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Bill Dettmer

by Bill Dettmer last modified Jan 16, 2015 06:21 AM Copyright 2015 The Contributing Editors All Rights Reserved

Bill Dettmer

Banjo, Drums, Guitar, Harmonica, Mandolin, Trumpet

Every now and then I find myself in the back streets of town and certainly spent a long time later in life as an ambo working central Melbourne.  I look at the office that it is now and wonder at how tiny the place is.  On dark, cold nights, with gritty coffee, smoke and music it seemed huge way back then.  It was cool and it was hip and it was the place to meet other musicians and it was the place to hear some of THE best music.

I 'found' Traynor's sometime around 1971. It was dark and mysterious and new and old.  New to me, a kid from South Oakleigh who had been dribbling around with Rock and Roll since first getting a guitar at 13, though I'd played mandolin on stages all over Melbourne with the Victoria Banjo Club since about 1963. Apparently I was taught banjo 'cause I was the middle child, was a bit left out and didn't get the attention my 'Baby' brother and 'Cute' big sister got.  If I couldn't get a lift, my dear old dad would take me to gigs, fall asleep in the car, wake up and take me home at 1 or 2 in the morning, then crawl into bed and get up at 3 or 4 to start work as a pastry cook.

In the early 70's I was playing with Banalaya, my little brother was playing with The Iced Vovo's and my big sister was mucking around, doing something or other with Mulga Bill's Bicycle band - or was that mucking around with one of the players in Mulga Bills Bicycle band.  She had a great voice.  I played Trumpet, Bugle and Drums with Oakleigh Tech School band, ending up as Drum Major and played drums in Moorabbin City Pipe band also tackling the Bagpipes for a few months without success. 

I don't remember when I first had consciousness of the place in Little something-or-other St somewhere in Melbourne, but I do remember a couple of the older banjo players talking about Traynor's early on.  Seemed it was somewhere to hang out that was way cool.  And wasn't it just?!  I got on a red rattler at Hughesdale station, went to town, found it and wandered in.

Now correct me if I'm wrong, please, but as to recollections - I have this vague prescence of a front door sort of at the left, turn to the right as you walk in, coffee machine sort of in front of you, turn left into the main room to see the performers playing against the wall to your left side.  Old wine barrels for tables with candles in bottles and a selection of chairs.  If I worked it out I'd say it held about 100 max. 

Around that time, for some unknown reason, I called myself Billy Clarke, probably the Walter Mitty within.  Ta pocket a pocket a pocket a (watch the movie).  I went in, sat, listened and watched.  I took girlfriends there and rolled my own and immersed myself, totally out of my depth as a musician and nowhere near the mark as a songwriter.  I'd written some rubbish and after a few visits had a go on amateur night.  I'd fallen hook, line and sinker for the music of Mike McLellan, later writing a song about him, and would have a crack at his songs and those of Bruce Woodley, Tom Rush, Tom Paxton and others....  badly.  I played or recited poetry whenever I could on amateur nights and, just like karaoke singers and DJ's tell me that they're real musicians these days, would tell people 'Oh yes, I played at Traynor's the other night' with an air of aplomb.  For penance I ran an open mike for 20 years on the Mornington Peninsula. Ta pocket a pocket a pocket a pocket.

One night I got up, played a song or two, then said.. "I'd like to do a song by my idol, Mike McLellan" and dribbled on about what a great player he was etc, etc,  when who should walk in...???   he was very generous.  And although I could hardly play, I could hardly play. But I did play well enough one night to be given a 3 or 4 song opening spot on a Friday night.  I HAD A GIG AT TRAYNOR's !!!

I remember watching Margaret Roadknight and I saw Danny Spooner there and countless others.  Because I had to get the last train home, I mostly left before the real show began, but was driven in a couple of times by older mates and muso's late Fridays or Saturdays and stayed to hear a couple of the Jazz jams and was literally floored. I got to know and play with a number of players and pluckers from Traynor's and spent many nights in its warmth.  I never met Frank.

From that early start at Traynor's, for which i am ever grateful, I found The Green Man in Malvern, The (something) Frog in Hawhorn and got acoustic gigs at places like Edouardes -  I think that's how you spelled it - in Toorak.  and I kept playing with R&R bands, Blues bands and have kept music in my life somewhere ever since, going on to run the Frankston Guitar Festival and having varying degrees of success with outfits like The Tough Titties Band, Little Willy and the Hopeless Romantics, 3 Men and a Babe...   and many equally forgettable outfits.

I don't remember when I stopped going or why.  I do remember planning a night out and taking a new girlfriend to town, saying after dinner 'let's go to Traynor's', wandering through the streets arm in arm and telling her stories of old girlfriends and music and warm nights and answering her questions.  And standing outside the closed door in a cold street in the dark and feeling empty.

Ta pocket a pocket a pocket a pocket.


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