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Phyl Lobl (Vinnicombe)

by Phyl Lobl last modified Aug 23, 2010 04:20 AM

Phyl Lobl (Vinnicombe)


        February 1965, was a significant month for me as a singer/songwriter. I was then known as Phyl Vinnicombe. That month in 1965 was when Charles Perkins led the student bus ride into Western NSW. In a rented room in Gatehouse St Carlton reading a report on the reactions to the bus ride brought streaming eyes. The strong emotion and empathy I felt for Aboriginal people have been kept.
A rhyme ran through my head.

ʻMother may I go out to swim ? ʼ,
ʻYes my darling daughter,
Hang your clothes on a Hickory limb
But don't go near the water.ʼ

        Where that rhyme came from has been lost to my memory, but with ʻdarling daughter' becoming ʻdark- eyed daughter' in my mind, it quickly grew into a song, ʻDark-Eyed Daughter.'
A couple of earlier written songs were ʼWhen Will the People' and my first attempt at sung political satire, a song about the collapse of the KIng St Bridge in Melbourne, ʻThank- you Mr Bolte '.
I had sung these songs in Methodist churches,one of which had as its minister Rev. Alf Dickie whose son, now the well known artist Peter Neilson, heard the songs and encouraged me to sing them at Traynor's folk and jazz venue in Little Lonsdale St in Melbourne. I was already familiar with the venue and the songs had already been sung on the premises, but not in the section that housed a paying audience. Upstairs some months or weeks before I had sung them to a small class of guitar learners run by Glenn Tomasetti. Glen's folk presentations at Emerald Hill Theatre had led me to join to join her group. She very soon  asked me to join in songwriting ventures which helped me put together a ʻbracketʼ of songs. Armed with ʻDark-Eyed Daughter'  and  the ʻbracket'  and with encouragement from Peter Neilson-Dickie and Mick Counihan I embarked on my first commercial folk performance at Traynor's.

        Candles in bottles ensured that the lighting at Traynor's was suitably sombre. Performers sat on a barrel as did the afore-mentioned candles. The audience were clad in cords and beards or batik and beads it seemed. I was wearing none of these. My attire was a red dress with white spots, and white shoes with heels I would now think ridiculously high, especially as not long before I had a cartilage removed. It was that operation that led me to playing classical guitar instead of playing sport. Classical guitar exercises being rather boring in turn led me to put words to them.This got me started on songwriting, spurred on by influences like Dylan, Baez and McColl. The songwriting led me to the barrel in Traynor's wearing those shoes, they literally had a part to play.

        Never an over-confident performer I was appalled when I started to sing to hear coming from somewhere an accompaniment that sounded similar to castanets. It took a second or two to realize it was a nerve in my leg creating the tattoo of sound via the heel of one shoe on the wooden floor, it seemed uncontrollable. From that day I prefer to stand when I sing. Somehow I got through the performance but never wore high heeled white shoes again or a red and white spotted dress I suspect. The songs and the singing must have been acceptable for there were return performances. Traynor's became a regular place to go to listen and learn or to sing. I enjoyed stacks of performers, the usual suspects being Glen Tomasetti, Declan Affley  Martyn Whyndam-Read, Brian Mooney, Paul Marks, Margret RoadKnight, Lenore Somerset, David Lumsden, Graeme Squance and later Danny Spooner, Gordon McIntyre, and Shayna Bracegirdle (Karlin/Stewart). Those from interstate included Gary Shearston, Tina Lawton, and Don Henderson. There were a host of performers who hopefully forgive my aging memory. I could go into web-sites and add them but that seems artificial.

        After Traynor's closing time we sometimes went to a Greek Club around the corner. A regular there became a regular at Folk venues, Kon Xaplanderis a bouzouki player who was constantly appalled that ʻfolkies' would sometimes turn up without shoes. Kon always wore not only shoes but a shirt and tie when he performed. Kon's only rival for immaculate dress that I observed at Traynor's was the night I felt almost blinded by a character in a super-super-white Ten-Gallon Hat looking a bit out-of-place to my eyes. Expertly pressed coat and trousers went with the hat. It was Smokey Dawson.

        Don Carlos was large and calm and managed things. Probably able to be calm because he was large. One night Jim Carter, who ran a commercial venue in Sydney and who everyone seemed to want to impress in order to be invited to sing at his venue was a brooding presence. I never made an impression that brought forth an invitation but at that stage falling in love with Geri Lobl was more important. We later moved to Sydney anyway. By that time thanks to marriage and Education Department edicts concerning names & marriage I became Phyl Lobl.

        From the start of involvement in the Folk Scene I was aware there was a commercial and a non-commercial wing and accepted the validity and need for both.There were many places to perform. One in particular in Prahran was called ʻThe Workshop' run by Mike Deany. I was also becoming involved with people from Bush Music Clubs and trying to straddle those two very valid aspects of the Folk Genre. Two aspects with different emphasis and motivation which led to performance at Traynor's from time to time, while also being a patron, and performing at Bush Music Club and political events. 

        When the movement to hold a National Folk Festival was initiated, in my memory mainly by Glen Tomasetti,Wendy Lowenstein,Norm O'Connor and Shirley Andrews, both aspects came together, commercial and non-commercial, not always in harmony but with enough goodwill and belief in the purpose that is still evident so many years later. We still need and should support both aspects of the Folk Genre. Glen organized a Songwriter's Session at that festival . There were six songwriters:- Glen Tomasetti, Clem Parkinson, Ken Mansell and myself as Phyl Vinnicombe from Melbourne and from interstate, Don Henderson and Harry Robertson.

        Grateful to have been lucky enough to be around when the Folk Revival flowered I thank Glen Tomasetti and Frank Traynor for their contribution, and thank the Bush Music Clubs, all the people who find and keep the songs that ʻtell the reality' alive, and those who keep them coming.
There was enjoyment from and respect for, the talent, technique, energy and ego that took performers to the venues, but it was the packages of reality they delivered that have stayed with me life-long. Wrapped in an inexplicable magic came that tapestry of word, cadence,rhythm and rhyme, containing reason and ridicule; the songs and verses of the people. A two-fold offering always asking. Is it the singer or the song?


GʼDonya Folks.

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