Early Melbourne 2 next3



Malcolm J. Turnbull

Part 2: Traynors (cont.)

Contemporary concert and record reviews confirm that Somerset fell foul of the folk establishment, due to a combination of her classical training, her popularity, her eclecticism (she had no qualms about singing with jazz bands, square-dancing on television, acting on Bellbird and Homicide, or recording with C&W musicians like the Hawking Brothers), and her professional approach to performing folkmusic. (“I remember once being told that I had no right to sing Australian songs because I was a trained singer”, she recalled recently. “Plus women didn’t sing them”). In reviewing the Score LP Australian Folk Festival, Pat O’Connor criticised Somerset’s rendition of ‘The Ox Driver’s Song’ as closer to art presentation than traditional-style folksong, while Mick Counihan once cited Somerset as proof  “… that a singer needs more than lung power to make a sea shanty convincing”. She raised eyebrows by arriving to sing at Traynors fashionably be-wigged, “dressed to the nines” and fully made-up, and on one occasion she incurred the wrath of Australian Tradition’s Coral Robertson when she made a complete costume change in between brackets at a concert. (“Folkmusic should be natural and uninhibited”, admonished Robertson) [Go-Set, 6 July 1966; Australian Tradition, Sept & Nov 1964].   A fun-loving and generous being who “tended to mother everybody”, Somerset  was active on the Melbourne (and national) folk scene from 1963 to mid 1966, after which she moved increasingly into country music and cabaret, becoming a regular face on the RSL, Leagues Clubs and hotel circuit (about as far from the coffee lounges, ideologically, as was possible). Her willingness to entertain troops in Vietnam further distanced her from the folk milieu.  She retired from performing in the 1980s. Interviewed recently, she expressed enduring affection for the folk years – and for Traynors in particular, noting that she had been able “to sing her heart out there”, performing material that might have been deemed too downbeat or esoteric by more mainstream audiences.


In addition to Somerset and Glen Tomasetti,  women folk-performers at Traynors  included Margaret Smith, Margret Roadknight, Phyl Vinnicombe, Sue Lee Archer, Fiona Laurence, Shayna Karlin and Lynne St John. Gabrielle Hartley, a fashion model with an “adequate” voice and good stage technique, spent a short time as a folksinger (at mid-decade) before moving into television acting. As a folksinger, Hartley performed briefly on Bandstand and is best remembered for her recording of 

Charles Marawood’s poignant ‘Magdalena’. Fiona Laurence, who learned Scottish folksongs from her mother and grandmother, started singing publicly after rendering ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’ at an artists’ party in honour of visiting celebrity Odetta. Intensely shy, Laurence was leaving the party when she was stopped by the great singer and advised gently: “You must sing”. Laurence became a regular at Traynors and other venues from 1966, both on her own and in a number of combinations, most notably with future husband Ken White).

Shayna Karlin (nee Bracegirdle), a Queenslander who had been active in the beginnings of the Brisbane Folk Centre and on the Sydney scene, appeared regularly at Traynors around 1965-7, often in duet with Gordon McIntyre. Karlin specialised in British songs but was also a keen interpreter of American songwriters like Buffy Sainte-Marie. In 1970 she branched out by joining Colin Dryden, Graham Lowndes and others in a shortlived but highly innovative electric folk group Extradition, an ensemble which was favourably compared in its day to the British super-groups Pentangle and Fairport Convention. (Karlin and other members of Extradition also played together as Tully, an experimental ensemble which drew its inspiration from Meher Baba. Tully is best remembered today for performing the score of the musical Hair on stage and record). 

Margaret Smith, a Monash Arts student and former typist, sang alone and as a member of the Caedmon Singers, specialising in Peter Paul & Mary-style material. (The Caedmon Singers recorded a Seekers-style single, ‘It’s Not Love’ for W&G, under the name ‘Maggie’s People’, in 1966). Margret Roadknight, plagued initially by self-consciousness but, even then, an original, got her start at Emerald Hill. She debuted at Traynors, called up out of the audience, stunning those present with an a capella spiritual, and she continued to play there throughout its history. Introduced to black American music by Traynor and members of the cast of the touring show Black Nativity, she sang regularly with the Jazz Preachers and recorded a live album, People Get Ready, at the club in 1973. Roadknight went professional in 1965 and has managed to make her living in music ever since, coupling performing with such related activity as running folkmusic classes for the Council of Adult Education. Rooted in contemporary folk and blues, her repertoire encompasses everything from Malvina Reynolds, Ma Rainey, Joni Mitchell. and Elton John to African and Bulgarian traditions, Barry Humphries and ‘Waltzing Matilda’. Duncan Brown, who first started going to Traynors circa 1968, cites Roadknight as one of the all-time standout acts there: – in particular, her rendition of ‘Love tastes like Strawberries’.

Sue Lee-Archer fell in love with folkmusic as a schoolgirl, listening to Denis Gibbons’ show on 3AW. (Her first ‘gig’, organised by her father, was singing ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ at the Mentone Bowls Club). In response to a letter asking advice on “how to become a folksinger”, Gibbons suggested she come in and try out at Traynors. She appeared at the club for a couple of years (1964-6), playing a mix of Baez, Ian & Sylvia, Cathy & Carol, Judy Collins, Gordon Lightfoot and Irish songs. Lee-Archer married and cut down on performing. She re-emerged in the 1970s as a member of Brendan Hanley’s Moonshiners before moving to Tasmania (in 1976) and becoming part of the Hobart and Longford scene.

Phyl Vinnicombe was a primary teacher, a country girl from Ballarat, first exposed to the local folk scene through house-sitting for Peter and Ruth Mann and then meeting Glen Tomasetti, the mother of two of her young students. She recalls Emerald Hill, Pete Seeger’s workshop there, an early visit to the Reata (where Martyn Wyndham-Read played ‘Widdecombe Fair’) and guitar classes with Tomasetti upstairs at Traynors, as decisive influences on her own musical quest.  Vinnicombe impressed listeners early on with her self-composed protest songs, notably ‘Dark-eyed Daughter’, written in response to Charles Perkins’ Freedom Rides.  She made a guest appearance (singing ‘Andy’s Gone with Cattle’ and ‘O’Meally’s Shanty’) on the Wyndham-Read/ Bush Band album Bullockies, Bushwackers and Booze (1967) and recorded a W&G EP for the Aboriginal Advancement League in 1968. (Vinnicombe married musician Geri Lobl and moved to Sydney where she remained active in the NSW folk scene – singing, lecturing, writing and representing folk arts on the Australia Council – as Phyl Lobl).

[cont. Traynors 6]