Wednesday 12 August 2020

Bush Music Club - 2SER interview c.1995

Bush Music Club - 2SER Interview 

Suggested questions and replies for Jim Dangarfield 2SER interview of BMC President Sue O’Donoghue – c. 1995

History of the Bush Music Club

  • When was the BMC formed?
  • October 14,1954, just after the first Sydney production of ‘Reedy River’, the musical play about the aftermath of the shearers’ strike of 1891.
  • Who started the BMC?
  • That depends on your viewpoint. John Meredith, Brian Loughlin and Jack Barrie had followed up their interest in Australian traditional song by forming a small group to sing at literary nights around the Heathcote area, where they lived at the time. The group was called the ‘Heathcote Bushwhackers’. The shape, size and style of the Bushwhackers provided a model for every revival bush band since. They also got involved with others in forming the Australian Folk Lore Society and with the New Theatre who wanted songs as part of ‘Reedy River’.
  • Why was the BMC formed?
  • After ‘Reedy River’, so many people wanted to be part of the band that they decided to form a club instead so that their material could be shared and practised and other groups could form. People who were only in the Folk Lore Society, tend to say the AFLS started the Bush Music Club. Bushwhackers members say the band started the Club.  It depends upon whether you’re writing a Band history or an academic thesis that needs nice pompous sounding names, but my view favours the Band line, since the Club was first founded to spread performance material and skills. Subsequently the Folk Lore Society lapsed as the BMC was doing its job of collecting, research and publishing - and better.
  • Where were the meetings held?
  • Initially in the Realist Theatrette, in the Ironworkers Building, George Street. Then the Video studios, in Castlereagh Street, with a meeting starting straight after June Dally-Watkins’ Modelling Academy classes - when the models finished on time.

    (John Meredith tells how this worked moderately well until the models’ end of year graduation parade, which ran way over time. BMC members all gathered and came to a compromise by which they played music between each of the presentations. Things went well, through swimwear, sports clothes, formats etcetera until the finale - Evening gowns.
    One stunning young lady was modelling the ultimate in a black, backless, strapless creation. June Dally-Watkins spieling
    “... not for every girl ... you must have the necessary physical attributes.” when Jack Barrie arrived late straight from work ... khaki overalls ... Tea Chest Bass slung over shoulder just as the model twirled round at the end of the catwalk. Jack just stood ... jaw dropped, ... eyes popping out like a lobster’s. Loughlin let out a guffaw and we followed suit. In a minute the whole audience roared with laughter, while the poor girl, who couldn’t see Jack, was visibly shaken and obviously thought something had come undone or fallen down...”

    Order was restored when June Dally-Watkins broke off her commentary and escorted Jack to his place then sent her charge twirling and pussy-footing on her graduating way.)

  • What format did the meetings take?
  • The meetings started with a quick business meeting (deeply resented by the musicians and insisted upon by the secretary), after which the songs and tunes were taught. Often these would be freshly learned from field collecting work a few days earlier - from the pioneer collectors; John Meredith, Alan Scott, Janet Wakefield, Rex Whalan, etc.

As the idea of collecting dances grew, these were also taught to supplement the British (EFDSS and WEA) dances brought to the BMC by Brian Loughlin. Certainly, the early days concentrated on music and recitation far more than dancing.

  • So, when did the Bush Dancing revival take place?
  • During the early 1970s, the Bush Music Club was looking at what it offered that was different from the common pub-based folk club of the day. We saw that we were unique in presenting wide based social dancing that was suitable for all ages.

We decided to run regular ‘Bush Dances’ (a term we coined at the time) where anyone from teens to seniors, including family groups, could dance social dances from Australia’s British, Celtic and European backgrounds. These were all quite accessible versions of the dances that developed out of our pioneer mix and covered a wide range of styles.

The music for these dances covers a wide and interesting range. Rhythms include: 2/4 (polka & ‘single reels’), 3/4 (Waltzes, Varsoviennes & Mazurkas), 4/4 (Reels, Marches &c), 6/8 (Jigs) and even 9/8 (Slip Jigs) as well as tunes specific to specialised dances.

The dances also use a wide range of patterns. Many of the earliest dances were ‘country’ or line dances with two facing lines of men and women and a progression. The Quadrilles from the early 19th century use a square pattern of four couples and the couples dances that followed the (slow) acceptance of the Waltz and the rage for the Polka in the 1840s were often danced in a big circle. When the hall got really crowded we even had circles inside circles! [Note: Some of the ‘country dances’ developed ‘circle dance’ variants … as Galopede to Circassian Circle.]

  • What are the roots of bush Dancing?
  • The music for Bush Dancing came initially from British and Celtic traditions, as they had taken root in Australia. More recent research and collecting shows that many of the unexplained tunes we learnt from old players actually come directly from Europe. A particular area that was neglected - or even hidden for many years - is the importance of so-called “German Bands” to dancing in the bush ... before 1914!

Many ‘Germanic’ people came out as refugees from the Prussian conquest of the independent Germanic city-states in the mid to late 1800s. They brought out musical skills and repertoires and these were quickly integrated into Australian traditions. When we entered the war against Germany half a century on - and again twenty five years later, most of these people had to change their names to avoid persecution and the names and history of many great tunes and dances was lost.

Some other sources have probably been lost in the mists of time. There is one little jig tune collected in Queensland that doesn’t appear in any Scottish, English or Irish collections. Every now and then a passing Italian lays claim to it as an ancient Tarantella from their home regions!

There are certainly tunes that we now know came from northern and eastern Europe (although we don’t seem to have any of the tricky ones in 5/4 or 7/8!). One group of tunes collected in Victoria comes from a bunch of Swiss-Italian farmers, who tended to befuddle the musician who learnt them with copious samples of their potent home-made wines.

(BMC Archives from Bob Bolton USB, 2014 )


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