may be purchased by email