Saturday, 13 August 2011

Extracts: four, five, six...

Photo is proof copy (for obvious reasons!): Jumping Jack and 'Scotty' busking in Leicester Square, 1968.  (Copyright Pat Keene).

I met a character named John Sidfall in Dublin back in 1964. I walked into O' Donaghue's bar5 in Baggot Street and asked if I could play. The barman was hesitating, he wasn't sure so there was John sitting with three or four old drunkards stuffing their faces with Guinness. They said: 'Let him play.' A pause. Then an afterthought: 'What do you play?' I said: 'Skiffle' and gave them 'Freight Train' and a couple of similar songs. Afterwards I sat down with John and had a couple of drinks. He seemed to live on Guinness, which he swore by, saying that, as in the advert, Guinness was really good for you...

5 O' Donaghues – famous bar in Dublin that features traditional music, home to the Dubliners and many others.


Back now in Devon, I was practising every day and managed to get a couple of spots on Westward Television as it was then by the simple procedure of walking in and saying: 'How about a gig?' You could in those days, television was more informal and they had a show called 'Westward Diary' which I appeared on. So I'd play them a song, £12, I think I got paid. Didn't get any further work, mind you. But I was involved in the embryonic folk scene that was down there, playing in the clubs. I was doing American stuff which was frowned on by a lot of the folky purists. But I made a few quid, got some guest bookings here and there and started up the Paignton folk club with a guy called Max Eastley6 who went on to be a good guitar player and we played together quite a bit, people liked us. And that's where I first met Don Partridge and Alan Young who were busking in Torbay at the time. I somehow bumped into them and got them a gig in the folk club. All kinds of people – John Renbourn7, Martin Carthy8, they'd do a circuit, Exeter, Newton Abbot, Sidmouth, Exmouth – we'd get them a week's work to make it worth their while to come down and it was good for us because it would pull people to the club. 

6 Max Eastley - musician who later became famous through his innovative explorations of kinetic art, sound and sculpture combined. A pioneer in the field of sound art and installations.
7 John Renbourn 1944 – Superb guitar player who solo and in tandem with Bert Jansch took acoustic/folk guitar to another level. Founded the folk rock band Pentangle with Jansch.
8 Martin Carthy 1940 – Another pioneer of folk guitar. He took the route back into the tradition and became one of its finest singers and interpreters, tailoring his guitar style to match the material, moving away from the blues and skiffle influences. His playing undergirded his singing in novel ways for English folk music.

I had played guitar in various places round the country, doing some occasional busking and even a couple of floor spots in folk clubs. My transition from would-be jazz pianist to folk strummer/finger picker/singer had been fairly swift – probably because I realised on my first forays on the road that a guitar was more portable. Also the influence of the country blues musicians I had come to via my interest in jazz – then Bob Dylan. With Woody Guthrie standing somewhere at the back of it all...  Now I was encountering the London buskers – the Young Turks who had forced their way onto a rough old scene in a generational putsch, Alan, Don and Pat, with the collaboration of two of the older buskers, Megan Aikman and Norman – AKA Jumping Jack the tap dancer. Maybe Norman had been too crazy for his generation anyway. He fitted right in to the London of the Sixties, about to enter its own era of craziness.

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