Mudcat Café message #3885186 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #162917   Message #3885186
Posted By: Steve Shaw
27-Oct-17 - 08:08 PM
Thread Name: What is Happening to our Folk Clubs
Subject: RE: What is Happening to our Folk Clubs

First off, I'm not qualified. I haven't set foot in a folk club for twenty years. However...

Without the Tree Inn Folk club I wouldn't be 'ere. John and Cheryl Maughan ran that club magnificently. They had a guest every other week, and what guests. I won't regale you with a list of names (or maybe I will), but it's hard to think of any of the great and good of the time, the early to mid-90s, that they didn't manage to book. In that intimate environment (ready for a bit of name-dropping?) I bantered with Martin Carthy, Roy Bailey, Chris Wood, Andy Cutting, all the guys in Four Men And A Dog, Ron Kavana, Davy Steele, Chris Parkinson, Brian Peters (Hi Brian!), Marilyn Middleton-Pollock, Andy Irvine, Liam O'Flynn, Sid Kipper, Show Of Hands, Pauline Cato, Ian Carr, Kate Rusby, Karen Tweed, Tom McConville...stop me somebody...dammit, John got Tom Paxton when I was away on holiday...On every occasion I got to do a "floor spot" (bloody ghastly affected expression...) or two, either on my own or with my kids or with anyone who could strum along to a bloke playing Irish tunes on the diatonic harmonica. On non-guest nights I got to play a bit more. That club was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Its warm embrace gave me the courage to get out there and strut me stuff in public.

But the singers always got priority. The average song was three times the length of my average set of two or three tunes. Often even longer than that. Now you are a punter in a pub in which you are buying beer. You have to keep quiet while the singers are singing. Some of the "floor spot" songs lasted eight or ten minutes. And you'd probably heard them eight or ten times before if you'd been a regular. These guys were not superstars. We egged them on, we clapped them, we smiled at them. But I'll tell you summat. The majority of them were shite. Tragically, a lot of the shite ones thought they were actually really good. Mrs Steve and I never really got that. If you were a shite harmonica player, at least you were done and dusted in three or four minutes, but if you were a shite singer strumming shitely on your cheap, shite guitar doing the same shite song wot you wrote earlier or wot you were murdering from a "folk source," and then you got a second shout, you could be wailing on for fifteen or twenty minutes.

I don't know what folk clubs are like these days. We transmogrified ourselves into a session that lasted twenty years, free beer for all involved. The amount of fun we had was multiplied by twenty times and we actually got people to come to the pub in droves on our nights. The real pub, not a dingy back room with an atmosphere like a chapel of rest until we managed to rescue it if there were enough of us.

We heard it all, Beatles songs, self-penned songs, Show Of Hands copy songs, Pogues aongs, you name it. Also, some real traditional folk songs. Thing is, if they were good they were good. But we knew what we were getting, we knew it was often not traditional but it was the best we could get. But at least we knew.

You blokes are not listening to Jim. You may be running, or singing in, your own folk club, or your club and the one in the next town as well, or whatever. Thing is, that does not qualify you in any way as a folk guru. My extensive experience with artists that enables me to name-drop does not make me a folk guru. Jim has been studiously collecting and archiving folk song for decades. You have not. He has mixed it with many of the truly traditional singers of old, including travelling people. You have not. He was a close intimate of Ewan MacColl for Christ's sake. When it comes to folk music and the folk music tradition I am the ultimate thickie (though I could quite likely lose most of you on traditional Irish tunes). But neither you nor I can hold a candle to Jim. He has his ways of putting things. Actually, I like his ways of putting things. He will always address what is put to him and he is full of passion for a subject that has been the love of his life. He's a right bugger at times. I could wring his bloody neck below the line on many an occasion. But when it comes to folk song I know that he knows a damn sight more than I do and from what I've seen here he knows a damn sight more than you do. Jim don't need me to appeal to you to cut him slack. Jim can cut his own slack. Just shut up and listen and leave you rather parochial egos at the door!

(Christ, Shaw, you don't half know how to lose friends...)