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Lynne St. John (Lumsden)

by Lynne Lumsden last modified Dec 13, 2010 12:48 AM

Lynne St. John (Lumsden)

Lynne St. John (Lumsden)
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Auto Harp, Guitar

Lynne St John - by Lynne St John/Lumsden, October 2006


My first contact with Traynor's Folk Club was on Sunday, 1 November 1964, when I performed at a folk convention in the Dandenong Ranges at Mount Evelyn. There I met Gary Kinnane, who invited me to come to Traynor's Exhibition Street premises for a 'try-out'. Within a short space of time I had auditioned, and began performing at Traynor's on a semi-regular basis from 28 November 1964.


But let's go back to see how I came to be on the stage at Mount Evelyn in front of approximately 300 people, with the likes of Martyn Wyndham Read, Brian Mooney, Margaret Smith, Margret Roadknight and David Lumsden.


As a teenage girl, I kept a diary between early 1963 and mid 1965. I'm afraid the entries petered out once I began a serious relationship with (my now husband) David Lumsden. The drama associated with different romances was lost, so what was the point of keeping a personal diary?  Never-the-less the diary shows how my life as Lynne St John began, and records where and when I sang, and the amounts of money paid for each gig from December 1963 to October 1965. (I estimate one pound would now be equivalent to $42. There were 20 shillings to the pound, so one shilling was equal to about $2.) I've had a laugh reading the entries in preparation for this article, and wish I'd written such details in later years.


My parents, Phyl and Bob Heape, hosted musical evenings at our house. Their friends would stand around the piano, drinking beer and singing the old songs - "Alexander's Ragtime Band", "When the Red-Red Robin", "If You Knew Suzie", etc. Both my sister Judy and I learned to play the piano. Early in 1963 I bought my first guitar and a book of chords, and taught myself to play. (In later years I taught myself the autoharp, dulcimer and flute.) By listening to vinyl records I was able to devise various strums and finger picks. The next year a fellow student of Burwood Teachers College taped me on his brand-new reel-to-reel tape recorder, and played the tapes to the owner of a coffee house in Doncaster. This resulted in my first paid singing jobs, at The Cottage, 550 Doncaster Road, Doncaster, for one pound a night. The gang of students suggested 'Lynne St John' as a folky-sounding name, so that's who I became!


As word got out there was a new singer on the coffee house scene, offers came from rival venues. After three months solely as resident singer at The Cottage, I shifted base to the Ivanhoe Coffee House, 323 Upper Heidelberg Road, Ivanhoe, where I was paid three pounds a night. I also performed at the church-based St Silas' Coffee Hut, North Balwyn, for the same fee. My diary shows that between February 1964 and April 1965 I sang at The Cottage dozens of times, being paid six pounds for the final gig. The Ivanhoe Coffee Lounge entries are a uniform three pounds per night, starting in May 1964 and ending in October of that year.

In the early days, my repertoire was predominantly Joan Baez copies, with a sprinkling of negro spirituals, calypso, and a few traditional songs from Australia, the USA or British Isles. Later I learned material from the vinyl recordings of a diverse range of artists, including some wonderful American 'protest' songs that are seldom performed today but which still have relevance. There were a few songs I'd written, too: some of which were sung by other singers, eg 'Cover the Earth' was adopted by Margaret Smith.


The first of my engagements with restaurants, as opposed to coffee lounges, was the Off Stage, in Toorak Road, South Yarra. From August 1964 to late 1965 I sang there at least once a week, being paid five pounds per session, before moving on to Capers, in Collins Street, for five guineas (ie 5 pounds, 5 shillings!)

At the same time, in 1964 I was singing with a couple of jazz bands. First the Bluestone Jazz Band at Penville Jazz Club, (not sure where that was!) and at the short-lived Down Under Jazz Club at Ormond Hall. Later I sang with Graeme Bennett and the Hotsands at Campus Jazz Club, Glen Iris RSL. The Campus nights involved two sets with the band upstairs and two sets as singer/guitarist, downstairs. Unfortunately in late 1964 the Hotsands were replaced by The Red Onions, and I lost my spot to Sweet Sal and her washboard!


So you can see I was regarded as an up-and-coming young commercial-style folk singer by the time I performed at Mount Evelyn in November 1964. My entry into Traynor's changed the focus from melodic background music to stand-alone serious folk. A diary entry notes my impressions of the second time I sang there, on 26 December, 1964. (I'd taken a short break from singing to prepare for my final exams at teacher's college.)
"Last night I sang at Traynor's again. It's really is beaut to sing to audiences who sit and listen, and laugh at the amusing parts of a song, instead of just being background music among the clanking of cups and saucers."


 As other performers will attest, singers were paid a cut of the 'door' when working at Traynor's. On crowded nights we received about five pounds, with payments of between two and four pounds being common for quieter nights. On a standard night, there would be four or five singers, who each sang two or three half-hour brackets – some upstairs and others downstairs. Around midnight, Frank Traynor and his Jazz Preachers would arrive, and the place became a venue for jazz instead of folk.


I think my recollections of Traynor's will be similar to others, so I'll include a few observations, some directly linked and others which are only indirectly related to the venue itself.


24 February 1965, a Traynor's sponsored concert at The Melbourne Town Hall

On the bill, Martyn Wyndham-Read, David Lumsden, Margret Smith, Brian Mooney, Dennis Gibbons, Graeme Squance and me - Lynne St John. The programme lists songs that typified the era. There were several Australian traditional songs, such as:
Lazy Harry's, Rye Buck Shearer, The Shearer's Dream, Five and a Zack, Back-block Shearer, Wild Rover No More (Irish/Aust)

Traditional songs from other countries included:

The Lark in the Morning, Sinner Man, Valley of Knockanure, The Bold Fenian Men, Barbara Ellen, Jug of Punch, Moonshine

Among the contemporary songs were:

Four Strong Winds, I Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound, Tomorrow is a Long Time, Now That The Buffalo Has Gone, The Times They are a Changin', Kisses Sweeter Than Wine

My contribution to this concert was as part of a trio: Lynne St John, David Lumsden and Graeme Squance. (I was not yet going out with David at the time.) Possibly the popularity of Peter Paul and Mary was the reason Traynor's management was keen to have a trio formed from its singers. The three of us rehearsed for a few weeks, but as yet had no name. We sang:

Katie Dear, Rambling Boy, Dink's Song

A diary entry states that for the rehearsal before the concert  “... Don (Carless) became quite irate because the group had not practised its movements towards and away from the microphone.”

Later we sang a set at Emerald Hill Theatre  – April 4th, 1965 – and at a small concert at Kilmour, but Graeme and I lost patience with David. He simply would not sing the same song the same way more than once, and for a trio this was too tricky!


8 March 1965. Concert at the Myer Music Bowl for Moomba

Performing in front of a crowd of 5,000, were Denis Gibbons, Margret Smith, Sue Lee Archer, David Lumsden, Martyn Wyndham-Read, Brian Mooney, Kurt and Jane, and me.  My diary says: “We all sang two songs then David and I sang another two as a duo. It was strange singing in front of a crowd which was constantly moving, and where Greeks, etc, threw out rude comments...”


A taste of the Sydney scene, May 1965

The Lumsden family kindly included me in a trip to Sydney. (Yes, by this stage David and I were 'going out'.) The night we arrived we were invited to a party at the house of friends of the Lumsdens, where we met many of Sydney's well-known singers. I did not think they were as good as performers at the Traynor's!


On Saturday 22 May, David and I were engaged by promoter Jim Carter to perform at his folk clubs. We arrived at The Folk Terrace at 8.30 pm. “… We then discovered that we were to sing separately, and I was to sing a 40 minute bracket first then leave David to go straight to The Troubadour. I sang another two brackets in rapid succession, so was feeling really tired before David arrived. He had sung his brackets at the Terrace then missed a go at the Troubadour because of a traffic jam. Next thing we knew, we were bundled into a mini-minor and whisked off to The Last Straw, on the North Shore. From here we had to find our own way back, at 1am. Apparently Sydney singers who want to progress at all must do this route (perhaps with Copperfield added!) because Jim Carter owns the four places, having a monopoly on folk singing in Sydney. The only other place is Pact Folk, but there the standard of singers is not as high.”

For our marathon effort we were each paid six pounds, and had to pay for a taxi back to our accommodation. We were treated MUCH better at Traynor's. Most evenings we performed three half-hour brackets, with plenty of time in between to rest our voices. The only movement was from downstairs to upstairs - no dashing from one side of the city to the other!


Appearance on the television program, 'Just Folk', 16 June 1965

Shortly after our Sydney experiences, David and I were invited to return to the northern rival city to perform on Gary Shearston's television program, 'Just Folk'. I'd only flown on a plane once before, in a DC3 –  to Warrnambool, where I was guest artist for the Moyneyana Festival at Port Fairy for New Year's Eve 1964/65  (for the fee of 30 pounds). We were lucky enough to be checked in by fellow Traynor's singer, Ian Long, who upgraded us to first class. On arrival at Channel 7, Epping, “... we were made up straight away, but we had plenty of time for another rehearsal together before the dress rehearsal for the show started...

With David and me, on the show were Gary Shearston, of course, harmonica player Richard Brookes, and singer Kiralee Nolan...  The audience came in after the dress rehearsal and the whole show was done very smoothly. David and I both sang two songs, then 'Four Strong Winds' together - my two songs were 'The Donkey' [one of my original songs] and 'Every Time I hear The Sweet Bells Ring'.

Since the show is not yet televised in Melbourne, David and I were thinking we would never see it, but we all went to the pre-view room where the complete show was shown. It is so strange to see and hear yourself on TV."

I still have the Remittance Advice from ATN Channel 7, sent via Traynor's. It shows we each received expenses plus 25 pounds: (equivalent to about $1,050 today.) This was more than either David earned per week as a civil engineer, or me, as a qualified teacher.


That is the last entry in my diary. However, tallies of Income and Expenses continued until October 1965. Among the regular entries of income from Traynor's, Off Stage and Capers are mini-concerts at RMIT's Downbeat, several appearances at Bastille, and a few church sponsored gigs. Appearances at Mike Deaney's Worshop must have come later, as did a couple of places in Kew and Burwood.


A highlight of my singing career was the 'Songs of Love and Peace' concert at the Myer Music Bowl, on 21 November 1965. Singers from all over Australia gathered to protest against the war in Vietnam. From the stage, a sea of people reached way up the slope. Thousands and thousands of people paid rapt attentions to our music. It was awe-inspiring.


Over the next few years, David and I supported many concerts that promoted the peace message. I'm not sure of the dates (no diary now) but we were part of groups of performers called Arts Action for Peace, and The Artists and Players' Forum. On stage at Her Majesty's Theatre, around the time of Hiroshima Day (for two years running) were half the cast of the Channel 2 television series 'Bellbird', several other well-known actors, poets, and both classical and folk musicians. Politicians who were against the Vietnam War were also involved, but the political message was muted. They were wonderful concerts. There were also stints on the back of moving trucks, to take the message to the masses. In between concerts, we enjoyed the intimate space of Traynor's and being part of the 'real' folk scene.


My involvement with Traynor's lasted until 1967, at which time David Lumsden and I married and moved to the 'wilds' of Ringwood. I think we became too caught up with the demands of our day jobs to continue with our music careers. However, as already mentioned, we participated in lots of good causes (which also included the Movement Against Uranium Mining, Save Our Sons, Friends of the Earth etc).


My 'third' career, as guitar teacher, began in the mid 1970s. At first I taught at home, then later was employed by local councils and the Council for Adult Education. I must have taught hundreds and hundreds of children and adults over a period of 18 years.


I undertook a temporary residency at Geogianas –  the restaurant of the St Kilda Road Travel Lodge –  some time in the late 70s, singing on Sunday and Monday nights. When our children were young, we had fun singing at a friend's restaurant, The Swan and Perch, at Mount Macedon. There were four lots of performers who rotated, so once a month we'ld sing for both the Saturday evening dinner crowd and for Sunday lunch. Chris (born 1969) and Julia (born 1972) sometimes came too. They had great fun 'assisting' in the kitchen. Unfortunately the fires of Ash Wednesday (1983) destroyed the restaurant and the house in which we used to stay. However, a duo who were resident singers at Marylands Guest House, Marysville, persuaded us to fill in for them for a couple of months. This time Chris and Julia took advantage of the tennis courts and pool.


My other careers –  in mental health and the TAFE system –  have little to do with music, and nothing to do with Traynor's, so I'll avoid writing about them. A natural ability to sing and play music resulted in some wonderful memories, lots of interesting friends, and a partner whose companionship I have enjoyed since meeting him at Traynor's in 1965. The lives of David and myself have been enriched by music, and by the many friendships we made through Traynor's. Long live the spirit of the place!

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