THE EARLY YEARS OF THE FOLK REVIVAL IN MELBOURNE

Malcolm J. Turnbull

Part 2: Traynors (cont.)

Lynne St John was another teacher who welcomed the opportunity to augment her (low) workday salary with appearances at Traynors and other coffee lounges. She started singing professionally while training at Burwood Teachers’ College thanks to an admirer who passed on a tape of her singing to the manager of the Cottage in Doncaster. As a result, she appeared off-and-on at the Cottage for more than two years, as well as at the Pennville and Deep Down jazz clubs, the Campus (both upstairs with Graham Bennett’s jazz musicians and downstairs in the coffee lounge ‘folk’ area), the Jolly Roger (standing in for Brian Mooney for a couple of weeks) and other venues. She was first recruited to sing at Traynors following an appearance at a folk convention at Mt Evelyn in November 1964 and she remained a regular at the club - sometimes singing with David Lumsden, sometimes in a trio with Lumsden and Graham Squance - until 1967 when she semi-retired to devote herself to family and teaching.

In general, those who were speak of Traynors very fondly, citing the almost familial closeness which developed between many of the regulars. Traynor himself, toughened by years in the jazz world,  was struck by the earnestness and basic niceness of the majority of the folkies. Mary Traynor recalls the essential decency of the scene there, a scene characterised by the respect performers displayed for each others’ repertoires, particularly in the early days when recordings were relatively inaccessible and singers went to considerable trouble to build up a songbag. “Traynors was a leveller”, she notes, “ ... people came to be entertained and got much more. You could just sit and listen and not speak to anyone. Alternatively, people were open. You could talk. You could talk to the artist and discuss the songs”.

Patrons and performers alike saw the club as a drop-in-centre, where they were bound to run into someone they knew. Even if not scheduled to play, artists would frequently call in to mingle in the performers’ area, swap verses or “help out” with a couple of songs. The Saturday evening show would typically close with Mooney, Wyndham-Read or Spooner performing the final bracket, then inviting friends backstage or in the audience up to close with either ‘Go Lassie Go’ or ‘Singing Bird’. Newcomers were able to sing “from the floor” and (generally) encouraged to return. Margret RoadKnight was a case in point. An equally nervous Paul Wookey debuted one evening and failed dismally, singing too softly to be heard; Mary Traynor allowed him to come back and try again occasionally and, within six months, he had developed into a commanding and outstanding performer.

Over time, some of the more seasoned artists developed a paternalistic attitude to youthful compatriots and patrons. A group of nurses from St Vincent’s Hospital were frequent and popular customers in the mid-60s; following the final bracket of the evening, singers with wheels would be rostered to ensure the girls got back to the hall of residence before their 12.00 curfew. A number of marriages grew out of the club. Even local policemen on their beat would be made welcome and offered coffee, although management tended to breathe a sigh of relief when they left without having reacted to the the unorthodox cigarette smell which occasionally emanated from the performers’ area. A “home base” for musicians and “a reference centre for folk and jazz”, Traynors also developed a word-of-mouth reputation internationally. Young tourists would often call in, saying they had been hitch-hiking through Norway (for example) and had been advised, if ever in Melbourne, to call in at the club. According to Danny Spooner:

It was a music establishment where people went to learn, listen and get their heads together. It was a place of peace for some, and an escape from their dreadful day-to-day existences ... Traynors brought together politicians like Jim Cairns, drop-outs, alternatives, actors, all mixing together. The songs were a catalyst.

The club was also unusual among the Melbourne venues for its longevity: 12 years.  It was forced to relocate to 100 Little Lonsdale Street when a motel opened next door to the Exhibition Street building at the end of 1968 (meaning that the jazz musicians could not ‘jam’ after midnight). Although crowds had begun to fall off by the end of the ‘60s, partly because folkmusic (and the venue) had ceased to be fashionable, and partly because the social folk scene was shifting towards pubs like Fogarty’s Union and Dan O’Connell’s, Traynors remained packed on Saturdays (until the end) and it continued to function for several more years. The end came when the building was sold and the new owner demanded vacant possession  in 1975. By contrast, its forerunners, the Jolly Roger, Hernando’s, the Ad Lib and the Treble Clef, had soon been superceded. Even the Reata had gone by 1965 (although The Green Man, established on the same premises, ultimately lasted - and continued to feature acoustic music - into the 1980s).

Traynors was the jewel in the crown of a Melbourne folk scene that encompassed an almost staggering number of live venues in the ’60s. In addition to those already mentioned there were the Cottage, the Gallows, the Copper Inne, the Flower Pot & Candle, the Copper Kettle, the Bastille, the Colonial Inn, the Fall-Out Shelter, the Oupost Inn, Prompt Corner, the Blue Boy, Capers, the Spanish Cellar, the Lonesome Road, the Interlude – and more! Most were shortlived (although the Outpost Inn endured for a decade). The Pricklye Bush and the Dan O’Connell both emerged out of disputes between performers and Traynors management. Supporters of Declan Affley set up the former, at the Union Hotel, following a disagreement between Affley and Don Carless. The ‘Dan’ (which became the focal point of the post-60s folk scene in Melbourne) emerged out of an argument between Frank Traynor and Danny Spooner. Ironically, both rifts healed almost immediately and the pub clubs worked hard subsequently to augment rather than compete with what was on offer at Traynors.

[Apart from the published sources cited in the text, my main source of information for this article has been a series of interviews with Mary Traynor, Danny Spooner, Don Carless, David Lumsden, Denis Gibbons, Glen Tomasetti, Garry Kinnane, Lynne [St John] Lumsden, Cris Larner, Ken & Fiona [Laurence] White, Duncan Brown, Peter Laycock, Martyn Wyndham-Read, Phyl Lobl, Lenore Somerset, Mick Counihan, Margret RoadKnight, Dave de Hugard, Sue Lee-Archer, Jamie Johnston & John O’Leary. Additional detail came from an untitled typescript by Mary Traynor, kindly provided by the author.]  

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