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David Lumsden

by David Lumsden last modified Feb 18, 2008 08:16 AM

David Lumsden

David Lumsden
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Banjo, Guitar


My earliest recollections are associated with music, with both my parents being interested in a wide range of music.

My mother, Kathryn (nee Jamieson) came from a family of musicians, including her uncle Tom Newbound, who has been recorded on Wattle Recordings. Mum grew up in northern Victoria. For a few years her grandparents ran a hotel close to the Murray River, and Kath's mother Elizabeth, remembers riotous times in the pub, with the locals singing and playing accordions, violins and the piano. (Elizabeth Newbound/Jamieson was a friend of Annie Thwaites, of the song Gentle Annie‚ written by local identity Jack Cousins. Gentle Annie‚ has been recorded by several musicians, in Australia and overseas.) My mother's parents owned a small farm close to Rutherglen. Musical evenings around the piano were part of family life. Kath, herself, played the violin and had a clear soprano voice.

My father, Arthur Lumsden, played the banjo. In the 1920s he was influenced by a workmate whose instrument was a 5 string banjo. Later Dad switched to the highly popular plectrum banjo (with four strings). Arthur met Kath after her family moved to Albert Park in the early 1930s. They found they shared many common interests, including music. They married in 1938 and built a house in West Footscray, where I grew up.

Born in 1942, initially I heard my father playing the plectrum banjo. However a couple of events reactivated my father's interest in the 5 string banjo. The Weavers singing group became popular and received a lot of airplay. In addition, friends of my parents brought back from America a collection of (vinyl) records of The Almanac Singers. Both these groups featured Pete Seeger playing the 5 string banjo.

My father, a committed socialist, was taken with The Almanac Singers. He transcribed words and music from the records. I can remember my father puzzling over what Pete Seeger was doing with the banjo, a different sound!

The Weavers and The Almanac Singers activated my parents interest in folk music. My father started searching for records featuring folk music: pretty scarce in the early 1950s. About 1950 my father discovered John and Alan Lomax's book: Folksong USA‚ in the lending section of the State Library of Victoria. For at least the next ten years, my father had the book on a semi-permanent loan!

Another influence on my parents, and hence on me, was the music of the American singer and actor Burl Ives, who had a brief association with the Almanac Singers. Burl Ives became extremely popular in Australia, with a lot of radio time devoted to his music and yarns. My mother learned, and sang, many of his songs. I was most impressed when, during his concert at the Melbourne Town Hall in 1952  (or 53?) my mother called out some words that Burl Ives had forgotten, and he thanked her!

My parents left-wing connections probably brought to notice John Manifold and Ron Edwards‚ publishing of Broadside Ballads‚ (ie Australian folk songs!) in 1951. My father had a good knowledge of Australian history and poetry. I'm not certain if he met John Manifold and Ron Edwards at that time, but he got to know Ron Edwards quite well in later years.

My first direct connection with Australian folk music was via the Melbourne production of Dick Diamond's Reedy River‚ at the New Theatre in 1953. I heard many songs for the first time. The production activated my father to contact members of the band - Frank Nicolls, Joy Durst and others, and this was basically the start of my parents Australian folk connection. The Victorian Folk Lore Society formed in 1955, with Dad as a foundation member. Wendy Lowenstein was another foundation member. Dad also subscribed to the Sydney Bush Music Club magazine. (The Sydney Bush Music Club formed in 1956 and the Victorian Bush Music Club began in 1959). Mum and Dad started to make reel-to-reel tapes of traditional Australian singers, in the field. One of their contacts with singer/violinist Simon McDonald was televised by the ABC program, Weekend Magazine, in the early 1960s.

In 1955 my father wrote to Folkways Records, USA. This was his first contact with Pete Seeger. They were to correspond on a semi-regular basis for many years. My mother joined a small choir called The Austral Singers, which had formed in 1951. A few years later, I also joined the choir, and enjoyed both the traditional English-style choral music and the Australian content of The Austral Singers repertoire.

Other influences on me in the mid 1950s were broadcasts on ABC Radio (Quality Street) of A L Lloyd, the British folk singer and songwriter,  who sang some Australian songs. His broadcasts included many songs I had not heard before.

The first time I heard Melbourne singer Glen Tomasetti was at the Malvern Town Hall, where in 1956 a concert was held as part of Malvern's centenary. My mother sang with two other women at this concert, too.

Pete Seeger forwarded Dad a copy of his banjo instruction book in 1957. This led to my first attempts to play the 5 string banjo. Dad had sold his old banjo, so he purchased a Windsor Premium model in Sydney. The music store salesman retrieved the instrument in its dust-covered box from a high shelf. He had no idea of what a 5 string banjo was, so my father probably got a really good deal!

The first time I was paid to sing and play the banjo was at the launch of the Australian Book Club's publication Convict Days. Actor/journalist Adrian Rawlings read excerpts from the book and I sang. As well as regularly performing at Victorian Bush Music Club singabouts with my parents, I sang twice at a Saturday afternoon performance place in Prahran organised by Adrian Rawlings.

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.

After performing at the concert, I met Martyn Wyndham-Read and Tom Lazar. This prompted me to visit The Reata Coffee Lounge in Malvern, which was operated by Tom Lazar. Paul Marks and Martyn Wyndham-Read were the resident singers. When Saturday afternoon concerts started at The Reata in 1961 or 1962, Martyn, Paul and I were part of the team‚ with Glen Tomasetti, Brian Mooney, Trevor Lucas, Brian Brophy, Peter Laycock and others. (In later years, Tom moved location to the CBD, opening The Little Reata, which had regular performers, but I sang there only occasionally.)

The Reata concerts were too successful! A larger venue was needed, so the Emerald Hill Theatre Concerts commenced in 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.

Frank Traynor's Folk Club began in 1964. It was set-up basically as a co-op. I was one of the founding performers. Usually I sang twice a week, and enjoyed the attentiveness of the audience and the somewhat bohemian atmosphere. Interactions between fellow performers and those who came to hear us became an important part of my life.

The Jolly Roger restaurant/coffee lounge in St Kilda Road CBD, employed singers on Sunday evenings. Wal Cherry and I, plus others from Emerald Hill performed there many times before Brian Mooney became resident singer.

In 1964 Frank Traynor and Glen Tomasetti organised a Moomba concert held in the Melbourne Town Hall. All songs were Australian, linked by narration by Glen.

In the early 1960s I contributed to several EP records, including Blue and White Collar Records Oh Pay Me‚ (1962), and Basic Wage Dream‚ (1965), as well as Folk Songs of Victoria‚ recorded by the Victorian Bush Music Club (1963). The Hawking Brothers, Ade Monsbrough, *Alan Pope and I backed singer Denis Gibbons on several of his LP records on W&G. Later some of the concerts I performed at were also recorded by W&G.

At home, my parents held soirees‚ often with well-known people as part of the scene. I remember author Frank Hardy, jazz trumpet player Frank Johnson, songwriter Don Henderson and actor Zoe Caldwell being in our house. Dad had a reputation for fixing banjos. He repaired instruments for The SeekersKeith Potger and singer Jan Wositsky, among others.

In January 1965 I met singer Lynne St John at a concert in Mount Evelyn. Lynne soon became a regular performer at Traynor's. Several months later, we began a relationship that led to our marriage in April 1967. I continued my solo performances at Traynor's, but from time-to-time I'd sing duets with Lynne. We formed a short-lived trio with Graeme Squance. (The other members of the trio did not fully appreciate my artistic method of never singing the same song the same way!) However Lynne and I did sing a duet as part of our performances on the Sydney television series, Just Folk‚ hosted by Garry Shearston, in mid 1965.

I‚ ve neglected to say that my activities as folksinger fitted into another profession: that of civil engineer. This technical career led me to correspond with The Snowy Mountain Authority (SMA), to volunteer a tour of the scheme by myself and Lynne St John.  During mid January 1966 we sang for workers in four different locations. We were privileged to be given a comprehensive look at the scheme in between our mini-concerts.

After our marriage in 1967, Lynne and I chose to concentrate our time on our other professions, and stopped singing at Traynor's. From time-to-time we'd call in to do an impromptu set with our musician friends. It was great to see the old place continue to thrive for a few more years.

So, the 1970s saw basically a withdrawal from public performing for me. A friendship with guitarist/singer-songwriter Martin Evely had begun in 1965. We sang together, just for fun, and sometimes in public, eg a couple of times at the National Folk Festival, Canberra, and the Tamar Valley Folk Festival. We have made two CDs: one in 1995, the other in 2003.

Friends who owned The Swan and Perch restaurant in Mount Macedon asked Lynne and me to be part of a small number of regular performers to entertain diners. From 1979 to 1983,  when the restaurant burned down on Ash Wednesday,  we performed for Saturday evening and Sunday lunch patrons. Our whole family was saddened by our friends' loss, and by the fact we could no longer enjoy weekends away with our children. Some time later, we were asked to perform at Marylands Guesthouse, in Marysville, just for a few weeks. Our kids thought the pool and tennis courts were great!

We supported various worthy causes over the years. We've been proud to be able to assist Friends of the Earth, Save Our Sons, Movement Against Uranium etc, and in more recent times, organisations that seek to address the unforgivable manner in which refuges are treated by our country.

In the 1980s I conducted 5 string banjo classes for the Council for Adult Education for a couple of years. Not being a trained teacher, I found instructing groups challenging, as well as personally rewarding.

These days, I continue to enjoy playing and singing with Martin Evely on a weekly basis. In late 2006 I decided to devote more time to my poor neglected banjo. The rebirth of my 5 string has led me to commit myself to relearning all old the banjo tunes, and some new ones as well!

* Alan Pope, who died about five years ago, was the uncle of our son-in-law. It's a small world!

My mother, Kath Lumsden (aged 93 in 2007) lives close to Lynne and me.  She no longer plays the violin or sings, but she still enjoys listening to music, as long as it's not too loud!

My father, Arthur Lumsden, died in 1995. Until the late 1980s he maintained his interest in folk music. The Lumsden Collection‚ a mix of folk music material, mathematical/scientific and historical things,  is housed in the National Library of Australia.

Photo Album Photos by David Lumsden — last modified May 19, 2007 02:09 AM
Photos from David's personal collection, taken during the Traynor's years.
Page Traynor's - A Poem by David Lumsden — last modified Nov 28, 2007 02:50 AM
A poem I wrote many years ago, about Traynors.
Folder Lumsden Family Material by David Lumsden — last modified Jan 17, 2008 01:11 AM
Articles, music and other items of interest related to David's family associations with folk music.
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