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  • Writer's pictureKeith Dersley

All of the Folk Scene That Was There to Be Dug

Updated: Nov 10, 2019

Northgate Grammar School’s Music Room stands out in glorious retrospect for two reasons.

First, was the morning when #RobinHallandJimmieMacGregor, two Scottish youths from the ‘Tonight’ programme on TV, appeared on the podium there soon after assembly. They caused the off-white acoustical tiles to vibrate with song and guitar licks after waving aside the microphone offered by one of theteachers—Mr Wilding, I believe. Think of ‘Scarlet Ribbons’ and ‘Coulter’s Candy’, and you’ve got a fair idea of the flavour of the gig. (A picture of the duo performing at the school appeared in the #EveningStar that night.)

Folk guitar being fingerpicked.

Generally, however, you associated the Music Room with earnestness rather then enjoyment. At Northgate, if you didn’t play an instrument, not so much as a humble recorder or harmonica, and you couldn’t read the stave, music was not a subject likely to appeal. I remember hearing the record of a concerto or two, and carefully copying down music notation from the blackboard.

One day Mr Parry played a record one of the boys had brought in, ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’. It sounded great on the hi-fi, and he played it loud. However, he said it made no sense, musically. The B-side, ‘This Boy’, was, he conceded, a little better. A year or two later, he pronounced approvingly that ‘Help’ was a rondo.

The other reason for the Music Room’s immortality is that around 1966 it became the venue for an after-school activity. We had a Folk Club on a Thursday from 4:15 to 6:00. A grand piano was there already, and guitars, flutes, and tambourines were brought in. Some of these instruments were carried by creatures in green, which we soon realized were girls from the school next door.

This cultural event was integrated.

At that time I couldn’t play a note, but it made me want to get a guitar. My friend Kip Richmond, a member of the Witnesses (a pop group, as we called them at the time, and not a religious organisation), provided tuition. He showed me how to tune the thing, when I had acquired one for £3 off my mate Chickie Brill.

Colin Fudge, who sat close to me in class, was a keen folk fan, and his younger brother, Lester, was a guitarist and singer with quite a few numbers in his repertoire. They included a crying blues that was received with gales of laughter. Though disarmed by this response, Lester continued to the end.

Some of the lads loosened their ties, or discarded them, and in subsequent weeks, one or two stylish sweaters were seen at the club.

It was a relaxed atmosphere in which we listened to songs like ‘500 Miles’ and ‘By the Banks of the Ohio’, as well as numbers from the songbooks of #BobDylan and #Donovan. ‘The Times They Are A-Changing’ and ‘Catch the Wind’ made us feel for an instant like members of an underground cult.

We were aware that the school caretaker in his brown overalls, with bucket and mop, was doing the rounds of the junior and senior quadrangles. Whether he was a folk fan I don’t know, but he had his bunch of keys at the ready for when we had departed.


Book cover showing spacecraft.

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