Article MT022

The Wedderburn Old-Timers

a Dinkum Bush Band


[The Bush] [Instruments] [The Dances] [The Music] [The Wedderburn Old-timers] [Recordings and Books]

The Bush:

In the strictly literal sense of the word, 'bush' in Australia (apart from a single shrub such as a rose bush) means the vegetation, forests and scrubland.  This can range from tall timbers of Eucalypt (gum trees) and associated understorey of Acacias (wattles) and other heath and scrub such as tea-tree or melaleuca, to vast tracts of 'mallee' scrub, typified by different varieties of stunted multi-stemmed eucalypts.  It can be the habitat of some of the world's tallest trees on mountain ranges and lower slopes to that of the plains.  Or it can be the vast inland deserts of much of the interior known as the 'outback', and comprising saltbush, spinifex grass, and stony 'gibber' plain.  All of this is referred to as 'the bush'.

There is much history in the settlement and clearing of the country for agriculture and farmland, and in the broadest political use of the word, any rural area or country town outside the urban clutter of city life is also referred to as the bush.  From the pioneering days of travelling and settling in the bush have come most of the stories and songs of early Australia which form the basis of a lot of the first collections of folk songs and ballads.  These are mainly about squatters, drovers, shearers, miners, whalers, larrikins, losers - and very much male dominated because of the era.  For much of the Colonial period Australia's population was largely rural and this was so in the early parts of this century as well.

In my recent article on the tradition of Australian dance and music, I outlined how from the '50s to the'70s there became established in the cities 'bush music clubs' and the 'bush band', and how these became largely based on British and Irish revived folk dance and music.  Their material had little in common in with the true traditions of the bush other than a romantic idea of what city folk perceived or wished our tradition to be.  There was a fair amount of 'ketchup', and deliberate commercial opportunism as part of this revival.  With modern forms of canned entertainment, much of the tradition of the bush had already vanished.  This revival of folk dancing provided a very necessary stopgap in a situation where opportunity for handing on traditions from one generation to the next had, for whatever reasons, ceased.

Instruments:

To say the going was tough in the old days of settlement in Colonial Australia would be an understatement, but with whatever means was at hand, the simplest of fun and making one's own entertainment was a must for survival - both in body and soul.  There were situations where a whole community could muster up a band of various musicians, quite often based on families, but in general they were lucky enough to get one, and this was more typical - generally a fiddler or concertina player.  Around the turn of the century, the button accordion increasingly became the lay person's favourite instrument and could be compared with the popularity of the guitar in recent decades.

The importance of the piano is often overlooked, as it was presumed that in the bush an instrument had to be portable.  Of course there are many situations where this is largely true - however for home entertainment the piano held pride of place, as much an essential possession as radio, television or CD player today.  There are plenty of accounts indicating the importance of piano for home singalongs and dances in the vestibule as of utmost priority.  Even in earlier times in the old slab hut, the piano often arrived ahead of furniture.  This century, before public halls were built, dances were held in the local bush school, and more often than not these and the Mechanics Institute halls had pianos.

There are as many situations where a family or small group had no music at all, and they might dance to a gum leaf player or simply lilt the tune.  Playing a gum leaf was a fairly simple technique.  A fresh Eucalypt leaf placed partly over the lips, (a little between playing the comb or making a sound over a bullet shell) could by sort of whistling, provide a tune.  It could be as crude in sound as a wailing cat, or in the hands of a master, as sweet as an ocarina.  In the early days the finest performers were Aboriginals who sometimes had their own gum-leaf bands.

The Dances:

The dances last century consisted mainly of newer simple couples dances and quadrilles - the 'sets' - (more commonly called the square dances in the UK, although we don't use that term, accurate as it is, because today they might be confused with American square dances).  The original quadrille, also known as the 'First Set', came about when the French re-arranged favourite contre-danses of the day into four-couple square formation, and then sequenced four or five after each other in what are called figures.  Thus these quadrilles were generally comprised of four to six separate figures.  Alternating with the waltz, polka and galop, they were the principal ball-room dances of the nineteenth century.  There is an account I have somewhere (Memoirs of a Highland Lady 1797-1827 reminiscences by Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus, published in 1898.) of a very elderly lady recalling her youth when "quadrillemania" usurped the merry old country dance.

After the French quadrille established itself in London by about 1812, it was followed by the Lancers, possibly from Dublin, and then several others: the Caledonians, Waltz Cotillion and Alberts.  At first the quadrilles had complicated balletic steps, but later became much simplified with walking and were very stately.  They remained popular until becoming gradually out-moded by the newer emerging sequence dances such as the Veleta and Boston 2-step of early this century, and the new craze for ragtime and foxtrots by the '20s.  There was some revival in Britain in the old-time dance scene during or just after the second world war, and then the square dances probably dwindled into obscurity as even more modern forms of 'old-time' dancing took over.  I don't know if the quadrilles percolated into village traditions in the UK as they did in the bush in Australia, but it is my suspicion they did.  Any British folk dances that have partly quadrille figure work and use travelling steps such as those of the waltz, polka, schottische or galop, have had some form of cross development.

It is not realised today that many of the folk dances now popular have most likely come from them, and probably arranged by the teachers.  Thus Circassian Circle (part 1) is a special arrangement generally of the first figure of the First Set or the Caledonians.  Part 2 is a circular adaption of the final figure of the First Set.  Dances such as the Irish Sweets of May are simply based on quadrille movements that have been pepped up with traditional Irish travelling steps and so on.  A Scottish example would be the arrangement of the Eightsome Reel late last century where the traditional reel of three and typical travelling steps were incorporated into quadrille formation, plus additional figure work such as the grand chain.  The Tempest is a combination of quadrille movements and country dance flavour, and The Cottagers is probably another Circassian Circle adaption based on figure four of the Lancers.  The Waltz Country Dance may originally have only been performed to waltz music using poussette turns, but it wasn't long before the waltz step itself was absorbed into figure work.

In Australia the quadrilles were danced by all levels of society and, in the bush in particular, developed very much back by the folk process into fairly vigorous forms with numerous variations.  At least four sets would be on a program, the principal ones being the First Set (the Quadrille), Lancers, Alberts and Waltz Cotillion.  In the cities and towns in the Colonial period these were repeated several times and the long sets or 'country dances' and jigs and reels were rare even by the middle of last century.  The Caledonians was another early quadrille although not as frequently programmed as the aforementioned.  Australia had several others such as the Fitzroys and Exions (or Exiles), which were quite popular.  The favourite was the Royal Irish which was the First Set danced to Irish jigs and reels, and this century included tunes of Irish sentiment such as the Wild Colonial Boy, McNamara's Band and Phil the Fluter's Ball.  It is safe to say the Wearing of the Green and the Irish Washerwoman would be the most popular and best known.

The couples dances included many repeats of the waltz, it cannot be emphasised how important a place this dance occupied, including skills for competitions.  This century, after the advent of the Modern Waltz (or Jazz Waltz), it was dubbed Circular Waltz to distinguish it, and it remained the basis for many of the newer emerging sequence dances, often called 'New Vogue' in Australia.

The other dances of importance were the Polka and Polka Mazurka, Varsoviana, Schottische , Highland Schottische and Barn Dance.  Again in the cities or in larger venues, the odd country style dance such as Circassian Circle (part 1), Highland Reel, Spanish Waltz and Sir Roger de Coverly would be done, but usually only one or two per evening.  In the bush the last figure of the First Set was often re-arranged to include one large circle of all dancers to perform the Stockyards or Bullring.  This is similar to what might have been known in the UK as Flirtation or Circassian Circle part 2.  My Grandmother recalled this would be danced until back-to-partners and then the band would switch into a waltz for a "waltz the hall".  Of course, this was in the smaller venues such as a barn, woolshed or school.

It was not unusual to have double sets of eight or even sixteen couples, particularly in the First Set.  It is possible in Australia in the compact woolshed, barn or school that these double sets could have been expanded in one large square around the four walls, dancing with the opposites, and only more recently simplified versions of the Lancers in this formation been collected, such as that from Bellbrook NSW.  This communal version collected by Rob Willis was included in Shirley Andrew's latest video of Quadrilles, and is a stunner in my opinion.

In contrast later this century the newer sequence dances; Veleta Waltz, Pride of Erin, Progressive Barn Dance, Gypsy Tap, Parma Waltz, Evening 3 Step and the modern foxtrots gradually replaced the older type of program.  There was some revival of the sets in Australia in the '30s (and in the bush they had never gone out) and in both cases swinging had replaced the old courtly set and turn.  But after the second world war the sets with basket figures had become so wild - with women being let go and flying under the seats, often resulting in injury (sometimes very serious injury), that they were banned (the First Set and Lancers) in many halls in the cities and towns.  This left mainly the Alberts and sedate Waltz Cotillion to survive.

The Music:

The music for these quadrilles for figures in 2/4 and 6/8 varied from traditional single reels and jigs such as The Girl I Left Behind Me, Irish Washerwoman and Cock o' the North, Barren Rocks of Aden, McGregor's March, Haste to the Wedding, Humours of Donnybrook, play Sound Clipto many other tunes that have been handed on over the generations and are now anonymous, so we call them the Berrimal Set Tune (sound clip - played by Peter Ellis) or Johnny Boughton's Lancer's tune.  The sets lasted long enough in Australia for much popular music of the day to be used, so it is not unusual to have quickstep or foxtrot tunes such as Roll 'em Girls, or When the Saints Go Marching In played for some figures.  The bush musicians played whatever took their fancy providing it could be adapted to suit the dance and acceptable to the MC, who was the boss cocky (head of the flock - as in cockatoos).  There was no conception that something was traditional, or a distinction between When Irish Eyes Are Smiling or the Irish Washerwoman for example.  They would convert the latter into a waltz if they so desired.

In the earlier years of this century through to the '40s it was still typical for dances to be held with only one or two musicians.  I have an account of such a situation where at a district known as Berrimal between St Arnaud and Wedderburn, the two musicians walked five miles through the bush to play at dances.  These old men were Johnny Boughton and Jack Cummings and they played concertina (Anglo) and fiddle.  Apparently you could hear them coming as they played all the way through the bush until they reached the hall, played all night for the dance, drank a bit, and played all the way back home through the bush.  Johnny Boughton would swing the concertina in big loops overhead with great gusto, typical of many bush players.  Jack Cummings was so used to playing in G at every dance to the concertina, that if faced in other situations with other musicians, had to retune his fiddle so the fingering remained relative to G.  (the Berrimal Set Tune, above, come from them).

Several good dance tunes from these wonderful old players have been handed down to me by Ted Vallance of St Arnaud, who provided the above details.  The tunes include a Veleta Waltz that has only been recently recognised as a variation of the old German version of Away In A Manger, a Circular Waltz which is a lovely variation of A Starry Night For A Ramble, a set tune which is a derivative of the Irish Bill O'Rourke, a Highland Schottische tune called All the way to Bendigo on the back of Daddio (a variation of Kafoozalum), and Schottische, Barn Dance, Polka Mazurka and Polka tunes respectively.

In the intervening period as communities grew, the old bush musicians fell mainly by the wayside, their music perhaps being reserved for concerts and tin kettlings, bush picnics and the like.  Three and four piece bands that were 'engaged' for regular dances (as was typical in the towns) became the norm, particularly as modern transport became available.  In earlier times such as the '20s these town bands typically consisted of piano and slide trombone, and when finances permitted, drums.  As the years rolled on other combinations were popular including trumpet, saxophone, piano accordion and banjo.  Then in the '70s anything from one-man-bands to electronic organs became a popular option, and of course with the groups, amplification.

Perhaps I should explain the region that I have started to touch on, my home area, is in north/central Victoria, and apart from the early 'runs' (land opened for sheep stations) of the 1840s, it was primarily the goldrush of the 1850s that saw the establishment of some of the towns mentioned.  Bendigo (thought to be named after the famous English boxer of the day Abednigo) was the people's name for Sandhurst, as it was then, from the first rush in 1852.  It was changed to Bendigo by popular vote in the 1890s and today its population is 80,000 for the greater district, and farming, education, ordnance and railway workshops are some of the bigger occupations.  It is not a greatly industrialised area.  As with Ballaarat, it was extremely wealthy in those early days and the populace could afford to bring leading overseas artists from Europe, etc, to entertain - often even bypassing Melbourne in the process.  There is a lot of other history with the gold and settlements of many nationalities.  The Chinese came in droves, although only a handful of descendants remain (eg. Dennis O'Hoy).  However after 100 years, Bendigo still has the world's longest Imperial dragon and is proud of its Chinese connection.  Rushes spread out from Bendigo after the first strike, and other towns in the region having that connection are Wedderburn, St Arnaud, and several others.

The Wedderburn Old-timers:

The Wedderburn Old-timers, formed in 1975, came as a complete surprise, as the band was based on turn of the century style, play Sound Clipcompletely acoustic music on fiddle, button accordion, and tin whistle, and backed by piano and drums, guitar and banjo. (sound clip - part of Veleta medley)  It took country Victoria by storm.  Again the Lancers, Circular Waltz, Polka Mazurka, Varsoviana, Polka and Veleta were supreme.  Many of the old tunes such as those played by Johnny Boughton and Jack Cummings were revived.  Lindsay HoltRecords were produced and in a short time, following television appearances, six gold and two platinum records had been awarded to this 'homespun bush band'.  Interstate tours and overseas cruises also resulted.  Although most of the originals of the band have now passed on (they were in their seventies when it formed), it is still going with younger relatives and the newer members.

The various originals of this band had all played in their own district or family bands as teenagers in the 1920s, and so they were able to accurately hand on the tunes and style of playing as it had been in the bush.  Founder of the band, Lindsay Holt was a farmer from Kurraca just out of Wedderburn (originally a gold mining town) in north central Victoria, and in his youth had sat in with Johnny Boughton and Jack Cummings at nearby Berrimal.  Lindsay played button accordion (2-row melodeon) and like most of these musicians could dance and sing as well.

Daisy SuttonDaisy Sutton played fiddle and was nearly 70 when the band formed, she loved jigs and reels play Sound Clipand the real old dance tunes like the Polka Mazurka (sound clip) and Schottische.  She had played around Wehla (another Wedderburn district) from the '20s and her particular party-piece was the Irish Lilt, a 3 part jig that can be found in Kerr's music.  Daisy had never been much further than Wedderburn where she received her violin lessons as a girl, and had only been to Bendigo twice, never to Melbourne.

Elma Ross, the "Melba of the Bush", was a marvellous dance pianist who could both read and play by ear.  She was also a tremendous accompanist at concerts, and could back singers even on tunes she had not heard before.  If the piano was out of tune (as often the case) she could play any of the tunes in a suitable key such as Ab to raise the pitch to match the squeezeboxes in the fixed key of G.  This happened at the first dance the band played at Emu: the hall had not been used for decades and the piano and seats were covered in bird dung.

Her husband 'Grummy' (Graham) was a born skite (show-off) and entertainer who accompanied Elma on drums, and literally played the tune on the rim.  They met and were playing for dances at the age of 16.

Lionel Collison,violin, played with his family band at Nine Mile, another Wedderburn district, in his youth.  One of the very old tunes that was a favourite of his mother was My Polly.  She on piano and Lionel on his violin often performed this as a duo.  This became a popular tune in the Oldtimers repertoire.

Others joined the band in subsequent years, including myself in 1978, but of special interest was Jack Condon who played the Strohviol.  This turn of the century instrument was invented to improve the recording facility of violin music onto Edison rolls, it had a funnel acting as megaphone - reputed to direct the sound with three times the volume - and therefore found favour for projecting music at dances in those days before the microphone and PA system.  Jack had a farm at Cochranes Creek between Wedderburn and Bealiba and had also played in Condon's family band in his youth.  Jack was also noted for a shortness of temper and manner, and on-stage 'blues' (arguments or fights) and other antics from these 'well lubricated' heptogenarians, provided as much a stage show for the dancers as the music.

The formation of the Wedderburn Oldtimers Orchestra was a "happening", as Daisy said.  In the 1970s old-time music was still in the air.  The annual Wedderburn Gold Dig served as a "back to" for former townsfolk and it was highlighted by a bush picnic and entertainment (concert) at Hard Hill.  This commenced with a street procession through the town and out to the old diggings in the bush around the hill.  Wedderburn would organise a 'Moomba' (a festival in Melbourne a week or so earlier) float to advertise the gold dig and reunion in advance.  Lindsay Holt had already started playing his button accordion on this float.

Two young Englishmen, Adrian Verrinder and Don Topley, had been in contact with Daisy on several occasions for musical evenings, Adrian on guitar and Don on tin whistle.  Adrian was quite taken with an old Waltz of Vienna (Varsoviana) tune Daisy played on fiddle, and accompanied her with waltz vamps on the guitar.  Second time through he realised there were definite stops to be observed in the phrasing of the tune.  According to Daisy his eyes lit up in enjoyment at the lovely characteristic style, a form of music he had never before encountered.

The people of Wedderburn established their own motel (Gold Seekers) by taking out shares in it, and Lindsay and Coral Holt were the first proprietors.  Lindsay often organised entertainment and music for the guests and would bring out his old squeezebox.  On the Gold Dig of March 1975, the Noonan family returned to Wedderburn and presented the late Ted Noonan's violin to the museum which Lindsay had established at the motel.  Ted Noonan, an Irishman, was the teacher of violin in an old de-licensed hotel in Wedderburn in the 1920s, and it was from him that Daisy had been taught.

The violin hadn't been played in 34 years but the strings were still in good condition.  Lindsay rang up Daisy and asked her to come over and play it, and also contacted other local musicians to join in.  Daisy invited Adrian and Don to attend.  One of the first tunes they played was a three hop Polka which was followed by the Waltz of Vienna and a Polka Mazurka.  play Sound ClipDaisy's son Ken and Lindsay's wife Coral were immediately on their feet dancing these polkas.  Then three more couples were organised and a set of Lancers (sound clip) performed.  Conversation over supper was all about the old dances and tunes that once were so popular in the bush in years gone by.  It was decided to run a genuine old-time bush ball at the Wedderburn Mechanics Institute Hall on July 11th 1975.  Lindsay payed Daisy many visits learning and organising practises of both the music and the dances at the motel.  Most of the musicians on that first night formed the basis of the band and Lindsay had sought out Elma and Grummy and Lionel to join in.  Grummy had also been bandmaster of the town brass band.  Elma's very elderly sister Hilda (in her 80s) also attended and played banjo.  Ronny Robertson, in his 70s was the MC and caller of the sets, later followed by Teddy Stephenson of Fenton's Creek.

The Benefit Ball of July 1975 was an enormous success, and even although it had intended to be a once-off novelty, the group were suddenly inundated with requests to play at other district balls and dances throughout the north central region of Victoria.  Their style and programs were strictly in keeping with the earlyer era and the music was totally acoustic, and the tunes kept to 1910 or earlier.  The Wedderburn Oldtimers Orchestra had come into being.  It wasn't long before their reputation had grown and they were much sought after throughout Victoria, in Melbourne, and interstate.  Lindsay Holt had been meticulous in ensuring the band and its repertoire was turn of the century style.  The men wore tartan waistcoats, dinner suits and bowler hats, the ladies long frocks (the first ever worn by Daisy), crocheted shawls and bonnets.

The squeezebox (melodeon/button accordion) and fiddle were essential for a bush band and the tin whistle was another instrument that was recognised as being very characteristic - most of the older members could recall the veterans playing them when they were only teenagers in the '20s.  Much of the repertoire was of the popular tunes of the turn of the century, those such as Daisy, Two Little Girls in Blue, Ring the Bell Watchman, Lily of Laguna etc.  There was a sprinkling of the older handed down tunes such as the Rollicking Irishman and Daisy's Varsoviana and Polka Mazurka or Elma's Two Step.  Lindsay had several tunes from Johnny Boughton and some from his dad, one of which was called Hughie's Barn Dance.  This balance of material was more accurate than what has been seen in the folk revival of modern city based 'bush dance'.  Dave de Santi, through the Wongawilli Colonial Dance Club's Pioneer Performer series of cassettes (see below) has done much to collate and make available these truer traditional Australian bush dance tunes and songs.

But the Oldtimers' entertained as well as played, and their concerts were a real treat and still are today.  Their audience is mainly at senior citizens events where they are greatly appreciated, but they have also been exceptionally well received by younger audiences at folk festivals such as at the National and at Port Fairy on the few occasions they have been guests.  I recall their first appearance at Port Fairy in the '80s when they received a standing ovation and continued for another hour.  They remain popular at both concerts and dances today, although there have been inevitable changes in dance programs as the years have passed.  When the band first formed, many of the players in their seventies played to crowds well supported by people of their own age group.  It was by no means a geriatric crowd however as all the families and youngsters of the Wedderburn district and neighbouring towns attended, having been taught the older dances by these veterans.  This had especially come about because of that first Gold Dig Ball at the Mechanics Institute Hall.  Today those veterans have all passed on and those youngsters have grown up, married and, in the main, moved away to Melbourne to seek a living, as country towns continue to decline.  The old-time dance clubs with their fanaticism for the more specialist and intricate (but less fun) and the less sociable style of new vogue dancing, are responsible for a nation-wide takeover of what was once a total community social highlight.

In contrast when the Oldtimers made their debut they managed to very successfully recreate the traditional bush dance and ball with all age groups attending.  The program through the lessons and practices led by the veteran dancers was enormously successful, and it was very traditional without any of the new vogue dances or the modern ballroom forms.  The inclusion of even one foxtrot or one-step was prohibited as a stylistic incongruity.  The tunes were strictly of 1910 era or early (none of the 'saxophone style' of the '30s old-time ballroom of the cities) and it was totally acoustic.  Button accordion, fiddle, concertina, tin whistle and backing by piano, banjo and drums kept it to an authentic old-time bush style.

Another reason for their early success was that Adrian Verrinder produced an EP recording not long after that first ball in 1975.  He had it played over ABC radio, and such was the authenticity of the sound that phone calls right left and centre were redirected to the Wedderburn exchange causing it to jam.  Within a short time the band had produced an LP, followed later by several more.  These were advertised on TV which in turn attracted appearances of the band live on national shows.  It is from these that the band were then sought interstate and also for performing on several ocean liner cruises in the Pacific.  Daisy Sutton who had never really been out of Wedderburn suddenly found herself at airports, on an escalator for the first time, not to mention the flight to Tasmania.

When I joined the band in late 1978, I was fortunate to tour with the band to Tasmania a year or so later.  I can distinctly remember one ball at Ulverstone when the crowd had to be limited to 700, and a further ten people waited outside till half time and then payed the full entrance fee of $10 to get in.  (This was a lot of money for a country ball in those days as the usual price would have been about $3).  Children had not seen this type of band or instrumentation and stood in front of the stage gawking at us and even touching us and the instruments.  It was quite amazing.

I was enlisted in the band primarily as MC and caller of the sets and it took some getting used to doing it without any PA.  At first the shouting was enough after a short while to make one vomit , but then I found having boiled lollies or barley sugar to suck on between announcements helped.  Later, as I caught up with the oldies, another method of lubrication made it easier.  Sometimes they would roll up a piece of thin cardboard or poster paper into a funnel so I could use it as a megaphone when calling the sets.

But as the years moved on I found I had acquired the skill of projecting voice, I guess in the manner of music hall comperes, and so it was no longer a problem.  It was similar with the music and after a while when playing mainly tin whistle, sometimes concertina, I could project the sound over the piano and accordions to the back of the hall.  There is no doubt in my mind that Lindsay was right in saying that amplification was grossly overused and often unnecessary - that its loudness only made the audience and dancers louder .  He used to maintain that it was not that any individual instrument that should stand out or be heard, but if the balance was right there was a common band sound and more likely you would notice the difference if any player was missing.  The very first night I ever heard the Oldtimers I drove 65 miles to a ball at Charlton.  It was an enormous hall and I can still remember that wonderful and unique old fashioned sound in a quiet but beautiful style as I entered.  And they could be heard, but as time went on they too learnt to project it better.  As Trevor (Lindsay's brother who now manages the band) said you had to work hard to fill a hall with music.

They were a very colourful group and this is where they differed from the average band that just turned up and played for the night.  They put on a real floor show at times and entertained as they played.  There had to be animation and you had to smile, chat etc while performing, swing your squeezebox overhead, pretend to go to sleep while playing - it was all part of the act.  Several in the band were very good singers and it was typical to hear their voices swell in harmony over the dance tune.  Much was based I think on the early style in the bush when the players drank a bit and let their hair down.  I've seen arguments when one or two wouldn't be on the stage at the same time and change over between dances, again it added to the show, and all in all this is probably why they were instantly good on the few television performances, but it was all very much in an unassuming manner.  Lindsay used to say that none of them were individually outstanding musicians, yet something used to make them outstanding as a group.

The concerts were marvellous and Grummy would mingle with the crowd and find out who could sing or perform and in the end the audience would be entertaining the band.  In the early days, particularly at the motel, these items would be interspersed with the dancing and Lindsay would dress up in old clothes and perform Life Gits Tedious and the Tennessee Wig Wag or spin a few yarns while waiting for performers to arrange their item.  Lindsay's brother Trevor was a good accompanist on banjo and guitar and with sister Glenda (who now leads the band on piano), the three could harmonise beautifully on Between Two Trees, or as a novelty The Court of King Caractacus.  Lindsay and Trevor had an enormously funny version of Old MacDonald Had A Farm which is on the 'Fenton's Creek live' tape, but has to be seen in action to really appreciate the humour.  Glenda also sang solo and One Day at a Time and Coat of Many Colours were just two always in demand.  Sometimes Lindsay would join her on A Rover No More.

Elma was tremendous on the piano and more than often it was a rag such as the Black and White that was especially requested.  Grummy was always there tapping away lightly (sometimes heavily) on the drums, and sometimes Elma would ask me to play the bones if he was absent, or to dance the Charleston.  Grummy himself was a born entertainer and probably could have gone a long way on stage had he the chance.  A special song of his, to the tune of My Blue Heaven, was a parody about coming home one night drunk.  He could get total silence with his items and songs such as Sonny Boy and his song and dance routine to Where d'ya get Those Eyes.  Lionel usually played Danny Boy on the violin for his item, sometimes Lay my Head Beneath a Rose, and Jack on the Strohviol was a master at Among My Souvenirs or The Rose.  Daisy would always play the Irish Lilt and others such as Cock o' the North; she was an old time fiddler and considered Jack and Lionel "violinists".

Shortly after I joined the band Ian Johnson from Cobram came in on button accordion alongside Lindsay.  Ian was 10 years younger than me and we were known as the babies of the band.  Ian had an outstanding voice - opera style when so inclined - and a great trick of his was to pretend to sing in Italian by randomly joining words together and singing Oh Oh Antonio.  On one occasion at Box Hill Melbourne he did and the whole crowd of 600 stopped dancing and applauded.  For items, I usually played Harvest Home on the tin whistle or the Manchester Galop (which the Oldtimers called the Bocca Schottische) and a mouth organ medley of Londonderry Air, Moreton Bay, Carrickfergus and The Snowy Breasted Pearl.

Les Dow joined the band about 1986 and was a virtuoso on the violin, 9/8 jigs, Smash the Windows and Caddam Woods being his specialities.  Les was a very eccentric, witty and humorous character who suffered from over-use of joints and muscles and would stop playing to rub up with ointment and bandage up wrists.  He exercised regularly to overcome arthritis.  On one occasion he disappeared and was found behind the piano doing 'push ups'.  A band member sang out "It's all right Les, you can get up, she's gone".  Les turns 80 on Aug 9.

Over the years the lineup has changed and more recently we have Campbell Holmes on slide trombone and of course military marches are his speciality, but he also plays an occasional hymn and at all times is a whiz on harmonies.  Morrie Gierisch from the Gay Charmers Old Time band has come in to help since Lindsay's death four years ago and he has helped to revive more of the traditional old set tunes on button accordion.  Barren Rocks of Aden and MacGregor's March are two of Morrie's specialities, plus switching various barn dance tunes into set time and changing between 2/4 and 6/8.  Leo Harnetty plays piano accordion and at times swaps with Glenda and plays a very bright honky tonk style.  Rags and Silver Bell are specialities of Leo's, and waltzes such as the Oslo.  Playing totally by ear, he can accompany any tune whether he knows it or not, in any key.


Recordings and books:

The Oldtimers cassettes can be obtained by writing to Gavin Holt of the Wedderburn Hotel, Wedderburn 3518, Victoria, Australia.

I don't know if for special requests Gavin would tape the very first little EP (Dec 1975) as it is not available on cassette, but it is a very authentic original band sound.  Next were two LP's of dance music including the sets, Gentlemen, Your Partners Please (1976) and Stepping Out Again (1978).  1983 saw a different direction with the release of a 3rd LP, Community Singing.  These are all available on cassette.  They were followed in 1990 by an ABC live recording on CD & cassette at Fenton's Creek.  Just before Lindsay died in 1995 they recorded and released their final CD & cassette entitled Take A Girl In Your Arms.  This was the first studio recording as with all the others they had been produced live in halls at a dance.  With those there is not the quality of studio production, but it is well compensated by the live atmosphere.


I have published three books of dance music entitled Collector's Choice vols 1,2 & 3.  The first is on the old collected dance music including the traditional tunes mentioned, such as those of Johnny Boughton or Daisy Sutton; the second is mainly jigs, reels and set tunes arranged for Country Dances and Quadrilles; the third is of the popular tunes used for old-time dances.

These books can be bought from the Victorian Folk Music Club Inc (VFMC), PO Box 2025S GPO Melbourne, 3001, Victoria, Australia

Peter Ellis - 2.8.98

Article MT022

Other collected tunes and songs can be found in the Wongawilli 'Pioneer Performer' series of cassettes and CDs.  The Wongawilli Colonial Dance Club's website (available via our Links page) is well worth a visit - many of the above-mentioned books and cassettes are available for purchase there.

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