Stories from the Good Old Days

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Several fans have been asking Martin to reminisce about his early days in the English folk scene. Martin liked the idea, so here's Chapter 1:


The Beginnings

in Scunthorpe told to DR :

"I thought it would be worth talking about the very first playing that I ever did. It was in the mid-'60s, during the period called the 'folk revival' in England. All over the country in the early and mid '60s these folk clubs sprang up...some of them were in pubs, and fate was on my side because the folk club I started to go to was not in a pub. I wouldn't have been allowed in, since I was only 12.

The Scunthorpe* folk club started in an old quonset hut which was just around the corner from where I lived, literally 2 blocks from where I lived, on a street called East Common Lane. It was on Tuesday nights, and I think it was a shilling to get in and sixpence for coffee or tea which, you know, was 5 and 10 cents basically. When I first went there it was just local people playing and singing and everybody had Levin and Hagstrom and Eko guitars. I was 12 yrs old, with a voice that hadn't broken, and an inability to play an F# minor chord, which was very bad because the first song I sang in public was 'Mary Hamilton' which has a very prominent F# minor in it ....(laughs)... well, it was fairly hysterical in hindsite. I think the audience probably had their fists stuffed down their throats to stop them from guffawing ...I always liked long songs, but unfortunately when you're 12 years old and can't sing or play for shit you should probably pick short songs. It was at an 'open mic' night. I was doing what was called a 'floor spot'...sounds likes something the dog does, and occasionally it WAS like something the dog does. So I got up and played 'Mary Hamilton' and then over the succeeding years I practiced, and the Scunthorpe folk club kept moving to slightly bigger and better venues. By the time I was 14 the folk club had moved to a pub...fortunately I was able to attend if accompanied (by an adult).

Some of the first performers I saw in folk clubs were people like this Irishman who basically had no career apart from singing Irish songs in pubs, and his name was Christy Moore, who of course went on to be the lead singer in Planxty and Moving Hearts and others. Then there was this little band from down in the SouthEast called 'The Halyard'...the singer and fiddle player and guitar player for them was Nick Jones. I saw Finbar Furey play the Irish pipes, and Martin Carthy so many times...Tim Hart and Maddy Prior were very regular visitors to the Scunthorpe folk club as well, before Steeleye Span was founded. It was extraordinary! Then the 'Young Tradition' came, and they were SO outrageous. I was 15. The 'Young Tradition' were 3 people who sang unaccompanied British music, but they looked like they had just walked straight out of Carnaby Street. They were SO stylin' it was ridiculous...little rectangular Roger McGuin glasses, capes, and huge bell-bottoms. The commercial edge of the folk revival was the Incredible String Band, Steeleye Span, and Fairport Convention, but the grassroots of it was this fantastic movement, very much this traditional stuff. It was also partly a political movement on some had people like Ewan Mccoll and others who were really being very political through this music, and then other people who were just there for the ride.

By this time I think the folk club was in the Crosby Hotel. The men's bathroom there had a dressing room, in addition to urinals, because it was a hotel. I remember talking to Peter Belamy, the tenor singer with the 'Young Tradition', about blues, and he and I ended up in the dressing room of this place talking about Robert Johnson and him playing me Robert Johnson songs on the guitar. This was in '68, I was 15, I was doing floor spots, and I had already done my first paid gigs by this time. The first paid gigs I ever did were at places like The Burton-Upon-Stather Women's Institute. I also played the Brig folkclub, which was 8 miles from Scunthorpe - it seemed like a long way away at the time. And the Louth folk club. By this time I'd also seen Stefan Grossman play, and of course the major blues stuff was also happening. I was having my head turned around like in the 'Exorcist' at this point."

A Fan writes: 

"Dear Martin, I hope you don't think this too presumptuous but I have been on your website
and thought I'd drop a quick line about those dim days of the first Scunthorpe Folk Club.

I remember going regularly to the club when it was in an old Nissen Hut in East Common Lane soon after it was set up. I seem to recall my cousin John Walker having something to do with its inception along with Paul Empson, both of whom I'm sure you remember.

I certainly remember you getting up on stage in the corner of the hut, lit only by candles in wine bottles, to sing and play. I'm ashamed to say I thought your singing was out of tune but I admired your playing from the outset and used to watch avidly to try and pick bits up.

I used to get up and play with my father Alf except that in the early days I could only play sitting down. I would be about 15 or 16 then - 1965 or thereabouts. We carried on playing
the clubs in various combinations until the early seventies when other commitments took over, but I still love folk music and play at home for fun. We even managed to get a folk club going in Caistor in a barn for a while but all things abate after a while and it closed."

- Neil Wilkin.


*Scunthorpe is a steel town in North Lincolnshire, in the north-middle region of the east coast of England.

Photos at the top: Left: a devoted fan sent us this autographed 1977 cover of the UK "Guitar" magazine. Right: another fan sent us this magazine cover which dates from the early '80s. The magazine 'Southern Rag' went on to become 'Folk Roots'.


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