Mudcat Café message #2776919 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #125329   Message #2776919
Posted By: GUEST,Jerry Epstein
30-Nov-09 - 02:09 PM
Thread Name: Review: Roy Harris' Champions of Folly
Subject: Roy Harris
I have been wondering about a magazine in Britain, read by serious folk music people, that would publish the following. So I start it here. Thanks to Dave Ruch for pointing me to this thread.

At the Eisteddfod Festival this past October, the annual award for a lifetime of service indeed went to Roy. It was introduced with the following words:

The Eisteddfod Award 2009 -- presented to Roy Harris October 18, 2009

The Presentation of an Eisteddfod Award for distinguished service to the maintenance and continuance of Traditional Music originates with the Eisteddfod festivals in Massachusetts, started more than 30 years ago by Howard Glasser.

Howard was quite explicit in saying that the award was never about performing as such, but about the continuance of the tradition, often through collecting, teaching, encouraging youth, standing up for the importance of the sources, inspiring a new generation to learn about and listen to the old singers and songs and the culture which keeps them.

The Folk Music Society of New York today makes the case that no one on the British folk scene deserves the award more than Roy Harris. Roy was never renowned as a singer first, he was a fine singer with a great repertoire and a rapport with an audience that could allow people in a fairly dismal club that usually presented pop junk to listen to an entire evening of unaccompanied song and love it. Some of us have seen that first hand. Roy has always been on a mission to get young people to listen to and pay attention to the old singers and the old songs, done the old way. He did this every week in the three clubs he ran over the decades, and in the years he ran the Loughborough Festival in Britain.

The first club he started was in Cardiff, and among his early guests were Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger who commented to him that "This is the best club in Britain." His longest running club was the famed "Nottingham Traditional Music Club" (the NTMC), which ran from about 1965 to about 1985. My first time going to folk clubs in England was in 1968. I went to a club in Bristol because it was listed in the EFDSS directory as "traditional". There were less than 10 people there. The fellow running it told me, "If you like the real traditional stuff, you simply must go to Nottingham on a Friday night."

I did, and how right he was.

Roy had very high standards for clubs, not in terms of the "professionalism" of those who sang, but for the Club itself. It always started dead on time. He always developed a local house band, who were playing tunes as people were coming in, he always had a group of local singers to whom he fed large numbers of great traditional songs, often through giving away his record collection. The encouragement of everyone to sing was simply stunning, and the chorus singing at the NTMC was breathtaking. He booked scads of the best traditional artists, many of whom other clubs would simply not book, since they feared they would not draw: Belle Stewart, Joe Heaney, Bob Cann, Vic Legg, so many more. And he packed 'em in. Week after week after week. If you were 10 minutes late often you simply could not get in. He packed 'em in, because the experience of being there was always absolutely superb. It was the spirit, the authenticity, the chorus singing, the sharing. Lots of clichés, which are clichés because they are so true. Everyone wanted to perform there, but the singer songwriters and "comedians" which can be the bane of the club circuit never did, though there was no shortage of newer songs and surely no shortage of humour. It was pure tradition, but without a trace of stuffiness without a trace of nose in the air, down to earth working class all the way, and pure Roy. And it ALWAYS worked. Bunches of fine singers got their start as floor singers at Roy's clubs. Roy always giving away his records with huge enthusiasm, "Listen to this!". . .

The NTMC became, under Roy's encouragement, a whole folklore center, with a mummers group, a morris team, some local collecting, and a big bunch of young folks who made this a major part of their lives. There is simply no one else who did anything like that. Brian Peters (along with many others) always cites Roy as a major inspiration for his interest in the tradition. A few years after the NTMC closed, he started "Traditions at the Tiger" a pub in Long Eaton, near Nottingham. Within a matter of months, it seemed to be known widely as "The Best Club in Britain" – so what else is new? -- even though it met (and still meets) only once a month.

In about 1978 he took over the floundering Loughborough festival, and again transformed it into the best traditional festival anywhere. He did so by inviting only the finest tradition-based artists, source singers, and folklorists. Martin Carthy was there the same year I was, but in my recollection did not perform very much; it seemed to me it was his main job to run Bert Lloyd's tape recorder. Norma (Waterson) was there also, simply because they wanted to be there. One had to be there! You couldn't miss it. And he packed them in, by doing what all the typical festival operators did not believe could be done. He packed them in without a trace of a more "pop" folk singer to be seen anywhere. I think this is something that the Eisteddfod shares of Roy's vision. His commitment to and faith in the tradition itself was absolute and unconditional. His genuine enthusiasm and understanding was felt by all. The source singers loved him, and so did the folk public — though there were exceptions! He believed in it with all his heart, and because of him thousands of others believed in it too. He invited people like Martin, thinking they would not come without a big fee, but they came, for the same reason that so many want to come back to the Eisteddfod for little more than gasoline money. The quality is so high, people really want to be there. It is not a job, it is a life experience.

In my years directing Folk Music Week at Pinewoods, Roy was about the only one whose word on a singer I would take without hearing them. He brought to me Will Noble, Briege and John Morgan, and of course he was always right. His judgment of real quality is infallible, and never fooled by surface glitz. And most of all he has passed that commitment and that understanding on to so many of the next generation.

For all these reasons, Roy Harris merits the 2009 Eisteddfod Award for a lifetime of distinguished service to the continuation of traditional music, dance, and song.

Jerry Epstein — at the Eisteddfod Festival of Traditional Music, October 18, 2009

The Award plaque itself says (after the engraving of Howard Glasser's "Celtic Horseman" at the top (Roy will happily show it to you!):

" The Eisteddfod Award

Presented with great thanks at the Eisteddfod - NY Festival of Traditional Music, October 18, 2009, to Roy Harris

for many years of dedication, inspiration, and service to the practice and dissemination of traditional folk song, music, and dance."

Next year's Eisteddfod will be in upstate New York, in the second half of October. We will try to get more details to this space. And if anyone can suggest a folk magazine in Britain to send this to, please let me know at If this award encourages Roy to get out more and find again where he can genuinely be of great service, it will have accomplished all I could hope for.

Jerry Epstein