Phil Graham - 2023 FR/02
Welcome to my second article for Folk Roundabout.
In the years following my disastrous debuts (see FR/01) my knowledge and craft improved somewhat and I had developed a close friendship with a schoolfriend called Robert Gittins. Nothing much happened beyond the two of us meeting up most Saturday mornings in Robert’s house to learn and play songs from the charts. Our main influences at the time were The Monkees, Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Beatles. From such humble beginnings was born our first ever touring pop and rock band, Victoria, and later for myself a range of other musical pursuits, some solo and some with other bands. I’ll touch upon what I called these ‘adventure’ years in future articles but for now I want to explain how I eventually entered the world of folk music…
In 1982 I had settled in to a loving relationship becoming a father in 1986. It was at this point that I made the decision to cease performing to focus on my new found parental responsibilities. I still played occasional gigs for friends and at family parties, so I didn’t give up altogether.
Enter Graeme Carroll in January 2004. I knew Graeme from Wear Valley District Council, he was a council officer when I was a councillor there between 1987 and 1991. Graeme was also one half of popular acoustic duo, Brother Crow, where he and his co-partner, Andrew Davison, could be seen at festivals and folk clubs throughout the area. They had a loyal following and had produced a couple of CD’s which were on general release. For anyone who has enjoyed or endured my revived live performances since January 2004, you have Graeme Carroll to thank… or blame.
“Why don’t you come along to Croxdale one night?” he asked.
“The folk club?” I replied derisorily. “I’m not a folk singer.”
“I know! You don’t need to be. We have all kinds of music and musicians. Come along and see for yourself.”
I’m pleased I did go along and see. The Folk Club met, as is does today, in The Daleside Inn in Croxdale, a former mining village north east of Spennymoor, and it was there that I met a most friendly bunch of people; mainly musicians, and some non-playing locals also who had come along to listen. Graeme introduced me to the likes of Chris Milner, Marie Little, Bert Draycott, The Old Aged Travellers, jiva and Fred Brierley to name a few.
I was warmly welcomed and I watched and listened intently to the singers whilst waiting for my turn to play. Being a debut I elected not to play my own songs. Instead, if my memory prevails, I sang Jimmy MacCarthy’s Missing You in the style of Christy Moore a folk hero of mine and for my second song I chose the Irish/Australian ballad, The Wild Colonial Boy.
And that’s how it all began again. With my sons now young teenagers I went along to The Daleside Inn most Tuesday fortnights from where I eventually branched out to play folk clubs and festivals across Durham, Teesside and Yorkshire.
Coming from a pop and rock and roll background I felt it prudent to modify my delivery of songs and make them folk-accessible to my newfound venues and audiences. There were, and no doubt still are, a number of purists on the folk circuit; not quite woolly jumpers and fingers in ears but doggedly and sincerely engaged in “keeping alive the tradition” not just of music but poetry, stories and dance. I recall my first visit to The Woodman Inn near Bedale where, sharing the evening with established folk performers and, following a set of some six or seven songs which included Richard Thompson’s I Feel So Good and a version of Gambling Barroom Blues played in the style of Alex Harvey, I was only mildly applauded when event organiser, Paul Arrowsmith, declared, “And there we have Phil Graham reminding us of his rock and roll roots!” I’m not entirely sure if he was being complimentary. I suspect he wasn’t.
Which brings me to a note about the people I was now associating with and performing to. The vast majority are wonderful beings, knowledgeable about the music and oh so very welcoming. One or two, though, extended only polite courtesies, barely tolerating this upstart newcomer who had invaded their circle with his barely disguised rock and roll influences. Importantly, I learned who had influence over which acts would most likely be selected to perform at festivals and the like. Get along with these people, I was advised, and a level of exposure and accessibility could be virtually guaranteed.
One of the most respected regional folk luminaries of the time was Fred Brierley. Born in 1932, Fred was kind, welcoming and bright as a button and one who regaled audiences with his vast catalogue of traditional songs and expert whistle playing. He was also a member of trad folk outfit, The Ancient Mariners. Indeed, Fred was involved in most things on the folk music circuit and, living just a few doors away from The Daleside Inn, was a regular presence there. Graeme Carroll had advised me early on “not to upset” Fred. He wasn’t threatening me or being unfriendly. No, I was advised that Fred Brierley was so well liked, venerated even, that any sleight on his name or character would be felt by many musicians and loyal friends. I heeded Graeme’s advice and when the annual Croxdale Traditional Music Festival came around in 2006 I bunged Fred two hundred pounds by way of sponsorship. My fate as a friend of Fred’s was thus sealed and I was given a slot at the festival taking the Saturday afternoon stage after jiva, The Young Un’s and before Chris Milner. Sadly, Fred died in August 2012 but his legacy and memory live on in northern folk circles.
Q: Who among you can recall your first visit to a folk club? How did you feel? Can you remember what songs you sang?
Let me know via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Indeed, feel free to email any questions you may have. I can’t promise to respond to each and every one but I’ll publish what I can on this page.