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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Harbor, in 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.
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.