‘How do I get to play at the Collective?’ I was asked the other day. Well, it’s easy and this applies to most other folk clubs.
First, don’t wait to be asked, take the lead and make contact. I’m sure I speak for all local clubs, sessions and sing around organisers that if you play or sing folk music you won’t be turned away. Secondly, when you do get a booking ensure you turn up. Easy isn’t it.
I’m in skiffle mode now and probably for most of the year. It’s 60 years since this form of homemade music crashed on to the music scene driven by the music of the touring American folk singers. The availability of radio and vinyl albums also helped with its popularity, even though recorded albums were very expensive relative to wages of the time. I have albums from the 1950s that I paid 25 shillings (1.25) for secondhand. Most can now be purchased on eBay for 99p. Not a good investment methinks. So what is skiffle? It was music played on cheap guitars, tea chest basses and anything that resembled a mandolin, and all could be home made. Sometimes there was a washboard, banjo and some form of percussion. This could be a wooden box, large tin or basically any container that sounded like a drum when attacked with a stick. Sometimes, one of the lads would ‘borrow’ a drum from the Boys’ Brigade or Salvation Army. At the time, these rag tag groups, they weren’t called bands, I don’t know why, were so popular that in the mid-fifties it was estimated there were 50,000 groups in the country.
Who were the Americans who brought the songs over to our shores? Here are a few names: Burle Ives (Jimmy Crack Corn, Blue Tail Fly), Pete Seeger (Mary Don’t You Weep, Wimoweh), Kingston Trio (Tom Dooley), Odetta (Cotton Fields, John Henry) – there are more but many were crossover artists from country, blues and country and western. The songs had many repetitious lines so were quick and easy to learn, unlike the more traditional English ballads.
If the overwhelming desire overcomes you to listen to some of this fantastic music, here are some names to look out for: The Vipers Skiffle Group, Chris Barbers Skiffle Group, Johnny Duncan and his Bluegrass Boys, Beryl Bryden, Chas Mcdevitt and, of course, Lonnie Donegan. There just may be some at the Collective soon. Keep an eye/ear out.
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 27 – Milkmaid Folk Club: Constitutional Club, Guildhall Street, Bury St Edmunds. Showcase. 8pm. Roger Gamble with support.
SUNDAY, MARCH 1 – Bury Folk Collective: Oakes Barn, St Andrew’s Street South, Bury. 7pm. £3 on door. Wired night – professional sound engineer, atmospheric, lights, real ale, friendly. Freds House, UsPlus, Kitchenettes, Alan Wycherley.
MONDAY, MARCH 2 – Bury Folk Collective: Oakes Barn, Bury. Traditional unaccompanied folk singing. 8pm. Free. Real ale. Everyone welcome. Contact Dave.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 4 – Bury Folk Collective: Oakes Barn, Bury. American Roots and Branches. 8pm. Free, friendly, atmospheric, lights. To play contact Bury Folk Collective. Foxearth, Pauline O’Brien, The Blues Twins, John O’Kane. ‘B’.
THURSDAY, MARCH 5 – Circle Dancing: United Reformed Church, Whiting Street. Bury. 2-3.30pm. £5. Contact Jen Larner 01284 705548.
FRIDAY, MARCH 6 – Milkmaid Folk Club: Constitutional Club, Bury. 8pm. £12/£14. Concert. Peter Knight’s Gigspanner supported by UsPlus.
-- Written and compiled by Brian Kew