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Early Brisbane 1



Malcolm J. Turnbull


The situation had changed considerably twelve months later. Pete Seeger has been credited with providing the impetus for an organised folk scene in Brisbane. According to Bill Scott:

His tour was to be of Sydney and Melbourne but there were [sic] a team of us in Brisbane who felt, because of the popularity of the songs he was writing ‘round about that time, like ‘If I Had a Hammer’ and ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone’ … we felt that we could make a success of it in Brisbane. So we formed a committee of about 20 people … and we each of us agreed to put up a certain sum of money to guarantee the rental of the … old Brisbane stadium, and we then invited Seeger to come up and do a concert … To our joy, our great joy, it was an enormous turn-out, very very successful, and we didn’t have to make good with our guarantees. [Scott NLA Interview]

Dave de Hugard, a young pharmacist from Bundaberg, met Seeger at the Brisbane airport and was thrilled when the great man autographed his Vega banjo. For de Hugard the concert was a revelation:

Festival Hall was chockablock. I remember wondering where all the people were from … Seeger’s main thesis was that ordinary people can make music. He served as a bridge from the record player to ordinary people.

Bill Scott continues:

We were having problems then because the law at that time in Queensland forbade you to sing in a public bar … The coffee lounges at that time weren’t like the Sydney ones where they used to actually employ folksingers, so we said, all right, we’d start our own. [Scott, NLA Interview]

16 members of the Queensland Folkore Society (successor to the Bush Music Club), including Scott, Stan Arthur and local folklorist Bob Michell, again got together 400 pounds (“a lot of dough in those days”), hunted out second-hand chairs, tables and equipment, and in January 1964 established the Brisbane Folk Centre, in the loft of the old Geographical Society in Ann Street  – “between the People’s Palace and the Salvation Army Temple”. (“We always used to get a late start on a Sunday night because we used to have to wait for the Band to finish at the Temple at 8.00 before we could start singing”, remembers Scott). The Centre functioned three nights a week (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) from 6.30 – 11.30, seated 145, and was open to both members (at an initial one pound a year) and visitors. Chess and domino sets were available. Lighting problems were overcome when Bob Michell introduced an ingenious arrangement of hanging electric lights concealed by bamboo stems.

According to Australian Tradition [May 1964, Nov 1965, June 1966, April 1967], there was no shortage of performers available in Brisbane. On opening night Barbara Bacon, classical guitarist and lute-player Tony Allen, Margaret Kitamura, Bill Scott, Dave de Hugard, Don Jackson and The Wayfarers, all held stage. Scott’s distinguished folklore achievements had extended to composing (his ‘It’s Hard on a Lass to be Lonely’ was recorded by Tina Date). Barbara Bacon combined solo sets and well-received duets with her (then) husband Bob Daly, or with Shayna Bracegirdle, who went on to make a mark on both the Sydney and Melbourne scenes as Shayna Karlin and Shayna Stewart. (Stan Arthur remembers that Bracegirdle possessed a stunningly clear voice but, at that early stage, “lacked feeling”;  Bacon, by contrast, lacked the clear voice but made up for it with “tons of feeling”). The Wayfarers, with bass-player Theo Bosch replacing Alistair Fraser (prior to innumerable other personnel changes), functioned as the Centre’s resident group throughout its history, attracting a substantial local following with an eclectic Anglo-Celtic and Australian traditional repertoire. (“Think of [them] … as a cross between the Weavers and the Clancy Brothers, with a very strong Australian accent”, recalls early Brisbane Folk Centre member Roger Holmes [Folk Rag, July 1999]). In addition to its regular appearances at the Folk Centre, the quartet travelled throughout Queensland giving concerts for schools and youth groups, featured (along with Dave de Hugard, Margaret Kitamura and Susan Edmonds) on an ABC Queensland TV series, Around Folk 1 & 2, and Folks Like Us. They appeared frequently as support act for visiting celebrities like the Clancy Brothers, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Stephan Grapelli, the Fureys, Steeleye Span, and Foster & Allen, and (following the close of the Folk Centre) played three nights a week, for seven years, at the Stable Restaurant in Surfers Paradise. In 1966 The Wayfarers recorded a polished LP, The Barley Mow (containing creditable and rollicking renditions of ‘The Ryebuck Shearer’, ‘Another Fall of Rain’, ‘Cutty Wren’ and ‘Little Beggarman’). Group leader Arthur was active as a lecturer with the Queensland Folklore Society  which held its monthly meetings at the Brisbane Folk Centre.

Other early regulars at the Folk Centre included Danny Gillespie (who specialised in sea shanties), Mick O’Rourke (who popularised Bill Scott’s ‘Hey Rain’), multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Bernie Besaparis, Keith Smith and Sue Edmonds. The Moses Brothers, Judah and Gerald, performed occasional songs in Yiddish or Hebrew (among them ‘Tumbalalaika’), but usually seemed most at home singing and playing Irish rebel songs. Bill Berry was a fine singer who played distinctive classically-based guitar and alternated union songs with bawdy ballads. Brother William, a Franciscan monk, sang religious material, made an LP Songs of a Sinner with the Claire Poole Singers, and frequently played host to BFC regulars on Sunday afternoons in the grounds of the Franciscan friary just outside Brisbane.

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