Folkies and flonkersAugust 24th, 2015
This post was co-authored by Barbara Lyon.
Some of the ephemera in the Phil Garland collection. Photo by Barbara Lyon.
In 2013, New Zealand folklorist and folksinger Phil Garland donated his personal collection to the Alexander Turnbull Library. This collection adds greatly to the Library’s resources on the local folk music scene, from a groundswell of interest in the late-1950s through to its continued popularity today.
A folk history
The Phil Garland Collection (MS-Group-2209) is part of the Archive of New Zealand Music, and comprises papers and recordings relating to Garland’s folklore research and music career from the early 1960s onwards. It includes correspondence, historical research papers, song lyrics, verse, dance tunes, stories and ephemera; also recordings of field collecting, oral history, concerts, and radio broadcasts. In 1967, Garland founded the Christchurch branch of the New Zealand Folklore Society (NZFLS) and the records of that branch are included in the collection.
Other material documents Garland's involvement with folk clubs in New Zealand and Australia. There are also recordings of performances by Garland and dance bands he has been a member of, such as Bush Telegraph and the Canterbury Crutchings Bush and Ceilidh Band. The collection includes master tapes of cassettes released on Garland's Down Under label, too, along with rough mixes and masters of some of his own albums. You can see the Library’s holdings of Phil Garland’s published recordings.
Much of the pictorial component of the donated collection resides in the posters which are now housed in the Library’s Ephemera Collection. There are just over 100 posters, ranging in date from the mid-1960s to 2009. Some relate specifically to Garland’s concerts and tours. They show that he was in demand not only in his hometown of Christchurch, but all around New Zealand: Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, and Dunedin, as well as smaller centres such as Wanaka, Waipatu, Nelson, Amberley, Napier, and Gore. Other posters document Garland’s Australian connections. All reflect the flavour of the folk music scene. The “mini-exhibition” of examples which follows is in roughly chronological order.
The Folk Centre
Phil Garland began his performing career in late 1950s Christchurch with rock ‘n’ roll bands such as The Saints, before changing tack in the mid-1960s to specialise in New Zealand folk songs. Some of the earliest posters in his collection relate to The Folk Centre venue in Christchurch, which Garland established in 1967 and ran for eight years.
The Folk Centre. Traditional, contemporary, blues & ballads, 1967. Ref: Eph-D-MUSIC-Garland-1967-01.
The Folk Centre was based in High Street for about a year, before relocating to Bedford Row. In these cosy premises, patrons crowded in to hear the likes of Stoney Lonesome, Jae Renaut, and other local luminaries. The Band of Hope Jug Band (of which artist Bill Hammond was a member) recorded a self-titled album at the venue in 1967. Another member, Warwick Brock, designed the unusual circular poster seen above.
The Christchurch folk scene also encompassed other venues, such as The Last Resort and The Stage Door. Overseas musicians who visited the city around this time include English fiddler Dave Swarbrick, and American folkies Mike Seeger and Alice Seeger. In 2015, the Christchurch Folk Music Club and the Canterbury Folk Festival are still going strong.
The Balladeer Coffee Tavern was one of three Wellington coffee bars that specialised in live folk music in the 1960s (the other two being the Monde Marie and Chez Paree). Located above a Chinese takeaway in upper Willis Street, the Balladeer was managed by Australian émigrés Frank and Mary Fyfe.
Balladeer Coffee Tavern, ca 1966. Ref: Eph-C-MUSIC-Garland-1966-01.
Despite its short existence (March 1965 to November 1967), the coffee bar had a lasting influence as a venue run “by folkies for folkies”. As the late Dave Hart reminisces about in an online article, performers included “Jim Delahunty, Warwick Brock, Max Winnie, Jae Renaut, the infamous Frank [Povah], Ron Davis, Frank Sillay & many others”. Phil Garland was himself a frequent visitor.
Frank Fyfe also contributed to the national folk scene as founder of the New Zealand Folklore Society, which established branches in various parts of the country to collect songs, yarns, and oral history. The Turnbull Library holds several collections of NZFLS material, including in the Angela Annabel Papers (MS-Group-0929) and the Phil Garland Papers.
The Wynyard Tavern
During the 1960s and 1970s, Auckland folkies gathered at coffee bars such as the Uptown Gallery and a dedicated venue: the Poles Apart Folk Club. The Wynyard Tavern hosted two folk nights every week.
Folk singing. Friday, Sunday 8 pm, Wynyard Tavern, 1970s. Ref: Eph-C-MUSIC-Garland-1970s-01.
The poster above, with Marti Friedlander’s background image of a spellbound audience, shows that a broad range of folk musicians performed there: Dave Skinner was an Auckland folksinger frequently appearing at the Poles Apart; Des and Juliet Rainey founded the Titirangi Folk Music Club; and Frank Sviatko was later a radio broadcaster. The Ned Kelly Memorial Jug Stompers was originally an Australian jug band of the 1960s, formed by Frank Povah and Chris Cruise, but whether they or a third member, Lindsay, were amongst the “Re-Organised” Wynyard line-up is unknown.
Francis Kuipers was an Anglo-Dutch composer and performer who spent several years in this part of the world, while Dave Calder was a founding member of the Hamilton County Bluegrass Band who went to London to pursue a solo career at the end of 1970. He was playing in London in 1971, so the poster dates from after his return to New Zealand a year or two later. The crossover group Hamilton County Bluegrass Band recorded a live album at the Wynyard in 1970. The venue was also renowned as the site of the first gig by Split Ends – soon to be renamed Split Enz – in December 1972.
Festivals and the first national flonking championships
Folk festivals have been another cornerstone of the New Zealand folk scene over the years. The oldest is probably the Wellington Folk Festival, first held in 1965, which may also be the second longest-running music festival in the country after the Tauranga Jazz Festival, established two years earlier.
L-R: Gisborne Folk Music Club, Folkmusic festival 1978. Ref: Eph-C-MUSIC-Garland-1978-01; East Coast Labour Weekend national flonking championship [and] folk festival, 1968. Ref: Eph-C-MUSIC-Garland-1968-01.
Other long-running festivals include those held in Auckland (est. 1974), at Whare Flat near Dunedin (est. 1975), and in Canterbury (est. 1976). Many have come and gone, though: the festivals advertised on the two posters above are both defunct. Nonetheless, they attest to the popularity and particular flavour of folk music at particular times and places.
The poster for the East Coast Labour Week-End Folk Festival at Waipatu, for instance, mentions a hangi and also advertises the “first national flonking championships”. Flonking was a game invented in Britain in 1966, and is likely to have appealed to a festival crowd. It involved one group dancing around a member of an opposing group who would try to throw a beer-soaked cloth at one of the dancers when the music stopped. Consumption of much ale (“flonk”) seems to have been a prerequisite.
The National Banjo Pickers' Convention, 1970. Ref: Eph-D-MUSIC-Garland-1970-01.
One of the most fondly remembered folk festivals was the National Banjo Pickers’ Convention. Held annually near Hamilton from 1967 to 1970, these festivals represent perhaps the first big surge of interest in bluegrass music in New Zealand. The names of local bluegrass and “old time” groups from this time are often wonderful creations in their own right, for example the Mainland Hoedowners, the Mad Dog Jug Band, and Vernon Dalhart’s Cornfield Symphony Orchestra.
The name of the George Wilder Rehabilitation Society Bush Band refers to serial prison escaper George Wilder. Three live albums from the Banjo Pickers’ Conventions were released on the Kiwi record label. The festival received international support from American folk legend Pete Seeger in 1968, and in 1969 his half-brother Mike Seeger performed there. The poster above advertises the final Convention in 1970, also the subject of the documentary ‘Keep on the sunny side’.
Like many of the posters in Phil Garland’s collection, this Canterbury Folk Festival poster has an agreeably “homemade” feel.
10th Canterbury Folk Festival at Amberley Domain, 1985. Ref: Eph-D-MUSIC-Garland-1985-01.
It also reflects the diversity of the mid-1980s New Zealand folk scene, which encompassed folk, blues, and bluegrass, along with traditional dance styles like Morris dancing. The New Zealand Folk Club Directory of 1984 lists twelve Morris-dance groups (or “sides”) across the country, together with twenty-four folk clubs and three other folk dance organisations.
The distinctive iconography of kiwi and black singlet-clad balladeer on the poster also suggests a vein of New Zealand-specific material being performed by artists such as Martin Curtis, Mike Harding, Kath Tait, and the Pioneer Pog ‘n’ Scroggin’ Bush Band.
One of the listed performers here is Christine Batkin-Smith from Australia. She often performed in Christchurch from the late 1960s onward under the name Christine Smith, and today writes an occasional blog which contains useful reminiscences from those involved in the New Zealand folk scene.
There have long been trans-Tasman links between New Zealand and Australian folk scenes, connections reflect the two countries’ proximity, lack of entry restrictions, and cultural affinities. Through the 1970s and 1980s, Phil Garland regularly toured the Australian circuit and his collection contains posters from various festivals, in Alice Springs, Darwin, Sydney, the “National” in Canberra, and others.
Phil Garland at Alice Springs, 1981. Ref: Eph-C-MUSIC-Garland-1981-01.
The poster above advertises an Alice Springs gig from Phil’s 1981 tour and exemplifies the generic touring poster, the blank space at the bottom being filled in with particular venues, dates, and times as needed. Garland gained quick popularity in Australia and moved there in 1987, beginning his sojourn with an extended residency at the Alice Springs Sheraton Hotel.
Eventually settling down in Perth, he became a regular face on the West Australian folk circuit, which had its own extensive network of clubs, venues and festivals. He received an award for his contributions to the Western Australia (WA) music scene during 1994 and 1995. Some of Garland’s popularity in Australia may be due to his repertoire of colonial New Zealand songs, which have many subjects in common with traditional Australian folk songs.
And home again
Our final poster is from the 1991 folk festival held at Toodyay, some 85km north of Perth. This WA folk festival was held annually between 1970 and 1995, after which it was superseded by the festival at Fairbridge.
21st WA Folk Festival, September 27-30, 1991. Ref: Eph-C-MUSIC-Garland-1991-01.
Bringing our “mini-exhibition” full circle, the poster mentions Alistair Hulett, a popular Scottish-born singer who lived and performed in Christchurch in the late 1960s, before moving to Sydney in 1971. Hulett returned to Glasgow in the late 1990s, and sadly, died of cancer in 2010.
Phil Garland shifted back to New Zealand in 1996 and has continued to carve out a career as a folksinger, folklorist, and music teacher. In 2014, he was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal for services to folk music.
The Alexander Turnbull Library also holds a similar set of folk music posters, donated several years ago by the Wellington folk club, Acoustic Routes – see the catalogue records. For more on New Zealand folk music, see Chris Bourke’s Te Ara entry on ‘Folk, country and blues music’; and Michael Brown’s AudioCulture article, ‘Folk coffee-bars of 1960s Wellington’.
We are grateful to the following people for granting their permission to reproduce the posters shown above: Phil Garland, Judi Smitheram (Christchurch Folk Music Club), Zoe Brock, Sophia Bidwell (Canterbury Folk Festival), Geoff Bendall (Wynyard Tavern), Marti Friedlander, Mary Fyfe (The Balladeer), Paul Trenwith (National Banjo Pickers’ Convention), Jody Webster (Gisborne Folk Music Club), Trevor Ruffell (Hawkes Bay Folk Club), and Rob Oats (West Australian Folk Federation).