Behold the mystical singing hat. Once donned, it bestows magical powers, enabling the wearer to sing his heart out, to hold a tune, remember all the words, keep good time, sing strongly or softly in keeping with the mood of the song, with the audience enthralled and enthusiastically joining in. It is a confidence booster, an ice breaker, a creater of atmosphere, a channeler of witticism, an enhancer of funny lines and an enabler of riotous applause at the end of a short but superbly performed floor spot.
Morley had its first meeting of the newly formed folk club last Wednesday. Apparently it has been 20 years since we last had one, although nearby Cleckheaton has a lively one and even a regular folk festival.
I have happy recollections of the Grange Folk Club, one that used to meet every week in the cellar bar of our Hall of Residence at Coventry. It wasn’t a big room and was crowded with forty in but it had a good atmosphere. It also kept the prices low and the bar solvent, as we used to hike the beer up a few pence on Thursday evenings when the folkies turned up. (It was still much cheaper than a Pub).
Living with a folk club that didn’t have a booked act for a year though, eventually the repertoire of most of the regulars became a bit repetitive. Hallett (Neil Plumpton Hallett-Carpenter) used to perform “Oh Cyril”, a comedy song variant of “Oh Carol”. Ron the Cornishman used to do “Rain”, an unlikely but ultimately successful folk arrangement of a Uriah Heep album track. One of the regulars who fancied himself as a bit of a Mike Harding used to sing a song called “Threshing Machine”, a thinly disguised smutty song with knob jokes.
Eventually, I moved out of Halls, rented a house the other side of Cov and drifted away. I experienced folk music in Pubs and venues elsewhere (particularly in Ireland where it is practically a National Institution) but never really went to any other club as such (one where the Members decide what goes, not the Landlord).
So, when talk of a Morley Club hit the papers, I was curious. It was being held in Morley’s Regency Ballroom, somewhere I haven’t been in before (the former Co-op Hall, now a dance centre). Having seen a picture of it in a recent local history book about the Co-op, it struck me as being far too big a venue for an intimate club so with somewhat minimal expectations, I climbed the two flights of stairs on the night.
My first impressions were mixed- the club was meeting in a smaller room to the left but there was some rather authoritarian signage demanding silence during the night and a no entry sign on the door warning not to enter whilst people were performing. There was already a roomful there (including some familiar faces) but I was able to find a table near the front and to sit facing the small stage.
As atmosphere goes, the room sucked. It had harsh fluorescent lighting and an unpleasant large damp stain in the plaster. Not very comfortable fold away chairs were arranged bier kellar style and there were some cinema seats along the side walls. Passing through into the ballroom itself, I was to find more cinema seats arranged in pairs around small tables on each side of what was essentially a fairly plain victorian meeting hall. The room had many large windows curtained with rich velvet drapes, coloured lamps adorned the exposed roof trusses and two large velvet shaded chandeliers hung from the ceiling, unlit. There wasn’t a stage or platform but there was a Disco box manned by a grey haired lady who I gather runs the place. A staircase at the door end led to regions unknown above the bar and I noticed two cactus cutouts up there, peeking out above the parapet. (Cardboard cut-out Cacti are a dead giveaway for line dancing). A few couples could be seen dancing to a Samba version of the Doctor Doolittle song “Talk to the animals” and I have to say that whilst it was pleasant, nothing struck me as Regency about the place at all.
Back in the folk club, I surveyed the room. There was a good turnout, about fifty or so, with beards and woolly jumpers in abundance. There were also lots of guitar cases on and near the stage. The room wasn’t really decorated, apart from a couple of plates with stars and stripes flags and a few small prints of cowboys.
Keith, the organiser (resplendent in compulsory showbiz compere waistcoast) announced that it was time to get started, and after trying the two light switches to check which combination worked best (neither!) introduced his Son who was going to accompany his fiddling on the bodhrán. Despite two extensive stays in Galway before, I’ve never seen anyone actually spray the drum skin before, something the lad did several times. However, the room was rather cold (which caused tuning problems throughout the evening) and Keith had to abandon his set early as his violin kept detuning. Next up was a bearded floor singer and when he reached the chorus, it turned out that 80% of the audience knew the words and joined in with good harmony. (The Silence rule referred to talking, not singing along).
After the singer, an older Guitarist took the stage, adopting a slightly unusual hunched position to play his two songs. He was followed by a young lad called Dylan who played his two songs well with a an intermediate style that alternated between strumming and fingerpicking on the fly, very good for a 12 year old.
After the four floor performers, it was time for the guest artist, Bruce Michael Baillie. Bruce was very entertaining, particularly his spiky hair which made me think of Sonic the Hedgehog.
After a short interval, a couple took to the stage, first singing unaccompanied, then with a squeeze box. They were then followed by another singer who wore sandals and a bright lime green woolly hat. (I thought I recognised him but he wasn’t who I was thinking of). After him was another couple, the mustachioed guitarist again and his wife. Finally, Bruce returned to the stage but the audience was gradually thinning out from 10pm until when we stopped at 11 (venue curfew).
I was joined by two Beer buddies before the interval, neither of which I was expecting. (One had called off with indigestion and the other said he would turn up when the Seekers appeared. He was later to refer to the evening as being like middle earth so they are now known as Bilbo and Frodo…)
So, what did I think? The cold and the harsh lighting were downsides, as was the beer which whilst reasonably cheap at £2.10 was only available as fizzy keg. The signage was rather officious and the presenter Keith wasn’t overly charismatic. On the other hand, having the bar in the other room was less of a distraction to the performers and everyone who played &/or sang was good, some very good indeed. If you didn’t want to drink teas & coffees were available, but signs behind the bar made it clear that they weren’t going to let you have tap water. I suspect that 90% of the audience were from other nearby folk clubs and their continued support will be needed to keep the club going for a while yet. The room was the right size but one a similar size in a Pub or Club with good beer and a more flexible attitude to closing times would work even better. (Sadly, Pubs in Morley are an endangered species). Meeting twice a month sounds about right and there is a programme in place until April, subbied by our local Area Committee. Membership costs £2 with £1 off the door price and it is certainly a pleasant evening so I intend to go again.
Berkana 3rd March £5/£6
Kieran Halpin 17th March £8/£9
Singers night 7th April £2.50/£3.50
Photos from the night below, no flash of course so not too sharp. hover for text.
Just to finish on a song, here is Uriah Heep performing “Rain”. Try to imagine it strummed on a guitar and sung in a Newquay accent…
***UPDATE*** a quasi-folkie from work tells me that the Clecky folk scene isn’t that lively…