Died December 1968, Kenya
Also Known As Christine Elizabeth Lawton
Very popular South Australian folk singer from the 1960s. In her life, she released 3 LPs and made two trips to Vietnam but died tragically in a plane crash in Kenya December 1968 after apperaing in an Australian ABC-TV production "The Restless Years" in 1967.
Her second LP, titled Singing Bird, appeared approximately 6 months after the first and, once again, the choice of material reflected her deep and passionate interest in British folk song. Though Tina preferred her first album, public and critic alike received Singing Bird just as enthusiastically. Adelaide reviewer, Graham Reade, was in no doubt that she “is this country's best female singer of folk songs”. Again, she was supported on the album by harpist Hew Jones and also by the flautist Russell King.
Tina LawtonHer third and final LP, Fair & Tender, was considered by many to be her best, revealing a mature development in her voice and in her interpretation of the songs. While the rich tradition of British folk song again supplied the material, the musical arrangements, this time provided by jazz musician Don Burrows, all reflected a greater sophistication in her approach. Burrows himself played flute, while George Golla (guitar), Lal Kuring (cello) and Herbie Marks (virginal, piano accordion) made up the highly accomplished musical support.
Her mother remembered Tina's enormous appreciation for her accompanists, to whom she would send 'thank-you' notes adorned with her sketches. Don Burrows recalled after her death how “she would often drop me a little 'thank you' note, always with some funny little drawing. How I wish I had kept them! Tina was such a good person to work with; she always knew exactly what she wanted in the music. This type of professionalism is only found in real artists and 'near enough' was never 'good enough' for her.”
Tina made at least two concert trips to Vietnam. The first was a brief tour under the auspices of the Australian Forces Overseas Fund as a member (with Tim McNamara and Lee Gallagher) of an entertainment group to perform for the Australian troops soon after their arrival in the war zone. In doing so she alienated some of her more radical folksinger friends with whom she had performed at 'protest' concerts but, though hurt by some of their comments, she believed what she was doing was right and went ahead.
On her return from this first tour she was interviewed on Adelaide television by Joan Disher and performed the song 'The Cruel War' with a depth of passion and conviction that many have never forgotten. During this and her later visit her letters and sketchbooks were filled with acute observations on the suffering of the local population and the young boys, American and Australian, sent to kill, die and be maimed in the jungles of Vietnam.
In mid-1967 she left Adelaide for the last time, booked for a concert tour of Singapore, Malaysia, Bangkok, Manila and Vietnam. At the end of July, when she reached Saigon, her contract broke down Tina overseasand she was left stranded without money, accommodation or work. Instead of returning home, however, she accepted a contract with the US Army to undertake a military hospital tour of the Pacific region that would begin in Vietnam and take in Japan, the Philippines, Bangkok and Guam. It was an exhausting tour, both physically and emotionally, and by the time she returned to Saigon in October her voice was in dire need of a rest.
From South-east Asia Tina flew, via India, to Europe where she traveled through Greece and Italy before heading to England. In London she made the decision to go north to Glasgow to continue her studies in art that had been interrupted when she left Australia. Arriving in Glasgow in December 1967, she enrolled as a fourth year student in the Printmaking Section of the Department of Graphic Design at the Glasgow School of Art.
She settled into life in Glasgow and immersed herself in her studies. Music during this time definitely 'took a back seat'. Indeed, her mother remarked that “during those twelve months in Glasgow, only a few close friends even knew that Tina could sing.” Her experiences in Vietnam had resulted in a re-evaluation of her life and recognition of deeper realities than the superficial glamour of the entertainment world. Though she retained her love of singing, she found that the maturity she had gained over the past year had now given her something to “say” through her art and she meant to pursue this. She was determined, recalled her mother, to not again become “so involved in singing that she might not complete her Art course.”
Nevertheless, she did make a number of public performances during her time in Britain. After being persuaded to sing at a charity concert at Kelvin Hall in Glasgow, she was approached by Scottish Television to participate in a new show to be produced in Edinburgh. In this she was able to sing and design the graphics that accompanied her performance. The BBC also approached her for occasional television and radio work and she fielded offers of some local 'live' club work. But, despite this interest and the occasional social contact with professional folksingers like Nina & Frederick and Peter, Paul & Mary, she resolutely resisted the temptation to return to “the rat-race of show-biz”.
At the end of 1968, as winter approached, Tina accepted an invitation from an old Adelaide friend, Graham Wright, to spend Christmas in Kenya. Wright was working in Africa as a free-lance pilot and was able to arrange a free return flight for her on a charter aircraft. The only condition he put on her accepting his offer was: “bring your guitar and sing for your supper!”
She arrived in Nairobi on 22 December and, after spending the weekend in Mombasa, she, Graham Wright and his friend Chris Paul, flew out of Nairobi en route to Lake Baringo where they planned to spend Christmas. They never arrived, the small Comanche aircraft in which they travelled crashing into the crater of Mount Longonot soon after take-off. The wreckage was not discovered until several days later and, on December 28th, a rescue party climbed into the crater and located the bodies of the three victims. The nature of the terrain made recovery impossible and a decision was made to bury them in shallow graves on the crater floor. The Accident Investigation Report concluded that, flying inside the crater, the pilot had been blinded as he banked directly into the rays of the setting sun.
A memorial service was held in St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Nairobi, on Friday 17thJanuary 1969 and, later, a stone memorial cairn was erected on the rim of the crater. In Adelaide, her death was the lead story in the Advertiser (30th December 1968), a new organ was dedicated to her memory in the family's church and an exhibition of her drawings, graphics and oil paintings was mounted at the Bonython Gallery in North Adelaide the following year.