Trevor takes the long, hard road back home
MARGARET GEDDES meets a local folk singer who is back after making good in Britain
Age Arts, 2 September 1978
It's 14 years since Trevor Lucas, then one of Melbourne's leading folkies, packed up his guitar in his old kit-bag and headed for England.
He left quietly - no fanfares, no trumpets. But a few years later word filtered back, The local boy had made good.
First on the British folk scene, then a succession of electric folk/rock bands- The Eclection, Fotheringay, and a rejuvenated Fairport Convention - and also as a record producer.
Last month he returned to Melbourne - a move prompted by the accidental death in April of his wife, Sandy Denny, one of Britian's finest folk singers.
Trevor and Sandy had worked together over the years in Fotheringay and Fairport Convention, and were about to settle in America and concentrate on her solo career, when she died.
“I'm back in Melbourne for at least six months,” Trevor said this week. “Basically I came here because it seemed like a good refuge. It still does. I've got a lot of family here, and I thought it was important for Georgia, my 13-month-old daughter, to have that sort of security. And important for me, too, at the time.”
Now he'd like to work here, and he's spent the last four weeks looking over the local music scene, feeling it out.
“I'd like to produce here, and I am talking with a few record companies, though there's nothing concrete yet,” he said.
“I'm also keen to do maybe half a dozen concerts, around Christmas time. At the moment, I'm on the lookout for players.”
Trevor's only visits to Australia since he left 14 years ago have been on tour with Fairport Convention, and he is enthusiastic about some of the musical developments he has noticed this time.
“Australian musicians have very much their own identity, in a way they didn't before,” he said. “May be that's why the rest of the world has started to take notice.
“It doesn't come across in their recorded sound, perhaps because recording here is still a little naive. But it's in the performance and the material.
“It's almost like Ocker is beautiful. It's as if the musicians have somehow become aware that they have an identity of their own - that they can write songs about Mildura or whatever, and not have to change it into Santa Rosa. I think present-day songwriters in Australia are great. If anything can pull the local music industry along, they can.”
Ideally, Trevor would like to divide his time between Australia, Britain and the United States, but he is pessimistic about the possibility.
“Although one's not a patriot, there is still a certain fondness for the town one grew up in,” he said. “But unless there is some work here, in the producing field, I'll probably have to return to England to work.”
There have been other changes in the local music scene since Trevor last worked here. For instance, there were no rock venues then.
“But there were a lot of trad. jazz venues, and plenty of folk,” he said with a grin. “It was a long time ago.”
Those were the days of Traynor's, the Reats, the Emerald Hill Theatre; of rough red and the gleesome threesome: Martyn Wyndham-Read, Brian Mooney and Trevor Lucas.
“Everyone was a lot younger then,” said Trevor, now 34. “Things just weren't as important. We used to live on a thing called Moonie's Irish health stew when things were tough. We'd buy up at the market and make enough to last a week.”
Then, around the beginning of 1964, the local folk scene seemed to dissolve. In fact, it didn't - it simply shifted its locale to the greener pastures of Britain.
“Everyone in those days was talking about going to England, to Ireland or somewhere,” Trevor said. “I went for six months originally, and I expected to find a folk club on the corner of every street in Soho.”
The streets weren't paved with clubs. But he did find a vibrant provincial folk circuit, which he soon slipped into, playing much the same mix of traditional Australian and contemporary songs as he had back home.
Three years, a change was in the air. “When I first went to England, there were a lot of people on the folk scene, just playing and singing whatever they wanted,” Trevor explained. “Then this thing of traditionalism, and being correct, and having fingers growing out of your ear while you're singing, all started to take over.” He demonstrated in his most authentic manner.
“I thought: 'This is silly. I'm being turned into a historian, instead of a contemporary commentator.”
“That was when the flower power / all-you-need-is-love thing was starting to happen, and it was a big influence. But I think the thing that convinced me that I was in the wrong business totally was The Band, and their record, Music From Big Pink which was very inspiring for me.”
So Trevor got together with some others from the folk scene and they formed The Eclection: “a very underground, flower power group, based on a cross between the Jefferson Airplane and the Mamas and the Papas.”
Looking back, Trevor describes The Eclection as “a good apprenticeship in electric music. I don't think it created anything devastatingly good.”
It was also the beginning of a long apprenticeship in the machinations of the rock business world. “We were all very naive,” he said. “We got ripped off terribly. Our first record contract was clinched by a bowl of fruit from Harrods.”
Next came Fotheringay, formed in 1971, when Sandy Denny left the Fairport Convention, and Trevor left The Eclection.
For Trevor, Fotheringay was the group. “I think all musicians have a group in their lives, that the group they enjoyed playing with most; that they felt they were being more creative with, more expressive. For all of us in that group, it was Fotheringay.”
But it was in Fairport Convention, which Trevor and then Sandy joined the following year, that they made the most commercial impact.
“If nothing else, we had an awful lot of fun in that band,” Trevor said. “And we made some good records too.”
In 1976, Trevor and Sandy left Fairport for good. “We'd spent eight months on the road touring, and we'd been thinking of having a family and all that sort of thing.” Trevor said.
“It seemed ridiculous to spend so much time away. So we left, and we started just doing gigs on our own, Sandy and I. We did a couple of tours, I produced a couple of records for her, and then she died.”