Early Melbourne 2 next2


THE EARLY YEARS OF THE FOLK REVIVAL IN MELBOURNE

 

Malcolm J. Turnbull

Part 2: Traynors (cont.)

Several talented singer-guitarists, closely identified with Traynors, died well before their time. John Graham, who started out with “three chords and ten Peter Paul & Mary songs” , and ended up performing mostly his own material (a bit before the singer-songwriter vogue really took off), died in a car accident shortly before he was due to be married. Trevor Lucas, who attained international celebrity as a member of Fairport Convention, died, apparently of  heart failure, in Sydney in 1989. Graham Squance, a Country music and Dylan enthusiast who fell in love with American blues when he heard Lucas play, developed a substantial local following as blues-man and bottleneck guitar specialist. As a student geologist, he performed solo and, on occasion, in a trio with country music-buff Glen Foster and Shayna Karlin, or in a duo with fellow blues-enthusiast Ken White. Squance gave up playing professionally after graduation, but he continued to guest at clubs and festivals in NSW and Victoria, and was active in the foundation of a campus folk club at the University of New England. He died in a car accident while en route from Armidale to the Monaro (Canberra) Folk Festival in 1970. A major figure on the early Sydney folk scene, Declan Affley moved to Melbourne for a couple of years in the mid 1960s and became something of a fixture at Traynors. (Affley died in Sydney in 1985). Another ill-fated Sydney singer who divided his time between the two major metropolitan scenes was the gifted Colin Dryden, fondly remembered as a charismatic and complex character with an apparent death-wish: a man “deliberately headed towards oblivion”.  

Denis Gibbons and Lenore Somerset, household names by virtue of their extensive radio and TV work, appeared regularly at Traynors during the club’s infancy (as did big names from interstate like Gary Shearston, Marian Henderson and Tina Lawton). As far as the more puritanical members of the folk fraternity were concerned, radio broadcaster Gibbons was far too well known a figure to qualify as a serious, bona fide folksinger.  Gibbons himself recognised that the likes of Wyndham-Read and Mooney were on “another plane”; similarly, he was determinedly apolitical and (as a lifetime Liberal voter) quite out-of-touch with the protest generation. He was, however a personable being who got on well with people and was much in demand for his skills as a compere. Mick Counihan probably summed up orthodox folkie tolerance of Gibbons in a review of a Folklore Council concert he (Gibbons) hosted at Melbourne Town Hall in 1966. “Although far from our best folksinger, Gibbons is and has been important as a populariser of our traditional material, avoiding the trap into which many of his fellow performers have fallen, that of debasing this material in the popularising process” [Go-Set, 6 July 1966].

The ambivalence with which folk purists viewed Gibbons (and interstate comercial acts like Doug Ashdown, Sean & Sonja, The Twiliters or The Wesley Three) was duplicated in their response to Lenore Somerset. Easily the most widely-exposed woman singer of the era, she boasted a distinctive and booming three octave voice which ranged from soprano down to low alto. Born Lenore Miller in Queensland in 1931, she learned guitar as a child and made her first recordings with her uncle, the legendary Buddy Williams, in 1945. She spent seven years with the Queensland National Opera before moving to Melbourne with her doctor husband and young son (circa 1958). Encouraged by her husband, she resumed voice lessons and took up the guitar again, finding folksinging an enticing contrast.

Folkmusic grew on me because I was a hillbilly singer from Queensland. At 6.30 every morning, I listened to all the [folk and country] records rom America and the Australian ones [on radio]. I had the ability to remember the songs and play them on the guitar … Opera was composed by someone else … you were one of a group who produced the same thing. I was drawn to folkmusic because I wanted to be real … Every folksong told a story and you could dramatise it.

Somerset’s rise to prominence was swift thanks to appearanceas on In Melbourne Tonight, Delo & Daly, Patrick O’Hagan Sings, The Country &Western Hour, Bandstand and three albums for W&G. She took part in the Four Capitals Folk Song Tour, topped the bill at Jim Carter’s 1965 Newport Folk Festival, toured with The New Lost City Ramblers and was featured model in advertisements for Maton guitars.  (The company went so far as to name one of its instruments in her honour: the ‘L.S. Professional’).       Somerset coupled her vocal distinctiveness with skilled 6 and 12 string guitar work. Gibbons, a close friend,  has remembered that she consciously developed her lower vocal register after listening to Odetta records; certainly her huge voice made standards like ‘Jericho’, ‘Children Go’, ‘O Freedom’ and ‘The Ox-Driver’s Song’ natural choices.

[cont. Traynors 5]