Memories of Danny Spooner (Circa 1960-66)
I first saw Danny when he walked onto the stage of a social club in East London. The band he was about to sing with had already assembled with their instruments, looking a bit uncomfortable in their brand new red jackets, courtesy of one of their proud dads. Danny had apparently refused to wear one, being scornful of formality and uniforms.
The band, ultimately known as The Tremeloes, needed professional photos to send to the BBC in hope of an audition. As assistant to the owner of a local studio, my job was to hand him the flash bulbs from our box of equipment.
Through the locked doors I could see a crowd gathering. I wondered why, until I heard the boys perform. They had good style, melodious harmonising, and a terrific soloist – Danny. He had instantly-recognisable charisma, and when the girls were allowed in, they ran to t the stage and obviously loved him. The Tremeloes went on to have a No.1 hit “Silence is Golden” but by that time Danny had left the group. I could see his and their potential and tried to persuade him to stay, but he didn’t want to spend time in rehearsals after a hard day’s work on the Thames barges, nor to go touring.
Danny came to the studio personally to pick up the proofs later that week and to my surprise asked if he could wait till I’d finished work and walk me to the bus-stop. He thought I was a bit la-di-da on the social scale compared with his (proudly) Cockney upbringing, so I played up to that a bit just to tease him. I’d travelled all over Europe and been out with lots of boys but Danny seemed more manly and genuine than any of them. And ultra-protective. Too protective as it turned out. He was proud of his boxing prowess and did well as a lightweight during his 2-year National Service army training. However, he had a keen eye for anyone looking in my direction, or even asking me to dance at functions, and would invite them to ‘step outside’!!
After National Servic e in the army he returned to his former work as a lighterman – a highly-skilled trade towing strings of barges full of goods loaded from ships and delivered along the River Thames to various depots between the Port of London and Isleworth. This meant navigating the complex tides, currents and bridges along the way.
The day we got engaged we queued to see “Psycho”. Neither of us had experienced a shower (in those days most houses only had baths) and after watching the famous knifing scene, Danny declared he never would have one! It became a family joke.
When we were married we moved into a council house with his two brothers (his mother remarried). Suddenly I had sons! They were nice boys and the three of them used to play air guitars to The Kingston Trio, Cliff Richard and The Shadows – amongst many more. The house was always filled with music. Girls wore feminine dresses with gathered skirts, straight tubes or shifts and high heels. No jeans at that time. Nor sneakers. Lace-up ‘Plimsols’ (no Velcro) as they were called were strictly for sports.
When the river trade diminished we emigrated to Australia in 1962 and joined my parents in Sydney. A kind aunt of mine bought Danny his first good guitar as a parting gift. He (and I) learnt a range of chords easily and on board ship (the s.s. Canberra) he sometimes became part of the entertainment for passengers. I was far too shy to get up and sing with him.
We were housed in a migrant hostel at Burwood – a suburb of Sydney – until we could find work and a flat. We were (and still are) known as ‘Ten Pound Poms’.
It was hard for Danny to find work in Sydney, as the water-workers’ unions were closed shops. I found a job with a photographer and also taught myself shorthand-typing to broaden my options. I tried encouraging Danny to study a subject of his choice at night-school but this didn’t interest him, and eventually the difference in our attitudes to personal advancement wrecked our relationship. Counselling hadn’t helped except to make me realise we should never have married. I consider it was mostly my fault, but divorce set me free to follow my own ambitions.
We met occasionally without acrimony and I followed his new career path with great interest. I heard he was being guided into further education by a caring woman, which pleased me greatly. At last he was going to use his obviously good brain.
By that time the folk-scene was in full swing and Danny found other singer-guitarists to play with – amongst them I believe Gary Shearston who attained a large following.
I returned to England in 1966 and 13 years later was offered a job transfer to Melbourne by an American company. Ironically, the first man I met socially – a well-known larrikin academic - happened to know Danny extremely well and filled me in on their joint antics. I was delighted to learn that he had met people who each took him on as a worthy cause, and in turn ‘did them proud’. I went along to hear him play a couple of times in Melbourne, and when our mutual friend Dinny O’Hearn died, met Danny’s new wife Gael at the wake.
I can now turn my part of Danny’s story over to her – I know it will be in very good hands.
Joanna White (nee Joan Spooner / White)