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My Pop Life: The Carnival is Over by The Seekers

By Ralph Brown

A Chequered musical quilt of an autobiography, in song-shaped episodes. My Pop Life takes one moment in my life and looks at it through a piece of music. Sometimes the piece of music fits that moment really well, other times not. It is not a list of my favourite songs. It is my look back at an eventful, dysfunctional, random musical life. It is therapeutic and hopefully without regret. There is no plan. Here is one entry.

High above the dawn is waiting
And my tears are falling rain
For the carnival is over
We may never meet again

1965 was the year of The Seekers, The Shangri-Las, The Skatalites, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Bert Jansch & Ken Dodd, The Byrds & The Beatles, Bob Dylan & Motown, Mum’s nervous breakdown and subsequent divorce from my father.  That all bled into 1966 too. I was young – 8 years old – but not that young.

The time my mum spent in Hellingly Hospital was all a blur in the end, apart from those few memories.  The songs of that year stand out as beacons of clarity in a world turning darker and confusingly indeterminate – twinkling shards of light in the doubt – but looking back the only ones I strongly remember were the number 1s (of which The Seekers had two). And I wonder if that is because my dad and my Nan were looking after us,  and they didn’t have the radio on much, or maybe it was 1965 and they didn’t play Radio Luxemburg or Radio Caroline. So only the songs off the telly got through to my ears. Strange thought. Like a rent in the sound firmament.


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Me holding my brother Paul in the early 1960s

Mum had escaped from hospital by pretending to go for a walk one day. She’d earlier made friends with a woman who was on the same meds as she was and a few beds along, and one day the woman had just disappeared. I actually remember Mum telling us this on one clear autumn day, when Dad took me and Paul into the visiting room at Hellingly.  

Mum said that she assumed the woman had gone home, got out of that awful place and was back with her family. Then one day Mum had gone upstairs for something (?) and there was that same woman walking along the corridor, drugged up to the eyeballs. She didn’t recognize Mum. We didn’t like that story and neither did Mum because shortly after that visit she was back home. She’d just walked out and got on a bus.

Later on, maybe 1967 or even later, she told me of the circumstances of the escape and how the doctor had phoned her at home and said she would have to come back and she said no. For a few days they negotiated, Dad, Mum, Dr Maggs and then she voluntarily went back to hospital for a short while, on the strict understanding that it was for a few weeks only. I can’t remember how long for. But a deal was struck and so at some point she was finally back at home, to our huge relief. I can’t claim to remember the celebrations, the hugs and kisses or the arguments that followed, just a few images of marmalade pots flying into the wall; glasses being removed and held high in the air; “don’t be so stupid“;  regular use of the words ‘bugger‘ and ‘off‘ and even the occasional ‘sod‘.  We hated it.

All this time or thereabouts, Lynne was babysitting for us. She was a kind of flowery hippy type, skinny with long frizzy ash-blonde hair. She would marry our dad in 1973 if memory serves. There’s an infinitely sad photo of Ralph, Paul and Andrew with John & Lynne outside the Brighton Registry Office.  The tear-drop shirts give me the date.  

A group of people posing for a photo

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Paul, Andrew, Dad, Lynne, me – Brighton 1973

Years later mum would tell us of others, and other things that happened before the divorce was granted sometime in 1966 on the grounds of “mental cruelty”. I didn’t really understand at the time, and actually remembered the entire two year period later as – a divorce followed by a nervous breakdown. My memory had literally re-ordered the universe so that it made sense.  The divorce caused the breakdown. We can all understand that, to some degree. But no. It was actually the other way around.  I unpicked the actual facts much later when I was fully grown and older than my parents were in 1966.

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Selmeston Village Church

I was still walking to school half a mile south towards the Downs, and life went on as before but without Dad. Nan still came up now and again, or more commonly it was Wendy who turned up, who was our cousin from Portsmouth and must have been a teenager by then. I wrote about her in My Pop Life #102 when she visited a few years later and went to Eastbourne with Mum to see Desmond Dekker.

The sacred music from this mid-sixties era is imprinted onto me like a stick of rock, all the lyrics, harmonies and tunes. The Sound Of Music. Oliver! Motown. The Beatles. Dionne Warwick. And, yes – The Seekers.


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They were part of that early-60s folk wave of clean-harmony middle-class white folk who had a particular confidence, and a bright, clear and gently righteous sound – Pete Seeger, The Kingston Trio, The Weavers, Peter, Paul & Mary, The New Christy Minstrels, Joan Baez and John Denver. The Seekers were somewhat more poppy folk from Australia, and their first release was a version of Waltzing Matilda, which I have to report reluctantly is not as good as Rolf Harris’. They travelled to Britain by ship then performed alongside Dusty Springfield (see My Pop Life #149) whereupon they also met her brother Tom who had earlier been in a popular group with his sister called The Springfields. He wrote and produced a song for The Seekers called I’ll Never Find Another You in 1964 which eventually got to Number 1 in the UK. He also wrote The Carnival Is Over, Georgy Girl and A World Of Our Own. The clear female voice is that of Judith Durham whose pitching is straight as an arrow clean centre of every note, supported by the three fellas whose harmonies thrillingly nestle under that clear pure voice, supporting and stretching the melody to its full promise and providing hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck moments every time.

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The Carnival Is Over is sung to an old Russian folk melody called Stenka Razin with original lyrics written by the poet Dmitry Sadovnikov in 1883 – and he told a historical tale of the Volga boatmen – a terrible dark story :

The Ballad of Stenka Razin 

From beyond the wooded island
To the river wide and free
Proudly sailed the arrow-breasted
ships of Cossack yeomanry.

On the first is Stenka Razin
With his princess by his side
Drunken holds in marriage revels
With his beauteous young bride

From behind there comes a murmur
He has left his sword to woo;
One short night and Stenka Razin
Has become a woman, too.

Stenka Razin hears the murmur
Of his discontented band
And his lovely Persian princess
He has circled with his hand.

His dark brows are drawn together
As the waves of anger rise;
And the blood comes rushing swiftly
To his piercing jet black eyes

I will give you all you ask for
Head and heart and life and hand.
And his voice rolls out like thunder
Out across the distant land.

Volga, Volga, Mother Volga
Wide and deep beneath the sun,
You have never seen such a present
From the Cossacks of the Don.

So that peace may reign forever
In this band so free and brave
Volga, Volga, Mother Volga
Make this lovely girl a grave.

Now, with one swift mighty motion
He has raised his bride on high
And has cast her where the waters
Of the Volga roll and sigh.

Dance, you fools, and let’s be merry
What is this that’s in your eyes?
Let us thunder out a shanty
To the place where beauty lies.

From beyond the wooded island
To the river wide and free
Proudly sailed the arrow-breasted
ships of Cossack yeomanry.

It is a darkly male, anti-love, pro-warrior kind of song. Not many of those in my Pop Life. It alarms me that there is a strand in song – in men – with this death-cult kind of feeling being expressed, and I copy it here for interest and as a kind of appalled question – is that who we are? Really? It actually appears very Greek – Medea killing her children. According to Wikipedia  “the Dutch traveller Jean Jansen Struys (1630—1694), says that the murder was meant as a sacrifice with which Razin hoped to appease the much loved and feared Volga River”.

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In the Tom Springfield re-write the darkness disappears and we have a simple yearning lament for something lost, perhaps a brief affair with a lion-tamer or a clown, but the circus is leaving town and we get sympathetic lines :

Like a drum, my heart was beating/And your kiss was sweet as wine/But the joys of love are fleeting…

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Andrew, Selmeston East Sussex 1965

My mother, consciously or not, must have used this as an anthem for her own broken marriage. Or perhaps it was lodger and lover Stan leaving for his home in Australia which was the heartbreak. It has a funereal beat to it, tragic and fated but yet graced with ethereal & beautiful harmonies that really lift you up from tragedy into a place of light and joy. Quite an extraordinary effect. It worked on Mum, and it still works on me. Some of the best songs have both joy and sadness in them.  And it hasn’t escaped me that I have avoided the in-depth discussion of my parent’s divorce and instead devoted some time to an exploration of the song. There is a pattern here I believe. Most of my traumatic moments, my lonely moments, my brave moments have been hidden inside my personal soundtrack. The music made it all bearable. Now older, I can be ambushed by all kinds of things which operate the hidden triggers to open those boxes of feeling, not always musical. And I’m not sure if I have very much to say about my parent’s divorce anyway, except that it put me off marriage – or so I thought. Once I was in fact married, I realised that it was divorce I wasn’t interested in. Marriage was fine, as long as it was for ever.


Morningtown Ride opened the Seekers album and was our lullaby that we used to rock baby Andrew, now two, three years old :

Train whistle blowing, makes a sleepy noise
Underneath the blankets for all the boys and girls
Rockin’, rollin’, riding, out along the bay
All bound for Morningtown, many miles away…

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Andrew it was who was hit hardest by the divorce because he had no real memory of his father being at home. In that sense I became his father-figure at the tender age of 8. In later years I always placed my younger brother in goal so that I could score past him, and he would get revenge by entering Paul and my bedroom and breaking carefully constructed Airfix kits.    Middle brother Paul’s version of the damage control that comes from a broken & dysfunctional home was a simple but devastating remark he made when I was 30 years old :

Ralph, you got the lion’s share of the confidence in our family”.  

This is undeniable – as the oldest of three boys left at home with a recovering single mother, I’d had seven years with both parents, a reasonably stable base from which to build a person. Paul had five years, Andrew one. But having two parents isn’t the be-all & end-all of a healthy childhood. Many other things come into play. The carnival might have been over, but we could all still sing about it and we were all still together. We’d just become one fewer. 

Ralph Brown is an actor, writer and musician who lives in Brooklyn, NY.  He has worked in the West End, Broadway and Hollywood and his writing has been translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish and Japanese.

Andrew McAttee Vista

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