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A Tribute to
19 August 1925 - 14 April 2004
Stan Arthur was a pivotal figure in the Brisbane folk scene for over forty years. He was a friend and mentor to all who knew him. With wife, Kathy, he ran the Folk Centre in Ann St for several decades and his group The Wayfarers was the resident band.
In recent years he was the central figure at the Wednesday night folk club at the Kookaburra Café in Paddington - and the Wayfarers were still going strong - though the personnel of the group had changed countless times in the intervening years.
Stan had an immense repertoire of songs in an astonishing array of musical styles. He was an avid collector of folk music and loved to share his collection with others.
His friends have paid tribute to him and his life's work. He is greatly missed.
Stan Arthur was a collector, singer, organiser, and spreader of folk music and associated activities. After Navy service in the Second World War, Stan became involved in collecting folk songs from old singers around Queensland and northern New South Wales, in association with Bill Scott, Bob Michell, John Callaghan, and others.
He appeared in the first Queensland production of Reedy River and was a founder of the Moreton Bay Bushwackers.
In 1962 he and a few friends promoted a concert by Pete Seeger in Brisbane, and used the impetus to found the Folk Centre. The resident group was the Wayfarers, Stan's group which has lasted up to now with varying membership (nobody has ever really counted how many people went through the group, but I seem to remember their 100th member some years ago). The music was very much the 1960s folk music, but Stan was especially influenced by the Australian and Irish traditions and by the Weavers.
The Folk Centre kitchen and Stan were run by Stan's wife Kathy. She was lovely to her staff (of whom I was one for some years), but didn't mind giving Stan an earful when she thought he needed it.
The Folk Centre started in a room on the first floor (that's the one above the ground floor in the local language), but after a couple of years it moved to the basement, and stayed there until it closed in 1977 when the building was demolished in the cause of social progress - there's a car park there now. I met people who are some of my oldest and dearest friends there.
The Wayfarers kept going after the Folk Centre closed, and Stan was able to become pretty much a full time musician - he sometimes reckoned that being tied to the Folk Centre had been holding his career back, but I don't think he really meant it.
Probably half the songs I know I learned from Stan or the Wayfarers, and a lot of the others I learned from tapes that Stan copied. He was generous with his time in copying them for anybody who asked. You could look through his catalogue and mark a recording, and a week or two later there it was, labelled in Stan's tiny, clear handwriting.
Stan was also involved in Labor Party and union politics, and was one of the stalwarts who chose the middle ground between the extreme left and the Industrial Groupers during the Labor Party split of the mid-1950s. He maintained this commitment all his life.
I have known him longer than just about everybody I know except my family, and I will miss him terribly.
BILL SCOTT HAS CONTRIBUTED TWO MEMORIES OF STAN:
In the late 1940s, when working as a canecutter, I often heard blokes in bars shout "Cain killed Abel and he's killing me too!". Another favourite shout was "Never again will I cut cane on the banks of the Johnstone River!" or the Burnett River or the Mary River.
We were fairly sure there had to be a song or poem out there but those two lines were all anyone ever seemed to know. In the late 1950s, Stan and Kathy were staying overnight in an hotel in the little town of Childers. After tea they went to the pictures, and when they returned to the hotel, in good Queensland country fashion, although the doors and windows were closed there was still a light in the bar, and as Stan climbed the stairs to go to his room, he heard two voices singing about how they were never again going to cut cane on the banks of the Isis River.
Hastily grabbing his guitar, Stan joined the revellers, a couple of cutters, one of whom was named Arnie Warren. By 1am Stan had not only learned the words, he had noted the tune as well. He said to me later: "It's just as well I did because I'd forgotten it in the morning; it was a very wet night in the bar."
We learned to sing it and it got its first Brisbane performance at one of John Manifold's Ballad nights. Since then it has spread far and wide in various versions but usually retaining the substitute words I put into the lyrics, because you couldn't swear in public in those days.
In 1959, as part of the Queensland Centenary Celebrations, the Moreton Bay Bushwhackers were invited to take part in the celebrations of the first hundred years of independence from New South Wales. One such invitation came from a lady named, I think, Mrs Kyling in the town of Cleveland, on the shores of Moreton Bay.
We lurched along in the procession on the back of a truck, singing lustily, and were later asked by Mrs Kyling if we would like a cup of tea before we went home. We accepted and followed her to her home, where we sat on the back steps while she put the kettle on. The house had an old-fashioned tank stand on four posts and these were netted in to form a cage for a big white cockatoo.
This apparently amiable bird sidled down the perch toward the wire mesh and, placing its head side-on against the wire, invited us in humble tones to "Scratch Cocky". Our violinist at the time was a fellow called Tony Jones, and he approached the parrot.
Stan said gloomily, "I wouldn't do that if I was you, Tony."
The birds once more crooned lovingly and prettily, "Scratch Cocky".
Tony, a nice bloke, extended a finger to do the bidding of the bird, and next minute was dancing around waving a sore finger while the bird actually laughed.
"Told you so", said Stan gloomily.
About then we hear Mrs Kyling's voice calling down from the kitchen, "Watch out for the bird, he bites!", it was a bit late to tell that to Tony.
Some years ago when I was first asked by BayFM if I would produce a Folk show, I contacted Stan Arthur. I explained to Stan that I really didn't know very much about the local folk scene at that time. Stan could not have been more helpful, he came into my place of work the next day with some Wayfarers CDs, told me all about the early days of Folk in Brisbane and encouraged me to attend the local folk club which eventually moved to its present location at the Kookaburra Café in Paddington.
It's 10 years since I met Stan and he was always there to help, right up until shortly before his final performance.
Stan thanks for everything, we will miss you.
Like many people, my introduction to the folk scene in
Queensland, as audience member, and subsequently performer, commenced with
attendance at the Folk Centre when I started university in 1974. Stan's contribution through the Folk Centre is immeasurable.
Stan Arthur was a unique individual. Since we first met in 1974 Stan confused me, annoyed me, exasperated me, encouraged me, enthused me, amazed me and convinced me to continue, as he did, to sing OUR songs for as long as WE can. See you in "The Big Folk Club" one day, Stan.
My memories of Stan Arthur are all good. From 1968,
when I first wandered into The Folk Centre, he was a mentor ... always
encouraging me as a
performer and willing to share his vast knowledge of musical genres.
I miss him like I would a father. He is irreplaceable to all of us who knew him as a performer and friend.
John E. Dvorak
In the Folk Centre, with his wife Kathy filling orders for coffee and toast, Stan and his group the Wayfarers gave opportunity for young people to perform. With other collectors the Wayfarers made the Television programmes The Yarn Spinners and The Squatters Arms for the ABC.
When they had to leave the building which housed the Folk Centre Stan and the Wayfarers performed anywhere.
Countless people were introduced to Stan's knowledge of music and song and we are all grateful to him for his untiring efforts.
All cultures are based on crucial people who anchor everybody else. Stan Arthur was respected throughout Australia for his knowledge and love of music and verse, but he also absolutely anchored the folk culture in Brisbane in the 60's. Love him or hate him, he was unflappable, unstoppable and imperturbable about folk music, and was not to be diverted or distracted.
The Folk Centre was a lot of people, but in the end it was Stan Arthur. Kathy Arthur, full of laughter and fire, Gordon waspishly breaking plates in the kitchen, the incomparable Gary Tooth, Theo's benign double bass,..............it was Stan who locked it all together.
As an audience I owe Stan for the sheer joy of it all, a wonderful powerful cocktail of music and people. As a performer I owe Stan for the education I got at the Folk Centre about timing, about self-belief, and about how to have fun with an audience. As a person I owe the Folk Centre for what I am now, because I met my wife there and made a whole new joyous life.
The current that flowed around Stan the anchor man diverted a lot of people to new destinations. I am grateful for my destination, and the journey was unforgettable.
Stan Arthur was thick-skinned and sentimental, obtuse and understanding, generous and cantankerous. He was full of music and words. He was unfailingly good to me and mine. I am lucky to have known him.
I will never forget the way Stan Arthur always greeted me by puckering up his lips into a tight little "bumhole" for a kiss. It always made me laugh and remember the little pair of kissing boy and girl ornaments that stood on his display cabinet, Kathy's pride and joy. Whenever they had a fight, he would upturn the little boy so that the little girl was kissing his bum.
To me Stan meant laughter, fun and joy in life. Stan and Kathy brought me my most precious friend, my husband Paul. Thank you Stan.
When we first arrived in Brisbane in January 1972, Stan and Kathy took us under their wing, and the Folk Centre became our home away from home. I ended up singing with the Wayfarers for some three and an half years which was one of the most enjoyable and formative periods in my life. Stan was always welcoming to new performers of any type or standard, and his energy and passion for folk music in general was boundless. June and I will miss him and his constant support of the Folk Rag. Thanks for touching our lives Stan.
Don & June Nichols
Stan Arthur touched the lives of many people in the Brisbane folk community. He is a prominent figure in our musical education particularly those who were teenagers in the 1960s and 70s when the Folk Centre was in its heyday. In more recent years at the Kookaburra Café Folk Club on Wednesday nights, Stan was still encouraging people to perform and we had a steady stream of eager folk - young and old - testing their performing wings. Some stayed on to become part of our family - others we never saw again.
Anne Infante and I were recently reminiscing about Stan and his music and wondering whether we will ever hear some of it again. For instance, late in the evenings at the Kooka, he would often do a solo bracket of music hall songs - with the audience enthusiastically joining in the choruses of songs like With her head tucked underneath her arm and Alphonso Spigoni. He had a huge repertoire of songs in a myriad of styles and his distinctive voice could belt out a rousing sea shanty one minute, and follow it with a tender love song.
Stan was always eager to collect music and to share it. He taped most of our entire music collections and would often bring in tapes of music he thought we would like - all neatly labeled in his tiny writing. I was gathering some of my recent CD acquisitions together for him on the day he passed away - and I still find myself thinking "I must take that one in for Stan".
Stan always closed Kookaburra evenings with the old Woody Guthrie song So long, it's been good to know you - which is a fine way to farewell our old friend.
I am saddened to hear of the death of Stan Arthur. I played for a while with his band in Brisbane and he taught me an important lesson.
I was between jobs and his band needed a bass player. "Of course I can play a bass" I said lying through my teeth. Half way into the first practice it was obvious I hadn't played a double bass before but Stan never said anything. After a couple of weeks I was getting pretty good and we were out doing bookings, two a day hard work good money.
We always sang the same repertoire and after a while I was getting bored.
One day Stan came up to me and said "There is something you need to decide, there is no such thing as a bad song, it is your attitude to the song that matters and that is up to you".
I got the message and my whole attitude changed, I learned to enjoy even the most hackneyed of songs. In fact familiarity with a song allowed me the comfort of being able to really play around with the bass lines.
A basic lesson that gave me so much and has stayed with me ever since. Thanks Stan.
As one of the more recent members of The Wayfarers (4 years?), I would like to say how much I learned from Stan. Always gentle; "Don't sing in that bloody key!", "I wish you blokes would learn to follow the leader!". Actually, I had a strong affection for Stan (cleverly disguised); I learned a great deal from him - about folk history (particularly Australian), about putting together a bracket, about stage presentation. (Many who know me will say I must be a slow learner, no doubt.) I used to enjoy driving Stan around (when he didn't feel like driving) because of his inexhaustible fund of stories and folk info. My family circumstances gave Ross (another Wayfarer) the chance to take over from me, and I note he was not particularly keen to hand it back - I'm sure he had the same enjoyment as I had!
Goodbye Stan - you will leave an unfillable hole after over 40 years of various Wayfarers with you as their captain. Let those buggers upstairs know what Aussie songs sound like; you are the best one to do it. With fond memories,
Stan, supported by Kath his wife, was an inspiration to us all.
Having first met them at the Folk Centre in early 1964 while it was still 'upstairs' and
became immediately "hooked". Always packed, Gordon Fredericks at the door replaced by Gwen
later, it was a wonderful learning experience. It became my regular haunt 3 nights
a week for years and regularly until the 'Centre closed 14 years later.
Stan and the Folk Centre were an institution. His loss touches us all. He leaves behind an immense legacy of the songs he introduced, the performers he so unfailingly encouraged and the friends and lifetime of memories he created for us all.
Stan and Kathy have touched many lives and hearts, and we will be all the poorer for his loss. Stan spread the Folk Word - with enthusiasm in song, spoken word and deed. The Brisbane Folk family owes him a lot. I remember with fondness many a pleasant night we sat at the Old Folk Centre sopping up the atmosphere and sounds, joining in the choruses of the well-known Wayfarer songs. Stan was always encouraging to the faltering beginner and the seasoned performer; always willing to 'give them a go'.
Over recent years we have been lucky to have the same feel at the Kookaburra Folk Club mainly because it was a continuation of the Old Folk Centre and Stan was the front man for this club as well.
On the night Stan died, the opening performance by the Wayfarers at the Kookaburra Folk Club began with one of Stan's own compositions The Tall Ships in remembrance and Don led The Life of a Man, dedicating it to Stan. It was a gathering of old friends joining together in song to remember one particular absent friend. He will be very sadly missed. Don't stop singing. Stan!
I might never have become a singer/songwriter if it hadn't been for Stan Arthur.
In 1962/63, my sister Juliette and I first discovered The Folk Centre, a dark café down a laneway behind the Salvation Army Hall in Ann Street. It was typical '60s - candles in bottles on the tables, meals on toast, tea and coffee. The resident group, The Wayfarers, comprised Stan Arthur, Garry Tooth, Bob Stewart and Theo Bosch. Some of the excellent floor singers were Sue Edmunds, Danny and Peter Gillespie, Keith Smith, Michael O'Rourke, Evan Mathieson, Bill Scott and Rhys Owen to name but a very few.
We loved the atmosphere and the songs (we'd been raised on traditional folk songs but never knew it until then). We quickly became regulars, attending three wonderful nights a week.
I decided I had to sing. I timidly approached Stan, wondering why I was putting myself through that level of fear. He was kind, supportive and generous with his time and material. Stan was passionately committed to encouraging beginners to 'have a go'. With a typical 'Of course, Lovey,' he asked what songs I knew and ran through them with me, accompanying me on guitar while I tried out the many Irish, English and Scottish ballads and calypsos he taught me, finding my tentative way and developing as a singer on a rich diet of wonderful material Stan considered suitable for a 17-year-old.
Eventually I taught myself guitar and plucked up the courage to accompany myself. Many years later I found within me the gift of making songs.
Although I left Brisbane and The Folk Centre to live and sing for a while in New Zealand, returning to run The Barley Mow Folk Club on Thursday nights in the late Cecil Hotel in George Street, those early years with Stan remained with me. He inspired in me a love of and respect for folk music, an appreciation of songs that `tell a story' and an insatiable thirst for folk history.
Years ago Juliette rediscovered the Wayfarers a different line-up but still led by Stan playing in a basement café in Edward Street. Stan welcomed me with typical enthusiasm and I started performing there, later following the group to the Kookaburra Café in Paddington.
I am deeply grateful for the kindest of Fates that brought me back to Stan. I'm grateful for the many years of listening to the old familiar Wayfarers songs and many great new ones and all of Stan's excellent solo sets. And for his continual support and generosity in sharing his music to the end.
Stan's passing has brought the end of an era. He will be deeply missed and I am eternally thankful for having known him, for his friendship, encouragement, inspiration, enthusiasm and love. Thanks, Stan.
© The Folk Rag June 2004
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