Memories of an ageing Folkie

Memoirs of a Folksinging Man.

In the days before Rhyl Folk Club was born (i.e. back in the early sixties) a few local folkies used to get together for a singaround in the pub. I was not part of that pioneering group because I was, at that time, living in London and bluffing my way through a degree course. However, I was courting (now there’s a word you don’t hear nowadays) Carole, my future wife, whose family lived in Rhyl. Carole it was, who found out about those pioneers and took me along to one of their sessions which I think was at the Red Lion in Dyserth. Memory of those far off days can be a bit hazy now but I think those present included John Prys, Dick Davies, Keith Price and the late, great Ted Robshaw. We had a few pints and a few songs and it was a great session. I believe the year was 1964.

Fast forward now to 1968, by which time there was a fully fledged Folk Club at The Bee Hotel in Rhyl and I and my wife Carole had moved to Rhyl following a stint working for UNESCO in West Africa. Inevitably we found our way to the Bee and the first person I remember speaking to as we walked through the door was Haydn Smith. The aforementioned pioneers were also in evidence and the club was going from strength to strength as the popularity of folk music bloomed nationwide.

In the early seventies the club was very fortunate (in my opinion) when Haydn Smith, Keith Price and Ted Robshaw joined forces to form a group called Mint Julep. The majority of their repertoire comprised traditional English folk songs with strong tunes and strong choruses which the audience would join in with gusto. I’m thinking of stuff like ‘Dido Bendigo’, ‘Boston Harbour’ and ‘Liverpool Judies’. Mint Julep became popular on the North West folk scene generally and often went off gigging round other clubs and around the same time they made an L.P. (remember those?) called ‘Three Chains of Gold’ (some tracks from which are included on our club’s 50th anniversary club CD).

By 1975 the combination of day jobs, raising families and running the Rhyl Folk Club became onerous so Keith Price asked me to take over the organising of the club, which I did. Mint Julep still sang at the club as often as they could, in fact that was the main reason for shifting the club night from Friday to Sunday at that time. The logic was that they were much more likely to be away gigging on a Friday than a Sunday so the change would enable them to maintain their links with the club.

At first the change to Sunday did no harm at all and there was an extended period of high turnouts which enabled me to afford numerous guests including legendary names like Alex Campbell, Peter Bellamy, Cyril Tawney and Martin Carthy. We also ran for the first time a hugely popular series of ceilidhs at the Queen’s Hotel on the promenade with my friends from the Chester folk scene, ‘The Clog and Whippet Band’. Eventually, however, the numbers at the club dwindled and it was decided to switch back to Fridays. At the same time my job situation made it impossible for me to run the club any more and up stepped Dave Costello and Daryll Morley to take over. And so it goes on. The club has had its ups and downs but continues to survive and even to thrive and long may it do so.

Brian Bull

 

 

 

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2 Responses to “Memories of an ageing Folkie”

  1. Dave Rothwell Says:

    My Life in a Stolen Moment*
    *My Life in a Stolen Title!
    After reading Brian’s folking history, I was encouraged to follow his example. I lived in London just after him and he thought it would be good for a continuation of the story!
    I first started going to folk clubs around 1963 or 4, with a girlfriend called Anne Watters. Her family was from Belfast and were great friends of the McPeake Family. We went to the Pack Horse Hotel on Bridge Street in Manchester. The regular singers were Harry Boardman and Dave Hillier, and there was a magic fiddle player called Eddie Lenegher. Mostly traditional folk music was played, but one night a lad got up and sang a song by someone called Bob Dylan. It was The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol, and I was blown away.
    The Free Trade Hall had plenty of good acts. I saw the Festival of the Blues there in 1964; Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Joe Turner, Sleepy John Estes, Sonny Terry and Lightnin’ Hopkins were on the tour, together with an exotic Sugar Pie de Santo. Later, I also went to see his Bobness (twice, including the infamous ‘Judas’ night), Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, Joan Baez (whose special guest was Donovan), and the Incredible String Band.
    I started at catering college in 1965, which is where I met Ellie. I ran the folk club there, and sang badly, as well as flunking at singers night at the Manchester Sports Guild, which was near the Jungfrau Club, behind the cathedral. We also used to visit the Manchester Cavern, a cellar on Cromford Court, where the Arndale Centre is now. I saw the Kinks there, and caught Ray Davies’ harmonica when he threw it into the crowd in a fit of pique. This club later became the Magic Village, and I went there to see the duo Tyrannosaurus Rex. At the famous Twisted Wheel, on Brazennose Street, I saw John Lee Hooker, and Cyril Davies All Stars. Rod Stewart and, I think, Julie Driscoll were his vocalists. Other idols I managed to catch were: John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (Mick Taylor on lead) at the Sale Locarno, and Alexis Korner with the Victor Brox Blues Train at the White Lion in Withington.
    I left Manchester in 1968 and began an apprenticeship at Grosvenor House, Park Lane, W1. The lack of money was not, at first, an obstacle. I came out with £9 a week, and the rent on our Primrose Hill flat was £3. Food was free at the hotel, so there was plenty of cash left to fritter away on records and concerts.
    A gang of us, all trainee chefs, went to concerts together. At Les Cousins, on Greek Street in Soho, we saw Bert Jansch, John Renbourne, Stefan Grossman, John Martyn, a strange piano playing maniac called Ron Geesin, and ‘The Sophisticated Beggar’, Roy Harper, who performed McGoohan’s Blues, a song that took up the whole of his second set. We later saw Roy at St Pancras Town Hall; he was all but blotto, but put on a terrific show all the same. I particularly liked his song Highgate Cemetery, which he sang across the sound hole of his guitar to make it sound more eerie.
    Occasionally we trooped to The Fishmongers Arms in Wood Green. There we saw Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Yes, and the compelling Jethro Tull. A special trip to the Manor House in Finsbury Park got us stationed by the speakers to see (and hear) the great Alvin Lee with his blues group Ten Years After. At the Roundhouse, Chalk Farm, which was near our flat, we got tickets for The Incredible String Band’s pantomime, ‘U’. The air was thick with the smoke from exotic herbs. Then, there was something called The Pop Proms at the Royal Albert Hall (going up a class!) in 1969. We saw the Creds again, together with Pentangle, and Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, supported by Duster Bennett, a blues one-man-band. Another concert that really stands out in my memory was free, and in the open air. It was a double header: Jefferson Airplane (Grace at her most Slick) and Pink Floyd. It could have been even more wonderful if it had not been raining and the stage obscure by the multitude of umbrellas.
    I got married to Ellie in October 1969 and the spending of money had to stop, temporarily. Apprenticeship finished, I moved back to Manchester in June 1970, and got a job working in a nightclub. I could start namedropping all over again, as the place was popular with visiting stars, but enough is enough.
    In the 1970s when I was safely ensconced in a day job at Shell Chemicals, I had my evenings free. I used to go to The Well Green folk club in Hale. It was run by Pete Wilmott, and the resident band was The Cheshire Folk. Some of the best acts of the time were booked, including Bob Williamson, Bernard Wrigley, The Oldham Tinkers, The Hooters, Gary and Vera, Jasper Carrot, and Mike Harding. I gave up trying to sing myself, after a disastrous rendition of San Francisco Bay Blues there. My fingers became stiff and my vocal chords were strangled. Leave it out Dave!

    • Dave Rothwell Says:

      Oops, I forgot to mention Leonard… I saw him at the Free Trade Hall, and also at King’s Hall, Belle Vue. ‘We love you, Leonard’, was a cry from the stalls!

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