A Factory Lad - Project · Blog Post

Colin Dryden: Troubadour – Collected by Jean Memery

I did think I had finished my research on Colin Dryden, but this week I received an email  from Jean Memery, with the attached collection of stories from the residents of Beechworth in Victoria, from the time that Colin spent there before departing Australia in 1986. I have only included the stories shared by those who have passed on, or who have given permission for their words to be shared.

Colin at The Last Resort








(Content below, as provided by Jean, more to come as permission is obtained)

Colleen’s Story

I first met Colin at Colleen Millerd’s little brick house in Albury and she assures me it was 1980 because she still had her panel van then. Colleen was a devotee of the Albury Folk club and it was probably there or at one of the neighbouring folk festivals that she met Colin and gave him a room to camp in. At the time Colleen was a hard- working Psych nurse at the mental hospital in Beechworth and Colin’s lifestyle became an irritant. She remembers Colin, in an inexplicable fit of pique, drunkenly damaging her van, possibly at Nariel Folk Festival. Much as she loved his singing and respected his deep knowledge of so many songs, it was time to move him on. Steve and Fred came to her rescue and brought Colin to Steve’s red-roofed house, known as Southfork, in Stanley. (We were addicted to Dallas at the time).

Steve McGuffie’s Story

Stanley is a little village up a winding road in the hills about six miles from Beechworth. Colin stayed at various camps along this road over the years before he left. Steve, an electrician by trade, was a party animal, the town stud for many years, pub patron and had been a talented Aussie Rules footballer. His house was welcoming and he had a good heart and a finely tuned sense of humour. My favourite McGuff story about Colin was when Colin’s fiddle was smashed to smithereens, probably run over by accident. Steve gathered the pieces together and reassembled the jigsaw with superglue. Good as new!

Peter Goonan’s Story

Beechworth’s pub culture was, and possibly still is, legendary: four pubs for a town of 3,500 and the Stanley pub was noteworthy for its wild publican, former milkman, nicknamed John Silver, probably for his silver hair. He sometimes had cricket matches from the bar and out into the street. In this rich mix, Colin met Peter Goonan, another psych nurse and bon vivant. Peter lived along the Stanley road, closer to Beechworth, in a house where a woman had been murdered by her partner’s cranky son, in the chookhouse, to be precise, hence the names the Homicide Hilton or Murder Mansion. Colin was a good fit and Peter had wheels and a thirst.

One night, Peter had to supervise a ward on night shift and he didn’t have time to drive Colin home so he took Colin to work. Peter recalls that Colin was more trouble, wanting a drink, than all the patients and staff combined, all night. Pete was very happy to ‘discharge’ Colin the next morning!

Peter was renowned as the chief wrangler of the Free ‘N’ Sleazy, an anarchic open mic session, very different from the current sedate versions. Everyone got equal treatment and time and I remember one professional outfit who wanted to monopolise the stage. Peter rattled his tambourine at them, sent them off (in high dudgeon) and enthusiastically welcomed the worst singer in the world to thunderous applause! Colin was equally well-received and he seemed to enjoy playing with anyone who cared to join in. He loved variety and gave everyone’s performance his close attention, including old Ray, who could render Waltzing Matilda unrecognisable.

When Peter’s lady, known to us as Dolly Partner, insisted that Colin be moved on, Peter arranged for him to stay at Peter Fartusczinski’s shed, still along the Stanley road, and checked that he was warm and fed. A few rabbits perhaps…

Kissy’s Story

Kissy was another Psych nurse and pub patron: Free ‘N’ Sleazy at the Commercial, lock-ins at the Nick, spit and sawdust at the Empire and fluorescent lighting at the Hibernian, which made us all look like corpses. Much has now been swept away in a wave of gentrification. Kissy fondly recalls Peter’s big old red flatbed truck, with Colin on the back to mind the beer as they speared off to another party. One night Kissy saw Peter take a corner too sharply and Colin fell off but the beer survived… and Colin was none the worse for wear.

Ewan Paterson’s Story

Dr Ewan Paterson was the town’s dentist, a town councillor, Labor Party stalwart and a hobby farmer who hosted ratbag cricket matches in summer. He was worried by Colin’s missing teeth so made him a set of false teeth. One Easter as we walked up to see the Golden Horseshoes Festival parade, we spotted Colin come flying out of the Empire bar and hit the deck. We rushed over to check if his false teeth were broken but he’d wisely stored them in his pocket. No harm done.

Jack and Jai Smith’s Story

When they weren’t moving around the country, my brother, Jack and his son, Jai, lived in my childhood home in Beechworth. They regaled us with the story of coming home to the sound of the shower running. Jack blamed Jai and rushed in to turn it off, only to be confronted by Colin, lathered up in all his glory. Harmony was restored. Jack was particularly fond of Turning Steel because when he moved to Melbourne he worked in a metal-spinning business. Jai remembers Colin at one of his kiddy birthday parties but is not sure if Colin sang for him amid the paddock cricket, beer, food and a spectacular dogfight!

Marie’s Story

Marie Coombe is Peter Goonan’s older sister and my old bridesmaid. She’s a gentle and generous soul and remembers Colin coming to her house for a shower and to wash his clothes. As Marie says, the house was full of grog but Colin never touched it and remained steadfastly sober for his visits. She also loved his singing at her nephew’s wedding.

 Jean’s Story

For most of Colin’s time around the area I lived in a little brick cottage in Last Street: the Last Resort. Jack Smith and I used to host the Waifs and Strays Christmas. This became so popular that we had to ban refugees from family Christmases until after 4pm. Colin was a founding member of this event. He also regularly attended St Patrick’s Day parties and from time to time stayed in a spare room, either the Dollies’ Room or the Spiders’ Room. Once he rolled up on the kitchen floor in a freshly washed doona, which made me rant and rave, only to find him vehemently defended by little Jai. On my birthday I remember Colin’s present of a bracket of songs at the Albury Folk Club. Some mean-spirited souls put him last on the programme and then tried to incapacitate him with drink but Colin resisted and delivered a wonderful performance.

Looking at the very few photos of Colin from those days, I began to realise that except when onstage, he was a self-effacing man and an observant bystander. He was gently amused by our antics, like the Cops and Robbers party for Ewan’s and my birthday at the Stanley hall with outrageous fancy dress, or the tragic scenes when we flew home penniless in Jack Tully’s light plane from far-flung country horse races. I like to think that those years were a happy time for Colin.

Back to the start of the Factory Lad story here.

A Factory Lad - Project · Blog Post

A Factory Lad – Epilogue

“If you build it they will come” is the line I remember from a 90s Kevin Costner movie.

I am preparing for a ‘Factory Lad’ album launch concert this Friday at our local wine bar, Yazzbar, kindly hosted by owners Harvey and Penny. This place is definitely worth a visit if you ever find yourself passing through Yass.

On 7th August 2019, UK folk singer, and ex-Australian resident Gerry Hallom started uploading recordings of Colin to his YouTube channel. Gerry is well known in the Australian folk scene for his fantastic setting of Henry Lawson’s Outside Track, sung here by the late Danny Spooner. The tune was re-used for Cicely Fox Smith’s Lee Fore Brace by Charlie Ipcar.

So far Gerry has uploaded the following songs, some live with spoken intro and some from studio recordings (you can listen to them all on this playlist):

It is fantastic to hear these recordings, some of them of much better quality that what I have heard so far (excepting the 7 songs on the Mike Eves studio recording).

A Factory Lad - Project

A Factory Lad – Final?

With the publication of ‘A Factory Lad: The Songs of Colin Dryden’, this phase, at least, of my research into Colin has come to an end. You can listen to the full album for free on YouTube, and it is also available on most digital streaming platforms.

It was fortunate that tonight I was recording ‘The Outside Track’, Henry Lawson’s poem set to music by Gerard Hallom. I was looking for this version by Danny Spooner when I happened upon this video from 1965. About 3 minutes into the video, Colin, just ten weeks off the boat, sings a blues number. Later in the program, about 20 minutes in, he sings ‘The Holy Ground’. As far as I know, this is the only published footage of Colin singing.

While ‘Just Folk’ was a weekly program, most film from that era was wiped. I’m not sure if Colin appeared on any other episodes.

It feels like a fitting gift from the universe at this point in the journey.

I’m not sure what the future holds for this research, but it has been quite an emotional process for me personally. There is something about Colin’s confident and poignant delivery of whatever he was singing that makes it a great shame to have it lost to the world.

There are efforts underway to get some of the existing recordings of Colin made widely available, hopefully they will bear fruit soon.

I want to say a thankyou again to the many people that have shared their own stories with me, and also Colin’s niece, Naomi, for being so generous with her own research and understanding of an outsider’s desire to learn more.

A Factory Lad - Project · Blog Post · Folk Music

A Factory Lad – Part 5


On 10 May I had the great honour of singing a few songs at Duke’s Place in Marrickville, thanks to an invitation from Sandra Nixon. While the audience was small, it was an inspiration to sing in a place that has been part of Australia’s folk music history since 1954. I’m not sure if Colin Dryden ever sang at Hut 44, but the fabulous people I had the chance to meet and speak with were certainly part of the Sydney folk scene that Colin joined in 1965.

Hut 44
Hut 44

The opportunity to sing Poverty Knock and Four Loom Weaver in a venue like this was special indeed. There is no small irony in the fact that the complex which Hut 44 is part of was once an army base. Turning the engines of violence and war into community spaces for music, culture and conscious living is a poignant victory (and don’t we need them at this point in history).

Best of all, after giving a lift home to Margaret Walters, I was handed a CD of 1971 recordings of Colin at the Elizabeth Hotel, a venue which was a key part of the Sydney folk revival and mentioned by Warren Fahey here. My three hour drive back to Yass was filled with some truly fabulous music, including Margaret’s own album Steadfast, which I highly recommend.

Australian Folk Albums
Australian Folk Albums

Thanks to some other CD’s that I’ve been chasing for many years, I’ve also been able to significantly expand my collection of John Warner covers (another severely under-appreciated Australian songwriter).

I have made a recording of Lassie Wi’ the Yellow Coatie, which Dermott Ryder tantalisingly mentions as a regular part of Colin’s repertoire in his homage article to Colin’s work in 2012. The CD of Colin at the Elizabeth, from a collection of recordings made by Peter Wheeler (but never published), has a very poor recording of Colin doing this song. With this song, I’ve only got a few re-recordings to do before the tribute album is finished.

Album Cover
Album Cover – Final

I made some minor tweaks to the painting for the album cover and will get started on the final layout.

It is bittersweet to reach the end of this project, which has been a rich emotional journey. My hope is that one year soon, the National Folk Festival will host a concert of Colin’s songs, performed by those who knew him and those who have been inspired by his music.

Meditation in the Park
Meditation in the Park

I was fortunately enough to time my trip to Sydney with the annual gathering for early  morning Qi Gong exercises in Hyde Park to mark the birthday of the founder of this particular style on May 13. It was a relaxing start to the day before the long drive back to Yass. I was also delighted to find the, rock history themed, Brewsters cafe in Bowral for the essential mid-drive coffee.


A Factory Lad - Project · Ballad Analysis · Blog Post · Folk Music

A Factory Lad – Part 4

B-250 Tractor

Wherever you go in society, politics are sure to come up. After spending a day listening to the Australian Folklore conference speakers at the National Library on 18 April and speaking with more people who were part of the Australian folk scene in the 60s and 70s, it seems clear that there were circles within circles, which always leaves some folks on the outside.

Whether the lines are drawn around religion, social class, morality and ethics or the ‘right’ way to play the Mudgee Waltz (very enjoyable talk by Dave de Hugard), all communities seem to find ways to divide themselves.

I continue to hear from many new people with re-collections of Colin and some have been kind enough to put their memories in an email or share them over the phone.

I spent a few days listening to four of the songs Colin did on the Mike Eves collection. I decided not to attempt Colin’s version of the Sheffield Grinder because his tempo and guitar skills are beyond me. I hope it gets published soon, as it demonstrates the range of Colin’s talent. This isn’t the ‘music hall’ version of the song, but instead this version from 1847. Here is a 1975 Scottish folk rock group called Finn Mac Cuill doing the song, but to a different melody.

The four songs that I recorded, after listening to Colin’s versions in the car for a week, are nicely mirrored in the songs that he wrote, Sither and Pit Boy. Two of the songs are about weaving, and two about mining. I suspect that Colin would have heard these songs while growing up in Yorkshire.

In each case, Colin sings these songs in a unique way; not like Ewan MacColl, who was recording them in the 1950s, but with a visceral artistry. Colin was able to embody the emotion of the song, rather than just repeat words to a melody.

I have not been able to find anyone else performing these songs quite the way Colin did. I have included detail about each of the songs in the video description.

Four Pence a Day – is a song about young children working in the lead mines of Teesdale prior to 1842.

The Blantyre Explosion – is about an 1877 mining disaster at High Blantyre in Scotland

Poverty Knock – describes that plight of, mostly, women weavers in the 1860s in Yorkshire

Four Loom Weaver – is a re-working of a much earlier ballad (1805) applied to the Cotton Famine in Lancashire in 1861.

Each of these songs are performed in a different style by Colin, but each in a way that would make a room fall silent.

Colin’s connection to working people’s songs was not an affectation, his most well-known song, Factory Lad, was most likely autobiographical. The B-250 tractor was being manufactured in Bradford, Yorkshire when Colin was there. One of the people who knew Colin describes his intense response to seeing one of these tractors on a farm in Australia, saying “this is what we were making”. Here is a site with some history of the International Harvester tractor factory in Bradford, Yorkshire where Colin most likely worked before coming to Australia in 1965.

I only have a few more songs to re-record, and will then be ready to publish my album.

A Factory Lad – Part 5


A Factory Lad - Project · Blog Post · Folk Music

A Factory Lad – Part 3

I spent today at the National Library of Australia hoping to hear some of the recordings of Colin made in the 1970s. I found one recording from the Port Jackson Folk festival in 1970 and two recordings in the Mike Eves collection.

From this Mudcat post it appears that Mike passed away in the US in 2009, but his family must have handed his recordings over to the National Library. Sad to say that from several internet posts it looks like Mike got mixed up with Scientology in the US.

The 90 minute long recording of the Song Workshop at Port Jackson festival in 1970 included more blues and experimental psychedelic-rock style music than I was expecting, mixed in with some beautiful Irish tunes and folk ballads. Most valuable to me was listening to Colin speak between performers.

Colin spoke knowledgeably about the global folk music scene and offered his frustration at musical ‘gate-keeping’ in the community; traditionalists that look down on the ‘new’ music and extreme modernists who reject the old.

About 60 minutes into the workshop there is a beautiful Gaelic ballad sung by someone whose name I couldn’t make out in the recording.

It took a few hours to get the other two recordings, one of Colin in the studio and another set of Colin singing unaccompanied, both recorded by Mike Eves. I ended up spending close to 6 hours at the Library as when the copy of one of the CD’s arrived it had failed to burn. The library staff were very helpful and re-burnt the CD.

The studio recording is probably as close as Colin came to making an LP. It features an autoharp and a significant amount of rubbery double-bass and improvised flute (a la Jethro Tull). The session is dated 1973-1974, so would have been a few years after Colin’s work with Extradition and Tully on Sea of Joy. To my ear, it sounded like an attempt to break through into the progressive/psychedelic/acid rock that was emerging in Australia. There was not much in the way of folk influence, except for a rambling 7 minute version of Scarborough Fair. Maybe it would have done well at the time, but to my ear the style did not play to Colin’s strengths. The recording reminded me of Phil Och’s, Pleasures of the Harborin it’s attempt to change focus in order to capture the mainstream market.

The second Mike Eves recording was a goldmine for me. This recording had Colin singing all of the songs mentioned at the end of my previous post. The recording quality is quite good and will provide a reference to, hopefully, do a reasonable recording in the same style.

I have almost finished the album cover (just need to make him look less like Lionel Richie), and set the painting process to my best attempt at a Blues version of the Ryebuck Shearer. Thanks to Hrothgar on Mudcat who mentioned that Colin had done a blues version on this thread.

Searches online have failed to turn up evidence of Colin playing at other locations around Australia, though several people have confirmed he was in Perth at some point.

For the next few weeks I’ll be busy preparing for a performance at Duke’s Place in Sydney on May 10, and letting Colin’s treatment of the remaining 6 songs marinate before trying to record them.

Many thanks to the several folks who have contributed stories and suggestions on this Mudcat thread and others who have contacted me directly.

A Factory Lad – Part 4


A Factory Lad - Project · Blog Post · Folk Music

A Factory Lad – Part 2

According to the National Archives search of ship arrivals, Colin arrived in Australia on 22 May 1965, listing his occupation as ‘fitter’ and that he intended to settle in NSW.

Tracking Colin’s time in Australia will be quite a challenge as he does not appear to have  left any published journals or letters. This notice in the Sydney Tribune on 14 Feb 1968 places Colin at the Port Phillip Festival, which from the account sounds like a fantastic event.

Colin appears again in Morton Bay in April 1969, when the National Folk Festival was held there. Colin is listed as specialising in North Country ballads. The article appears in the Sydney Tribune on 26 March 1969.

This article in the Tharunka on 22 April 1969 has Colin performing with Colin Campbell in an anti-conscription concert on 13 May. Conscription for the Vietnam War had started in Australia in 1964.

Colin was part of the first Monaro Folk Festival in Canberra over the June Queen’s birthday long weekend in 1970. This article was published in the Canberra Times on 6 June 1970. Colin was back in Canberra for a concert on 5 December 1970, published here. A separate article about the same event claims that Colin has a repertoire of 3,000 to 4,000 songs and mentions his collaboration with the Australian Progressive band Tully and also the psych-rock Australian attempt at Fairport Convention Extradition.

Comparing Colin’s own style to that of Extradition on the album Hush, I don’t get the feeling that Colin had much influence on the album.

Again in Canberra in March 1971, Colin was on the program for the Aquarius festival of the arts at the Australian National University, article from the Canberra Times on the same day. Colin gave a workshop on contemporary folk music.

On 24 April 1971 Colin was part of the Monaro Folk Music Society concert at the Methodist Centre in Forrest. The article indicates the Colin was on the program with Warren Fahey (of the Australian Folklore Unit). Colin appears a few times alongside Bernard Bolan.

Unfortunately a number of recordings of Colin are not available online from the National Library (I’m waiting on access to listen to them in person). This recording from some date in the 1960s (must have been after 1965 when Colin arrived in Australia) provides the setlist:

  • Blantyre explosion
  • Four pence a day
  • Poverty poverty knock
  • Davie louston (sealing)
  • Sheffield grinder
  • Four loom weaver
  • The pit lad
  • Sither

Here is a map of the locations I know of, and a link to the detail in Google Maps. I will update the information as more comes to light.

Since the last posting, I have recorded the first track for the album here and also started work on the album cover painting.

A Factory Lad – Part 3

A Factory Lad - Project · Blog Post · Folk Music · My Own Music

A Factory Lad – Part 1

I first heard Margaret and Bob Fagan sing Factory Lad at the National Folk Festival in 2008. The song was part of the feature album for the festival, showcasing NSW folk talents. No doubt they mentioned Colin Dryden as the author, and I assumed he was a bearded gentleman in his late sixties with volumes of songs to his name.

I was struck by the beautiful melody and also by the poignancy of the lyrics. I’ve never worked in a factory, but can relate to the drudgery and depression that can come with repetitive, unrewarding work which can exist in the office building just as it does on the factory floor. Of course, at the desk and conference room table the work is without most of the debilitating long-term physical effects of strenuous labour.

I learned the song and began including it in my performances at various folk events.

It wasn’t until Colin’s niece commented on my YouTube upload of the song and pointed me to her 2013 Tumblr post about Colin that I was prompted to dig a little deeper.

Thanks to Naomi’s post, I was able to listen to the recordings of Colin that Warren Fahey had put together on his site here. And also a number of Colin’s songs that Naomi had gathered from various recordings.

After making some rough recordings of my own in this playlist, I realised that there are no downloadable albums of Colin’s work, other than the many hundreds of (sometimes unattributed) covers of Factory Lad (sometimes as Turning Steel). Broom Bezzums being one example here.

<rant on> It really annoys me the way record companies pay no attention to the original writers of songs when they re-publish albums on streaming media like YouTube, Spotify, iTunes. Even if the covering band did the right thing in the liner-notes of their album, this detail is un-ceremoniously stripped from any Internet publication. </rant off>

Colin’s Pit Boy and Sither are just as brilliantly written songs as Factory Lad and deserve a wider audience. I think these three songs, as discussed here by Dermott Ryder, represented the pinnacle of new folk ballads written in Australia in the 1970s.

I will go into the detail of Colin’s life in a future post, but he was only in Australia for twenty one years from 1965 and passed away at 43 soon after returning to England (Yorkshire) in 1986.

I plan to use this blog series to catalogue my research into the music and life of Colin Dryden and document the process of putting together an album of the songs and tunes that he wrote and sung.

Happy for anyone who would like to contribute an anecdote, or a favourite song to contact me here or on my Facebook page.

A Factory Lad – Part 2