August 17th, 2023Keep the legend simmering
Words and Image: Eve Lamb
In his day yesteryear Creswick identity Simon (Simmy) McDonald was something of a household name in folk music circles.
The well loved local character lived on his family property at Springmount just out of Creswick, without electricity, all his life (1906-1986) eking out a living from gold fossicking and agricultural work.
But he was also a fixture at local pubs, particularly Creswick’s American Hotel, where he would sing for food and beer.
At a time when ‘The Folk Wave’ was on and folk music was the Rap of its era, Simmy was called ‘the best traditional singer in the British style ever recorded in Australia’.
Possessing a “fantastic voice” and a splendid repertoire of Irish and Scottish folk songs, he was also “a self confessed alcoholic” and no stranger to the town’s historic courthouse.
He even spent a night in the adjacent lockup, an experience about which, in true folk legend style, he penned a poem.
However, despite his misadventures with the law, Simmy’s folk music talent was so considerable that many hours of recordings from 1959-1967, featuring both his music and himself in conversation, ended up in the National Archives in Canberra.
And it was there that current day local Neil Adam (pictured above, outside the old Creswick Courthouse Theatre, with one of Simmy’s album covers) unearthed this rich recorded legacy, after learning about Simmy, who was in danger of becoming lost to the mists of time.
The result is The Simmy Show which is playing at Creswick Theatre this Saturday evening August 19 as part of the wider Words in Winter festival.
The show was sold-out when staged previously during Cresfest and features live music and discussion from Neil, himself a talented guitarist and singer songwriter, carefully curated excerpts from those precious archival recordings with Simmy himself, and also live music by Ballarat Irish folk singer Paddy Caulfield.
“Simon McDonald lived at Springmount just outside of Creswick, Victoria and became a bit of a household name in music circles during the Folk Revival of the 1950s and 60s,” Neil says.
“He made an LP of songs, a book was written about him, and there are hours of old reel-to-reel recordings of interviews with him. He had a fantastic voice.
“The old courthouse is a great place to stage this show because Simmy was an occasional ‘performer’ at the courthouse himself for public misbehaviours.
“He called himself an alcoholic and he wrote a poem about being locked up in 1939.
“He used to perform at The American (hotel in Creswick) where they paid him in food and alcohol. He had a great repertoire of songs and he kept these 200 songs alive in his head because it was helping him survive.”
Neil, who is also Creswick Theatre Company’s current president, describes this Saturday’s show as “half live music, half local history and half recordings from the National Library… So that makes it a show and a half,” he reckons.
Dollars raised from the show support the little courthouse theatre and tickets are available through Humanitix.
Neil says he’s also keen to get copies of the archival recordings with Simmy which are held in the National Archives made readily available at the Creswick library.