I first started singing folksongs seriously in about 1961, when I met Martyn Wyndham-Read at the Reata in Malvern, and was blown away. I bought a "Tatay" Spanish guitar and learned a handful of songs from Burl Ives books, Joan Baez records, and the Alan Lomax collected "Folksongs of North America" which I bought for the (huge) sum of ₤6/16s.
My first gig was at a coffee lounge (name forgotten) in Balwyn, where I waltzed in and convinced them that they would do well to employ me for two nights a week at ₤5 a night. I lasted about two months, dumped after everyone had heard my meagre (but growing) repertoire to the point of nausea, and bringing in customers who only sat and listened rather than spend money. This was always a problem with the coffee lounge culture: the singers wanted a silent listening audience and the proprietors wanted people who ate and drank (and therefore talked) prodigiously; a clash of reasons for the relationship, which worked only with generous or committed (to folksong) proprietors and singers with a healthy following.
Karl Ogdon, who was a composer and fair guitarist, brother of the International pianist John Ogdon, was my first guitar teacher; he taught me classical technique, which of course I could easily adapt to folksong accompaniment on a Spanish guitar. I recall meeting Paul Marks at Karl's place one day, when Paul had just arrived back from a European tour; he had been quite big in the Trad Jazz/Gospel scene of the late 50s, which was fading from fashion, but he also sang and played beautiful ballads or blues pieces. Paul listened to me sing and invited me to appear on the big concert that had been organized at the Emerald Hill Theatre for his homecoming. These concerts became a fairly regular Sunday afternoon event around 1962/3, with Martin W-R, Glen Tomasetti, Dave Lumsden, Brian Mooney, Trevor Lucas, the Seekers, Paul Marks, and flamenco guitarist Brian Brophy. Karl Ogdon played a beautiful Sonata he had written on one occasion. One of these concerts featured the visiting Pete Seeger, in 1963, a rare treat for us locals.
Irregular gigs in coffee lounges, such as the "Ad Lib" in South Yarra, the "Copper Kettle" in Malvern, "Reata" in Malvern, began to come my way. My repertoire was still very "ballady" and heavily influenced by Joan Baez. At the same time I was close friends with Brian Brophy, who had developed a wonderful facility for learning authentic flamenco techniques from recordings of guitarists such as Sabicas and Carlos Montoya. With Brian's help I began working out some of the trickier picking styles of Joan Baez, The New Lost City Ramblers, the Carter Family, Big Bill Broonzy and others. No one else in the local scene knew how to play this way, not even Trevor Lucas, who was a growing presence singing blues and Australian songs accompanying himself with metal finger picks on 12 string guitar and a nice Gibson J-45 he'd picked up.
I began concentrating more and more on playing like American finger-pickers, and had a steel string guitar especially made for me by Maton, who'd never made a folk-style guitar before then. Traynor's was started either late in 1963 or early in 1964 as a dedicated folk music venue; coffee was served, but the performances were the reason for its existence, and it became hugely popular a number of nights per week. I got a regular gig there on Wednesday and Saturday nights, sharing with David Lumsden and Trevor Lucas. Dave and I started playing lots of duets, blending his banjo and my guitar in what was really the first home-grown bluegrass style; we sang American pieces like "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms", "Wildwood Flower", "The Banks of the Ohio", "Darling Pal of Mine", and in the same style Australian songs like "The Old Bark Hut", "Ten Thousand Miles Away" and "Jim Jones".
Around this time I too acquired a near-new Gibson J-45, which I both finger-picked and flat-picked.I also bought and played an auto-harp on some songs, and made myself a harmonica harness and threw that into the mix. Increasingly, with the war in Vietnam hotting up, my solo singing comprised protest songs by singers like Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger and others, and I started writing my own stuff in that vein. My song "The Voyager" was recorded by Trevor Lucas in that year, and I had a few others I performed at Traynor's, including a "Talking Pentridge Blues", which was a lot of fun to sing.
Trevor and I became good friends, and I was best man at his wedding with Cheryl in mid 1964. He was at my wedding in August that year, and one Friday night at Jimmy Watson's the four of us decided to go off and see the big wide world. We left together on Christmas day 1964 on the Greek ship "Ellinis", and disembarked at Piraeus four weeks later. Trevor stayed in Greece only a few weeks, and was keen to get to London to get back in the music scene. I wasn't especially; I loved Greece and stayed there with my wife for 6 months, by which time I was a changed person. I had become interested in literature, and when I got to England was keen to pursue literary studies and become some sort of a writer.
I saw Trevor from time to time, but I was no longer passionate about being a performer, and pretty well gave it up to do other things. I have always kept up the guitar, however, and gradually moved more and more into classical music.
Traynor's was an important development in the history of Australian music; my understanding was always that Frank Traynor had created it initially as a venue for his then lover, Glen Tomasetti. But it quickly became something much larger, more culturally compelling, catching the zeitgeist of the early and mid-60s. The performers were essentially paid amateurs, self-taught mostly, though this is a misnomer because in fact everyone was learning from everyone else in that folk music way, but they were passionate, often remarkably talented, creative in adapting to contemporary issues and politics, and Australian music had never seen anything like it.
The older folk tradition, even in its political/trade union manifestation, never had the energy, the capacity to reach and affect a wider audience in the way that the 60s folk scene did, and the centre of that energy, in Melbourne at least, was Traynor's. Musicians of many types that came after, whether they knew it or not, owed a considerable debt to the ground-breaking activities that started at Traynor's. The Trevor Lucas of "Fairport Convention" and the wonderful Margaret Roadknight were just two I can think of who were launched from the Traynor's pad.
I recall a magical moment one night at Traynor's; I'd just finished a bunch of songs, about to take a break, when a member of the audience stood up and asked if she could sing something. She was a tall, striking young woman who stayed exactly where she was before her seat, and unaccompanied sang the most moving and glorious rendition of "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child". It was of course Margaret Roadknight, the first I'd set ears and eyes on her; I was only sorry that it was shortly before my ten year exile from Australia, and so was absent during the time she rose to become the great performer we all now know her to be.
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