Early Adelaide 1
THE EARLY YEARS OF THE FOLK REVIVAL IN ADELAIDE (cont.)
Malcolm J. Turnbull
Campus folk clubs evolved at the University of Adelaide and Flinders University, and local artists featured at a string of folk concerts and modest festivals. One gathering, billed as the first Adelaide Folk Festival, was a Jim Carter production, bringing the “stars of the Newport [Sydney] festival” to the Unley Odeon in March 1965. Martyn Wyndham-Read, Gary Shearston, Tina Date and Marian Henderson shared the stage with Tina Lawton, The Wesley Three and compere Roger Cardwell. (Highlights were reportedly a haunting Danish duet by Lawton & Cardwell and Shearston’s distinctive renderings of ‘Sydney Town’, ‘Ballad of Edgar Cooke’ and ‘The Albury Ram’). A month later, Cardwell again m.c.’d a concert at Lenswood as part of the Adelaide Hills Apple and Pear Festival; participants included Lenore Somerset and The Hayes Brothers from Melbourne, as well as The Tikis, Johnny Mac, Lawton and Robyn Smith. Smith, 16 year-old Kevin Peake, Andy Becker and Perth trio The Twiliters toured country halls as Folk 65. Marian Henderson was the sole interstate star at Folk Scene, an extravaganza at Adelaide Town Hall, in July ’65, which brought together Lawton, the Wesleys, Irene Petrie, Doug Ashdown, Barry Pitman, The Lincoln Greens, Bob Hardie and The New Folk Four.
Glen Tomasetti organised a number of fringe folk concerts during the 1966 Adelaide Festival of Arts. Robyn Smith, The Wesley Three, Lawton, Petrie and Phil Sawyer subsequently headlined at an open-air concert at the sound-shell in Elder Park (to an audience estimated at 2000). In 1971 (over the Australia Day weekend), performers, scholars and enthusiasts from around the country flocked to Flinders University to take part in the Fifth annual National Folk Festival. Highlights of the festival included workshops on contemporary folkmusic, collecting, country blues, American bluegrass, ‘The Industrial Revolution and its Side effects’ and Aboriginal Music (by John Graham, Wendy Lowenstein, Paul Tarrant, Rob McCarthy, Danny Spooner and H.M. Ellis, respectively) [Music Maker, Dec 1970]. It is worth noting that there was also marginal folk activity, towards the end of the period under review, to the far north of Adelaide. The Elkira Folk Club functioned out of an Alice Springs hotel for 18 months to 2 years from mid 1971. According to Australian Tradition [Oct 1971, June 1972], the Elkira’s most notable achievement was a 32 mile Walk-a-Sing, led by twelve performers, in temperatures over 100 degrees, to raise money for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
Tina Lawton was undoubtedly the leading figure on the Adelaide scene during the boom. Born in 1944 into a large and intensely musical family (one of six children), she learned violin and piano from an early age and later combined voice training at the Conservatorium with three years of graphic arts studies at the South Australian School of Art. According to her biographer (her mother Kathleen), Lawton followed her siblings’ lead by taking part in eisteddfods, amateur productions of Gilbert & Sullivan, and a host of other musical activities, including dabbling in jazz (singing with the Uni Jazz Band or the Spiritual Jazz Six) at the Catacombs. It was there (circa 1962) that she heard and met an (unnamed) itinerant East Coast folksinger:
His shabby jacket was crushed-yellow, made, I think of suede or velvet; tight, faded green trousers were patched at the knees; his hair, worn shoulder-length (unusual for that time) was the colour of his tawny moccasins. He sat cross-legged on the floor, plucking at a guitar with woman-hands, and singing … For several hours we sat and listened to that compelling, sexless
voice … We never heard what became of him, but he stayed long enough to cast a spell over Tina. All the noisy music … stopped as suddenly as it began, and she became more and more absorbed not only in this new kind of music, but in the stories and origins of folk-singing. [Kathleen Lawton, Singing Bird, 1974, p.8-9]
An invitation to sing at a charity concert at Victor Harbour led to an audition for The Country and Western Hour, and Lawton soon become a regular on the show. She
Quickly built up a large local, and then national, following through appearances on Adelaide Tonight, In Melbourne Tonight, Bandstand, the ABC Lively Arts series, Gary Shearston’s Just Folk and Dave’s Place. Live appearances encompassed coffee shop ‘stints’ in Melbourne and Sydney, guest sets at Port Lincoln’s Tunarama Festival, a concert at the Woomera Rocket Range, and sharing the Adelaide Town Hall stage with Irish tenor Patrick O’Hagan. She took part in both the Four Capitals Folk Song tour of August 1964 and the Newport (Sydney) Folk Festival a few months later, and she was captured on Score Records’ memento of the former, Australian Folk Festival, singing the American civil war tune ‘Buttermilk Hill’ and the perennial ‘I Know Where I’m Going’. Early in 1965, she teamed with harpist Huw Jones and flautist David Cubbin for her own prime-time weekly segment The Tina Lawton Interludes, produced by David Zweck for ABC TV Adelaide. Lawton signed with CBS and her first album, recorded in Sydney and Adelaide in the second half of 1965, was duly released in time for Christmas. (Two other LPs followed in little over a year).
She finished out 1965 on a high note by joining Mick Counihan, Gary Shearston, Peter Dickie, Phyl Vinnicombe, Glen Tomasetti, Brian Mooney, David Lumsden, and others, in the ‘Songs of Peace and Love’ concert at Melbourne’s Myer Music Bowl, organised by the Vietnam Day committee. Her uncustomary participation in such a strongly political program came back to haunt her a few months later when she accepted a request by the Australian Forces Overseas Fund to go and entertain newly arrived troops in Vietnam. Kathleen Lawton recalls that Tina was deeply hurt when colleagues within the folk fraternity accused her of hypocrisy and opportunism in playing at both the Peace concert and travelling to the theatre of war. “I’ll protest too”, she declared, “but in my own way”. That first trip to South-East Asia (early in 1966) opened her eyes to the impact of prolonged fighting on ordinary people. Interviewed by television journalist Joan Disher on her return home, she confided: “I did not think of the ‘rights’ or ‘wrongs’. I was sent there to do a job and wanted to sing my best, just to make those boys happy for a little while. They looked so young”. She concluded the interview by singing the traditional ballad ‘The Cruel War is Raging’ – like ‘Buttermilk Hill’, the nearest she ever came to protest material [Lawton, p.49-50, 61-68].
Later that year, Lawton joined Peter O’Shaughnessy, Marian Henderson and jazzman Don Burrows in a superior TV film The Restless Years, shot at Sydney’s ABC studios. An anthology of song, verse and narrative of the first 60 years of Australian history, it featured Lawton as a convict girl (singing ‘Convict Maid’) and in duet with Henderson on ‘The Springtime It Brings on the Shearing’. One of 32 filmed entries, The Restless Years won second prize (after Czechoslovakia) at an international folklore competition in Dublin. Lawton left Australia on a second trip to entertain allied forces in South-East Asia in April 1967. She spent several months travelling and/or working in the Pacific before electing to move on and join family members in Great Britain. In 1968 she resumed art studies in Glasgow, where she specialised in printmaking. Tragically, she died in a light plane crash while on vacation in Kenya, on Christmas Eve, 1968.
Youthful, blonde, pretty and vivacious, with a classically-trained soprano voice, Tina Lawton was the embodiment of the innocent, maidenly lady folksinger. “Tina was the golden girl” remembers Melbourne singer Chris Larner. For Brian Mooney, any mention of Lawton invariably evokes the memory of a stunningly beautiful, other-worldly young girl effortlessly singing ‘Everytime I Hear a Songbird Singing’ at Sydney’s Temperance Hall during the Four Capitals Tour. “Tina was a lovely kid”, remembers Lenore Somerset. The ethereal image was undoubtedly reinforced by the singer’s untimely death and it is refreshing to note that she could be irreverently down-to-earth on occasion. Tasmanian singer Beth Sowter recalls Lawton elegantly (and imperturbably) advising a carload of wolf-whistling hooligans to “Fuck Off” during a season at the Hotel Cornwall in Launceston.
Lawton’s legacy rests primarily in the three records she made for CBS. Producer Sven Libaek ensured that she had the advantage of skilled back-up musicians, and that she draw on only the finest traditional material available, and the three LPs remain among the most distinguished locally-produced folk recordings of the period. Tina Lawton (CBS BP 233277) teamed her with guitarist Andy Sundstrom and harpist Huw Jones for 15 famous Anglo-Irish songs and laments, notably ‘Lord Gregory’, ‘Marie’s Wedding’, ‘The Spinning Wheel’, ‘Castle of Dramore’, ‘The Lowlands of Holland’ and an unaccompanied ‘She Moved through the Fair’. An enthusiastic Melbourne Herald reviewer believed that a debut album of this calibre must ensure the singer achieved international recognition; the Melbourne Sun predicted that her quality and style were sure to endure. (“Tina Lawton is no flash in the folk singing pan”).
Tina Lawton sold well enough for CBS to release a follow-up, Singing Bird (CBS BP233315), only six months later. Another collection of ballads and songs from the British Isles (highlights include ‘Lagan Love’, ‘In the Orchard’ sung in Welsh, ‘Charlie is my Darling’ and ‘Garton Mother’s Lullaby), she was accompanied again by Huw Jones along with Russell King on flute. Again, reviews were excellent, one Adelaide critic declaring Tina “this country’s best female singer of folk songs”. Lawton’s third and final album, Fair and Tender (CBS BP 233394), considered by many (including the singer herself) to be her best, offers a similar traditional Anglo-Celtic program, but with more varied (albeit always restrained) instrumental backings: George Golla on guitar, Lal Kuring on cello, Herbie Marks on virginal and accordion, and Don Burrows on flute (all under Burrows’ direction). Released shortly before she left Australia (as it eventuated, permanently), the album’s highlights include ‘Mary Hamilton’, ‘Raggle Taggle Gipsies’, ‘Lady Mary’, and the Anglo-American ‘Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies’.
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