The Bush Music Club was founded in 1954 to collect, publish and popularise Australia’s traditional songs, dances, music, yarns, recitations and folklore and to encourage the composition of a new kind of song - one that was traditional in style but contemporary in theme.
From the Archives - Mulga Wire no.86, August 1991 - Alan Scott interviewed by Colin Fong & Karen McLean
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Published in Mulga Wire no86, August 1991, pp. 7, 9, 10, 11, 12.
Scott Interviewed by Colin Fong & Karen McLean
Interview with ALAN SCOTT.
following interview was conducted during the Burrawang Folk Festival
June 1991 The interviewers were Colin
Fong end Karen McLean,
the Bush Music Club was founded in 1954 there was no television in
Australia so people had to find their own entertainment. How did
people provide their own entertainment?
can remember in my family the radio, or the wireless as we used to
call it, was a very big thing. They didn’t have portable radios so
we listened to the radio at home. A lot of households had a piano and
people would sing around it. We never had a piano in my home — we
used to play the gramophone. I remember my brother and I bought an
old second hand wind-up gramophone. We also got a stack of about
fifty 78rpm records that we used to play a lot. As far as group
singing went, I used to go to church fairly regularly when I
young and enjoyed the hymn singing a lot.
few years ago in Hyde Park I remember hearing Don McLean ask the
audience to sing “American Pie” - the singing was appalling.
We’ve definitely lostthe
art of community singing which must have been a feature of people
growing up in your time.
remember when Burl Ives came out here in 1952 - I was a great fan of
his - and hearing over the wireless the ABC broadcast of one of his
concerts from Sydney. He
learnt a few Australian songs and asked the audience to sing
“Waltzing Matilda” along with him. He sang the verses and the
audience joined in the chorus. What interested me was that he sang
the verses in his own individual way but when it came to the chorus
the audience took over end sang the song the way they’d been used
to singing it which was quite different to him ... I think possibly
if Don McLean had chosen a different song he might have had a better
response from the audience.
I guess it’s also the fact that people don’t even know the words
to songs. You ask an Australian audience to sing along with the
national anthem - “Advance Australia Fair”. How many people know
beyond the first two lines?
everyone knows “Waltzing Matilda’, which is just about the one
song that they do know. It’s interesting that just as many people
know “When the saints come marching in” - its entirely foreign to
our culture but they know it.
the June 1991 Mulga Wire, Frank Mulheron suggested “the Bush Music
Club since its first meeting has logically and sensibly involved
itself in political and social activity~” Could you comment on
think that’s true. The policy of the club is that we encourage
contemporary songs in the traditional style and, right from the
start, we published contemporary songs that had a rather radical
point of view, One that I remember was called “Wally, the weather
man” and it’s about the atom bomb. It was heresy in those days to
question the use of the atom bomb as a weapon of defence. John
Meredith actually found the poem in the “Australasian Post” and
it was written from a folk point of view, We felt that the bloke who
wrote the poem was concerned about the way the atom bomb had affected
the weather, We published it and John put it to a tune. We published
others including one that Stan Wakefield had written about the
Depression called “The Rabbiter” which is quite outspoken.
the men who scalped the rabbiters were the
Sydney market boys
the last chorus:
come a time...their day will come
when we scalp the market
club has been broadly political. A lot of songs that we sing today
were political in their time. For instance, the bushranger songs were
usually in favour of the bushranger. The official point of view at
the time the bushrangers were around was that they were crims and
villains. Some of the people today who sing bushranger songs probably
wouldn’t have sung them in those days ... I had an instance the
other day - I was busking and singing “Australia’s on the
Wallaby” and a bloke with his wife and kids were listening to me.
When I’d finished, he said: “It’s like that today, isn’t it?”
and his wife asked: “What do you mean?” He replied that “On the
Wallaby” means going out looking for work, looking around for a job
– the position we’re in today. I think there’s apolitical
message in “Australia’s on the Wallaby”.
were one of the original Bushwhackers written with an “h”,
whereas the average Australian associates bush music ‘with
Bushwackers without an “h”. Tell us what you perceive to be the
main differences between what you played in the early fifties to what
is being played in the nineties.
don’t see a great deal of difference really except I think the
emphasis is more on the rhythm and beat of tunes and not on the
words. I’m a believer that songs are for communication so grand
opera in a foreign language doesn’t interest me at all and I can’t
stand yodelling because it doesn’t mean anything. I think folk
songs are a direct communication from the singer to the audience and
if it’s lost with all the electronic beat and so on and all the
hoopla and pizzazz that goes on, 1 think it’s just wasted. There
are some good tunes but it’s the words that matter most.
you think sometimes the music was made to dance to rather than to
give a message or communicate some idea?
is so in some cases, but not in all cases. A lot of the songs started
out as parodies, like “The Eumerella (Numerella/Neumerella) Shore”
It is almost a direct parody on “Darling Nellie Gray” which was a
popular American tune that came over here. If you have a look at the
structure of the words it’s obvious that they’ve not only pinched
the tune but they’ve used the form of words too to base their song
Many folk songs have strong political overtones whereas other folk
songs have more subtle messages. Do you have a
probably prefer those with a message but not a blatant message. If
it’s not poetic I don’t think it’s worth singing. It is
possible to put across messages whether they’re straight out
political or whether they’re broadly political. It’s possible to
put them in a poetic way and dress them up well. I think there are
some great contemporary songs. There’s an enormous number of songs
being written today. There’s hundreds of song writers around, and
they’re all writing a great number of songs. My feeling is that now
and again they’ll write a good song but, I feel, there’s an awful
lot that don’t have much value at all, There’s just as many good
songs being written by country and western song writers as there are
by people who call themselves folk song writers.
music used to be so American and so ‘hoedown’ but I’ve noticed
that in the last few years that there is a broader spectrum of people
who really enjoy it.
I feel country music is changing. It’s very accessible and a lot of
the songs that are being made up could just as easily be sung in folk
clubs and called folk.
like John Williamson is making country music more accessible.
don’t think he even calls himself a country singer any more. I sing
a couple of John Williamson’s songs because I think they’reso
good. He’s a song writer who often has a message in his songs.
got into trouble about the woodchip song at the Rugby League grand
he doesn’t make any apologies. I remember hearing him on the radio
the morning after he got his golden guitar, up at Tamworth. He was on
the radio the next morning telling the farmers they had to plant more
trees instead of cutting them down. I think he’s a great bloke.
you go up to Tamworth?
I’ve never been up there. I really don’t want to go. It’s too
far out. I’ve mentioned that country music is developing into a
more Australian thing but Tamworth is ten gallon hats and high heeled
boots. A bit too much for me. This weekend, Kookaburra Records is
having a bush verse weekend at Tamworth. I think eventually country
music and so called folk music will merge together. It might take a
couple of decades but I think eventually it will.
the main difference now between country and folk music?
the sound and the attitude.
think the sound is changing too. Some people don’t sound so
‘country’. Do you listen to "Australia
all over” on Sunday morning?
when I can.
one of the most popular programs on at the moment, even for Sydney
people. They like hearing about the average person, what they’re
doing. It’s got a huge audience.
Baker said that Ian McNamara who runs it, is giving Australia back to
think the ABC was amazed at the response of the program. It’s just
great to hear voices, average voices just talking about their lives
and where they live, why they like living where they live. Kids ring
up, older people ring up, all ages.
some mornings it’s absolute magic. They started about 4 years ago
putting out an album: “Australia All Over”. The one that came out
last year (Number 4) had me singing “He should have been a
champion” written by Denis Kevans, I took a number of songs into
Ian that I said he ought to have and he played that one a couple of
times and he got such a terrific audience reaction to it that he put
you write the songs and put the music to them?
I’m a very bad song writer. I’ve only written about four songs in
my whole life. I’m not good at it at all, but I can tell what I
like. Even some good songs that I recognise are good songs, I realise
that I can’t sing them. I can’t put them over.
of the stuff John Dengate writes I admire. I admire all of John’s
songs. I think he’s the greatest song writer that Australia’s got
at the moment and I sing a lot of his songs but I couldn’t sing all
of them. Some of them are very individual and I wouldn’t be able to
put them over.
song writing you’ve got to really believe in what you’re singing
about, don’t you?
think so, but I think there’s a lot of song writers who don’t.
They’re just writing because they think it might be successful.
a market out there.
comes back to the point you made before that you often like songs
that have a message.
if it’s a good song it’s got a message, it might be hidden a bit.
you don’t like the commercial aspects when you’re talking about
folk or country music. We buy the material which becomes part of our
culture, but it’s an imported culture.
the main reason for that is that the imports can undercut the local
market. Recently, most of the record companies have been taken over
by Japanese companies, end they are happy for American rock music to
be played here. The rock music industry is all the time looking
around for new ideas in music that’ll take over - reggae, rap or
whatever. If it’s a successful record in the United States then
they’ve made their money and profit. They can afford to sell it out
here and even at a loss or much cheaper than the local product.
Unfortunately a lot of Australian musicians sing with an American
accent. The origin of Australian songs are not only Anglo-Celtic
(meaning they don’t only come from the British Isles). I gave the
example of the "Numerella
Shore” as coming from an American pop song. “Click go the shears”
is an Australian song using the American tune “Ring the bell
gum tree canoe"
“Another fell of rain” also use American tunes. There are quite a
the influence of the British Isles and America, Australia has so many
different cultures now. It hasn’t been reflected in its songs yet,
don’t think so.
with the folk songs now, they reflect more country living and I guess
that a lot of our migrants who settled in Sydney and Melbourne are
city people. We tend to clutch to what is happening in the country,
much so. Historically there’s always been more people in Australia
living in cities than in the country. I think song writers turn to
the bush for inspiration and subject matter because it is
individually Australian much more so than the cities. Our cities are
more like cities overseas, so to make a thing distinctly Australian,
they turn to the bush ethos.
you come from
my immediate family were not musical, my grandfather on my mother’s
side, Archibald Christie was a singer and had a book of Scots songs.
I can remember him singing Scots songs out of this little book. He
came from Ayrshire, Scotland.
you haven’t had any formal training?
was in the “Fife and Drum” Band at school. The fife is a
transverse flute. When I joined the Bushwhackers in 1954, John
Meredith suggested I could take up the tin whistle and I found the
fingering the same
When did you encounter folk singing?
had encountered Australian folk songs in Brisbane, before I left, and
knew John Manifold and Ron Edwards, about the time they brought out
their Bandicoot Ballads. I learnt the ‘Drover’s Dream’ from
John Manifold. When I came to Sydney on holidays in 1954, my
girlfriend took me to see Reedy River which featured the original
Bushwhackers, It was a real revelation for me to see the way they
treated the songs After the show I talked my way backstage I already
knew Harry Kay and met John Meredith for the first time Next day I
visited John Meredith who played me some of his field recordings that
he had just started recording end that really inspired me end I’ve
been singing the songs ever since It was a big incentive for me to
move to Sydney and before the end of 1954, I became a member of the
Bushwhackers Band was formed before the founding of the Bush Music
Bushwhackers used to get a lot of requests, from people at our shows.
We set up the BMC to teach people the songs So when the Bushwhackers
folded up in1956, the BMC was there to take up the job and has
continued ever since
Sydney the first place to have a bush music club with those sort of
followed by Brisbane and Melbourne We were close to them in the early
days. The wider folk movement started in the 1960’s following the
American trend. We had hundreds of carbon
copies of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Folk music had a boom on the hit
parades and that’s where contemporary folk songs had a start