Memories of the 60’s (Brian Bull)

Brian relives his youth…

The Swinging Sixties, Was I Really There?

One of my Christmas presents in 2014 was the recent book ‘From the Floor’ by J. P. Bean, an overview of the rise and fall (and rise again?) of folk clubs seen through the eyes of various singers and club organisers. Reading the early chapters took me back to my time in London in the swinging sixties and I decided to write my memories of those special days, special because of the friends I made and because I came into contact with many people who are now legends….Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger, Martin Carthy, Rambling Jack Elliot…..and many more.

Before we go any further, I must apologise for the sheer length of this memoir. I thought it might fill a couple of pages but then the memories came flooding back. I was in London for over five years you see and it was a busy time. Make yourself a cup of tea and relax into it.

London 1962

Now they do say that if you remember the sixties you weren’t there (know what I mean man?) so this could well be all balderdash on my part; I have no way of telling. If such things do not interest you anyway, just pass along quietly and find something else to do while I indulge myself.

The reason I was in London in 1962 was supposedly to study for a degree at the illustrious Imperial College of Science and Technology in South Kensington and I duly spent three years there bluffing my way through it all. I arrived in October ‘62, just in time for the coldest winter since the last Ice Age and was soon choking in thick smog and simultaneously wearing all five of the sweaters my Mum had knitted as I attempted to avoid the fate which is said to befall the proverbial brass monkey.

At that time I had a couple years of guitar playing experience under my belt and fancied myself as the next Django Rheinhardt, especially since I had just learned my fourth chord to add to the essential first three. A trip to the Imperial College Jazz Club auditions quickly convinced me I was out of my depth. I decided to stick to folk songs which, being simpler, might allow me half a chance of avoiding total humiliation. However, the College didn’t have a folk song club so I soon set about organising one, aided and abetted by a buddy called Roger Frost who was enduring the same course as me and knew at least five chords on the guitar. Now, unbeknown to us, the nascent Folk Revival was about to go into overdrive. Up to that point ‘folk’ was centred on a tiny handful of clubs in a handful of big cities but was virtually unknown to 99% of the population.Roger Frost (banjo) and me

Like most folkies of my age (71 now, since you’re wondering) my interest in folk music had been kindled a year or three earlier by a short lived phenomenon in the fifties known as the skiffle craze and my record collection was heavily skewed towards the hits of a certain Lonnie Donegan and his Skiffle Group     (Gamblin’ Man, Grand Coulee Dam, Tom Dooley etc…..anyone else remember them?). My earliest repertoire was full of that American stuff and my vocal and guitar style strongly emulated Lonnie’s high octane delivery.

I soon realised that these skiffle songs were mostly folk songs (as opposed to  pop songs) and had been originally recorded some decades earlier by people like Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and the Carter Family. In 1962 I had never heard any of those original recordings, since the average record shop was only interested in stocking large numbers of the latest hits by Cliff Richard and the Shadows. Minority interests like folk music couldn’t get a look in.

When I landed in London however, I soon realised it was a very different place from my home town of Burton-upon-Trent (Staffordshire). London was big; very, very big. This made it viable to have specialist music shops like Dobell’s  and Collet’s where you could buy proper folk (and jazz) records. So at last I got to hear Woody, Leadbelly, the Carters and many more.

Meantime, Roger Frost and I were getting together with a few like-minded students and strumming our way through the skiffle repertoire as best we could. This gradually gelled into a regular group, regular enough to give ourselves a name. I came up with ‘The Wayfarers’ which I thought sounded a bit hobo-ish, like Woody.  We began booking a college function room for a regular club and soon drew an audience who, like us, were young and enthusiastic and looking for something different. (We were all heartily sick of ‘Living Doll’ and ‘Bachelor Boy’). Folk music was certainly different and at that time was strongly associated with various protest movements like Anti Apartheid and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. We went on marches, we were a bit radical and we liked it that way. People like Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan obligingly provided us with some appropriate protest songs to sing and so ‘Where Have all the Flowers Gone‘  and ’Masters of War’ were soon rubbing shoulders in my repertoire with the more traditional ‘Wreck of the Old 97’.

The first folk club I sang in was at a pub just off the Kings Rd., Chelsea, about 20 minutes walk away from where I lived. I remember sitting there pooing myself waiting for my turn. Eventually I got up right at the very end of the night and did an extremely frantic version of ‘Darling Corey’. It was pretty dire I’m sure, but it was 1962, I was nineteen and I had made my folk club debut. A few months later the club closed down but I’m not taking the blame for that.

The Wayfarers meet the Ian Campbell Folk Group

The initial line up of The Wayfarers comprised the aforementioned Roger Frost on banjo, another student called Janet Colyer on vocals and me on guitar. We sang a mixture of American and British songs, mostly with choruses. We were soon joined by Chris Wright, a civil engineering student who was very versatile instrumentally; he would attempt to play anything. He mostly played mandolin with the Wayfarers.

 

We improved steadily and sometimes played at other colleges in London which were also trying to get folk clubs off the ground. The first such occasion I remember involved us going to a college (can’t remember which one) where the booked guests were the Ian Campbell Folk Group. At the time they were the most popular folk group in the country (although The Spinners might dispute that). We went along hoping to do a couple of songs but the organisers were nervous about letting us up. They said that they had heard that another professional folk singer, Dominic Behan, had gone on a rant a few days before at some club or other claiming that amateur singers were taking the bread out of the mouths of professionals like him. I thought ‘what nonsense’ or words to that effect.

 

The organisers didn’t seem to want to ask the Campbells about it so I went and spoke to Ian Campbell and he was very affable and quite relaxed about us doing a spot. He had expected to do the whole evening and I think he was probably quite pleased to have someone do warm up for him. We loved the Ian Campbell Group and especially their fiddle player, Dave Swarbrick. From then on I wanted to take the Wayfarers in that direction, to become like the Ian Campbell Group. They were very professional and knew how to get the audience singing. They had their own club in Birmingham, The Jug O’ Punch, which was packed every time and I’m not surprised. It reputedly held up to 400 people. I went with some friends to the Jug O’ Punch when I was home on vacation but we couldn’t get in; it was already packed to the rafters.

 

 

The Ian Campbell Group became our first paid guests at I. C. Folk Club and they went down a bomb, as I knew they would. That was some time in 1963. They came back again in 1964 and were even better; their stagecraft was remarkable. We had, by that time, moved our club to the Upper Refectory in the college as we had outgrown the smaller rooms we used at the beginning. We would get an audience of between 200 and 250 every time….amazing! Sometimes it was even as many as 400 (more about that later). Because the room was so large we used one microphone for the lead singer so that he or she could make themselves heard above the instruments. The Campbells were very clever at using that one microphone, the three instrumentalists stepping forward to the mic for instrumental breaks and then dropping back to make way for the singers. It was choreographed to perfection and we soon tried to copy it.

 

Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger

One of the very first folk clubs I went to was The Singers Club run by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. At that time (1962/63) they were meeting in a pub called ‘The Pindar of Wakefield’ near St. Pancras Station. The room was upstairs above the pub and probably held about 80 – 90 people. Ewan and Peggy sat on the stage, Ewan with his chair back to front as usual so he could lean forward with his arms folded across the back of the chair. When he sang he put his hand over one ear, a good trick for hearing your own voice more clearly so you can pitch correctly. Between songs he was smoking some awful thin black foreign cigarettes that filled the room with a really pungent smoke. It’s amazing he could sing at all smoking those things. Peggy sat beside him surrounded by her instruments, guitar, banjo, autoharp, concertina and Appalachian dulcimer.

 

Ewan and Peggy at The Singers’ ClubPeggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl, Enterprise Public House, London, late 1950s-early 1960s. Artist: Eddis Thomas

 

Also on stage with them was a Scottish singer called Enoch Kent. He’s been forgotten nowadays because he pushed off to Canada long ago but in the early sixties he was quite a big name on the scene, a good singer with really good presentation. If you’ve ever seen the sixties film ‘Tom Jones’ starring Albert Finney there’s a scene in Newgate Gaol with Enoch Kent singing on the soundtrack. I also saw him in a big concert at the Royal Festival Hall and he got the loudest applause of the night despite the fact that the bill included Ewan and Peggy, the Ian Campbell Group, Martin Carthy, Bert Lloyd and Pete Seeger. That was some achievement on his part, given the august company.

 

The Singer’s Club was a very serious club and I had the feeling that Ewan MacColl was very much in charge. Half way through the evening he spotted an Irish singer called Joe Heaney in the audience and went nuts……’why didn’t someone tell me Joe Heaney had come in?’ The guy on the door said ‘sorry Ewan, I didn’t Joe Heaneyrecognise him, he just came in and paid his money like everyone else’. Ewan still made a big fuss and didn’t really accept the apology. It was a bit embarrassing for all, probably for Joe Heaney too. He got Joe up to sing and he sang in a very strongly decorated style, completely unaccompanied. I felt like I’d stepped into a parallel Universe, I didn’t get it at all. I’d never heard anyone sing like that before. Even now I think it’s probably an acquired taste but for Joe Heaney, that was the music he had grown up with in Ireland so it was natural for him. At the time I didn’t realise it but Joe is recognised as one of the greatest of singers from the Irish tradition.

 

In retrospect however, I think I mistimed my visit to the Singers Club. A few weeks later who should turn up

there but a certain Bob Dylan complete with guitar, on his first trip to Britain and looking for floor spots in British folk clubs. Unfortunately I wasn’t there that night so we missed each other (he’s very disappointed about that). Ewan and Peggy didn’t think much of him by all accounts and I think he only performed there once but what a pity I missed his visit. I could have dined out on that for years.

 

We booked Ewan and Peggy for I. C. Folk Club a couple of times and they did a really professional night each time. On the second occasion I found myself, as the club organiser, in a one to one conversation with Ewan for about ten minutes during the beer break. It was a pretty one way conversation; he did most of the talking and I did most of the listening.  He was telling me about his experiences singing to Irish labourers in their pubs and clubs in London. He was of the opinion that they were much more knowledgeable than your average English audience concerning the technicalities of vocal decoration in folk singing. It was a lecture rather than a conversation and probably designed to show me how much more he knew than I did. I can see how he might have got up people’s noses at times but hey ho!, a great singer and a great songwriter.

 

 

The Wayfarers move on

When we resumed the second year of our course at Imperial College, Janet Colyer announced that she was leaving the group. She had just got married or was about to get married, can’t remember which. We soon found a replacement in Ann Hay. With her long blond hair she reminded people of Mary Travers (of Peter, Paul and Mary fame) and she was a good singer too.

 

About the same time a young first year student marched into my room carrying a fiddle case and asked if The Wayfarers would like a fiddle player. I said ‘go on, play me something’. I can’t remember what he played but before he left the room he had become a Wayfarer. His name was Dave Lambert, soon to be known to one and all as Fiddlin’ Dave. Our line up now consisted of Roger Frost (banjo/vocals), Chris Wright (mandolin/vocals), Dave Lambert (fiddle), Ann Hay (vocals) and yours truly on guitar/vocals. As you can imagine we had a very full sound, especially on those occasions when we were joined by a double bass player from the jazz club called Clive Heath. Our repertoire continued to be a mixture of American bluegrass and Old Timey numbers like ‘Foggy Mountain Top’ and ‘All the Good Times’ alongside British Isles trad songs like ‘The Leaving of Liverpool’ and ‘The Jug O’ Punch’. Lots of people had mixed repertoires like that in those days; it was nothing unusual.

 

In 1964 and again in 1965 we made an I. C. Folk Club L.P. aided and abetted by some of the club’s regular performers and by the College Electronic Society. I know everybody and his dog makes C.D.s nowadays with the technology we have available but it was a rare event in the early sixties for amateurs like us to make a record, especially a ‘home made’ one and to make two was unheard of. We limited the production to 99 copies in each case because if you made more than that you had to start paying purchase tax (the forerunner of VAT). We sold every last copy within a few weeks. The quality was rough by modern standards but I count myself lucky to have these souvenirs of those days featuring The Wayfarers and our regular floor singers.

 

Bill Clifton

My Wayfarers buddy, Roger Frost, came from Sevenoaks in Kent and often went home as it wasn’t too far away. One day he informed me that Bill Clifton, an American bluegrass star, had moved into the village and would be staying in Britain for a while to do some gigs. It wasn’t long, of course, before we booked him for I. C. Folk Club. He was a revelation; a really charming, laid back style; great singer and guitarist and a repertoire full of those instantly accessible Old Timey songs such as were sung by the Carter Family. We booked him three times I think.The Wayfarers with Bill Clifton

The Wayfarers singing with Bill Clifton (left to right Roger Frost, Dave Lambert, Bill Clifton, Ann Hay, Brian Bull and Chris Wright)

Bill had a neat trick of raising the neck of the guitar right up with his left hand while playing an instrumental break so that the sound hole of the guitar lined up with our single microphone and then dropping it back down to a normal

position as he resumed singing. I’ve never seen anyone else do that. He was also a good player on the autoharp, an instrument you rarely hear nowadays.

On one occasion we teamed up with him on stage to sing the old Carter Family classic, ‘Bury me Beneath the Willow’ . Fond memories!

 

The Settlers

Before I went to college in London I was picking up guitar tips from a school buddy called Mick Jones who was my age but a year or two ahead of me guitar-wise. He played in a local band in Burton and like me was a Lonnie Donegan fan. We went singing in the local pub a couple of times, much to his mother’s displeasure when she found out. He went to teacher training college in Birmingham, started going to Ian Campbell’s Jug O’ Punch Club and formed a group called The Settlers with Cindy Kent and John Fyffe. Mick dropped out of college and he and the group moved down to London (about the same time I went there) in order to ride the wave and turn professional.The Settlers

 

 

The Settlers rented a house in North London and I stayed with them a couple of times and did ‘warm-up’ for one of their concerts. They were very polished in that Peter, Paul and Mary vein and made quite a few records and did numerous TV appearances but unfortunately they were beaten to the punch by a visiting Aussie group called The Seekers who were ploughing the same furrow. The Seekers cornered the market with mega-hits like ‘I’ll Never Find Another You’ and ‘The Carnival is Over’ so my friends The Settlers didn’t hit the Big Time but they did continue to record and do TV for quite a few years.

 

The last I heard of my old friend Mick was that he was a local radio DJ in the West Country but just when I was half thinking of getting in touch again I heard he’d died of throat cancer.

 

 

Rambling Jack Elliot

One of several singers who came to I. C. Folk Club from the outside world was a chap called Derek Hall. Derek worked in a bank I think. He came to almost every one of our meetings and was the first person I met who had a Martin guitar and boy could he play it. He was expert at both flat picking and finger picking styles and most of his repertoire was borrowed from a very influential American singer called Rambling Jack Elliot. Rambling Jack had hung around with Woody Guthrie a few years earlier. In the 50’s and 60’s Jack spent time in the U.K.

 

                                                                                 Rambling Jack with a young Bob Dylan, early 60’sRambling Jack Elliot with a young Bob Dylan, early sixties

We had an opportunity to compare Derek’s playing directly with Rambling Jack’s when The Wayfarers and Derek Hall were booked to appear in a concert in North Kensington Town Hall which would be headlined by Rambling Jack himself. Unfortunately Jack had somehow managed to break his leg prior to the tour and when his turn came to perform he sat on the edge of a table placed in the middle of the stage. He was wearing his usual ten gallon Stetson cowboy hat and had his plaster-encased leg stuck out in front of him. It looked bizarre, like he had fallen off his horse.

 

He sang all of his well known songs, including ‘Muleskinner Blues’ and a lot of Woody Guthrie songs such as ‘Do – Re – Mi’. Derek Hall had the same songs in his repertoire and to be perfectly honest, as great as Rambling Jack was I think that Derek had the edge. How Derek never got discovered I don’t know. He was brilliant.

 

Don Partridge

London was full of folkies and near folkies in the early sixties, some of them trying to move up the ladder, some just enjoying the scene. One of them was a guy called Don Partridge who I met at a student party. He was a mate of Derek Hall’s and was, he confided in me once, more than a little over-awed by Derek’s guitar technique (weren’t we all?). Don had a good thing going as a one man band with guitar and harmonica, plus a big bass drum strapped to his back. He used to go busking and did quite well because he was good. Someone else must have thought so too because Don got fixed up with a recording contract. The result was a big hit called ‘Rosie’. Don also had one or two other hits after that but sadly we lost touch with him as he disappeared into the Show Biz maelstrom.

 

 

Don Partridge busking. I remember that jacket; snakeskin it was (or so he said).Don Partridge

Alex Campbell

One well known singer of the time who didn’t get booked at I. C. Folk Club was Alex Campbell. I had heard a lot about him and went to his club in London to see him and he was very, very funny and a natural entertainer but not that great a singer or guitarist. The fact is I wasn’t that interested in entertainment, I was interested in folk music and I could see that there were many much better singers and musicians around. Also, even in those early days, Alex had a reputation as a serious drinker and a tendency to be a bit unpredictable. I didn’t go for it, although if I had I can see that he would have gone down a bomb.

Alex Campbell

 

Among the resident singers at Alex’s club was an up and coming bluegrass duo called The Strawberry Hill Boys. They played banjo and guitar in true Flatt and Scruggs style but their repertoire also included some English traditional stuff because I distinctly remember them singing a great version of ‘High Germany’. A few years later they morphed into a folk/rock band called The Strawbs and had a huge hit with a song called ‘Part of the Union’.

 

As a footnote to the above, I recall in the mid seventies I booked Alex Campbell for Rhyl Folk Club (somewhat against my better judgement) and he fulfilled my worst fears. He was legless the whole evening I’m afraid and didn’t manage to finish a single song. He got away with it thanks to his irrepressible humour and the audience were rolling with laughter but personally I was appalled because the music was so awful. I was glad I hadn’t booked him for I. C.

 

Davy Graham

There were several legendary guitarists around the London folk scene in the sixties but the Daddy of them all was Davy Graham; he was always out in front, an innovator and a free spirit. He it was, reputedly, who invented the famous DADGAD guitar tuning. His guitar instrumental ‘Angie’ was copied by almost everyone (with varying results). Around 1964 he teamed up with a much respected singer and folklorist called Shirley Collins and they recorded an L. P.Davy Graham

entitled ‘Old Roots, New Routes’ (clever title eh?). It was full of traditional English songs sung by Shirley with Davy providing some avant garde guitar accompaniments. Nothing quite like it had been done before. On the strength of that album Shirley and Davy set out to do some gigs together. They didn’t do many, partly perhaps because Davy (like Alex Campbell) had a bit of a reputation, but one of the few gigs they did was at I. C. Folk Club. That was one to remember! Shirley, by the way, is now President of the EFDSS.

 

The very next evening I went with some friends for a pint in a pub off the Kings Rd., Chelsea and who should I find myself standing next to at the bar but Davy Graham, smartly dressed in a black leather jacket. He recognised me from the night before and introduced me to his mates and we chatted for a few minutes. He said how much he’d enjoyed the visit to I. C., but perhaps he would say that wouldn’t he? Did he buy me a pint? Don’t think so.

 

Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick

Dave Swarbrick accompanied Martin Carthy on his first couple of L. P.s even though he was still in the Ian Campbell Group at the time. Then he left the Campbells and went on tour with Martin. One of their early gigs was, of course, at I. C. Folk Club and what an utterly fantastic gig it was. My personal list of memorable gigs has this one at the very top. They were just sensational, nobody else was in the same league. They demonstrated just how good English folk music could be and I’ve never forgotten it. However many crap performances I endure from others, it doesn’t matter because now I know how good it can be.

Carthy & Swarbrick

They worked their way through some of the many great songs on Martin’s first two albums and interspersed them with instrumental sets of jigs and reels and even a ragtime piece. They were clearly enjoying every minute of it themselves; the chemistry between them was astonishing. Oh what a pity that the performance wasn’t videoed. I would love to watch it all over again.

 

The Watersons

There were a lot of innovative ideas flying around the folk scene in the sixties and not all of them involved guitar playing. The Watersons were a family group from Hull comprising Mike Waterson, his sisters Norma and Lal and their cousin John Harrison. They ploughed their own furrow with an unaccompanied four part harmony sound that just invited the audience to join in the chorus.

 

I first saw them at a concert at Cecil Sharp House, the headquarters of the EFDSS (English Folk Dance and Song Society) around 1963/64. The concert was very memorable as it was also the first time I had seen that legendary Irish group, The Dubliners. Irish singer Joe Heaney (mentioned previously in my account of my visit to The Singers Club) was also on the bill singing some terrific Irish ballads like ‘The Green Linnet’ (the Green Linnet was the nickname the Irish gave to Napoleon Bonaparte).

 

Of course, whenever I saw a singer or group who really impressed me I tried to book them for I. C. Folk Club and so we soon had a visit from The Watersons. It’s amazing, in retrospect, that a group which sang nothing but traditional English songs totally unaccompanied could make such a huge impact but they did. They drew such a huge amount of interest that I had to book the college concert hall which could seat 400 and even that was only just big enough. What a night! Powerful voices, beautiful harmonies, strong songs with great tunes and singable choruses. Great!

 

The Watersons. They soon ditched the instruments.The Watersons

 

Tom Paxton

There was a steady stream of American artists coming over to Britain in the sixties. One that we booked at I. C. was Tom Paxton. Like The Waterson’s there was a huge clamour for tickets and again I had to book the college theatre and again it was a 400 seat sell-out. Tom, like a lot of the American artists, had that laid-back charm which instantly endeared him to the audience. He sang his way through all of his well known songs, ‘Last Thing on my Mind’, ‘Rambling Boy’, ‘What did You Learn in School Today’, ‘Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound’ etc.                                                                                                                                                                                                Tom Paxton (guitar) with Pete SeegerTom Paxton with Pete Seeger

Another memorable performance by a great singer/songwriter who I believe is still going strong today.

 

Mike Seeger

Another American visitor we booked at I. C. around the same time was Mike Seeger, younger brother of Peggy and Pete. Mike was a member of a very impressive trio known as The New Lost City Ramblers, a trio which also included John Cohen and Tracy Schwarz. They had listened carefully to recordings from the twenties and thirties of American Old Timey singers and groups and tried to faithfully recreate their style. Mike was a real multi-instrumentalist and could play guitar, banjo, fiddle,   mandolin, dulcimer and autoharp.Mike Seeger

 

Once again demand for tickets surged (perhaps because of the Seeger name) and we transferred to the college theatre for yet another 400 seat sell out. On the night Mike was clearly a master of traditional American music styles and had the audience enthralled.

 

He had a dry sense of humour, introducing what he described as a ‘tender lurv song’ which turned out to be ‘Boil Them Cabbage Down’. I remember he had just acquired a new autoharp and he said he longed for the day when his pristine autoharp (he didn’t use the word pristine… I did) looked ‘beat-up and old’ like all his other instruments. He swapped instruments for every song in a display of virtuosity which I have never seen matched in all the years since.

 

We booked Bill Clifton on the same bill and as well as doing solo spots Mike and Bill did a set together, a rare treat for me and every folk music fan in the room. Can you imagine that, Mike Seeger and Bill Clifton on the same bill?

 

The Wayfarers Move On Again

My third and final year in college brought further changes to The Wayfarers line up. Fiddlin’ Dave Lambert regrettably had to leave the group through pressure of work and the role of fiddle player was assumed by the ever versatile Chris Wright who alternated between that and the mandolin. Ann Hay left too and finally Roger Frost, our banjo player moved out of London to complete his course at the I. C. Field Station. Roger’s place was filled by Ivor Grayson-Smith, a post graduate student who, thankfully, was a mean banjo player and was probably the only person who could fill Roger’s shoes at that moment. So, the upshot of all these changes left The Wayfarers as a male trio, Chris Wright, Ivor Grayson-Smith and me. The new lean and mean group proved an easier proposition to handle, simpler arrangements, less to go wrong. We were pretty good, though I say it myself. Roger Frost, by the way, lives in New Zealand now, still plays and sings and we met up in London in 2014.

 

When I staggered across the finishing line at the end of my three years at I. C. the club was taken over by Ivor Grayson-Smith and since Chris Wright and I continued to live in London after leaving college, The Wayfarers were also able to continue, for a time at least. I got married to Carole in July 1965 and illustrated text books for the Nuffield Foundation for a living while The Wayfarers continued as the resident group of I. C. Folk Club.

 

We sometimes sang at venues outside I. C. Folk Club and one place we went to was Cecil Sharp House, the headquarters of the EFDSS (English Folk Dance and Song Society). We did a spot and went down pretty well and then something unusual happened. A portly chap in a black bow tie and dinner suit who resembled the actor Robert Morley (remember him) turned up in a bit of a panic looking for a folk group. It wasn’t Robert Morley but a very nice chap called Tom who was hosting a ‘do’ for a large group of visiting foreigners at the English Speaking Union and he had been let down by whoever was supposed to be providing the entertainment. He was very relieved when we agreed to go with him and keep the punters happy.

 

Tom duly paid for taxis for us (including my wife Carole, my sister-in-law and her husband who were with us) and we all headed off for the English Speaking Union. When we got there we had to more or less go straight on, introduced by Tom and we launched into our usual set of rousing chorus songs, ‘Whisky in the Jar’, ‘Jug O’ Punch’, ‘The Nightingale’, Marie’s Wedding’, ‘Leaving of Liverpool’…..we really socked it to ‘em. Tom was ecstatic and paid us the fee he had agreed with whoever had let him down. We were pretty ecstatic too, two prestigious venues in one night.

 

I can’t remember exactly when The Wayfarers last performance was; I think it was probably early 1967. After that I went out to Ghana, working for UNESCO at Cape Coast University on an education project.

 

Other Guests at I. C. Folk Club

The list of guest artists at I. C. Folk Club in the sixties is like a who’s who register of folk legends. In addition to those I’ve already mentioned we had Louis Killen and Cyril Tawney, stalwarts of English traditional music. Amazingly we had them both on the same night would you believe; another I. C. coup.

Lou Killen

     Louis Killen                                                                                                                          Cyril TawneyCyril Tawney

 

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Then there was the night we had new kids on the block Bert Jansch and John Renbourne who went on shortly afterwards to form that folk super-group, Pentangle. On the night they came to I. C. Bert was a bit withdrawn and looked as if he needed a few square meals inside him. It was easier to communicate with John. Needless to say, they made a great impression musically. I spoke to  Jansch and Renbourne                                                                                         Renbourne & Jansch  1965ish

John Renbourne many years later and he described the gig at I.C. (at the outset of their illustrious careers) as ‘prestigious’. In retrospect I guess it was. After all, there weren’t many folk club venues in Britain where you could sing to an audience of over 200 people.

 

Who else do I remember? Well, there was Ann Briggs. She became a very influential singer in the sixties but suffered terribly   with nerves and dropped

out of the folk scene after a few years. I remember bumping into her in Prince Consort Road and she asked me where I. C. Folk Club was as she was booked to sing there. I said ‘yes, I know, I booked you, follow me’. She was wearing the most enormous pair of furry boots, like an Eskimo. I wondered where she had parked the huskies. She did the entire gig unaccompanied, which was unusual for our club but the audience loved her. She was a good looking girl with an impressive voice; shame about the nerves. Shortly after the I. C. gig she became Bert Jansch’s girl friend for a while (but that was nothing to do with me).

Ann Briggs about the time she came to I.C. Anne Briggs

 

A new group making an impact in the mid-sixties were The Exiles, a trio which comprised Enoch Kent (remember, I had seen him early on at the Singers Club), Gordon MacCulloch and Bobby Campbell. This was an all Scottish group who are not, perhaps, remembered now as much as they should be. I remember them though, fondly.

 

The Concerts

One huge bonus about living in the centre of London was that the major concert venues were close at hand and so it was easy to get to see some very big names. Pete Seeger came over to do a tour and I saw him at the Royal Festival Hall. He could hold an audience like no-one else could; he turned the Festival Hall into an intimate folk club with his charisma and charm.Seeger performing at a concert in honour of Paul Robeson

Switching backwards and forwards between banjo  and twelve string guitar he ploughed his way through a marvellous set of songs and spun yarns about his memories of Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston etc. He sang Bob Dylan’s ‘Hard Rains a-gonna Fall’, his own song ‘Where Have all the Flowers Gone’ and Civil Rights anthems like ‘We Shall Overcome’. He not only had the audience singing along, but singing along in three part harmonies. Wonderful!

 

Mind you, Carole (my wife-to-be) went one better than me. When Pete sang at the Manchester Free Trade Hall on the same tour, Carole was on stage with him. She was, she was! The concert was a sell out and they squeezed in some extra people by putting seats on the stage behind Pete and to the side and she found herself sitting just a few yards away from him for another stunning performance.

 

In the sixties there was a boom in interest in the Blues which ran alongside and overlapped with the Folk Revival. I got to see some legendary bluesmen in a concert which I think was at the Hammersmith Odeon, a cinema which often did live concerts (I’d already seen Ray Charles and Duke Ellington concerts at the same venue). The Blues concert was headlined by Muddy Waters and his band. They came on stage in smart shiny silver-grey grey suits and carrying Fender Stratocaster electric guitars, my first ever exposure to the relatively new phenomenon of electric blues. He sang his best known number ‘I Got My Mojo Working’ amongst others but the shiny suits and Stratocasters reminded me too much of The Shadows and I was half expecting ‘Apache’ or ‘Wonderful Land’.

 

On the same bill were Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee with a more traditional acoustic style and I really enjoyed that, especially Sonny’s blues harmonica. But for me the best performance of the night came from Rev Gary Davis with that iconic acoustic guitar style, very clean and sophisticated, set against a raw and edgy vocal style. His ‘Candy Man’ brought the house down, as you might expect. Loved it!

  Rev. Gary Davis, a master of the blues and ragtime Rev Gary Davis

 

And finally let me mention his Bobship, Bob Dylan. In the early sixties I had some of his songs in my repertoire, who didn’t? When I got the chance of a ticket to see him on his 1965 tour of the U.K. I grabbed it. There I was in the Albert Hall, just around the corner from where I lived, sat with bated breath about half a dozen rows from the front. The Albert Hall concert featured strongly in that black and white film ‘Don’t Look Back’ and I was right there but it’s all so dark you can’t see the audience.Bob Dylan 1965

 

Bob came out onto the stage already singing ‘The Times They Are a-Changing ‘ before he even reached the microphone. The first half was full of stuff I was familiar with such as ‘Don’t Think Twice’, ‘Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’ and ‘With God on our Side’. He went straight from one song to the next, hardly waiting for the applause to die away let alone do any kind of introduction. He seemed to be in his own little bubble, not relating to the audience at all.

But a bigger shock awaited in the second half as he launched into his latest compositions including ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’, ‘Gates of Eden’ and ‘It’s All Right Ma, I’m Only Bleeding’, the first time we’d heard them. What on Earth was he talking about? Did it actually mean something or was he on a trip? Call me old fashioned but I like to have at least some understanding of what a song is about and his Bobship lost me completely in that second half. A few weeks later Bob went electric at the Newport Folk Festival in America and showcased further incomprehensible songs like ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’. I was one of the many who jumped ship around that time; not that Bob would be worried of course. For every fan he lost he picked up ten more and he quickly went on to become as big as the Beatles. But at least I can say I caught what was just about his last solo acoustic concert in the days when he still had some connection to ‘folk’.

 

The Clubs

Running I. C. Folk Club and singing with The Wayfarers was very time consuming as you can imagine but I did get around one or two other clubs when possible. I’ve already mentioned The Singer’s Club (Ewan and Peggy’s Club) but there were others. One famous club I visited in the mid-sixties was The Fox at Islington (North London). That would be in 1966. I was married to Carole by this time and we went together (of course). To my embarrassment I had accidentally gone with hardly any money in my pocket and so I blagged our way in to the club for free, having travelled for over an hour by Tube to get there. I was surprised they let us in; nice people folkies.

 

The Fox was different to many modern folk clubs. It had no PA or stage. Everyone sang from wherever they were parked around the room. Even the residents sang just one or two songs from wherever they sat and that included Martin Carthy no less. Among the songs Martin sang that night was his famous version of ‘Scarborough Fair’ which Paul Simon was about to nick and recycle. Other residents were The Rakes, an excellent instrumental group comprising melodeon and two fiddles who played traditional English dance tunes and often accompanied singer Bob Davenport (but Bob wasn’t there that night unfortunately). Someone who certainly was there was an Irish singer called Packie Byrne who sang unaccompanied but also played tunes on the flageolet (that’s tin whistle to you). Packie was a delightful man, a pleasure to talk to and a pleasure to listen to.

 

 

Packie ByrnePackie Byrne

 

The Fox was hardcore folk music but very enjoyable. Their formula is one I prefer over the widespread modern tendency to a cabaret format with stage, lights, PA etc. It was more like a gathering of friends, more intimate, more of a community and the very antithesis of Show Biz. Unfortunately, The Fox was just too far away from where we lived for us to go regularly so that was a one-off trip.

A club which was on our doorstep (Lavender Hill, South London) was The Crubeen (Irish for The Pig’s Trotter I believe) which was run by a larger than life Irishman called Sean McCarthy. The club met in an upstairs room of a pub behind the Clapham Junction railway station. Because it was close by, we went there several times and Sean and his wife were always very welcoming. Sean, like Packie Byrne, sang unaccompanied traditional material but he also wrote his own songs and memorable songs they were. At that time I think he had only written a few but I clearly remember ‘Step it out Mary my Fine Daughter’                                                          Sean McCarthySean McCarthy

also ‘Keep your Hands off Red Haired Mary’. Those songs became widely known on the folk scene and later he wrote a lot more, along with some poems. Though dead and gone now, he is remembered every year in August in his native County Kerry with a folk festival in his honour.

 

Looking Back

I must say I feel very lucky that, quite by chance, I was around in London for five years (1962 – 67) which coincided with the folk scene going viral. I didn’t realise at the time what a special era it was; when you’re in the middle of it you just think it will go on forever.

 

Two other thoughts strike me. Why on Earth didn’t I go to The Troubadour, one of London’s foremost clubs in the basement of a coffee bar in Earl’s Court? The Troob was a Mecca for everyone in the folk world and within easy reach of my Hall of Residence in South Kensington. Martin Carthy, Rambling Jack Elliot, Bob Dylan……they and many others went there to hang out in the late night sessions after a gig (sometimes all-night sessions apparently). How could I have missed that? Where’s my time machine, I want to go back?

 

The other thought that strikes me is how did I come to miss certain people who were around at that time and are now legends. I had the opportunity and I missed it. Yes, the list of those I did see is certainly enviable but how come I missed The Young Tradition? How come I missed Wizz Jones? How come I missed The New Lost City Ramblers? Paul Simon?

 

Ah well! Maybe I wasn’t there after all.

 

Brian Bull

January 2015  DSC_3808                                                                                                        

 

 

 

And this is me today, still singing and playing. You can’t keep a good folkie down.jan 30 bb

 

 

 

 

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6 Responses to “Memories of the 60’s (Brian Bull)”

  1. Val Jones Says:

    What a good & interesting read. As we seem to be in the same era many of the names you mentioned rang a bell with me also. Keep going ‘old folkie’.

  2. Keith (Peanuts) banes Says:

    Did you miss the “ggs” just of Villers St. I can remember Jessy Fuller playing with Davy in a coffee bar on St Martins lane. Ahh a long time ago

  3. Neil Donald Says:

    Does anyone remember Panama Ltd from the late 60s?…Perhaps not true Folkies, but more of an acoustic “Jug Band” who played the London Folk circuit at the time.

  4. Bob Snowball Says:

    Brought back some fond memories for me reading this account of the London folk scene in the late ’60’s. One correction however for a school friend of mine, Ken -he was a member of the Exiles based out of Finchley & was a good friend of John Fyffe of The Settlers. The Exiles that I shared a flat with were Ken Ather, Cedric Bradshaw & a Scot off corse called Jock. They ran the Three Horseshoes folk club in Hampstead every Tuesday. As a footnote I can recall David Bowie being booked there just before his Space Oddity record took off He carried his own gear in those days.
    Bob Snowball

    • Geoff King Says:

      What a great site – brings back so many happy memories. Bob Snowball, Ken Ather was a really nice guy. When I knew The Exiles they included Cedrick and Jock Armstrong, plus a chap named Barry on Bass. Ken, Jock and Ced met at Teaching College in York and became the Exiles whilst working in London -(apparently there was also a Scots group with the same name). They were an extremely polished group with superb harmonies and regularly played the south coast clubs. Sadly, I heard from Ken’s daughter that he died of cancer early 2001 – if you Google his name you’ll find she ran a marathon in his memory, also that an outdoor education centre where he later worked in Yorks is named after him. Remember The Exiles got a slot on Jim Lloyd’s R2 folk programme around 1976 and sang “Darcy Farrow” beautifully.

  5. Pete Rowley Says:

    As a student at Westfield College in Hampstead in the early 80s, the Three Horseshoes folk club was the first one I and a few friends attended regularly. It was run by Jock and Ced and as the Exiles they were the weekly warm up act. They were later joined by John Davies who had been a regular floor singer at the club. With their rousing singalong numbers and eternal favourites, they were the perfect start to each half of the evening. Guests at the club were the cream of the folk circuit and we were never disappointed. Inspired, we formed a college folk club (at a time when it was at its least fashionable!) and we booked the Exiles for one of our concerts. A fabulous evening was recorded to cassette, a copy of which I still have. Would love to know if they are still around.

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