Monday 3 December 2012

Pete Seeger and The Bush Music Club, 1963

Click on pictures for full-screen image

(updated 2020)

In 1963 Pete & Toshi Seeger & their children left America for a trip around the world, visiting 22 countries in 10 months.

While they were in Australia Pete visited the (Sydney) Bush Music Club where Pete was very impressed by traditional singer Harold "Duke" Tritton, source of many traditional songs & an outstanding songwriter & poet. He even called Duke on stage to join him at a concert, a call not appreciated by a teenage folkie who wanted to hear Pete, not an old Australian bloke. Soon after the teenage folkie became a convert to bush music & an admirer of Duke. (source - Ralph Pride)

(Weevils in the Flour) The song has an interesting history bound up with the folk song movement, Australian literature and Australian industrial history since the 1930s depression. A history so interesting that the song has accreted a fair amount of folklore itself. Sometimes it is published as an anonymous song written in Newcastle in the 1930s. It was one many new Australian songs that a small gathering of Sydney folkies in Barbara Lysiak's home sang to Pete Seeger during his visit in 1963.

Copies of the films taken by the Seegers during their visits to Sydney & Melbourne were given to the Sydney & Melbourne Bush Music Clubs at the time.

In 2009 a video Pete Seeger Live in Australia 1963 was published from recordings made on this tour.

Pete's interview with Duke This crackly video was made from a copy of the original film given to the Bush Music Club. 

Earlier contact with Pete

Minutes Friday 26th June, 1957
mention a letter from Pete Seeger, which unfortunately has not survived.

Minutes 1957-1978. This was to thank BMC for a donation to his legal expenses relating to his appearance at the House Un-American Activities Committee - conversation with Dale Dengate 5th June 2020

Extract from minutes 3/7/1957, page 1

Extract from More than a Life - John Meredith & the Fight for Australian Tradition by Keith McKenry, p.189


Conference Discussion  
Suggestion arising out of Discussion, undated, filed before AGM Minutes, Friday 14th February 1958 (pages 16A & 16E) (Archives, Minutes 1957-1978)

Suggestion made by Brian that nights at private homes be held to hear Pete's records before raffles are held.

General Meeting minutes 2nd May, 1961 - Correspondence The Secretary wrote to "Singout" of America to find out the facts of the Pete Seeger case which who was reported in a Sydney newspaper as having been jailed for a year for contempt of Congress.


General Meeting minutes 30.5.61 - Correspondence - letter from Irwin Silber Editor of SingOut - Pete Seeger is on bail - legal expenses will cost 20,000 dollars. Business arising - Social evening proposed to raise finance to assist Pete Seeger, Sat 1st July - club to write to Irwin Silber for concise account of the charges from 1956 to read out on the night.

General Meeting minutes 10.7.61 -  Pete Seeger night was successful, 50 people attended, Ramblers played a new song Hooker-Rex, £14 was collected on the night, £2.10.0 was added. Engineering Union, BWIU, Actors Equity & other organisations will be approached with the aim of raising finance to help Pete Seeger. Secty feels that more details from Irwin Sieber are needed before asking other organisations to help.

Visitors Book, 9 Mar 1963 to 5 May 1970

Signatures of Pete & Duke Tritton, Tuesday 3rd Sept 1963.  

Singabout 5(1), Oct 1964. (BMC Archives)
Foolscap leaflet sent out with Newsletter, Sept 1963 (Ken Fairey Collection)

The Sun, Sat Aug 31, 1963. Members Chris Kempster on guitar, Frank on tea-chest bass & Jan Jones on bones, none of them University students, though they might have been accompanied by members of the Sydney University Folk Music Society.   (Ann & Frank Maher Collection)


Invitation to Concert for Pete Seeger, Sat Sept 1, 1963 (Ann & Frank Maher Collection)


September 1971 Newsletter,  Article by Jamie Carlin about lagerphones -  Jamie built a lagerphone presented to Pete Seeger in 1963

Extract from Victorian Folk Music Club member David Lumsden's memories of Pete Seeger's visit
In 1961 my father was part of the organising committee of a concert to raise money to assist Pete Seeger during Pete's House of Un-American Activities trial. (Pete, of course, was only one of hundreds of people accused of being un-American during the McCarthy era.) At this concert I met fellow committee member, Wal Cherry, Director of the Emerald Hill Theatre Company 
...  early 1963. That same year, I recorded the LP Moreton Bay‚ with Martyn Wyndham-Read and Brian Mooney. (By this time I had taught myself to play guitar. Later I bought the 12string guitar that Trevor Lucas had bought from Peter Laycock. I still have that monster: it has a neck like a tree trunk!) I also traveled to Sydney with my parents to meet Pete Seeger and his family. I sang at a welcome concert with many Sydney performers, including Alec Hood and Chris Kempster. At Pete Seeger's Melbourne concert, held in the Town Hall, I sang one song with Pete, plus the (notorius!) National Anthem.

Song by BMC members Alan Scott & John Dengate


Singabout 5(3), 1965, p.12  Pete Seeger's 1963 donation of microfiche of Sing Out! & Broadside to BMC was later given to Sydney University's Fisher Library.

extracts from Fisher Library catalogue
Broadside (on microfiche!) see record

Australian Tradition, May 1964, p.12


Letter to Janet Wakefield from Pete Seeger 1966
Original found with Correspondence in 2016
enhanced image

Transcription by Chris Maltby 9th June 2020.

Aus Receipt No. 5     Sept 3 '66
Dear Janet Wakefield -
I've just been able to put time to go through Stan's songbook song by song, singing them through. Fine songs. Why didn't I hear any of them sung when I visited the Bush Music Club three years ago?
The club ought to get together and put out a record of the songs.
I enclose $5.00 with the request that you send copies to the following folk magazines.... I hope some of the songs will get picked up by singers here. The way things so often go, I suppose some Australians will have to hear them sung by outsiders before they realize they are good songs.

Broadside 215 West 98 St NYC USA
The Broadside PO Box 65, Cambridge Mass. USA
Sing Out, 165 W 46 St NYC USA
The Folklore Center 321 6th Ave NYC USA
Love to you all
Pete (plus banjo drawing)

Box 431
Beacon NY

PS tell 'em I sent it to 'em - it might help! (handwritten)
"The True Songs of Australia" should be a song known by every school kid in your country. (handwritten)
2009 -
In 2009 on the occasion of Pete Seeger's 90th birthday & the Bush Music Club's 55th, we sent him birthday greetings accompanied by copies of the articles in Singabout,1963, & Australian Tradition, 1964 & received the following reply, accompanied by a copy of his revised songbook, which Bob Bolton reviewed in the Singabout insert of Mulga Wire, Dec 2009.  


Where Have all the Flowers Gone – A Singalong Memoir

by Pete Seeger, Revised Edition, 2009 plus CD

A Sing Out! Publication with W.W. Norton & Co., New York & London

$?? From ???

This is a wondrous book … 320 pages of story, verse, reminiscences, music, photos and autobiographical tales from the long and fruitful life of Pete Seeger – all bound up in an American 11” x 8½” format song book.

This is the revised and expanded third edition of Pete’s book, originally published in 1993 and then revised and expanded in 1997 .. And a long way down the track from the little blue ‘Pete Seeger Song Book‘, the remnants of which, having survived my wanderings of the 1960s, are now held together which a bulldog clip so they don’t disintegrate all over my bookshelf.

This is much more than a song book. Pete gives the background, the sources of inspiration, the politics of the days of many seminal songs … the conscious (and, often unconscious) sources of tunes, rhythms and presentations that seem to many of us to have been around all our lives. As a consummate musician – growing up in a family of musicians and music educators – Pete’s knowledge of his sources shames most of us who seek to find and draw upon the traditional music forms of our own regions. As a man driven by moral awareness, he is often forced to admit to “stealing” tunes … either unconsciously (which is fine, within the “folk process”) - but also being aware of the appropriation – when the tune was just right for a noble purpose.

Whatever the sources (and they are all detailed in this magnificent volume!) Pete gives the music for every variant … from how he wrote it – to the versions developed in groups he sang with – to the inspired changes often made by other groups whose popular releases are often the ones we all know … and frequently adopted by Pete.
Anyone aiming to work through all the variants and developments detailed in the book will appreciate the included CD, which has musical examples from some 267 of the book’s songs. It is certainly a long way from my 1960s struggles trying to turn a rudimentary grasp of guitar into a convincing rendition of the “dots” on the crumpled pages of my little blue book.
I can’t find any evidence of a local distributor for this wonderful musical memoir. It is published for Sing Out! By W.W. Norton and can be ordered direct from <> … for US$24.95 + p/p. 
  Review in Mulga Wire, Dec 2009

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