THE NEWslETTER OF TIGERFOLK
Some years ago I had arranged to go to hear one of my favourite singers at a folk club not too far away when suddenly, quite by chance, I learned that the pub in which the club met was to close within a couple of days. It seemed odd that the organiser hadn’t informed me of this (although the Nottingham Post’s Folk column was in a bit of a hiatus at that time I was still providing a diary and this particular instance re-started the requirement for a regular column) and a subsequent telephone call discovered that he too was unaware of this fact! An ensuing flurry of activity resulted in his finding a nearby pub which had a private room to which they could transfer the club and we all breathed a sigh of relief.
While the room was private the bar situated at the end of the room was just an extension of the public bar and therefore there was no division between the two rooms and as the evening progressed so did the hubbub from the adjoining area until one of the clientele decided to make the observation, in tones louder than the already distracting volume, “I don’t know what is going off next door but it sounds as boring as f**k in there” (odd as I’m sure that we found their attempts to out shout each other in the bar most captivating).
This instance immediately returned to mind when Paul Mansfield contacted me with regard to his proposed paper for “Folk Voice” the Traditional Song Forum’s conference which was to be entitled “Can I Sing This Here” which was to explore the practicalities of performing traditional songs in a totally non – folk environment and did I have any experiences that I could share? The original idea came to Paul following a couple of less than favourable encounters while participating in an open mic type song session in a couple of local public bars. The first one involving a lady sitting next to Paul who was somewhat aghast at the content of his rendition of “Whitecopper Alley” the sort of story that wouldn’t turn a hair in a folk club but may be a bit rich for the blood elsewhere. The second taking place in a real ale pub where a crew who had earlier in the day participated in a whisky tasting session remained in the room and continued their conversations, once again quite vociferously, with total disregard to the folks trying to have a sing in the corner.
I did warn Paul that any response of mine could be quite verbose as I do have quite strong feelings about this sort of thing. I opened my notes by saying, and he kindly repeated this as one of his illustrations, that I always equate someone attempting a folk song, traditional or not, in front of a non-folk audience in a non-folk environment to these street preachers that you can encounter in city centres who are imposing their beliefs on the population and leaving themselves open to be totally ignored or subject to ridicule. If I want to hear a sermon or lesson I will go to church the same way that if I want to hear folksong I will go to a folk club, concert or festival.
Paul also illustrated his talk with other singers, some that we all know, stating the type of songs that might be more conducive to a non-folk audience while others thought that there was more chance that such an audience would be more inclined to listen to a woman in these circumstances than a male performer. One particular factor, Paul explained, would be the quality of the performance and while someone “with a voice only a mother could love” might be tolerated in a folk club (depending on the standards employed by that club) they would not exactly enhance the chances of a public bar singaround attracting the favourable attention of the casual punter.
Over the years I have met folk enthusiasts who, with a certain degree of missionary zeal, have decided to set up folk clubs or song sessions in various public bars with the intention of taking the music to the people in the hopes of converting them into die hard folkies. A couple of times I have been tricked into going along to such sessions and I have never felt comfortable in such surroundings and in recent years I have avoided such instances preferring, as I said above, the safe outlets for our music.
If you haven’t already seen Paul’s performance you can now view it on YouTube under Traditional Song Forum along with a number of other thoughtful talks of all aspects of our chosen music.
As Covid restrictions are being progressively lifted we had, optimistically, targeted the autumn for re – opening the doors of Tigerfolk. However we have, if you will excuse the pun, encountered a major stumbling block.
When we called the Stumble Inn a couple of months back, just a courtesy communication to keep in touch, we were informed that it is the management’s intention to remove the pool table from the upstairs room and replace it with a full sized snooker table which would seriously reduce the amount of space available in which to run the club.
While, naturally, we have not been able to get inside the club room to confirm this alarming news, the pure logistics of this venture would rule out any further involvement with the Stumble Inn.
This now presents us with the problem of sourcing another venue in which to host Tigerfolk and as other club organisers would verify this is not an easy task. I have offered a couple of unverified possibilities in the Long Eaton/Sawley area and a couple of maybes in Kegworth and district have been raised; so a feasibility study/pub crawl will ensue.
Naturally we will keep everyone informed every step of the way but in the meantime if anyone has any ideas of venues which could be used for our purpose please let us know and we will investigate.
I seem to recall that the radio always used to be on.
If there were songs or tunes being played, on “Music While You Work” for instance, me mam (or for those not from Leicester, my mum) would sing or hum along. Not surprisingly I would pick the songs up and do the same. Whilst on holiday it was the norm to go off on a charabanc for an evening trip somewhere and on the way back, invariably, there would be a sing song. The same thing happened on Shop Holidays, these were day trips organised by companies for their employees, their families and friends. Usually, of course, on the return journey there would be a stop at a wayside inn for half an hour or so and it was after this stop that the singing would start. The same thing happened on journeys coming back from cricket matches when the team and supporters would all join in, especially if there was the sweet smell of victory in the air to mingle with the beer fumes. These memories are from the 50’s and early 60’s, long before piped music and radios on coaches were around. So music and song were things I was brought with and joining in was what you did.
It was no different then when I started going to folk clubs in the mid 60’s. My Saturday nights were spent at The Couriers club held in the upstairs room of the “Mucky Duck”, The “White Swan” to give it it’s proper name. It was situated by the open air market in the middle of Leicester and was not the kind of pub you would drink in. I vividly remember one bloke with a pet monkey on his shoulder who was always in there with his mates. But above this bear garden was an oasis where I listened to the likes of the Couriers, George and later Thaddeus Kaye, Mark Newman, Candy and Lyn Geddes, and Harvey Tucker. Among the guests that came were Paul Simon, Phil Ochs, the New Lost City Ramblers, the Spinners and Tom Paxton. On a Tuesday it was up to the room above what used to be the stables, if my memory serves correctly, of the Victoria, an old coaching inn not far from London Road railway station. This club had a different and a more traditional feel to it. The man on the door was Tony Savage, the mover and shaker of the club and it was hosted by Geoff Halford, who many of you knew and who was to become a good old mate of mine. In those days, Geoff was a walking advert for Dunn’s gent’s outfitters! A Harris Tweed jacket, green lovat trousers, check shirt and knitted tie, did he look like what he was, a school teacher? You bet. But it was his unaccompanied singing, fiddle and concertina playing that set him apart. Not for Geoff transatlantic singer-songwriter material, no, it was Harry Cox, Pop Maynard, May Bradley, Stephen Baldwin and their ilk that were more his meat and drink. Martin Cummins and Russ Merryfield, among others, were regular contributors from the floor. Bert Jansch certainly brought the punters in but so did the Ian Campbell Folk Group and the Young Tradition. The last time I went to the “Vic” was to see the Young Tradition and it was the first time I had heard unaccompanied harmony singing, it blew me away. The reason it was my last visit was because I was being transferred up to Darlington and it was literally a week later that I was in the Golden Cock on Tubwell Row in the company of Tony and Mother Foxworthy and a gang of reprobates who are still friends to this day. And it was not long before unaccompanied harmony singing hit me full in the face again with the Watersons and the Wilson Family, no wonder I’ve ended up as I have.
But of all the singers and performers I saw in those formative years, there is one who stands out for me. Maybe a singer you saw or heard or maybe not. Tommy Dempsey came over to Leicester Folk Club on that Tuesday night from Birmingham and totally captivated me. Singing unaccompanied he held the audience in the palm of his hand with his wit, interesting introductions and his beautiful singing. He lilted into every song which was a revelation to me and the song that I remember most “A Bonnan Bui” and it’s still a favourite to this day.
STAY SAFE AND SEE YOU SOMEWHERE SOON