Early Sydney part6
KEY PLAYERS ON THE SYDNEY COFFEE LOUNGE SCENE
Malcolm J. Turnbull
The Troubadour is still remembered with affection by public and performers – particularly the upstairs room where the singers congregated between sets. “The Troubadour was always packed with audiences who wanted to hear the music”, remembers Sean Cullip, “Smoke-filled, silent rooms, full of the smell of indifferent coffee … [bringing together] very talented people singing the most wonderful music and enjoying it enormously”. Like Traynors in Melbourne it attracted overseas celebrities, among them Eartha Kitt, Dame Margot Fonteyn & Rudolph Nureyev, Rita Streich, Theo Bikel, Israeli singer Batya, and Nina & Frederik. Peter Yarrow (of Peter Paul & Mary) once gave an impromptu three-hour recital there. “It was a wonderful time”, reminisces Alex Hood:
Seven nights a week and packed all the time. Upstairs. Downstairs. Going all the bloody time. The singing never stopped. You got the idea that suddenly people liked you. They liked what you were doing … I’m sure it started a lot of people off that continued with it [Alex Hood, NLA Interview]
Apart from the venues, which provided a performing platform for the cream of Sydney’s folksingers (and visiting interstate headliners), Carter mounted several major
concerts, two of them at the Town Hall in 1964 with the second so well-attended that an estimated 1000 customers were turned away. His best-remembered – and most ambitious – undertaking was the Folk Festival at Sydney’s Newport Beach, produced in partnership with Brian Nebenzahl, managing director of Playbill Inc., in January 1965.
The festival was the high point in Carter’s dominance of the Sydney scene and – in retrospect – the highpoint of the boom in NSW. The beach site was chosen because of its popularity with summer vacationers and because its name evoked immediate associations with the annual Rhode Island extravaganzas at which the American folk pantheon gathered. Black and green posters featuring Adelaide songstress Tina Lawton were pasted up all over Sydney, and Carter and Nebenzahl shrewdly leased the Elizabethan Trust’s giant tent theatre and erected it on the oval at Newport. Capable of seating 2000 people, the tent was reportedly packed to capacity at each of five concerts. Loudspeakers relayed proceedings to hundreds more would-be patrons outside. The Workers Educational Association buildings nearby provided space for seminars, discussions and film-screenings, and accommodation for interstate performers. “Not just from Sydney, but from … all points west and north, singers and audiences came with bedding rolls, sleeping bags, and prized guitars ..”, reported one Sydney journalist.
Citing the enormous success of Newport, Carter successfully tendered to stage the annual Moomba folk music concert in Melbourne, somewhat to the dismay of that city’s folk establishment. He also expanded his coffee lounge empire to encompass Darby’s Folk Attick, revamped it as the Folk Terrace, and thereby provided his roster of regulars (Shearston, Date, Marks, Henderson, Lewis, etc) with another performing outlet.
The ‘Carter family’ gained enviable exposure during 1965 on the TV programs Bandstand; Just Folk, hosted by Shearston; Leonard Teale’s Folk-Moot; and Dave’s Place, hosted by ex-Kingston Trio member, Dave Guard, who had settled in Australia in 1962. Dave’s Place was an ambitious meld of folk and jazz, set in an imaginary teahouse somewhere remote in the Pacific. Veteran vaudeville star Queenie Paul appeared weekly as chief tea-lady Priscilla, and a trio comprised of Guard, Chris Bonett and Norma Stoneman / Kerrilee Male opened each show. Interestingly, the trio discarded the customary acoustic accompaniment for electric instruments (in Guard’s case a Melnik ZJM guitar), and a repertoire of country/folk, R&B and gospel. (Guard appears to have been strongly influenced by The Staple Singers at this point). Drummer Len Young and jazzmen Don Burrows and the Col Nolan Trio provided instrumental support. Highlights of Dave’s Place included Nina & Frederik performing the Israeli hora ‘Eretz Zavat Chalav’, Judy Henske singing ‘Charlotte Town’, Kitamura rendering ‘Mary Anne’, Kevin Butcher’s ‘Brisbane Ladies’, Scottish singer Lesley Hale’s ‘Still I Love Him’, ‘Singing Bird’ by Wyndham-Read & Mooney, Marian Henderson’s ‘Euabalong Ball’, Irene Petrie’s ‘Coal Tattoo’, ‘Sometime Lovin’’ by Shearston, ‘Ella Speed’ by The Twiliters, McGhee & Terry’s ‘Pick a Bale of Cotton’, and Guard dueting ‘The Frozen Logger’ with Margret Roadknight. (Roadknight appeared as a singing waitress, garbed in an English parlourmaid outfit). [See Ken Bradshaw’s excellent on-line articles on ‘Dave’s Place’].
However this peak of activity was of very brief duration. By the last quarter of 1965, Music Maker’s Stuart Gordon was alerting readers of his ‘Like Folk’ column that “commercially speaking, the Sydney folk scene appears to be in the midst of a depression”.The plug was pulled on Just Folk; the Last Straw closed (re-opening as a discotheque), and Brian Nebenzahl announced that the proposed 1966 Folk Festival at Newport would not be going ahead. A tour by U.S. bluegrass stars, The New Lost City Ramblers, proved such a bust financially that promoter Harry M. Miller wryly hosted a ‘Let’s Forget about Folkmusic’ party. Coffee lounge operators, in general, declared that business was “declining to nothing”. Undoubtedly overseas musical trends (i.e. the emergence of folk-rock) were echoing resoundingly in Australia, and the mass audience was restless for newer diversions. Insiders conceded, as well, that the market may well have been saturated, a case of “too much folkmusic, too soon”. Gary Shearston did not mince words, insisting that the decline had been hastened by the “usual gluttonous appetites” of “commercial interests”. (Shearston would spend two decades in Europe, enjoying an international hit with his rendition of Cole Porter’s ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’. For the past 15 years he has worked as clergyman in rural NSW parishes. He remains active musically and, in 2005, is preparing a new CD).
Concerns about exploitation of the artist by some coffee lounge entrepreneurs had underpinned the foundation of PACT Folk at mid-year. (Jenny McCallum, former manager of the Troubadour, was a key player in its establishment). Despite grumbling that they had become overly commercial (i.e. too well-known), Leonard Teale insisted that Sean & Sonja be invited to participate in the new venue. PACT Folk operated out of the old corn exchange building at the corner of Sussex and Market Streets, Pyrmont, and opened on 15 May 1965 with the line-up of Tina Lawton, Jan de Zwaan, Sean & Sonja, Brisbane singer Ros Corven, Canberra artist Malcolm Wilde, and Teale & Sundstrom. The organisation adopted the name the Limejuice Tub for its regular activities. Directory listings in Australian Tradition and elsewhere indicate that the Limejuice Tub developed a life of its own, outlasting its parent organisation by several years. It finally closed early in 1970. (Sean Cullip remembers celebrating his 21st birthday there with a bottle of Veuve Cliquot).
By the beginning of 1967, the folk boom was a thing of the past in Sydney; so much so that the Limejuice Tub and a more recent arrival on the scene, the Sydney Folk Song Club (which met in an upstairs room at the Hotel Elizabeth), were being cited as the only two major venues left. The Bush Music Club continued to meet regularly, seemingly untouched by the ups-and-downs of popular taste, but the major folk coffee lounges were gone – including the Troubadour, El Toro, the Folk Terrace and the Pigalle.
Once Jim Carter had withdrawn from the Copperfield, the management hired Alex Hood to “hold court” and co-ordinate rosters which featured Kevin Butcher (a former commercial artist with a superior tenor voice), Emma Hanna, Marian Henderson, The Kinsfolk and a very popular Perth trio The Twiliters. Significantly the club was keen to play up its resemblance to “a Victorian era English inn”. Hood was ending a turbulent marriage at the time. Opening his guitar-case on stage one evening, he found the instrument smashed to pieces – a parting gift. (The patrons assumed it was all part of the act and laughed uproariously).
The Copperfield, too, would fold by mid-year. The dearth of performing outlets was not lost on Music Maker columnist Stuart Gordon who compared the local state-of-play with the rather more healthy situation in Melbourne. Citing the Port Phillip Festival, a scheduled festival at rural Wangaratta, and the persistence of the magazine Australian Tradition, Gordon wrote: “Rivalry between [the two cities] is always keen, no matter at what level or subject … but we Sydneysiders might as well concede to the southern city on the river that its folk scene has by far the healthier outlook”.
The move from coffee lounge to pub, which started in Sydney, would be characteristic of the Australian folk scene in general, reflecting a fundamental shift away from
U.S.-influenced singing and playing to hard-and-fast concentration on British and Irish music. What became the Sydney Folk Song Club originated in informal gatherings of a number of expatriate Englishmen, on Friday evenings, at the Mercantile Hotel under the Harbour Bridge. “I really liked it there”, recalls Dave de Hugard. “It wasn’t a club but an assembly of people with a common love, all enjoying songs and tunes”. Within weeks the gathering shifted to the larger Vanity Fair Hotel in King’s Cross (still “a loosely-organised evening”) and from there to the Hotel Elizabeth (where it would continue well into the 70s). Reportedly formed “to fill the gap between the coffee bars and the Bush Music Club”, the SFSC appears to have been the initiative of multi-instrumentalist Mike Ball. Regular performers included Ball, de Hugard, Carol & Mike Wilkinson and Chris Kempster. Declan Affley, Marian Henderson, Mark Gregory, Jeannie Lewis, Mike McClellan and Alex Hood made frequent guest appearances. (Hood recently notched up fifty years as part of the backbone of the Australian revbival. In 2005 he and wife Annette continue to tour Australia with their highly successful folklore for schools program).
The “shift towards the Anglo-Celtic” also became more and more apparent at the Limejuice Tub which, by late 1967 (according to Australian Tradition), was being “run solely by [expatriate Englishman] Mike Eves … in the most uncongenial surroundings imaginable”. In due course, the club moved from the Corn Exchange to the nearby Maitland and Morpeth Hotel, where regulars included Peter Parkhill and Colin Dryden. Visiting Melbourne journalist/singer Mick Counihan waxed enthusiastic about the strong emphasis at both clubs on unaccompanied singing, and the general absence of “the sort of superficial hotch-potch PP&M – Judy Collins – Pete Seeger – Joan Baez repertoire which was the staple of so many singers of the folk-boom period”. In Counihan’s opinion, Sydney performers were belatedly acquiring an awareness of the difficulties involved in singing folksongs. With admirable foresight, however, he cautioned that:
… while the emphasis on British songs in Melbourne and Sydney is a gigantic step forward in terms of the growing maturity of the revival here, there is the possibility of a new orthodoxy replacing the old pop-folk one.
[Go-Set, 25 Jan 1967]
Hotel folk-meets were at the centre of the Sydney scene from 1967 throughout the period under review (and beyond). John Huie’s Wine bar in George Street hosted Thursday folk nights for a few months while Limejuice Tub regulars met for a time at the Bognor Hotel, three doors from the corner of Castlereagh and Elizabeth Streets. Other clubs functioned out of the Edinburgh Castle (led by Warren Fahey) and the Boars’ Head, and an Irish Musicians Group met for a while at the Hotel Elizabeth. Occasional folk evenings were also convened at the Mercantile, Hero of Waterloo and Hollywood hotels. Dick’s Hotel at Balmain was a popular gathering-place for folkies on Saturday afternoons circa 1970, while during the same period, folkmusic (performed by Colin Dryden, John Francis, Declan Affley and Martin Van-Herk) emanated from the recently renovated cellars of the old Royal George in Sussex Street. The Town Crier Folk Club, founded by Derrick Chetwyn and Trevor Sutton with the backing of the NSW Folk Federation, met on Thursday nights (from April 1971) at the Town Hall hotel in Balmain. According to a contemporary report:
The Town Crier goes like a party. In a big back bar with the spirits high and the music REAL … The audiences are REAL too. Cross-section audiences. Like Balmain itself. Several strata. Old men on benches. Young chicks with babies and nowhere to go except Balmain. It’s all there. Even container-truck drivers, the hated few of the noise and exhaust, occasionally blow in, breathe in, drink in, and sing … There’s a hard-core following of sixty regulars. They range in age from around 18 to around 60. No generation gaps in traditional music …
Meanwhile, occasional efforts (usually shortlived) were made to rekindle the coffee lounge ambience. Beekers at Manly, the brainchild of a multicultural trio (an American, a Scotsman and an Englishman), briefly offered a mix of jazz and folk at weekends. Folksinging was also advertised for a time at Ferdinand’s at Collaroy, at the Workshop in William Street (on Thursday nights), and at The Web in Smith Street, Parramatta. A group calling itself the Folk Arts Co-operative ran The Shack in Waterloo Road, Narrabeen, at weekends from 1970-73, reportedly catering “for all tastes” with “a balanced format of traditional and contemporary music”. Peter Phelps and Reg Burns were resident artists at Friday and Sunday folk evenings at the Quintette Coffee Shop, a cellar in South Terrace, Bankstown, while Greg Quill was resident artist at ‘Googaloo’ in King Street in the CBD. ‘Rentace’, a “suitably dark little clubroom-cum-coffee lounge place”, was founded by young Fourth Internationalists, and offered a program of films, talks, recorded music and live folksongs. (A successor, the ‘Third World’ in Goulburn Street, advertised itself as “the only revolutionary folk club in Sydney”). A trio consisting of Robert Miller (guitar), Adrienne Bartlett (vocals) and Ian Foster (tea-chest bass) held court performing folk hits and light pop songs on Friday evenings, throughout 1970, at the Jersey Coffee Lounge in fashionable West Pymble.
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