Voltarol - related music

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Folk me sideways part 2

Folk at the Angel, 1962. The guitarist on the left is Voltarol (long before he needed to use it). The guitarist on the right is Paul Marsden

It occurred to me when I was jotting down some notes for this posting that war toys do not necessarily lead to jingoistic bellicosity. The general ‘p.c.’ position is that if you give children guns to play with then they will inevitably lean towards violence as they grow up. As a child I was the proud possessor of hundreds of toy soldiers, tanks and artillery, as well as model war planes and a toy fort. With my younger brother, G the D, we staged endless elaborate battles that would last for hours at a time, yet when I hit fifteen I joined the CND and adopted a pacifistic stance and when G the D hit fifteen he put a brick through the window of an army recruiting office. (With hindsight he agrees that this was not the most apposite way to protest against violence but it had seemed like a good idea at the time.)

Meanwhile, back at the Hayes Young Socialists, I had been delighted to learn of the impending Hayes and Harlington Centre 42 Festival of the Arts. Of particular interest to me was the array of folk musicians, who were to perform in some of the local pubs including The Angel at Hayes End, which was just within walking distance for me. I saw Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl, A.L. (Bert) Lloyd, The Haverim Trio and Bob Davenport all in the course of one week. Better still, because I was running the door it cost me nothing, a fact which set me thinking…

Here’s McColl and Seeger performing ‘Van Deimen’s Land.

McColl and Seeger were hugely influential and dominated the folk music scene at this time. Their series of ‘Radio Ballads’ which began in 1958 had had a great impact, although McColl’s insistence that people should only perform songs relevant to their own culture was ultimately to have a fairly destructive effect on the clubs. It’s interesting that, at the time, we thought MacColl to be far more ‘authentic’ a performer than Bert Lloyd, not knowing that he was actually an actor called James Miller who had reinvented himself and had taken up song writing. Bert, who we thought to be far more of a middle class figure, had actually been a sheep shearer in Australia and had worked aboard whalers. Here he is revisiting his shearing days…

And here he is singing ‘Two Magicians’, a song which was subsequently to become a much requested part of Martin Carthy’s repertoire.

Bob Davenport is an ex-pat Geordie who has lived for many years in north London but has always mostly sung material from the North East. There seems to be very little information about him on the web and hardly any performances. I did find this however, which I have posted before as an example of the singer Lal Waterson (see Little Jazz Birds and other related species). Bob’s is (fairly obviously) the second voice. Contrary to the notes that accompany the clip I’m pretty sure that Bob is not playing guitar as I saw him many times and he always performed a Capella when not performing with his band, The Rakes.

As for the The Haverim Trio, they were three Jewish musicians who performed traditional Jewish songs and had a distinctly Klezmerish feel to their playing. Alas, I can find no reference to them on line.

When the Festival finished it left a bit of a gap in our lives and we soon started an informal gathering at The Angel once a week, where we would take it in turns to get up and perform songs.(see photograph at top of page. See also 5th paragraph of It's trad dad) ‘We’ was my friend Paul and I, along with various other CNDers, Young Socialists and the like. Unfortunately we (a) soon wore out our welcome and (b) rapidly became bored with our somewhat limited repertoire (which, let’s face it, probably had a lot to do with the fact that we (a)).

A plan was formulated and we decided to try and run a proper folk club. We eventually found premises at The Hillingdon Arms, named the enterprise ‘The Peasants Folk Club’ and booked our first act. I can’t now remember who actually performed there on the first night, but Paul and I were the resident ‘artists’ and the usual suspects from The Angel reprised their performances, this time under the grand heading of ‘floor singers’. I do know that during its relatively brief life, the club was host to Bob Davenport, The Friends of Old Timey Music, The Haverim Trio, as well as Dave Cousins and Tony Hooper -later the basis of The Strawberry Hill Boys who in turn became The Strawbs. A ‘name’ act appeared once a month and the rest of the time it was ‘singer’s night’.

We had heard, liked and got the contact details of Bob Davenport and The Haverim Trio during the Centre 42 week. I don’t remember how we located the other acts but it could well have been through the Melody Maker Folk Forum. As it happened, The Friends of Old Timey Music were locally based. At the time the group consisted of husband and wife Tam and Di Murrel plus one Bill Boot on mandolin. Di sang lead and Tam played guitar - and also banjo, if my memory serves me. They played – as the name implies – American ‘old timey’ music. The Murrels lived on a narrow boat on the Grand Union canal at nearby Cowley. (Whilst I was working on this posting I used the web to track down the Murrels. They have not made music for many years but retained their interest in canal life. They built up and ran a fleet of canal craft, subsequently selling up and moving their business to France, where they now spend much of their time, running instructional courses in canal boat handling, as well as marketing a range of ‘how to’ books and DVDs. You can find them at http://web.mac.com/tamanddi/iWeb/bargehandling.com/T%20%26%20D.Murrell%27s%20bargehandling.com.html).

‘The Peasants’ didn’t run for very long but it became the model for many other music club ventures. Once I’d got to grips with the ‘mountain and Mohamed’ principle there was no looking back, and until very recently my default position has been – ‘is there anywhere near me where I can regularly hear the music that I want to hear? No? Then I’d better start a club or organise a concert’. These ventures have always been for pleasure and never for profit and in fact over the years they’ve cost me quite a bit of money, but I’ve never once regretted any of them. However, I have to admit that Mrs Voltarol did breathe a sigh of relief when I finally hung up my promoter’s hat.

Incidentally, the ‘Paul’ that I frequently refer to is Paul Marsden. I hadn’t been in contact with him since the early seventies but thanks to the wonder of the web we have been back in contact in recent weeks. These days he is a professional website designer on the brink of retirement, whose personal web site covers (inevitably) some of the same material as this one. You can find him here. Look under 'Paul who?' for music stuff.

In the next posting I'm going to double back on the story and pick up the thread of the Blues.