Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Lloyd's return to Australia – 1970


I was surprised to discover this as I had no memory of sending it to Tribune from London. But I do remember Lloyd's excitement at being given the chance to visit Australia after a 40 year  absence. The trip was arraigned by a number of people including Peter Mann of Discurio Record shop fame, Ian Turner and Edgar Waters. On his return too London he told me how much he was interested in New Guinea music.  He had stayed there for a few days with Edgar Waters who was teaching there and had given a well received paper at Port Moresby University.

Dave Arthur in his biography Bert The Life and Times of A.L.Lloyd interviewed interviewed one of the founders of the band Wild Colonial Boys, Jim Fingelton, who met Lloyd in New Guinea and had this to say about him:

From my early teens I had been mad on 'bush music' as we call it. When I came across Bert Lloyd's Across the Western Plains around 1964 it was an eye-opener for me. The songs available on record till that time were mainly performed by artists who had little or no knowledge of the bush, or how the songs were sung. My first exposure, for example, was Burl Ives singing 'Click Go the Shears' on an old wind-up gramophone in the 1950s. Then there was William Clauson, who sang in a very 'proper' manner, with perfect diction. Also Bush Music Clubs performed in Sydney and Melbourne, mainly made up of 'lefty' schoolteachers, but with a rather uninteresting plodding singing style. Then along came Bert, and what a breath of fresh-air he was! With his expressive singing style, new range of songs and clear feel for the lyrics, he brought an authenticity which had previously been lacking. I just doted on his stuff.

In his autobiography, (1988) A Radical Life,  the famous Australian historian Russel Ward, who played a key role in the Australian Folk Revival and was was a friend of Lloyd wrote:

There is always something mysterious about the cause of great changes in taste. We shall never know exactly why many people, quite independently, suddenly became interested in Australian folksongs in the 195os. I saw it happening but I am no nearer now than I was then to understanding the process or to allotting some kind of credit rating, or pecking order, to the persons involved. Two of them in fact were foreigners'—i.e. non Australasians. Burl Ives, the spherical, jolly, Yankee folksinger, astonished the nat-ives by singing a few Australian folksongs that many of them had never heard of. One, though undoubtedly genuine, greasy-wool Strine, I have never heard again since. In an American accent, naturally, Burl sang of the abominable station cook who 'ruined my constitooshun while shear-ing at Fowler's Bay'. The other pioneer of the folk revival was an Englishman, A.L. Lloyd. This singing Englishman probably did more to preserve Australian folksongs for posterity than anyone else but Banjo Paterson himself.

Like many a likely lad in convict times, Bert Lloyd was shipped out to Sydney in the early 192os for his country's good. So were hundreds of other fifteen or sixteen-year-old British boys from poverty-stricken backgrounds. Their passages were paid by several charitable organisations which sought to strengthen the Empire by filling Australia's 'great open spaces' with healthy breeding stock, and at the same time to give the waifs a better chance in life than their homeland could offer. Bert worked first, he told me long afterwards, for cow and wheat cockies at ten shillings a week and keep. Like thousands before him he soon heard that better wages and more congenial work were to be had on the pastoral runs further out west. When he reached the station country, however, his voice betrayed him. Every squatter, as the pastoral proprietors were still called, held as a cardinal article of faith that English-men were useless for station work. So Bert set about changing his native Cockney accent into a passable imitation of broad Strine. Only then could he get work at the correct Australian Workers' Union award wages. He tried most things in the next few years, mostly about the shearing sheds—tar-boy, picker-up, rouseabout and slushy to the cook—but all the time he was committing to memory old bush songs.

The young English migrant with his head full of Australian songs returned in time to live through the great depression in his own country and to become its best folksinger. He came back to Australia only once for a brief visit about 1970, but in the 1950s he freely gave to young Australians who visited him in London all that he knew of their heritage.

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