21
Apr 05

THE SEEKERS – “The Carnival Is Over”

Popular24 comments • 12,785 views

#206, 27th November 1965

What sort of qualities must a song have for both Nick Cave and Boney M to cover it? What those two acts have in common is a fascination with piety, and a fondness for playing up a track’s seriousness so that it totters into kitsch*. “The Carnival Is Over” ticks the first box with its stately pace and hymnal arrangement, and by the time Tom Springfield’s lyric reaches Pierrot and Columbine the kitsch potential is obvious too. Potential sadly unrealised in this original: I want to like it because it’s such an oddity, a restrained folk-pop tune that rejects the models for family-friendly balladry and strikes out for more austere shores. But it never quite connects with me. The smooth nobility of Judith Durham’s singing is attractive; the song as a whole though feels like a starchy exercise in writing a ‘folk ballad’, archaisms and all.

But perhaps I don’t like it just because the title is so good, so immediately evocative of things – horseboxes and caravans that vanish in the night, empty fields full of bootmarks and lolly sticks – that the song was never meant to deliver.

*(This is not all Boney M are good for, of course.)

4

Comments

  1. 1
    Tom on 21 Apr 2005 #

    Sorry for the lack of updates over the last week – I was in Seattle at the EMP pop conference. A big hello to the Popular readers I met there, too.

  2. 2
    Anonymous on 21 Apr 2005 #

    Such a strange song. I actually heard it a few times on US radio when it was first released, and I’m a bit amazed it made the American airways at all. At 14, I was strangely drawn to the bizarre melodrama of it all–much ado about a carnival leaving town, and why couldn’t the protagonist and the lover to whom it is sung ever see each other again? I have since thought that the song doesn’t seem to be so much about a carnival as it seems to be about going off to war–the rather martial drums towards the end seem to suggest as much. How this connects with a carnival, though, is still beyond my comprehension, and even now I wonder if I somehow missed something in this song altogether. But what?

    In the end, there’s something perversely inexplicable about the song, its meaning and its affect, so much that it approaches the point of absurdity. For that reason, I can’t help liking it a bit, just as I take an odd pleasure a certain kitsch artifacts.

    With that in mind, there’s something in me that would have loved (and simultaneously cringed) to hear Tom Springfield and his sister sing this one. Perhaps I would then be able to understand the song in a way I still can’t.

    Doctor Mod

  3. 3
    Marcello on 22 Apr 2005 #

    I knew that the song was derived from an old Russian folk ballad, but typically (and thankfully!) it has a rather more complex history than that. Have a look here for further info. Part of me devoutly wishes that the Seekers had tried recording the original lyric!

  4. 4
    Anonymous on 22 Apr 2005 #

    Thanks for the background, Marcello. The English translation of the Cossack song would surely explain the martial feel of it, and why it is truly a “last goodbye.” One even might say it’s grotesquely carnivalesque–but not my idea of a carnival (or a good time)!

    Although the Seekers were never as big over here as in the UK (or, indeed, Australia), most people forget that they ALMOST hit the top of the US charts a few months later, when “Georgy Girl” reached #2. One still hears “Georgy Girl” quite often–it’s one of those songs that’s now ubiquitous in stores and fast-food restaurants and other such public places.

    Doctor Mod

  5. 5
    dickvandyke on 18 May 2005 #

    Listen to it in the context of someone close to you is slowly passing away – perhaps after a long illness. It takes on new depth … and tears your heart.

  6. 6
    Anonymous on 3 Sep 2005 #

    I always felt that ‘carnival’ was a metaphor for life. Not necessarily all of life, just the bit that was spent with the person who is leaving.

  7. 7
    kevin mccarron on 25 Jul 2006 #

    Surely anonymous is `right’: the song is a metaphor for something coming to an end. The mystery, never revealed, is why it is. Is she married? Is he? The funereal drumming is similar to that which underpins Roy Orbisnon’s `It’s Over’.

  8. 8
    Marc Chrysanthou on 22 Jun 2007 #

    Can’t believe some of the derogatory comments about The Carnival is Over! This has to be in my Top 20 songs of all time – so poignant, with such evocative images (high above the dawn is waking, like a drum my heart was beating, your kiss was sweet as wine) and Judith Durham’s voice so clear and youthfully idealistic adds another dimension to its emotional resonance.

  9. 9
    ROBERT J. BURNS on 11 Sep 2007 #

    DEAR READERS,
    THERE ONCE WAS AN OLDER GUY WHO KNEW A YOUNG LADY THAT SUPPORTED HIM IN HIS EFFORTS TO FIND JUSTICE AS HE HAD BEEN A VICTIM OF SERIOUS CRIME. THIS GIRL KEPT HIS SPIRITS HIGH AND HAD COMPLETE FAITH IN HIM KNOWING HE WAS GOING AGAINST BIG NAMES IN ORGANIZED CRIME.

    A FEW YEARS AGO THE GUY MOVED FROM THE USA TO BELFAST, N. IRELAND. WHEN THE GUY AND THE GIRL SAID GOOD-BYE IT WAS HARD BECAUSE HE FELT SHE HAD A CRUSH ON HIM BUT HE COULD NEVER TELL HER HIS FEELING TOWARDS HER.

    WHILE A BOOK WAS BEING WRITTEN IN BELFAST ABOUT THE CRIMES AND LETTERS WERE BEING SENT TO THE GIRL, THE GUY REVISITED SOME OF HIS LETTERS TO HER AND WAS ABLE TO SHOW COMPLETE PROOF OF THE CRIMES DUE TO FINDING AN OVERSIGHT. THE PROOF ALSO SHOWED THAT THE GUY HAD BEEN A TARGET TO BE KILLED.

    TAKE EVENTS AND WRITE A BOOK WITH “THE CARNIVAL IS OVER” PLAYING SOFTLY IN THE BACKGROUND AND CONSIDER THE FEELING THAT COMES OVER THE PERSON WHO SAID GOOD-BYE TO A GIRL HE LOVED BUT COULD NEVER TELL HER AND ALL SHE DID WAS TO KEEP HIM ALIVE. YES, THE BOOK IS DEDICATED TO HER WITH LINES FROM “THE CARNIVAL IS OVER” HAND WRITTEN IN THE COVER OF THE FIRST COPY PRODUCED WHICH BELONGS TO THE YOUNG LADY.

    THANK YOU, I AM THAT GUY.
    ROBERT J. BURNS

  10. 10
    Gene on 25 Sep 2007 #

    Don’t care what you think it’s about. I like it.

  11. 11
    AndyPandy on 7 Dec 2008 #

    This was my grandad’s favourite record and as he was born in 1901 he must have been 64 when he first heard it so it just goes to show you’re never too old to discover your favorite record.I like the Seekers myself, well the three or four of their tracks I’ve knowingly heard and “I’ll Never Find Another You” was Number 1 when I was born.I think Judith Durham’s voice is one of my favourite female singers although some way behind Karen Carpenter.

  12. 12
    Cumbrian on 13 Jan 2011 #

    On the way to work today, My Generation by The Who came onto the shuffle function of my iPod and I vaguely remembered when I was a kid flicking through my Dad’s Guinness Book Of Hit Singles. I remember seeing that The Who (a band who I liked very much when I was a child – indeed, I still like them now – likely because my Dad played stuff like Boris The Spider in the car when I was young) never reached number 1 and being vaguely surprised – at least when I was 9 or 10. So, after hearing it today, I thought I’d look up what kept it off the top – and this is it. I’d never heard it – not this, nor the covers – so was intrigued.

    It’s perfectly fine as it goes I reckon. It never really goes anywhere musically, preferring to let the lyrics do the dramatising, instead of building to a crescendo of musical emotion (I kind of wish Roy Orbison had a crack at this actually). #7 is right when he compares the drums to It’s Over – the music is probably a good indicator of loss. I don’t think I’d give it more than a middling mark though and it’s definitely no It’s Over, which is a hell of a lot more direct.

    It has made me look up at the tracks that sandwiched it at #1 though and sigh with a certain amount of regret. A run of #1s that went Get Off My Cloud/My Generation/Day Tripper would have been tremendous; as it is, I suppose it stands as a testament to the fact that The Who were never quite at the level of The Stones or The Beatles (at least in the popular/singles buying public’s imagination) and is apt in its own way.

    On a separate note, if Bombalurina is meant to be for kids, music for children fell a hell of a long way from the mid 60s (Boris The Spider, Yellow Submarine) to the early 90s (Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny etc).

  13. 13
    crag on 14 Apr 2011 #

    DESERT ISLAND DISCS WATCH:

    Colin Cowdrey, English cricket captain(1968)

    Auberon Waugh, writer(1986)

    Anne Widdecome, politician(1999).

  14. 14
    Lena on 8 Aug 2011 #

    All hell breaks loose: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2011/08/feed-back-metal-sound-wire-wood-who-my.html Thanks for waiting everyone, as well as reading!

  15. 15
    ROBERT J. BURNS on 5 Sep 2011 #

    I WOULD LIKE TO UPDATE WHAT I HAVE PUT ON AS COMMENT NUMBER 9. I SAY I HAD BEEN WRITING A GIRL I SAID GOOD-BYE TO. A LETTER TO THE GIRL HAS BEEN POSTED ON MY YOUTUBE VIDEO 28. THIS IS A SERIOUS STORY AND “THE CARNIVAL IS OVER” WAS ALWAYS IN THE BACKGROUND PROVIDING BEAUTIFUL MUSIC AND PEACE.
    http://www.youtube.com/RobertJBurns1
    THANK YOU,
    ROBERT J. BURNS

  16. 16
    enitharmon on 5 Sep 2011 #

    Robert J Burns @ 15

    I thought the one about the mouse was much better, and that Tam o’Shanter was rather terrific. This is not up to your usual standard.

  17. 17
    thefatgit on 6 Sep 2011 #

    Give me Sir Walter Scott anyday. Rabbie Burns was proto-Irvine Welsh.

  18. 18
    Jimmy the Swede on 8 Sep 2011 #

    I agree with thefatgit but it will be a cold, cold day in hell afore they address the haggis at high table with anything from yon Wally!

    Mmmmm! HAGGGISSS!!!!

  19. 19
    Billy Smart on 3 Dec 2011 #

    TOTPWatch: The Seekers performed The Carnival Is Over on Top Of The Pops on four occasions;

    4 November 1965. Also in the studio that week were; Brian Poole & The Tremeloes, Dave Berry, The Rolling Stones and The Animals. Pete Murray and Alan Freeman were the hosts.

    11 November 1965. Also in the studio that week were; Billy J Kramer & The Dakotas, Chris Andrews, The Who and Wilson Pickett. Jimmy Savile was the host.

    18 November 1965. Also in the studio that week were; Cliff Richard, Gene Pitney, Marianne Faithful, PJ Proby and The Who. Alan Freeman was the host.

    25 November 1965. Also in the studio that week were; Adam Faith, PJ Proby, Sandie Shaw, The Hollies, The Seekers and The Walker Brothers. David Jacobs was the host. This was the 100th edition of Top Of The Pops.

    Although no copies of these editions survive, a clip of The Seekers’ studio rehearsal of the song does.

  20. 20
    lonepilgrim on 10 May 2012 #

    meanwhile, over in the USA the number 1 record was another folk-rock number with roots in the past:

    http://nohardchords.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/149-the-byrds-turn-turn-turn-to-everything-there-is-a-season/

  21. 21
    lonepilgrim on 26 Jul 2015 #

    I’m not a fan of the song – I just find it overwhelmingly claustrophobic, perhaps because of the martial drumming and gloomy stoicism

  22. 22
    Jimmy the Swede on 10 Jan 2016 #

    NELLIE THE ELEPHANT LOSES BEST FRIEND. Since Morningtown Ride didn’t get to number one, I would like to record the passing of Ed Stewart here. We have discussed him elsewhere on this forum but things (especially from those in my age bracket) can happily be repeated. Stewpot defined the childhood of many of us with Junior Choice. I won’t bother listing all those much beloved records, as those of us who were around know them so well. Those grumps who complained of each Saturday show being exactly the same sorely missed the point. The only time I ever had an issue with him was the morning of the 1973 Wimbledon Men’s Final. Britain’s brave Roger Taylor had fallen in the semi final, leaving two Eastern Europeans to contest for the Championship. Stewpot rather ungraciously dismissed the match as an Iron Curtain affair which we would be better off ignoring. With only three TV channels available then, the country chose not to take Ed’s advice.

    I actually met him in person. It was at the Oval either in ’74 or ’75 when I was a young teen. Stewpot was playing cricket in a charity match and we all queued up for autographs. Ed was one of the star turns (although I was more impressed with a very drunk Oliver Reed) and we kids flocked around him shouting “Morning!” and “Hello Darling!” After he signed my book, I told him that his beloved Everton were rubbish. He turned to me with a lovely smile. He was everything I had imagined him to be from the radio.

    In recent years, of course, Junior Choice returned on Christmas morning and we all tuned in as part of the day. This recent past Christmas was no different. How were we to know that we would lose him so soon after? Ed Stewart was all about making people happy, particularly children. In the last years, as Jacques’ speech regarding the seven ages of man tells us, people of my age and older returned to their own childhood every Yuletide morn. We have now lost our own Puff the Magic Dragon and I for one am very sad.

    RIP Stewpot.

  23. 23
    Erithian on 12 Jan 2016 #

    A beautiful tribute Swede. I’ve been listening back to those old classics like “Hello Muddah Hello Faddah” and “My Brother” and they still take you back to an innocent age. As we’ve said elsewhere, so many kiddie-pop hits – “Ernie”, “Grandad” and the rest – show the influence his show had for several years. Plus the way Stewpot’s show combined the kiddie classics with current hits made it a gateway to pop music for those who were a bit too young for the Beatles,and we’ll always owe him that. Good to hear from you and from other sources that he was a diamond geezer too.

    I trust his reputation will last better than that of the last Radio 1 DJ whose death was announced during the Saturday football commentaries. On that occasion, at half-time one of the match reporters delivered a wonderful spontaneous appreciation of the national treasure. Yes, Stuart Hall’s tribute to Savile was a great piece of radio which we’re unlikely to hear again any time soon.

  24. 24
    Draclea on 4 Jan 2017 #

    Nice song, but as said before, the Arrangement is totally stolen from Roy Orbison’s It’s Over ! ( Same drum beat and very similar opening to it) Maybe a more crescendo ending ( Judith Durham did have a fine voice ) would have given it that extra dimension. No one can walk in Roy Orbison’s shoes in my books though …..

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