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December 2017 Edition




I do a piece each month for a West Midlands folk magazine, a sort of “What’s on in Nottingham” and the December entry, I pointed out, was full of Folk Club Christmas Parties. So what do you make of Folk Club Christmas Parties? Personally they are something that I can well live without!  The general format seems to be that regulars and residents are encouraged to sing something different to folk songs; some prefer fancy dress and sometimes you’ll get a camped up mummers play thrown in for good measure and that is it! Significantly it is many years since TATT stopped holding them. In my experience, far from the jocular good humoured event that they suggest, I have more memories of an almost antagonistic atmosphere at several of these and I even heard of one couple whose divorce was cemented at a folk club Christmas party!! The only one that I can say to which I looked forward was Birtley’s Christmas Ceilidh which was one of the North East’s high spots on the social calendar.

All these negative elements were on display at South Tyne Folk and Blues Festive Gaffs (as we called them) so one year back in the early seventies I pushed through the motion that instead of a party we book a big name guest, print tickets and really go for it big time. With some reluctance the rest of the committee accepted my proposal and so the wheels were put in motion.

Come the night and our Big Guest (I refrain from naming him as I’m sure that this night still haunts him) had arrived in good time; all tickets were sold and the “House Full” sign was on display. We got started on time and all the residents and floor spots leading up to our guest’s first half were bang on – the night had success written all over it……………..however.

At STF&B we may have come across as an anarchic, laid back bunch but behind the scenes there we some very strict measures in place. High on this list related to the club standards and peoples “habits”. As long as it didn’t interfere with your own or anyone else’s performance you could drink as much beer, wine or spirits as you could afford; you could blast the smoke from your pipe, cigar or cigarette to the four winds and you wouldn’t hear a complaint BUT anything stronger was seriously frowned upon. You could use as many stimulants as you wished in the privacy of your own house etc. but no drugs were allowed on the premises.  If we were raided and narcotics were found then we would not only be thrown out of our present abode but we’d have a Hell of a job finding another pub that would take us.

This rule was well observed by all our members except for one young lady who we had Christened the Martini Girl (anytime, anyplace, anywhere) who had no intentions of ever abiding by such archaic restrictions and labelled us as boring, old reactionaries, jealous of her liberated, free thinking outlook. Our pleading and reasoning with her was all to no avail and in the end we had to tell her that she was no longer welcome at the club. A few weeks before we presented our big guest she turned up at one of our meetings to explain that she had turned over a new leaf, completely clean and her previous lifestyle was behind her. Taking her at her word we relented and back she came drinking the odd glass of lager and smoking nothing stronger than an Embassy Regal.

As we introduced our big guest to the eagerly anticipating crowd I took up a position at the door in the middle of the room so as to prevent people entering and leaving while the guest was singing and glancing down towards the stage I was horrified to see the Martini Girl in the process of rolling a giant spliff. As I was desperately trying to signal to fellow committee members in her vicinity I was suddenly propelled into the middle of the club room by the door bursting open and a bullet headed guy in a suit and tie, flanked by two uniformed policemen vigorously entering the room. Waving a piece of plastic in my face he announced that they were just doing a spot check of the town’s pubs. “What’s all this, then?” he asked loudly and I tried to quietly explain that it was the folk club. “Folk club, what’s that? Is he a folk singer?” indicating our guest who looked less than enchanted. Meanwhile I chanced a quick look towards the Martini Girl who had swiped all her stash into her bag and had proceeded to swallow her roach with the aid of a draught of lager. The two coppers who had been crashing around the tables in the room returned to their boss with looks of resignation that suggested that they hadn’t found anything untoward. “Ok chief, we’ll leave you in peace. Goodnight” bellowed the bullet headed one as they slammed out of the room just as our guest finished his first song and I doubted that anyone in the room had actually heard a single word above the disruption.

As the guest went into his second number, strumming a few of the opening notes and explaining the background to the song we were suddenly alerted to a strange noise emanating from his right hand side and there was our Martini Girl gagging, choking and turning an alarming shade of purple. Clearly what she had intended to ingest had not gone down and now she was seriously gasping for air. Alan Patchett and I being the nearest to her got her to her feet and while trying to get her out of the room we were administering forceful slaps between the shoulder blades – such was the extent of our medical expertise at that time. By now our big guest was certainly not amused!

Luckily Patchett had his car with him and it was parked on the waste ground across the road from the pub so we carried our Martini Girl over to it and got her in the back seat with me beside her while he gunned the engine ferociously sending up clouds of dust and loose stones in the process. Thankfully the lights on King Street/Ocean Road crossroads were on green as we tore up Fowler Street towards the Ingham Infirmary; he flung the car into the area outside of A&E and we carried our Martini Girl, who was now a shocking shade of mauve, to reception and explained our situation. Immediately the nurse rang the alarm bell and a young doctor appeared in a trice; taking a look at our companion’s condition he explained that there was no time to lose and grabbing a scalpel, with no anaesthetic at all he made an incision in her thorax and inserted his forceps and slowly retrieved the object that was causing the near fatal blockage as our Martini Girl’s complexion gradually returned to normal.

Holding up the forceps to the light and inspecting what he had retrieved he asked “What is a nice joint like this doing in a girl like you?


Well – Christmas is a time for stories, isn’t it?


Sunday 3rd December 2017





The best way to celebrate Christmas, if not with family, is with old friends and Dave and Anni are one of the best couples around when it comes to the real thing. Wonderful harmonies, a wealth of traditional repertoire from this meeting of the South West (Dave) with the North East (Anni) as well as Dave's myriad own compositions, so many of them well bedded down in the foundations of every good singaround in an English traditional club, or wider afield, indeed. And so we will bring 2017 to an end this year with absolutely the best friends the folk scene could have - and that includes you, so put the invitation into your diary now!

Corinne Male



Bendle’s Bit

Stroll down Cliffe High Street in Lewes on a Saturday in October and as well as a few stalls selling local produce you will happen across groups of people with collecting tins and glossy magazines.  They will be dressed in white trousers and striped jumpers, normally of two colours. The colours differ as do the souvenir programmes that each group proffer. For these are the Bonfire Societies out promoting their individual association and wanting you to buy their goods and also tickets for their own bonfire on Lewes Bonfire Night.  All are polite, smiling and chat happily exchanging pleasantries and banter across the way to the other similarly dressed people around and about.  Look at the notices on boards outside or stuck on the windows of the charity shops; “Bonfire trousers and bonfire wool for sale”.  Get your cheap white trousers (they need to be cheap as they might not even last you one season) and get knitting your big sweater in your societies colours, of course, and again that jumper might not last long what with all the smoke, fire and fireworks.

But on this particular Saturday you will also be treated to the spectacle of over 20 Morris sides, including Ekin Morris from Stockholm, dancing and entertaining the shoppers and passers-by on the Cliffe and outside some of the excellent pubs in the locale because it is the weekend of the Lewes Folk Festival.

A particular favourite of ours is this weekend, a small gathering with a host of well-known performers as well as plenty of other talented folks contributing who are all primarily local.  It is very much a Sussex showcase, with apologies to those from nearby Kent and other local counties, but you get the gist.  What with Shirley Collins, Martyn Wyndham-Read, Iris Bishop, Jackie Oates, Bob Lewis, Will Duke, The Young Coppers and Dan Quinn all on the programme what more could you ask for? Well, that depends on what else you are into; harmony and instrumental workshops, ballad sessions, sing-arounds, shanty and tune sessions all for you to get involved with. But it is the, and you should know this of me by now, more local or perhaps unusual events that make it a little bit special.  A presentation on the development of the Sussex Traditions website, a veritable treasure trove for those who have an interest in these things, set Saturday off to a good start.  Sunday was enlightened by “The Darker Side of Sun Street” a joint presentation by the local history group, theatre group and folk club telling the stories of residents of Sun Street in Lewes.  Maybe only one street but a microcosm of life through the reportings in local newspapers of its residents.  It happened to be in Lewes but similar stories could be told of communities throughout the land, fascinating stuff. A slight diversion, on Saturday night the bar area of the Elephant and Castle, where the main concert was to be held in the upstairs clubroom, was absolutely rammed with people wearing gold and black striped jumpers, white trousers and bandoliers full of squibs.  The pub is the HQ of Commercial Square Bonfire Society and they had met there waiting for the coach to take them off to Hastings for its bonfire.  It is customary for societies to support each other and go to their respective bonfires which take place mainly in east Sussex all through October and into November and tonight everyone was Hastings bound. Now, back to Sunday afternoon: In that same concert room we gathered to sing, listen and learn about “Bonfire”, in the festival programme it said “For broad minded adults only” and they weren’t joking!  A song book was handed out and quite a lot of its contents would have graced a rugby club late night thrash back in the 60’s, not that I would have ever, ever gone to such a thing………..In fact a family came in at one point and were politely but quite firmly asked to leave, I think some of the audience might have gone with them given the chance.  It transpired that the less-erudite songs were normally sung after the bonfires in the pubs or on the charabancs coming home.  But, what the singing of the songs actually brought about were long forgotten stories and reminiscences, recollections of people and of pubs gone by, of singing competitions between rival societies and a seemingly endless stream of anecdotes.  Not for everyone this session but it certainly gave us outsiders a taste, a feel and little more understanding of how and why “Bonfire” means so much to so many, but not all, in this part of the world. A final sing, in that same room, on Sunday night brought this lovely weekend to a close, but it was a slightly different finish.  Musicians and singers who are part of Ekin Morris have been coming over from Sweden for the festival for many years, The Brisk Young Ploughboys, as they call themselves, were the ones to bring down the curtain and they certainly did with great playing and singing but more so with their infectious enthusiasm.  Totally besotted with English dance, tunes and more so, the songs, especially those from Sussex and more especially, those of Shirley Collins, they are great company and friendly warm entertainers.  As one of them said, “What better way to spend an afternoon than with Shirley Collins and then with the Copper Family” methinks Christmas came early for our European visitors and you know, it weren’t a bad gift for us as well.

Many thanks to all involved for putting on yet another festival that does you and Lewes proud.

John Bentham


Sunday 5th November 2017


There’s a battle outside a ’raging” stated the poet some time ago and the battle at this particular time was taking place on the Web Site Mudcat Café in the form of a thread entitled “What Is Happening To Our Folk Clubs?” which at that particular time had generated more than 900 posts, the majority emanating from a well-known Irish folk song collector, members of the Lewes folk clubs (a second mention for them!), some from Swinton Folk Club a little bit of Tigerfolk and contributions from the usual pot – stirrers (for want of a more polite description) all presenting their own opinions, getting nowhere and certainly not providing any answers. On one point however everyone seemed to agree and that was that booking Niamh Parsons and Graham Dunne was considered a very astute move.  

We knew that already as this was the third time that Niamh and Graham had been our guests and similar to the previous occasions we had a decently filled room and an atmosphere of high expectation. In the same manner our guests did not disappoint as they presented a mixture of new songs and tunes with a host of old favourites setting the scene with “Across the Blue Mountain” and “In My Prime” for the taster set.

During the two main sets it was enthralling to listen to classic traditional songs and ballads (the latter term being used to describe most Irish songs) such as “Valentine O’Hara”, “The Boys of Barr Na Sraide” and “Carrickfergus” with the material from more contemporary writers such as Ron Kavanagh “The Men That God Made Mad” (google that title for a clip of the pair performing it) and Bill Caddick’s “Letter from Syracuse” and the enchanting “Unicorns”. “The Slave’s Lament” from Robbie Burns probably falls somewhere in between. As well as providing a most sensitive accompaniment on guitar Graham was given an opportunity to shine in each half with a solo spot, playing tunes of his own choice: as they say over there. 

Once again it was pretty obvious why this duo are in such demand either over here in UK , back home in Ireland or out in USA.

From the floor our residents John and Sheila Bentham plus Corinne Male entertained and then we had songs and tunes from Steve Plowright, Paul Mansfield, Lyn Cooper, Bill Wilkes, Phil Hind. It was also nice to receive a visit from Martin and Marion Smalley from the Carrington Triangle Folk Club – all turning in worthy performances.

Just for the record the Mudcat thread has now passed 1059 posts and we still no further in learning what is happening to our folk clubs!!

Dave Sutherland


And finally…………………………….Our friends at Grand Union Folk have been subjected to that great folk club malaise of new manager syndrome. Having operated out of The Soar Bridge Hotel for almost twenty years by my reckoning they now find themselves temporarily homeless and searching for a new abode. In the meantime they will be in The Dog and Gun, Chapel Street, Syston LE7 1GN on Monday 27th November when they present Hector Gilchrist and on 11th December when they have The Wilson Family they will be in The Horse and Trumpet, Barrow Road, Sileby LE12 7LP. So far they are without a venue for the famous Carols Night but they are currently striving to find a suitable room.

We wish them good luck in finding a new, welcoming venue.












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