Early Melbourne 2 next1



Malcolm J. Turnbull

PART 2: Traynors (cont.)

 Traynors even featured in a short colour film about Melbourne’s night-life, Melbourne: City of Surprises, which opened with shots of singer Margaret Smith performing ‘Every Night’ and ‘I’m Sad, I’m Lonely’. [Sun, 16 March 1966] Early in 1967, after what had been its “most successful holiday period ever”, the club acquired the building next door and knocked out the wall in between. At its peak (1967-69), an estimated 300 people a night (from mid-week) passed through the two buildings. Three to five acts might be scheduled at any one time, rotating between three rooms. On busy Saturday nights, big draws lie Mooney or Wyndham-Read frequently played three half-hour sets at Traynors before being driven across town to “sing in Sunday” at the Reata or elsewhere. The somewhat slower Tuesday and Wednesday evenings would typically feature one advertised performer along with a few hopefuls “off the street”. For a while Traynors published its own monthly newsletter and song-sheet, and housed the specialist Heritage record store on the lower floor. Tomasetti conducted guitar and singing classes upstairs during the first year.

In an article roundly critical of the coffee lounge scene, Edgar Waters dubbed Traynors “the exception to the rule”:

The lighting … is dim, and the seating is not of the most comfortable, and the coffee would hardly delight the connoisseur, even though it is better than in most of the coffee houses. But the atmosphere is very pleasant. The audience is there to listen to the singing, not to chatter, the singers seem to regard the audience much as they would friends at a party, friends who share their own deep concern with the songs, rather than as customers who have paid for superficial entertainment [Australian, 20 Feb 1965]

Waters went on to praise the relationship between artists and management at Traynors. He recognised that Frank Traynor himself was primarily interested in jazz, but noted the man’s ability to communicate with other performers “as one musician to another”. “Even more important”, noted Waters, was the way the place was run. “Management does not pay singers a fixed fee, instead management and singers split the takings in fixed and mutually satisfactory proportions”. This percentage system earned Traynor and Carless the trust of the artists. No doubt, so did Carless’ size and his no-nonsense efforts to ensure that they performed free of annoyance. Contemporaries recall with glee his standard use of the cautionary phrase “None of that” and (on at least one occasion) “None of that. We don’t have any fucking swearing here”. Drunks and other undesirables were either barred at the door or summarily “ejected” (by him or by Jim Beal); Carless remembers that, on the few occasions a fight did break out, he was hard-pressed to stop gleefully willing observers like Declan Affley from joining in. Denis Gibbons remembers being heckled at Traynors one evening; enquiring about the heckler after his set, Gibbons was bluntly informed: “He left”.

Looking back, Carless and Mary Traynor (who took over the day-to-day running of the club after Carless left) remain proud also of what it achieved, particularly its educational impact. “Traynors trained the audience, educating people about Eureka, Ben Hall, and so on, at a time when Australian history was not widely taught”, Carless maintains. Singer Cris Larner remembers Traynor himself as  “very much a concept man” who actively supported innovations like a short season of Irish song-plays (Shadow of the Glen, Riders to the Sea, etc) which she staged at the club with Danny Spooner, Gordon McIntyre and others. School concerts became something of a financial “mainstay” for some performers. Traynors’ management was asked quite frequently to send folksingers out to entertain in school auditoriums and, unsurprisingly, potential new audience-members were recruited in the process. As it was, teachers always made up a significant proportion of the club’s regular patronage.

Prominent among the artists who appeared regularly at Traynors were Trevor Lucas and Garry Kinnane (before they left Australia for Britain at the start of 1965), Brian  Mooney and Martyn Wyndham-Read (who also relocated overseas , in 1966 and ’67 respectively), Peter Dickie and David Lumsden. Later recruits included Bruce Stuchberry, an economics student at Monash University who was initially inspired by seeing Paul Marks play at the Reata and (like Kinnane) he studied guitar under Carl Ogden; Stuchberry specialised in British songs, a repertoire which served him well during several months playing at hotels and servicemen’s bases in Singapore. Carrl Tregonning performed solo and in a Nina & Frederik-style duo and went on to form the psychedelic group ‘Myrriad’.  Blues and Dylan enthusiast Ken White lived on the premises for a while and taught guitar there. Mick Counihan, another Monash student (and committed activist) who specialised in English songs for a couple of years (1965-66), coupled his singing with journalistic contributions to Folksay, Go-Set and Australian Tradition.

Particularly influential were two expatriate Britons who both happened to turn up one evening in 1965 and ask if they could perform. Danny Spooner (b. 1936) was a Londoner who had worked on whale-boats and salvage tugs from age 13, thereby learning a wealth of sea songs at first hand, before emigrating to Australia in 1962. After  a couple of years in Sydney where he combined day jobs as a builder’s labourer with performing at the Pigalle, Maxim’s, the Last Straw and the Troubadour, he heeded Martyn Wyndham-Reade’s advice and relocated south. Glasgow-born (1941) Gordon McIntyre had originally emigrated to Australia with his family in 1960; he acquired a guitar after hearing the classic LP The Weavers at Carnegie Hall. Returning to Scotland, he gained performing experience, in company of Bert Jansch (who recorded McIntyre’s ‘Courting Blues’), and as an itinerant musician in Europe before returning to Melbourne where he worked as an electricity linesman for the Box Hill Council. 

Quite unknown to each other before making their debuts at Traynors, Spooner and McIntyre established an instant rapport. During a break on that first evening, they found they knew a number of songs in common and they treated audiences to an impromptu bracket of duets. The pair made an instant impact on the audience (and management) and they quickly acquired a substantial repertoire. Spooner recalls that he would frequently learn two or three new songs a day (while keeping down a job cleaning pubs), rush the lyrics over to McIntyre, rehearse with him in the car en route to the gig, and they would perform the new material that same night. It was the beginning of an intermittent musical partnership which would last until McIntyre’s death in June 1999. Only a year after their first meeting, the pair joined Martyn Wyndham-Read and Peter Dickie for an album of British songs on Score, A Wench, A Whale and A Pint of Good Ale. Another Score album,  Soldiers and Sailors, teamed them with singer Shayna Karlin and Sydney concertina-player Mike Ball. (An immaculate guitarist, well-remembered for his virtuoso rendering of the Davy Graham standard ‘Angie’, McIntyre recorded an album, Behold We Give You the Morning, with the group Desiderata in 1969, and subsequently  relocated to Sydney where he formed a long-standing personal and professional partnership with singer Kate Delaney.

Spooner continued to play in Mebourne solo and in numerous combinations, including the a capella ensemble Canterbury Fair. A firm believer in the importance of knowing and understanding historical frames-of-reference, Spooner was a natural teacher. While still at Traynors, he was recruited by academic Ian Maxwell to lecture on traditional balladry, and from 1968-78 he held a residency at the University of Melbourne, touring and lecturing on various aspects of social history through traditional song. One series of seminars, in which Spooner expounded on ‘The Masters through the eyes of the Convicts’, teamed him with Prof A.G.L. Shaw and Geoffrey Serle. Citing classic performances like ‘Farewell to Tarwathie’, Cris Larner assesses that, as a singer, Spooner was “absolutely present in his music … He gave the duo [Spooner & McIntyre] its passion … No way was he just singing a song, or skiting ‘I can do this better than anyone else’. He was living the song. That’s what drew everyone. The left-wingers responded to it, the idealisation of the working class. It was real”.   Recently retired from teaching, Spooner continues to perform and has remained an esteemed and highly active figure on the local traditional music scene over three decades.


[cont. Traynors 4]