Chapter 9: The Folker
A move to Horley in 1973 coincided with band gigs drying up in many places, with the rise of mobile discos. I played for a while with The New City Jazzmen in Crawley and was most fortunate to back George Chisholm and, subsequently, Sammy Rimington. Sammy nearly had me thrown out for joining him and two of his colleagues from his rock band Hearts of Oak, playing Zappa's Hot rats in the interval.
Until this point, I'd played mostly with others. However, I now turned to folk clubs again and, luckily, Folk at the Chequers had just been started in Horley by Kevin McPhillips. For the next four years I played there nearly every Sunday. After a while, to avoid repetition, it became necessary to write my own songs. The Chequers attracted audiences of about a hundred each week to see the top acts of the day. Several, like Jasper Carrott, had hit records at about this time. I was able to learn much from them of the art of handling an audience.
In 1974 I saw The Who again, this time with Keith Moon and a rather larger crowd, at Charlton Football Club. Also on the bill were Lindisfarne (three stars), Bad Company (three stars), Maggie Bell (one and a half stars), Humble Pie (two and a half stars), Lou Reed (one star), and Montrose (one star). The Who had started brilliantly with I can't explain and had everyone on their feet and out of the lethargy that sets in at such occasions, in the interminable space between acts, which is extended for the bill topper to use their light show effectively. Roger Daltrey postured effectively on See me, feel me, Won't get fooled again and Baba O'Riley. The band played well, but Pete Townshend's jumping around became a little tedious, as did a slowed-down version of My generation. Sitting on grass and listening to a sound system which for all its power cannot create the atmosphere of a club, seemed a poor second best; it's more about being there with a large number of people than hearing the performers. That summer too, I was privileged to hear Count Basie at Eastbourne, with legends Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis on sax, Freddie Green on guitar and showman drummer Sonny Payne bouncing his sticks a mile high off his snare drum and catching them. But the venue similarly lacked atmosphere.
In 1975, I arranged recordings at The Chequers, with a view to releasing an LP. My sometime singing partner, Ivor Aylesbury (who with The Silkie had a major US hit with You’ve got to hide your love away) was leaving. With impeccable timing, the LP finally saw the light of day at the end of 1976, just before the club closed at the beginning of 1977. Richard Digance was a frequent visitor to the Chequers. We played together a few times. He gave me some lyrics and we knocked about ideas. I played Cambridge Folk Festival and a succession of folk club gigs. Richard brought his manager, Jazz Summers, and his then record producer, Tony Atkins to The Palace of Folk, Royal Oak, New Malden.to hear my blues version of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. Jazz and Tony financed a recording of this, with some really good session musicians.
Kevin, Richard and I went to see Tim Hardin at Ilford. It was sad to see this shell of a man, who went blank between numbers and seemed unable to put two words together with which to address the audience. Once he began playing, he was fine, but the audience grew increasingly restive and began heckling with things he couldn't hear or understand. In a lull, I shouted Black sheep boy to Tim and he said ok and did it perfectly. Tim’s landmark early LPs don't seem to offer very good value. The songs are superb, but often sound similar, there may only be five on a side and they last only two minutes each. You need a lot of songs (as the punk bands were to demonstrate) or a lot of patter between songs in these circumstances. Sadly, Tim had neither. When he died within a month of John Lennon, I was struck by the double tragedy and more so by the fact that Tim's death was completely overshadowed by that of John.
Shortly after Cambridge, I played the Birmingham Repertory Theatre club, where Jasper Carrot had recorded his first album. The Rep did not begin until 11pm on a Friday night i.e. when the pubs had closed and most of the capacity audience seemed to be there to continue a good end-of-week evening out. They were warmed up and good humoured, but the P.A. system had broken down. I bellowed The evening was pleasantly memorable, unlike a ghastly night at Bedford College Folk Club (which the organiser announced to be the best folk club in London). The fine piano-playing singer-song writer, Paul Milns, preceded me on stage. The audience just continued talking loudly. They gave me slightly more attention, only because I bellowed. I cast The Wild Rover before them and left them to sing it on their own. They didn't notice and the organiser broke a bottle on the floor, banging in time to the chorus. When Hedgehog Pie played jigs, the audience threw themselves about like demented idiots.
Kokomo supported by Graham Parker and The Rumour at Sussex University was an enjoyable evening. Graham Parker worked hard, although Kokomo seemed tired. I was shocked to see Mel Collins throw his sax in the air and, thankfully, catch it towards the end of the evening.
My brother-in-law, Phil, was a Merchant Navy engineer. When he came home from long, deep-sea voyages, we would have a ‘soiree’in London. These events usually involved listening to good music and drinking excessively. However, we didn't drink at all when we went to see Queen at Hyde Park in 1976. Thus were we able to avoid using unsatisfactory toilets. The audience seemed to be perpetually on the move, stepping between and on those already sitting, edging nearer the stage in search of non-existent seating spaces and prompting irritated shouts of 'sit down'. If The Who at Charlton had made me waiver, Hyde Park decided me that I wasn't going again. Once more the day seemed too long. Supercharge were entertaining, Steve Hillage wasn't. Kiki Dee was and Queen were great and worth the wait for darkness. Then began a tape of the operatic section of Bohemian Rhapsody. At the moment where that ends and becomes a rock guitar solo, there were magnesium flashes, the lights went on and the band burst into a ‘live’ performance of the song to the end. A great start. They worked hard and got the audience to sing along. The only low spot was an extended solo from Brian May with lots of echo effects which included him playing Frere Jacques with himself, while his guitar reflected a piercing light which dazzled us.
Phil and I had previously been to The Marquee to see Supercharge. However, they had cancelled that night and were replaced by the Fabulous Poodles. Their material was humorous and John Peel was enjoying it next to me. One of the best Marquee gigs we saw was by the Kursaal Flyers. Paul Shuttleworth was a terrific showman, in his spiv's suit and Don Ameche moustache, who engaged the audience's attention constantly. We didn't know their material either, but it didn't matter. I bumped into Tony Atkins there, on his way home from a session in the upstairs studio, but nothing was happening with the Rudolph recording.
Phil and I saw Bob Kerr's Whoopee Band at the Golden Lion in Fulham. I'd seen them on three previous occasions but there were always bits I'd missed previously, because there was so much going on on stage. It is a double pleasure to share music you like with someone and find that they enjoy it to the same extent. Later, we saw The Cure during their residency at The Marquee and afterwards renewed a previous, brief, acquaintance from Crawley. The Motors played at another night we enjoyed at The Marquee. They played three renditions of Dancing the night away which I bought, but it still wasn't a hit.
I enjoyed playing Cambridge Festival again, this time on Main Stage. Loudon Wainwright was, as ever, funny and in total control. However, the stand –out memory is of the late Steve Goodman singing his unaccompanied ballad of the young, Vietnam war widow, Penny Evans, to a capacity crowd. I’d been struck by hearing the song many times, but this rendition really brought the tears to my eyes. On 9 December I played a memorable date at Brighton Polytechnic. As luck would have it, the night was recorded on video by the student Television Society. This was radical for 1976 and I paid for a copy to be made. In those days, formats had not been standardised. The recording was made in a Panasonic format, but Pat Kingston at the Poly suggested helpfully that I might like a copy made in Phillips, as that was what most people would have. He was correct. Here's another example of how things have changed. I had difficulty finding a shop which sold blank videos. Eventually a friend found one in Croydon and bought a one hour blank for me. It cost nearly £15 (the cost of a good VHS equivalent at the time of writing over 20 years later, is about £4).
On Maundy Thursday 1977, I played The Lord Raglan in Wolverhampton. It took six hours to get there in a blizzard. My legs were freezing and when I got out of the car, I discovered that the backs of my trouser legs had been lying in a pool of water. I arrived at about 9pm, which was late. I apologised but the organiser was not best pleased and put me on stage straight away. It was hard work, playing to tables and to the backs of some heads. At the end of the evening, the organiser said 'yow'm not funay. How much was it again?' - the dreaded words which mean you've got to negotiate at the end of a hard evening. Talking to other performers, you realised that some venues made a habit of this and never had large audiences.
I said I'd do it 'for the door'. He daresaid that I'd spent a long time developing this act, but it hadn't gone down here tonight and it wasn't going to go down tomorrow in Edgebaston (The Waterworks - a venue where he'd also booked me to play). He would like to cancel it. I said OK, but I'd still require the same fee. He reluctantly moved me from headline to support act. Next night at Edgebaston was packed, but the P.A. system was picking up much dialogue from taxi drivers. When I came on I switched the system off and bellowed. It was an unexpectedly good night for me and, moreover, I was finished before midnight.
These two days highlighted all that was good and bad about folk clubs. Small, indifferent audiences on one hand, large enthusiastic audiences on the other. For every good organiser who ran a good club and offered somewhere to put your sleeping bag afterwards, there were negative, unappreciative organisers who demanded re-negotiation of fees (which were minimal in the first place). The pleasure of visiting new places briefly at night, was often outweighed by the need to travel long distances. I decided to give up touring. On the advice of Richard, I scraped together money to buy the Rudolph master tape from Jazz and Tony, with a view to trying to place it myself.
Copyright © John Scott Cree 2001
Chapter 1: "As easy as Pye" describes what happened next or click here for Chapter 10: "Now is the hour".
Back to Homepage