Farewell Danny Spooner

It’s taken me a while to think this through but I wanted to farewell one of the great mentors in my life properly. 

Danny Spooner was a constant in my life. He never really changed and I guess, like many, I thought he would go on forever. So it came as a shock when I heard he was ill. I don’t recall him ever being sick. The man was indestructible! That was part of his legend, he was always there, always chirpy and always “up for it”. I am really pleased I was able to see him a week or two before he died. It was important to touch base, even if only for a few minutes. 

I played fiddle for Danny on and off for nearly 30 years and I am honoured to have done so. There were large gaps in our playing together when I was really busy with bands or he was doing something different but, just when I started thinking it was finished the phone would ring “Hello Pat, it’s Danny. Ow are ya mate? I’ve got a luvly little gig at (fill in the gap) and I thought it would be great if maybe you and I could do it togever. What do ya reckon? And by the way, ave you got any of those strings you gave me last time?” And so we’d do “a little practice” somewhere, do a couple of shows, agree to do more and then life would get in the way again. That’s how it would go. 

Danny was timeless. Thinking about it now I can remember minute details of gigs we did together but they all roll into the same gig and I couldn’t tell you when they happened. It could be two years ago or twenty. One of the reasons it’s hard to pin down is he paid absolutely no attention to trends or directions in folk music so there are no “this era or that era” chronological guides to go by. That’s not to say he didn’t develop or change. He certainly did, in fact his repertoire was constantly evolving, it was hard to keep up with and I decided at some point that he lived in a parallel universe where there was an entirely different repertoire that everyone knows and he would spend most of his time there, occasionally visiting ours with a new swag of songs. I’m pretty sure the lads in the shanty group from Port Fairy would say the same thing. Where on earth did he get his songs from? He never wrote one as far as I know. He used to say “why bother when there are so many great songs out there”? Why bother indeed if you’re tapped into this limitless resource of songs? 

I don’t remember when I first saw Danny perform. I suppose it would have been at the Geelong Folk Club in the late 70s or early 80s bit I do remember out first practice session. He had been coming to the Tuesday night session at the Golden Age Hotel in Geelong where I was a regular at the time. It must have been in the mid 80s. I was devouring the Martin Carthy / Dave Swarbrick records at the time and learning the tunes off them which fitted into what Danny was doing. Somehow he plucked me out of the crowd of players there and asked me to come around to his house in Newtown, Geelong. I turned up with my fiddle and we started playing. I remember he asked me not to sit on the arms of the couch as “Gayle would do ‘er lolly” if she saw me sitting on them. We started doing gigs soon afterwards. 

To say I learnt a lot from Danny doesn’t do his influence on me justice. To quote Isaac Newton “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Danny is one of my giants. To put it another way, every time I play or perform carry a few people with me and Danny Spooner is probably top amongst them. He showed me how internal rhythms work. Not the written stuff, the organic rhythms that make a song or tune live. That all important swing. He was an absolute master at this. You’d have to be if so much of your performances are acapella or backed by the simple drones of a concertina. He would intuitively strip a song to its bare essence and then sing it as if that was the only way it could be sung. As a fiddle player I would love getting into those little patterns and twisting them and falling off the pitches and rhythms the way he did with his voice. As a guitar player I couldn’t do it at all. None of my approaches would work with Danny. Pete Daffy could and so, in the earlier days, could Gordon McIntyre. I think I could probably do it now; sadly I will never get the chance. 

Danny also taught me the power of storytelling. I used to watch in awe as he spun the magical web with his stories about the people behind the songs and the historical context of the music, often bringing it home with reference to situations today. Having said that, I’m not sure how political Danny was. He obviously identified with his working class roots and loved the songs of people like Alastair Hewlett and Ewen MacColl. They formed a large part of his repertoire (the obscure ones of course) but in our conversations I thought he was more of a pragmatist than one would imagine of a well known folk singer. I suppose the historian in him was more interested in the general spread of human kind than a straight out folk singer would be. I take great pride that people are now calling me a story teller / singer songwriter. That’s Danny’s legacy right there. 

One of the things I loved about Danny was his complete lack of interest in what my brother Richard calls “the Celebrity Cult”. Fame and reputation meant nothing to Danny. He liked you, or he didn’t. The same went for music. He would wax lyrical about some unknown player he had seen who really impressed him and be oblivious to the “big names” around the folk world, unless he liked their music. Similarly every gig was the same to Danny. I played with him to six people standing under a gum tree and to over a thousand people in concert halls. To him they were all the same and he treated each one the same way. This meant, for me, that I could find myself playing a song I’d never heard before, onstage, in front of hundreds of people. He was fearless and would launch into something he hadn’t done in years, confident he’d get through to the end. He never, ever apologized for getting something wrong or for slipping up. He’d just flash his cheeky grin (as if he’d meant to do it) and push on regardless. 

You could tell when Danny was “on” and he usually was. I would watch his feet. Once they started to move you knew it was going to be a good show. Anthony O’Neill talks about the music coming up from the ground through your feet and I think Danny (consciously or otherwise) tapped into this. Those driving rhythms would start in his feet and come through his whole body, the concertina would sway and everything he had would be committed to the song. It was grand to watch, especially from beside him on the stage. 

I’ve just realized I haven’t mentioned his voice. He was a bloody great singer with a huge range and immense power. He often refused to use a microphone, he just didn’t need it. I learnt to enjoy acoustic performances with him. I was brought up playing through PA gear so it was a big learning curve for me. Now I prefer to play acoustically if I possibly can. 

So there you go. Danny was my friend, but, probably because of our age difference he was more of a mentor, maybe even a father figure to me. I respected him enormously and I will never forget the huge positive impact he has had on my life and music. Above all I’ll miss him. I’ll miss those phone calls out of the blue and the random coming together of gigs with him and lately Peter Daffy. I’ll miss those dancing feet and the little giggles when something either comes unstuck or comes brilliantly together. I’ll miss those Port Fairy breakfasts with him and Gayle. The last time I saw him was at his wonderful tribute concert at the Daylesford Town Hall. When we parted we agreed to get together soon to “have a play”. I think both of us knew it would never happen but we were both content to pretend it might. If there is an afterlife I hope he’s having the time of his afterlife catching up and having a play with some of his old mates, and I hope, when the time comes, I’ll be there too, with my fiddle… ‘aving a play…

26 comments

  • Gary Chapman

    Gary Chapman Brisbane

    Just beautiful Pat. A wonderful tribute to a man I never had the pleasure of knowing.

    Just beautiful Pat. A wonderful tribute to a man I never had the pleasure of knowing.

  • Geoff

    Geoff McArthur

    Incredibly beautiful piece Pat. I can hear him talking when you describe it. Well done.

    Incredibly beautiful piece Pat. I can hear him talking when you describe it. Well done.

  • Shirley Power

    Shirley Power Geelong

    Well you've summed up Danny beautifully Patrick. I met him in The Bush Inn in 1969 when the Folk Club operated on Friday nights. I was singing She Moved Through The Fair unaccompanied & when I began the second verse I heard this quiet vocal droning coming from the left hand side of the audience. I loved this effect but I had to concentrate to get all the words of the verses correct....I was enchanted with this droning! I met Danny during the interval before he started his bracket....being the main act of the evening. That was the beginning of many happy singing sessions over the years. He was a major influence on so many people. I'm proud to have to have known him as a singer/musician & friend. I never heard him say an unkind word about anyone.

    Well you've summed up Danny beautifully Patrick. I met him in The Bush Inn in 1969 when the Folk Club
    operated on Friday nights. I was singing She Moved Through The Fair unaccompanied & when I began
    the second verse I heard this quiet vocal droning coming from the left hand side of the audience. I loved this effect but I had to concentrate to get all the words of the verses correct....I was enchanted with this droning! I met Danny during the interval before he started his bracket....being the main act of
    the evening. That was the beginning of many happy singing sessions over the years. He was a major
    influence on so many people. I'm proud to have to have known him as a singer/musician & friend.
    I never heard him say an unkind word about anyone.

  • Michael Fix

    Michael Fix Brisbane

    A moving tribute, Pat. You painted a beautiful picture with your words.

    A moving tribute, Pat. You painted a beautiful picture with your words.

  • Maria Forde

    Maria Forde Taradale

    Pat the love, respect and awe you have for Danny shines through your words. Beautiful

    Pat the love, respect and awe you have for Danny shines through your words. Beautiful

  • Glenn

    Glenn Warrandyte

    Lovely words Pat

    Lovely words Pat

  • Shane

    Shane Port Fairy

    A lovely honouring Pat. Danny was the bomb but he was never the boss. He integrated his politics completely into his life and he was what he appeared to be. As you say, he was never deceived by fame or any of the irrelevant trappings of vanity. He has taught us all so much about the true meaning of being a folk singer and musician.

    A lovely honouring Pat. Danny was the bomb but he was never the boss. He integrated his politics completely into his life and he was what he appeared to be. As you say, he was never deceived by fame or any of the irrelevant trappings of vanity. He has taught us all so much about the true meaning of being a folk singer and musician.

  • Michael Doyle

    Michael Doyle Melbourne

    Beautifully said Patrick and a fitting tribute. I only wish now that I had known Danny as well as you did. I will have to be content with the few brief encounters I had and the memories of his inimitable performances. May he Rest In Peace.

    Beautifully said Patrick and a fitting tribute. I only wish now that I had known Danny as well as you did. I will have to be content with the few brief encounters I had and the memories of his inimitable performances. May he Rest In Peace.

  • Gary Banks

    Gary Banks Torquay

    You have captured the man and honoured him beautifully. Thank you Pat

    You have captured the man and honoured him beautifully. Thank you Pat

  • ELvis

    ELvis BarFLy at Irish Murphys Geelong

    A dam fine piece may he not rest in peace and raise hell instead.

    A dam fine piece may he not rest in peace and raise hell instead.

  • ANDREW AND PATRICK BEALE

    ANDREW AND PATRICK BEALE COROROOKE

    Was a wonderful; man who instilled in others the same greatness. May he live on through the likes of yourself Patrick

    Was a wonderful; man who instilled in others the same greatness. May he live on through the likes of yourself Patrick

  • Mick Josephson

    Mick Josephson TASMANIA

    A very touching and beuatiful tribute Patrick! .. even the name sounds like a folk song 'Farewell Danny spooner'

    A very touching and beuatiful tribute Patrick! .. even the name sounds like a folk song 'Farewell Danny spooner'

  • Wendy Reed

    Wendy Reed East Germany

    Pat, Thank you for your wonderful comments and tribute to Danny. What a great mentor you had while sharing the musical journey. Danny was a man whom you met, heard sing, and never forgot. Thinking also of Gayle at this sad time.

    Pat,
    Thank you for your wonderful comments and tribute to Danny.
    What a great mentor you had while sharing the musical journey.
    Danny was a man whom you met, heard sing, and never forgot.
    Thinking also of Gayle at this sad time.

  • James Henry

    James Henry Frankston, Melbourne

    I'm coming from outside of folk circles, had heard of, but knew very little of Danny, but now having read this, your moving tribute, I was moved to google and youtubeing Danny and it's great there's quite a bit of him out there - wow thanks for being my link to this amazing man! and I'd love to hear more from you about your experiences, the music... I didn't even know you played fiddle!!

    I'm coming from outside of folk circles, had heard of, but knew very little of Danny, but now having read this, your moving tribute, I was moved to google and youtubeing Danny and it's great there's quite a bit of him out there - wow thanks for being my link to this amazing man! and I'd love to hear more from you about your experiences, the music... I didn't even know you played fiddle!!

  • Diane Priestley

    Diane Priestley Kent, UK

    Thanks Patrick for sharing this eloquent and deeply touching tribute to our dear old mate, Danny. I first interviewed Danny for the Geelong Advertiser in 1986 and that double-page spread about our National Treasure was one of the best newspaper stories I've every written because Danny, the great character and great talent that he was made it easy to wax lyrical. We became friends then and stayed friends over the decades despite the distance. But Danny was like that wasn't he - a true friend to so many. Your tribute has done him proud. His music will live on always, as a mighty legacy and gift to the world.

    Thanks Patrick for sharing this eloquent and deeply touching tribute to our dear old mate, Danny.
    I first interviewed Danny for the Geelong Advertiser in 1986 and that double-page spread about our National Treasure was one of the best newspaper stories I've every written because Danny, the great character and great talent that he was made it easy to wax lyrical.
    We became friends then and stayed friends over the decades despite the distance. But Danny was like that wasn't he - a true friend to so many.
    Your tribute has done him proud. His music will live on always, as a mighty legacy and gift to the world.

  • Trevor (Caseguy)

    Trevor (Caseguy) Belmont

    A wonderful tribute Pat, to a wonderful man, who will live in our hearts forever.

    A wonderful tribute Pat, to a wonderful man, who will live in our hearts forever.

  • Greg C

    Greg C Victoria

    Nice. Nicely said. Memories. Keep them close. Listen to his music and relive the time you spent with Danny. Smile big Pat. Greg

    Nice. Nicely said. Memories. Keep them close. Listen to his music and relive the time you spent with Danny. Smile big Pat.

    Greg

  • Andy Busuttil

    Andy Busuttil Blue Mountains NSW

    Danny crossed so many bridges. He was just a delight. A sweet, loving and gentle man who cared for the best things in life and when he loved you, you felt loved! There will never be an encore.

    Danny crossed so many bridges. He was just a delight. A sweet, loving and gentle man who cared for the best things in life and when he loved you, you felt loved! There will never be an encore.

  • Karen Star

    Karen Star Florida, USA

    I can't believe I will never see him again. So talented, so much fun. A beautiful write-up. Sail off on a song, Danny.

    I can't believe I will never see him again. So talented, so much fun. A beautiful write-up. Sail off on a song, Danny.

  • Julie Castles

    Julie Castles Newcastle NSW

    Great memories of Danny leading a cast of thousands in farewell concerts at festivals' ending. Yes, he & Gordon McIntyre were exquisite together. Thanks for your lovely tribute. Farewell Danny.

    Great memories of Danny leading a cast of thousands in farewell concerts at festivals' ending. Yes, he & Gordon McIntyre were exquisite together. Thanks for your lovely tribute. Farewell Danny.

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous Brisbane

    Thank you Patrick for your tribute to our dear mate Danny - he is sadly missed. He was a big part of the early days at Maleny Folk Festival when we all had the energy (and age) to work all day, then play (up) all night - and Danny was one of the crew at all times - very mutually respectful to all our contributions to the festival; always ready with a bottle of red and a song at the end of a long day. Miss you mate :)

    Thank you Patrick for your tribute to our dear mate Danny - he is sadly missed. He was a big part of the early days at Maleny Folk Festival when we all had the energy (and age) to work all day, then play (up) all night - and Danny was one of the crew at all times - very mutually respectful to all our contributions to the festival; always ready with a bottle of red and a song at the end of a long day. Miss you mate smile

  • Joseph Morneault

    Joseph Morneault Connecticut, USA

    Bless you Patrick, this is a wonderful tribute to a wonderful man.

    Bless you Patrick, this is a wonderful tribute to a wonderful man.

  • Barbara Cuenin

    Barbara Cuenin Long Island, New York USA

    So beautiful..... our family will never forget Danny's friendship.. Thank you for this....I will only add one thing....when Danny was singing and he looked out at the crowd, you always felt he was singing to you and you alone.

    So beautiful..... our family will never forget Danny's friendship.. Thank you for this....I will only add one thing....when Danny was singing and he looked out at the crowd, you always felt he was singing to you and you alone.

  • Cathy Rytmeister

    Cathy Rytmeister Sydney

    Thanks for this lovely piece about Danny. He is missed so much, by so many. You've captured him beautifully - above all his sense of commitment to the songs - it was always about the songs. Such a privilege to have known him and seen and heard his music over the years. Thanks again and best wishes.

    Thanks for this lovely piece about Danny. He is missed so much, by so many. You've captured him beautifully - above all his sense of commitment to the songs - it was always about the songs. Such a privilege to have known him and seen and heard his music over the years. Thanks again and best wishes.

  • monica

    monica frizell

    Thank you for sharing those memories of Danny in such a thoughtful way. I'm so grateful that l witnessed some of Danny's performances here in the states.

    Thank you for sharing those memories of Danny in such a thoughtful way. I'm so grateful that l witnessed some of Danny's performances here in the states.

  • Pete Roper

    Pete Roper Ceres

    Oh Pat! A brilliant description of THE man. My story of Danny is asking him about "some song about hunting hares in Lincolnshire". at Maldon one year. He launched into it. I explained I had just caught up (after 50 years) with a UK born Canadian (Rod) whose dad used to sing it and Rod couldn't recall it properly. Danny said "Got a recorder?" Yes. So we duly met up and he patiently sang it for me. Played it back and got the radio program it was tuned to . . it could not record other than from its radio! Danny gave his laugh and said "we'll sort it next time". Next time never comes does it? Vale Danny.

    Oh Pat! A brilliant description of THE man. My story of Danny is asking him about "some song about hunting hares in Lincolnshire". at Maldon one year. He launched into it. I explained I had just caught up (after 50 years) with a UK born Canadian (Rod) whose dad used to sing it and Rod couldn't recall it properly. Danny said "Got a recorder?" Yes. So we duly met up and he patiently sang it for me. Played it back and got the radio program it was tuned to . . it could not record other than from its radio! Danny gave his laugh and said "we'll sort it next time". Next time never comes does it? Vale Danny.

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