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A three-part article in Mulga Wire, 1980-81 (citation below)
Jack Lang published his memoirs at the age of ninety a reviewer
pointed out that we had to take his word for what had happened; there
was no one else left who had lived through the events. I don’t want
to wait that long to describe the beginning of the Bush Music Club,
but others may recall things differently. I remember clearly my first
involvement with what led to the formation of the Club. Early in 1954
I was in Sydney to attend a Youth Conference and one Saturday night
Gay Terry and Lorna Lovell took me to see a musical play called Reedy
I was enthralled and when it was over I clapped and cheered and
howled for more. So did the rest of the audience.
was already part of the embryo folk song revival. I had sung with a
group organised by John Manifold in Brisbane and was friendly with
Ron Edwards at the time he and Manifold produced the first of the
I even knew some of the songs in Reedy
but I’d never heard them sung in the lively, robust, vigorous and
genuine way they were presented that night. After the applause for
the last encore, when the audience was persuaded to shuffle out of
the stuffy hall, I talked my way backstage on the strength of my
acquaintance with two of the cast members; Brian Loughlin and Harry
Kay. I knew Harry from Youth Camps in Queensland and I was introduced
to Brian outside a milk bar in Brisbane by his brother Kevin.
Reedy River (BMC Archives)
and I were talking on the footpath when Brian came dancing out
humming the Cossack Dance from the Nutcracker Suite and clicking his
the air. (This was the same milk bar where Kevin and a mate, being
broke, once asked for a glass of water and two straws. It says a lot
for the Loughlin personality that they got it!)
Brian showed me the Lagerphone and introduced me to the Bushwhackers,
who played and sang in Reedy
and performed separately as a group.
One of them, John Meredith,
invited me to his place to hear the tape recordings he had made. So,
to John’s rooms at Lewisham, Gay and I went next day. I took
memories of Reedy
and the singers on John’s tapes back to Bundaberg where I was then
living; then I went looking for singers and musicians.
Brian O'Loughlin's Lagerphone 1956 (BMC Archives)
Uncle Raleigh used to play the tin whistle,” my mother told me, but
Uncle Raleigh was dead. “Your Uncle Will used to play the squeeze
box,” Mum said, so I went to see Uncle Will. He got his accordeon
off the top of the wardrobe, where the hornets had built mud nests on
it, but he had suffered a stroke and couldn’t pump the bellows. Mum
could remember her brothers beefing out The
Wild Colonial Boy
on the front verandah when she was a girl but didn’t recall words
or tune; so I had to come to Sydney for the Bush Music.
in late July, I contacted Merro and became a twenty four year old
groupie, turning up wherever the ‘Whackers’
were performing. They soon got tired of looking at me in the audience
and asked me to sing on stage with them. Once I went to a party
instead of a Bushwhacker engagement and the next time I saw Merro (I
remember it was in a pub) he talked very seriously about the
dedication of the Band and their self imposed discipline. It looked
pretty bad, he said, when someone went off to a party instead of
turning up at a performance. At length it penetrated my dim brain
that I was part of the Band. A Bushwhacker! And I hadn’t even
Bushwhackers, photo taken by John Meredith (BMC Archives)
Picking up where Alan Scott unexpectedly discovered that he was a
dedicated member of his dream group ; The
the least part of the dedication John spoke of consisted of
claimed only travelling expenses. Fees for engagements went into
funds. We dressed in what we thought shearers and bush workers would
have worn in the 1890’s and Jack Barrie, who played the tea chest
bass, so looked the part that he is one of the few people I know who
got applause before he even started singing. Cec Grivas had what I
thought was the best voice and Alex Hood played the bones.
Jack Barrie (BMC Archives)
Kay played the mouth organ, which he liked to call the harmonica, and
Chris Kempster played the guitar. Brian Loughlin played the
lagerphone and did the spruiking. His introductions were entertaining
and sounded spontaneous but were the result of much study of the
material. He gave as much thought to playing the lagerphone as Chris
did to the guitar and both searched for the most effective
accompaniment for each song.
Brian Loughlin, 1957 (BMC Archives)
Meredith played the accordeon and provided the solid melodic base for
the group. He was the Bush Musician personified. We had a campaign to
change his presentation. Gradually he changed from staring at one
spot until he got to the stage when he could smile and eventually
sing as he played!
I was learning to play the tin whistle (made easier by the fact that
I’d played the fife at school) I played the nose flute. If you
don’t know what that instrument is you are fortunate. We called it
the steel handkerchief and it was hardly the best choice for someone
like me with a deviated septum and chronic rhinitis. I was glad when
I could lay it away and play whistle full time.
Alan playing nose flute (BMC Archives)
was the cast of characters. We all had some stage experience and
developed “bits of business” and interplay of character that
became whole hearted in the little play
How Many Miles To Gundagai?
in which Tom Durst joined us to play the fiddle as the Dog. The group
was a synthesis of Australian folk styles. No group like it had
existed before but it was authentic in that the instruments and the
material were traditional.
were extremely popular. I have tapes of some of our radio features
and they don’t sound much at all but there was no doubt about the
enthusiasm of our audiences. They shouted for more.
in the Bushwhackers was a good way for a newcomer like me to get to
know Sydney. We played for a kindergarten at Chippendale; P. & C.
Associations at Caringbah, Terrey Hills and Narrabeen; a Blacksmiths’
Union Smoko at Bondi Junction; at Como to celebrate Lawson’s
birthday where pupils from the local school put on a play. We played
at Lawson’s statue in the Domain and got our picture on page one of
the Sydney Morning Herald.
Bushwhackers playing at Lawson's Statue, Botanic Gardens Sydney (BMC Archives)
We played at the Tribune picnic in Royal
National Park and the police stopped us playing from the back of a
truck in Ashfield because we had no permit. We were publicising a
local performance of Reedy
which New Theatre revived in 1955. We were in it of course.
went to Pagewood for four days of boring inactivity and a couple of
hours’ work in the film Three
The ‘rushes’ of this showed us capering round on a small bright
viewing screen without sound. We looked so good the director decided
to use Chris and Brian further in the film. We played in false
whiskers to thousands of kids at the Showground for the Smith Family.
The kids wanted to tear our beards off and we got our picture in the
Herald again. We played at an RSL dance at Dee Why, where I saw my
first poker machine.
Bushwhackers at the Showground for The Smith Family (BMC Archives)
In which Alan Scott finds playing with his dream band is very hard
is an indication of the workload we carried. I wonder now how we
coped! We held down our normal wages jobs, performed all over the
place, participated in the Folk-lore
and the Bush
and were enthusiastic members of the Communist Party with all the
political activity involved in that. To those BMC members who might
object, a quarter of a century on, to eight young communists helping
to found their Club I can only say that’s the way it was. You can’t
change history. In retrospect, assisting in the birth of the Club may
have been our most important action.
of us, bar Brian, were bachelors. Alex, Harry and I got married in
the next couple of years. In some ways the girls must have felt they
had wed the group, not just a husband. The close association and
shared experiences had brought the sort of comradeship enjoyed by a
touring football team or the cast of a play.
went for a night cruise round Sydney Harbour with the Peking
I remember Merro telling an interpreter how we collected songs from
old people when we went away on country trips. This was translated to
their Comrade Manager and we waited for the reply. The interpreter
said that the Opera Company, too, did that. For six months every year
they visited the countryside collecting material and rehearsing it,
then six months performing. Thinking of our forty hour week jobs and
our crowded itinerary we could only marvel.
Wool Week we were employed by David Jones to play for customers in
their different stores. The illustration that appears on the BMC
letterhead originated then as a newspaper ad. for DJ’s.
some country towns for different functions. We went down a coal mine
at Lithgow and broadcast live over the radio station there where I
forgot the words to Drover’s
saw the Hunter River in full flood at Newcastle, put on a concert in
Mudgee Town Hall and saw the remains of the Lawson Cottage at
Bushwhackers were notably untemperamental but by 1957 our constant
association, instead of wearing away our differences, was working to
sharpen them. Not all of us realised this or how often Brian’s
diplomacy was exercised to smooth things over. A perennial point of
difference was the question of singing in harmony. The advocates of
this saw it as a way of making our renditions more musically
attractive and reviving our (by now) sometimes jaded performances.
The majority rejected it but the idea kept coming up with unwelcome
persistence. This was a time, too, of turmoil in the Communist Party
- there was only one in those days! I remember Brian being asked,
“Are you for Kruschev or Stalin?” and his classic reply, “I’m
climax came when John resigned. I believe this was not because of
personal, ideological or musical problems but because he could not
cope with all his other activities and be a Bushwhacker too. So the
six remaining members forgathered at Loughlin’s house in Rozelle to
thrash things out. The big question was; would we continue as a group
or not? The vote was three for and three against. Alex, Harry and
Chris continued for a short time as The
but soon changed their name to The
ended the archetype Bush Band. There was no group like it before but
there have been many since, singing much the same songs in much the
same way. I once boasted to an Irishman that the ‘Whackers had
played for every possible function. “Have you ever played at a
wake?” he asked. When Brian died most of us turned up to play at
his wake. My vague hope that we might one day get together for one
final performance died then too.
1, Mulga Wire #22, Dec. 1980, pp. 3 & 4.
2, Mulga Wire #23, Feb. 1981, pp 4 & 5.
3, Mulga Wire #24, Apr. 1981, pp. 3 & 4.
Remember as if yesterday the brilliance of Reedy River in New Theatre, Castlereagh st Sydney. Head-changing stuff.ReplyDelete
Still have some 78s of the Wattle releases, plus the Wattle ballad films set.
thanks for your memories, guest.ReplyDelete
You might be interested in these posts -
1. The Bushwhackers - Australian Bush Songs, Wattle Recordings, 1957
2. https://blog.bushmusic.org.au/2021/09/compilation-new-theatre-and-reedy-river.html - a compilation of all articles mentioning New Theatre & Reedy River
New Theatre has a very interesting history site - http://newtheatrehistory.org.au/wiki/index.php/New_Theatre_History_Wiki:Home
A book about Sydney's New Theatre is being launched this week -
The New Theatre – the people, plays and politics behind Australia’s radical theatre, ed. by Lisa Millerhttps://blog.bushmusic.org.au/2022/10/book-launch-new-theatre-ed-by-lisa.html
https://folkstream.com/reviews/revival/wattle.html - complete list of all Wattle releases