IVY LEAGUE TRIOS next
SOME FONDLY-REMEMBERED ‘BOY BANDS’ OF THE FOLK YEARS
IVY LEAGUE TRIOS
© Malcolm J Turnbull
[Formerly published in Trad & Now, #26, 2008]l]
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The Perth scene produced several memorable ensembles. While it failed to achieve comparable national success, The West Coast Trio rivalled Maguire, White & Stampfer/Ferris on home turf, attracting its own coterie of loyal fans across town at The Shiralee in Howard Street.
The Shiralee attracted a yuppie element [and] the real folk enthusiasts [maintains Hans Stampfer]. The Quitapena was more a real restaurant. The Twiliters appealed to the teen market [whereas] The West Coast Trio was more up-market … We were pop folk stars… They were more sophisticated musically although they didn’t have the same raw energy … The WCT was influenced by The Limeliters and were generally more in the style of The Wesley Three. The Twiliters combined the more accessible stylings of The Kingston Trio and captured a certain pulse and feeling.
The WCT teamed student teachers Nick Melidonis and Mike Robinson and law clerk Murray Wilkins.
The group lasted from 1961/2 to 1966, through my university years and my first year teaching [remembers Melidonis]. We had worked up a few folk pieces when we were picked up by ABC producer John Tyrrell who put us on air and later featured us on the ABC TV series Folk Cellar. Tyrrell was an ex-Shakespearean actor; he taught us how to perform rather than just play … Murray was an excellent comedian … Our repertoire was a mix of American songs like ‘Old Dan Tucker’, comic songs like Shel Silverstein’s ‘Espresso’, settings of poems by [WA folklorist] John Joseph Jones or Dorothy Hewett, and international stuff, flamenco, Brazilian songs, etc … The fishing song ‘Curimao’ won praise from Eartha Kitt when we supported her at the Capitol Theatre … We played at the Fremantle Spring Festival and sang at civic functions at Government House and at a big variety concert in the Supreme Court Gardens. We also played Sunday evenings at the Foxhole, on the corner of George and Hay Streets, and at Floridata in Wellington Street, the only nightclub in Perth. Perth was still a country town then … We featured in 3 series of Folk Cellar, along with James Smillie, The Yellowstones and Bruce & Romanie Williams, and we started the University of WA Folk Club … A real highlight was a Town Hall concert with the Andre De Moller Trio.
During the long university summer break of 1964/5 The WCT emulated The Twiliters by heading east (with Wilkins’ double bass strapped, coffin-like, to the top of the car), playing country pubs, Leagues and RSL clubs, and TV shows like In Melbourne Tonight and The Diana Trask Show. For a while the trio evolved into The West Coast Four with the addition of [ex-Twiliter] Hans Stampfer. Then when work and study pressure forced Robinson and Stampfer to leave, it was back to a trio with visiting student Zaid Aliff. In 1966. The WCT made the finals of the nationally-televised Showcase series with their rendition of ‘Darlin’ Corey’; unfortunately national exposure backfired when it was discovered that Aliff was in the country illegally. He promptly went “underground” and The WCT disbanded. (For a while Melidonis worked in a duo with singer Rod Popham; a professional photographer, he remains active on the Perth music scene up to the present). Unlike The Twiliters, The WCT did not leave a vinyl legacy; their only record was a live custom pressing of ‘Ella Speed’; Melidonis notes, however, that a tape of the trio’s last TV gig, an ABC Special Meet the West Coast Trio still exists.
Also worth recalling is The Wayfarers (not to be confused with the longlasting Brisbane ensemble of the same name). The youthful ensemble included Kerry White’s brothers Vic and Kim (16 and 14 respectively) and 20 year old Wayne Garton; their impressive takes on PP&M material earned them second place in their heat of Showcase 65 but further success was vetoed when Garton’s number came up in the first Federal conscription lottery. [*For further detail on the early WA folk scene, see my article ‘Recollections of the Folk Boom in Perth’, published in the WA Folk Federation newsletter Town Crier, vol 32(5 &6), 2004; vol 33(1&2), 2005]
Second in national popularity to The Twiliters was Adelaide trio The Wesley Three, a stylish, musically knowledgeable ensemble which attracted public attention through national appearances on Showcase 65, and recorded 4 albums for CBS: The Wesley Three, City Folk, Banjo and Mr Thwump, Leaning on a Lamp-post. Formed circa 1963 when Keith Conlon and twins Peter & Martin Wesley-Smith were still at St Peter’s College (“performing paid our way through university”), the trio cited the Chad Mitchell Trio and, more directly, a local pop-group, distinguished by its use of snare-drum, the Dave Fuller Trio. With Conlon on drum, Martin on guitar and Peter on string bass, the trio survived six years until Peter went overseas to do post-graduate work. Their repertoire encompassed the occasional bush ballad (‘Flash Jack’), American perennials (‘Drill Ye Tarriers’, ‘Little David’, ‘Bullgine Run’), vaudeville material (‘Leaning on a Lamppost’), mild social comment (‘Little Play Soldiers’) and children’s songs (a lovely ‘Owl and the Pussycat’ and an original ‘Little Tommy’ which was covered by the American group The Serendipity Singers).
We sang at parties and at school and in 1964 made our first appearance on Channel 7, also on Channel 9’s Adelaide Tonight [recalls Peter Wesley-Smith] . We played at The Catacombs while we were still at school. Keith also played with the Campus Six … There was a big crossover between jazz and folk. The University Jazz Club brought Paul Marks over … Because Adelaide was such a small scene, it made sense to combine venues … we went on to appear on IMT and Showcase. We travelled to Sydney for three weeks each year, doing the coffee lounge round, the Last Straw and the Copperfield, and so on. It was heady stuff for young Adelaide kids in the 60s. .. [Promoter] Jim Carter still owes us for one gig – the Katoomba Festival – which was a complete failure. The whole area was enveloped in fog; Acoustically it was wonderful but you couldn’t see anything but a few lights twinkling … .. Both Martin and I were conscripted in 1965; we managed to have it deferred because of university and we continued studying. I combined Arts/Law and Honours, then got a special exemption to do a Ph.D. However, the spectre of conscription was over our heads. We had planned to take a year off to debvote to music but it wasn’t possible because of the draft. Going overseas to study [in 1968] meant the end of The Wesley Three.
Listened to today, The Wesleys arguably remain the best of the U.S.-style trios by virtue of their musicality and originality. (Martin Wesley-Smith went on to become a leading exponent and composer of electronic music; Peter Wesley-Smith was , for some years, Dean of Law at the University of Hong Kong. Another brother, Jerry [Wesley], is a respected jazz musician in Adelaide; in 1971 he Jerry and Martin teamed with Keith Conlon and actor Amanda Hodgman for a recording The Glorious Years, released by Jacaranda Press in conhjunction with the book of the same title). Another Adelaide band The John Gordon Trio “took off” briefly after appearing on Showcase 65, performing at hotels, Leagues and RSL clubs, and the bigger coffee lounges. The trio reportedly combined a folk sound “with a lot of comedy and hokum thrown in”.
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