Danny Spooner — Thames Bargemen, Historian & Folk Singer

We have learned that Danny Spooner died last week.  Spooner was a well loved singer of traditional and contemporary folk songs of Britain and Australia. As a social historian, he explored British and Australian culture through folk music. Leaving school at the age of 13, Spooner went to work on a Thames sailing barge, learning songs from working sail from the deck of the barge. In 1962, he moved to Australia and became deeply involved in the folk music scene. He performed in folk clubs and music festivals all over Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Canada and the US.  He will be missed.

Danny Spooner sings for The National Library of Australia collection

From his bio

Born into a working-class family in the East End of London prior to World War 2, Danny Spooner grew up with the traditions, music and folklore of a typical Cockney family (singing round the piano, music hall, traditional English & Irish songs).

At 13 he left school and worked on a sailing barge which plied the Thames and the south coast of England. Under the instructive eye of Bob Roberts, Danny learned British songs and was enrolled in libraries along the coast to read their stories. He was apprenticed to the Thames as a Waterman and Lighterman, and after 6 years had earned his Freeman of the Thames.

Over the next 10 years he held various jobs including salvage tug and trawler skipper. This varied, almost nomadic life, has given Danny an all-too-rare real-life education in the ways of working people.

When Danny arrived in Australia in 1962, he realized that there was an audience ready, interested, and willing to appreciate these sorts of songs. He heard Declan Affley singing in the early folk scene in Sydney, and at the fabled Frank Traynors in Melbourne Martyn Wyndham-Read, Brian Mooney, David Lumsden, Trevor Lucas and Margret RoadKnight. This was the engine room of the folk revival in Australia, and made Danny want to learn those songs. From Wendy Lowenstein and Gwenda Davey he understood the importance of the social context of the songs and proper attribution.

Thanks to a prodigious memory and a willingness to learn about his craft, Danny Spooner quickly developed into one of the best singers of British folksongs in Australia. Over the years he has augmented what he learned “on the job” with a vast repertoire spanning almost every part of the British tradition – as well as a respectable portion of the Australian folk heritage. He’s been please to add American material learned from new friends – and even a Canadian-French whaling song.

Danny has performed in folk clubs all over Australia, New Zealand and in Britain on his visits home. He has appeared at every major folk festival in Australia, at which he has given a vast range of workshops on aspects of folk songs of Britain and Australia. Many of these presentations were recorded live by ABC national radio.

His passion is getting people singing, and he has inspired and encouraged many in developing their singing craft. Nothing gives him more pleasure at a festival than getting a good singing session going, “That’s what folksong is about”.

Long described as “a living national treasure”, Danny Spooner can make traditional music seem new and make new songs seem old.

Thanks to Brian for contributing to this post.

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