By Tarini Pilapitiya On March 19, the Mount Lavinia Hotel was packed with enthusiastic guests, many decked in Western gear ready for the ‘real showdown’. Celebrating 29 years of good old country music the Country Music Foundation (CMF) has been working for children’s charities all through, their efforts supported wholeheartedly by both performers and the [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

29 years on and Country Roads still brings back that old familiar feeling


By Tarini Pilapitiya

On March 19, the Mount Lavinia Hotel was packed with enthusiastic guests, many decked in Western gear ready for the ‘real showdown’. Celebrating 29 years of good old country music the Country Music Foundation (CMF) has been working for children’s charities all through, their efforts supported wholeheartedly by both performers and the audience.

Opening the show was the Cosmic Rays, a band known for its father and son duo with their cover of Willie Nelson’s “Seven Spanish Angels”. Their heart-warming performances included classics such as Johnny Cash’s “In Them Old Cottonfields Back Home”, Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Dance the Night Away” and Billy Ray Cyrus’s anthem for the heartbroken “Achy Breaky Heart”.

Keith Potger (centre) performing with the Mavericks--Dirk (left) and Wolfgang. Pix by Indika Handuwala

UK folk singer/songwriter Astrid Brook returned to Country Roads with her brand of ‘mellow country folk’, entrancing the audience with her performances of Cat Stevens ‘First Cut is the Deepest’. Singing covers of The Beatles and Bob Dylan, she dedicated the love song ‘This old guitar’ by John Denver to her “partner in crime – my guitar”.

Having performed for more than 20 years at Country Roads, the Maverick duo (Dirk and Wolfgang) who flew in from Germany were as enthusiastic as ever about being part of this initiative. Wolfgang wowed the audience with his one-man band performance simultaneously playing the guitar and drums whilst harmonizing. Dirk kicked off their set list with the Don Gibson’s classic ‘Oh Lonesome Me’g and asked his wife to accompany him and Wolfgang for a cover of ‘Jolene’. The duo, great entertainers had the audience in fits of laughter encouraging them to join in the songs .

The President of the CMF Feizal Samath performed with his band ‘Country Ensemble’ with daughter Anuranie and Astrid Brook as backing vocals, Vishaal Kapoor from Malaysia on guitar and Tilanka Jayamaha on flute. Their lively performance saw Hank Williams ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’ and ended with a timeless Simon & Garfunkel classic ‘The Boxer’.

One part of the globally renowned singing quartet The Seekers, Sri Lankan-born Keith Potger was the man the audience had been waiting for and his charisma and natural stage presence were immediately evident. Paying tribute to the songs that kick started his career with The Seekers – ‘I’ll never find another you’, ‘A world of our own’ and ‘Georgy Girl’ also singing his own singles ‘Guardian Angel/Guiding Light’, the veteran singer snuck in some unheard of numbers, and showed his comic side with his impersonation of country artists’ “nasal twang” that left the audience captivated. The Mac Mac song about junk food and obesity was another unexpected treat.

Funds from the show will be distributed to several children’s charities across the country.

Sharing a stage with the Beatles and the Rolling StonesFormer member of The Seekers, Lankan-born Keith Potger who performed at Country Roads talks to Jagdish Hathiramani

As another successful Country Roads concert for children came to a close at the Mount Lavinia Hotel last Sunday, there was still one incredible story left to tell. The story behind one of the show’s star performers – Sri Lankan-born Keith Potger, the internationally famous Australian musician and founding member of the UK-chart topping band, The Seekers.

To fully take in the impact The Seekers had on the music world, we need to go back in time to 1965. It was a time when the “British invasion” was on everyone’s lips, a time when young upstarts like The Beatles and the Rolling Stones and others had just started making their mark across the Atlantic. A time when songs like ‘Ticket To Ride’ by the Beatles were at the top of the music charts in the USA.

Keith Potger and the Seekers on the Ed Sullivan Show

At this time, a truly historic line-up was promoted for a concert at London’s Wembley Empire Pool. On April 11, 1965, organised by British music bible New Musical Express (NME), the top performers of that year took the stage. On the playbill were The Moody Blues, Freddie and the Dreamers, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, The Seekers, Herman’s Hermits, The Ivy League, Sounds Incorporated, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, The Rolling Stones, Cilla Black, Donovan, Them, The Searchers, Dusty Springfield, The Animals, The Beatles, and The Kinks – arguably the greatest UK musical talent of all time coming together for the first and last time ever.

“The award the Seekers won was the ‘Top Best New Group’ in England at that time, and that was a lovely thing to add to the success that we had with ‘I’ll Never Find Another You’. And that concert was just on the brink of us releasing the follow up single which was ‘A World Of Our Own’, written by Tom Springfield, both of which we played at that concert. So we were thrilled indeed to be included in that bill,” remembers Keith.
The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were already so popular that they got whistled in, in limousines and whistled out again as soon as they were done playing, not having the chance to participate in the behind-the-scenes antics that were famously commented on by several MCs.

“It was an amazing bill with enormous talent,” Keith recalls, adding that he was really impressed by how the sound engineers handled that show. “There was nothing like a sound check, you just had to run in and do a quick spot. And we were at a bit of an advantage being an acoustic group, we could balance ourselves out whereas some of the groups having drums and electric guitars didn’t fare so well.”
This is just one of Keith’s fond memories from his long and storied professional music career. Another is playing one of the largest concerts in Australia’s history. Says Keith, “We still hold the record in Melbourne, Australia for the largest crowd at a concert, with over 200,000 people, at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. That was an incredibly exciting experience for us, as it was a very hot day, and we had an idea that we had a large crowd. But it wasn’t until we got on stage that we saw an incredible number of people were there.”

Back home again: Keith Potger at Country Roads

The Seekers were recognised as Australians of the Year in 1967, breaking up only a year later in 1968. They also performed for a BBC special, in July 1968, which was one of the highest rated shows ever for the channel. Additionally, the Seekers have been inducted into the Music Hall of Fame and awarded Order of Australia medals, a signal honour for Keith and his band mates. But in some respects Keith feels getting that first chart topping hit was the greatest highlight of his career.

Reminiscing on the famous names he has been honoured to work with in the past, Keith says: “The person I looked up to in terms of song writing was Tom Springfield, who I got to work with. We also appeared with Dusty Springfield, who was an outstanding role model, helping us in many ways. She became a really good friend to us as well. And we’ve worked with some of the top comics in England, Morecambe and Wise and Benny Hill amongst many others. Australian singer Frank Ifield was also a great friend. And we also appeared on some of the top television shows of the time, such as the Ed Sullivan Show in the USA.”
This was Keith’s sixth visit to Sri Lanka, with half of those for performances. “Country Roads 2017 has been the most significant because this has been the first time that I have had the opportunity to present something like my full act as opposed to singing a couple of songs. So it gave me a real chance to be in front of a Sri Lankan audience and I loved it.”

There is a fair chance he will be back next year, he says. “My partner Elizabeth Hawkes is a talented photographer and she’s doing a photo essay on Sri Lanka to be shown in November 2017 in Australia in conjunction with the Sri Lankan High Commission there, to commemorate 70 years of Australia-Sri Lanka ties. I’ve been asked to perform at that event too. It is a great honour for me to do that,” he adds.


CMF President Feizal Samath (second from right) with his Country Ensemble

Local favourites: The Cosmic Rays

Astrid Brook: Entrancing the audience as always.

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