Danny Spooner was born to sing. The child’s family settled in to sing around the wireless, they sang around the piano at family knees-ups, they sang in the East End Dockland WW2 bomb shelter, and when the 13-y-o found work on a steam barge it was with a singing skipper who joined him up to three libraries and insisted that he read history and ‘tell him the tale’ (Bob always had a song to illustrate the story). Danny loved his work on the Thames and along the south coast, learning about the docks, the stretches and bridges of the Thames as he earned his ticket as a Waterman and Lighterman, and venturing further offshore as a tugman and as a trawler skipper. But ‘work on the water’ was evaporating as goods moved through the air instead, so Danny worked his passage on the passenger ship Canberra to test opportunities in Australia.
In Sydney then Melbourne he found a thriving music scene, jazz, 60s rock’n’roll and folk clubs (where people were paid to sing the very songs that had emigrated with him). Frank Traynors late night jazz club found that folk fans could fill the earlier part of the evening, dressed in duffle coats and desert boots and drinking coffee in candlelit rooms. Danny was inspired to recall his traditional British Isles songs of work and war, love and other pastimes. He read voraciously the social history of working people, and caught the ear of Weston Bate at the University of Melbourne, who got him on staff in History there in the 1970s. There he met Gael Shannon and their partnership lasted the rest of his life. The quiet life with her in Carlton balanced his boisterous public life, they moved together to Geelong and he worked at the brand new Deakin University and the Geelong College. Danny enjoyed earning his off-campus BA from Deakin and his DipEd from the University of Melbourne making a livelihood secondary teaching at Mowbray College. He took part in the Geelong Folk Club’s creation of the Port Fairy Folk Festival, and, jumped into Geelong’s busy theatre culture, appeared in Worzel Gummidge, Great Expectations, Fiddler on the Roof and My Fair Lady (the vigorous dance routines necessitated giving up smoking!). As folk clubs disappeared, he popped up on festival programs from Darwin to Georgetown. He sang solo, accompanying himself on concertina, guitar or the spoons. Nothing suited him better than finding the right songs to sing to a particular audience, his chat giving the story its social context that allowed the ancestors to speak directly. Danny believed that the song chose him to tell the story of a person (soldier, a miner or his wife, a farm labourer or a shearer).
A great fan of vinyl (9 recordings), he reluctantly began to record CDs (14) and found it painless. His final collection of Australian songs Now I’m home is due for release by mid-year.
In retirement he had more time to sing, finding the audiences of North America honoured him as a traditional singer, learned some of his British or Australian material and shared wonderful American songs with him. He was honoured to be invited by Richard Tognetti to join the Australian Chamber Orchestra on a national tour and a festival in Maribor, Slovenia. Recently his colleagues in the big extended folk music family combined for a 5-hour tribute concert in the Daylesford Town Hall.
The urban boy had found his true home in Daylesford in a vintage house under walnut trees, where he read books, prepared workshops on many themes, cooked and mowed ½ acre by hand. It was the perfect sanctuary. He was much loved by three generations of Gael’s family, reading to the children in dialects Wind in the Willows and Tolkien, and with his peers inspiring dinner table discussions about life the universe and everything.
Danny Spooner was an amazing man with infectious energy and personal warmth, great musicality and encyclopoedic knowledge His legacy will live long. A leading light in the folk revival from the 60s, Danny will be a massive loss to the folk movement in Australia where he was both a bedrock and benchmark. He was buried quietly in a bush cemetery near Daylesford, and is survived by his wife Gael, his English brother Terry and sister-in-law Marion, his Australian sisters-in-law Janet Shannon and Catriona Ebeling and their generations of children by whom he was much loved.