As I saw it the situation in the South West Folk Club scene, circa August of 1999 was in very serious decline and below is a copy of my open letter to media.
“I believe that our culture of Folk Music, Dance and its associated Arts & Crafts is under threat of fading away. In 1975 I could drive 25 miles in any direction from my home in Truro and find a healthy folk club. Today the only proper Folk Club I know about in Cornwall is the one in Bodmin. That’s a round trip of 70 odd miles for me, and therefore not an easy night out. In fairness I should state that I’ve not gone to the Bodmin Folk Club in quite some time, though I do have good reason for this; in my experience the preferred music is or was quite strictly traditional and any other forms of folk music were or still are tolerated with obvious reluctance. I speak from personal experience and cite my own case when appearing there as a floor singer in the folk group ‘Creepin’ Jane’. In that band I played electric bass, mandolin, banjo and acoustic guitars. We were not made to feel welcome and there was a definite ambivalence from the organisers because I insisted on connecting my required amplifier to the electricity supply. I believe this sort of attitude in any club is hurting the folk culture. This blinkered attitude to contemporary folk and a determination to have all things traditional will stifle emerging talent and marginalise up and coming youngsters. This traditional music has itself been going though endless changes due to the so-called ‘folk process’ as songs are passed on, mis-remembered, added to and subtracted from, and adapted to fit personal circumstances and events. This is why there are so many variants of each song; this music has always been in a state of flux. It was, and still is, constantly evolving. As it should be. Music of the people, from the people, for the people.
I don’t believe people, who pay good money, want to be ushered into Sunday School rooms or dingy and unheated little back rooms and made to sit on hard benches in cowed and reverential silence, constantly being shushed and frowned or glared at when they rustle or pass a comment to their neighbours. I believe that it’s this authoritarian intolerant attitude that has alienated the up and coming generation and left the clubs full of mature old folkers. I believe this attitude inhibits and stifles a new generation of writers and performers. There’s no doubt whatsoever that there’s a lot to be learned from the folk tradition so let’s make it easy to access. Don’t make it elitist. Yes, the singers should have respect and yes if you want to talk then go outside but for goodness sake make us feel we’re being treated as adults and not naughty little kids.
I’ve spoken with mates who have a long service in folk music and they tell me folk clubs are dead and that the new arena for this music is in sympathetic pubs. Here people can participate at their own chosen level and though some general noise must be tolerated, wherever possible the music is performed in a section of the room as far removed from the noise source as possible but without it being isolated and insular.”
As I ruminated on the decline of so many of the long established folk clubs I worried that this precious resource could be lost to a generation. As it turned out things were not quite as bad as I’d believed and I learned that folk music sessions were taking place in pubs all across the South West, some small and intimate some large and wholly inclusive.
It seemed to me the logical thing to do would be to bring all these small independent sessions together maybe once a month and let these meetings provide education, enlightenment and maybe a bit of good old fashioned interaction. So and with enormous support from my wife Chrissie and friend Malcolm James, I embarked on a crusade to put this music and all its associated Arts & Crafts back into the public arena.
With sterling assistance from the landlord and staff, Colin, Wayne & Kate, of The St. Michael’s Mount Inn at Barripper near Camborne I set up Revival 2000, an organisation that would stage events wherein singers, players, poets, writers, storytellers, all could come and perform their own particular craft. Our first introductory letter sent to all newspapers and radio stations is set out below.
A New Initiative for Folk Music in the South West
To re-establish the strong, healthy Folk Club Culture that existed in the South West during the late 60s and early 70s when a folk club/meeting was held weekly in almost every town.
To dispel the idea that ‘folk music’ means a room full of wailing doom merchants. (A quick listen to Noel Murphy’s CD ‘A Session’ would demonstrate more ably than my words can how great the atmosphere a good old sing-a-long night actually was and could be again).
To try to recreate the days when clubs had Resident Singers and dedicated supporters, when the ‘come-all-ye’, or ‘singers night’ was the norm and paid guest singers were rare, though very welcome visitors.
To gather together all the people who, like me, have been dabbling in their own local area and unite them into a coherent community that can achieve the aims of Revival 2000.
To provide again the vital social scene that the club represented.
To re-establish the club network wherein clubs visited with each other and ‘itinerants’ and ‘floor singers’ vied for the best spots to perform their particular speciality.
To get things going, we intend to hold a series of Grand Sessions. This will be run just like the old ‘Come-all-ye’ type events. Here people can meet, perform, join in or just listen to performances and, in this way we can hopefully begin to rekindle and re-energise local interest in Folk Music, Dance and associated Arts. Event One will be held on 2 January 2000 at The St Michael’s Inn, Barripper, Camborne, Cornwall.
Entry will be free and all participating Artists have agreed to give their services free of charge. A well equipped, professional comprehensive P.A. will be provided, run by the Stage Manager, Malcolm James.
The start time, or curtain up, will be around 20.00 or 8p.m. Depending on the number of Artists wishing to perform spots will be allocated on a first come first served basis, so get your names in early. A pub supper may be available for purchase and, along with the usual pub refreshments, tea, coffee and soft drinks will also be available.
The Performers to date: Keith Hills, Mic McCreadie, Julie and/or Naked Feet, Terry Broad, Larry Law, The Emergency Blue Grass Band, Harry Safari, Roger and/or the Cadgwith Singers …
That first R2K Grand Session was an overwhelming success, the room was bristling with excitement, all sorts of weird and wonderful instruments were appearing by the minute, cars were double parked all along the roadway outside, glasses were clinking, hordes of folk music aficionados and musicians were intermingling, chatting delightedly. From that inaugural event we ran for three years staging at least three, sometimes four, R2K Grand Sessions per year!
We even developed plans for a local festival type Open Air Grand Session. I must express my sincere and grateful thanks for all the help I received from the local authorities and businesses. Colin Richens, the landlord of the pub gave us total access to the gardens at the rear for the huge project which became – The Revival 2000 September Spectacular – in 2003 where funding was sought and won as detailed in an annual accounts statement below.
Application for financial assistance was made to Camborne Town Council and The Penwith Community Development Trust. I also approached local businesses for contributions with the following results:
Camborne Town Council £100.00
Penwith Community Development Trust £400.00
Sundry Contributions £ 20.00
Proceeds from donated Raffle Prizes £ 50.00
So due to this invaluable financial support we were able to stage a huge open air event which was recorded and filmed and by this means gained many more followers and fans.
Every Grand Session was bigger and better than the previous one but I had to reluctantly give up this work at the end of 2003 as my cabaret career was now also taking off somewhat spectacularly.
Below is my Newsletter on the Fourth Revival 2000 Grand Sessions held in April 2000.
1st May 2000.
I must admit I approached the Fourth Grand Session with some trepidation; I had thought it might be a rather quiet and subdued affair when I discovered at the start of the week, that Larry Law, my erstwhile singing partner, would not be able to attend. This was after I heard that Cadgwith Folk couldn’t come over, and before Mike Smith informed me that, although they’d try, the Cunning Old Celts might not make it on the night and then, to cap it all, at the very last minute, our Stage Manager and unflappable Sound Engineer, Malcolm James had to go home due to illness. I was fretting needlessly; I left The St. Michaels’s Mount Inn at Barripper very well satisfied at the turn out and yet another great night of good music from everyone involved.
From the outset Jaryon set feet tapping and had the audience singing along. I was impressed at just how quickly and well they’ve developed over the past few months. They’ve knitted themselves into a very cohesive group with an envious array of talented instrumentalists. With Brian on Banjo, Martin on Mandolin, Dave on Drum it seemed alliteration had gone mad. The others, Gill and Jon, Jon, Marion and Rose stubbornly refused to play an instrument with the same initial as themselves. Boo! Seriously though they do have a really well rounded repertoire and sound and, for my money, they get better by the minute.
Tony Shaw, in my opinion, is a master of traditional folk singing. In his first set he produced some gems from the folk tradition very ably accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. His sets are always interesting and his very impressive repertoire gives him such a diverse choice of songs that he never fails to astound and entertain us.
Toni Carver, that Bouzouki and Bodhran maniac, accompanied by Sankule on a Djembe, that’s a type of African drum, gave some exotic renditions of Bob Dylan songs with a very unique flavour. Sadly, in the middle of ‘A Working Man’, his first song, Tony had to contend with a ’not-working-very-well’ piece of stage equipment; he was subjected to The Slowly Descending Microphone Stand Phenomenon which caused great amusement among his fascinated listeners.
A surprise of a different nature lay in store with a trio from Truro who asked if they could borrow some instruments and play a set. Very quickly equipped with an acoustic guitar and bass The Porters sang three of their own compositions and took the whole room by the ears. You could have heard a pin drop. I actually dropped one to see and I swear I heard it land! Their songs were fresh and provocative. Artfully arranged, superbly presented and performed with consummate skill, they were stunning! It was one of those rare moments when you know you’ve just heard something special. They’ve already been invited to Session 5.