When twelve-inch LPs were fifty-two and sixpence
I arrived back in Australia early in 1963, after more than 9 years' abscence. I'd made it to New Orleans, spent time in Canada, drove a '49 Dodge all over the USA and Mexico, and travelled from Louisiana to Liverpool on an old Liberty ship, the S.S. Sue Lykes. The last five years of my six year sojourn in London had been spent as an assistant editor on the British jazz magazine, Jazz Journal.
It had been an idyllic job for a young jazz aficionado. The pay was meager, but this was more than offset by the opportunities to meet, photograph and interview famous players, to go backstage at concerts, to gain free entrance to clubs and events otherwise closed to the average fan. Sinclair Traill, the magazine owner/editor and my boss, also allowed me time to run my own small record company, Heritage Records, which issued limited edition blues and jazz LPs and EPs.
For the music, and the partying, these were good times!
I didn't really want to return to my homeland. But my new English wife wanted to go to Oz, and my mum was pretty crook back in Melbourne. Nor was I getting any younger, and the raising of a young family on Jazz Journal wages was a daunting proposition.
So back home I came - my wife and two-year-old baby daughter and me, as a ten-quid Pom, due to the fact that I had been away for so long! Just as well. Otherwise I couldn't have afforded the fare!
Having arrived home, I was faced with the prospect of finding a job. What to do?
In the UK, I had been working as a journalist, but had stupidly not bothered to join a union. In Australia, I couldn't get a writing job because I wasn't in the union! What then? A job with a record company, or a music shop or a book shop?
So off I went, around the traps. EMI weren't interested, John Cargher at Thomas's Record Shop told me I was overqualified for counter work. I finally landed a job at Ramsay's Medical Books, on the corner of Swanston and Little LaTrobe Streets. They wanted someone to start a general book division, so I was once again an assistant, this time to a likeable and hugely camp bookseller, whose name I have forgotten.
The general books section didn't last long, so the company offered to let me stay as a medical bookseller. Strewth! Who'd have thought? I accepted their offer. It was a regular gig, after all, boss was a kindly man, and the staff were an affable bunch.
Meanwhile, I had resumed my involvement with the local jazz push. It was a time when Trad and Dixieland were enjoying huge popularity, world-wide. Much as I enjoyed my day job, I yearned to get back into some sort of musical; activity. To this end I started prowling the back streets of Melbourne during my lunch hours, looking for some rundown, out-of-the-way attic or cellar that might just be converted into a jazz record shop.
One day I paused at the corner of Exhibition Street and Little Lonsdale Street, to peer through the dusty window of a vacant shop. Suddenly, there was another face alongside mine, peering equally intently. I turned and beheld the craggy features of trombonist Frank Traynor. "G'day Frank", I said. "What are you up to?"
And that was how the Frank Traynor Folk Club and Heritage Record Shop came to be - the Folk Club downstairs, me upstairs in a tiny room with a window overlooking a leafy kindergarten on the opposite corner. My dad made me a counter and some record bins; my mate Bruce Bunnett - a retired undertaker - stained my furniture using his coffin-preparing skills. We papered the walls with spare covers of an LP I'd issued in London by Papa Charlie Jackson and Blind Blake. I contacted a feller named Norman Pierce in California who ran Jack's Record Cellar and Pete Russell in Bristol, UK, who also ran a specialist jazz record business. Both agreed to supply LPs at a small discount. We were in business!
Not Open All Hours, though. I wasn't silly enough to think I could make a living out of flogging jazz and blues (and folk) records in a big country with a tiny population. No. We were open from five o'clock to seven, Thursday and Friday, from ten a.m. to two p.m. on Saturday. Bring your own cans.
There followed many a hilarious and rowdy time in that little room. The folkies from downstairs - Brian Mooney, Martyn Wyndham-Read, Danny Spooner, Margaret Howells, Graham Squance, Kenny White - were always popping up for a chat or a socail sip; a hard core of jazz and blues musicians and collectors streamed across the threshold, most clutching a six-pack; and the young people of jazz, blues, folk, such as Barry Wratten, the members of the pioneering Adderly-Smith Blues Band, Chris Stockley, Broderick Smith and Tom Cowburn often came visiting. It was all happening.
We even managed to sell quite a lot of LPs. The rent was always paid on time, but I can't say there was much in the way of dollar profit.
Other stuff was happening too. The Brain (as Frank was affectionately known), who could often be heard outside the shop, muttering to himself as he paced up and down the small corridor, decide to start an "after hours" jazz session.
So, after the folk music ended for the night, there would be an influx of jazz musos, post-gig or post-pub. There were lots of jazz musicians around then, in the mid sixties, and as a result, attendances were high. Refreshment came in the form of a brew aptly named The Black Death - being a mixture of half cheap red and half Coke, usually mixed in one of those old Coolibah flagons.
Memories of those wild nights have faded, or were ever blurry, and some of the stars - The Brain, Frank Turville, Bob Brown - no longer shine. But we till occasionally see Jimmy Beale around the traps, while ex-members of the Jazz Preachers, the Yarras and the Melbourne New Orleans band are still about. Still recalling, from time to time I'm sure, the nights of The Black Death! Sadly, the developers were on the move, and our lovely old corner shop was earmarked for demolition.
On yer bike, then, for me and The Brain.
It was a time of some sadness - I have a photograph, taken one rainy Saturday afternoon, of our half demolished building. On the top floor, on what remained of an upstairs wall, facing the street, you can see the remains of a big mural that Margret Roadknight had painted of Ma Rainey. They done tore our playhouse down.
Not to be deterred, I found a new room for Heritage Records above a Greek real estate business opposite Queen Victoria Hospital - down a tiny lane off Lonsdale Street, turn left through a silver-painted wooden door, cross a tiny courtyard, up a flight of rickety wooden stairs, and there we were, ready for business.
We did loose contact with a few of our folk music people, but many remain friends today. And our regulars stayed with us - Ric Sjolund from Traralgon, Bob Scurrie, Peter Grey, Bob Brown, Peter Haby, Shorty Pye, Herb Jennings, Judy Wright, and many many others (who will now be dark because I didn't mention them).
There are currently no items in this folder.