Monday, August 20, 2012

The History of Coventry Folk Clubs - Part 2 - Pete Willow

Pete Willow in the 70's
This is part two of  Pete Willow's article on Coventry Folk clubs of the 60's and 70's from his Coventry Folk music magazine 'Folks', published in 1978 to 1980.

In this part, Pete deals with some of the feedback to the first part before moving on with the article..

(or how Rod Felton encountered the great Dylan/Donovan cliche)

I have been inundated with comments, some helpful, some critical, some complimentary and some not. So as a result of the 'Fifteen Folkin' Years'  feature (part one on here), I undertook a fairly detailed look at Coventry's folk heritage. I can only surmise from this reaction that the article has been a total success in what I was attempting to do. For the most part people who have been closely involved with the development of folk music in the city have have been extremely forthcoming with info and offers of assistance for future articles in the series, which means of course the task of building up a complete picture will be even more complicated than I first imagined. History is being made all the time so I don't imagine the series will ever be fully complete.

Before going any further, i'd like to try and clear up some of the statements in the last article that became subject to close scrutiny. For my own part, Covering the the mid to late 60's period was a purely historical exercise. Although I  was living in Coventry up until 1969, I was totally uninvolved with the folk music scene at the time and, to write the article, I had to rely on not only the word of others but also press cuttings, magazine articles etc., that came my way as evidence of what had happened. Since then I have been given access to more evidence, some of which seems to contradict the stuff I had seen or heard previously.

For example, i stated that the Coventry Folk Club first opened at the Binley Oak in May 1963. Many people disputed this; I heard from somebody who had checked with Barry Skinner himself that the date was 1961. And yet i had found the date in a magazine, published in 1967, only four or six years after the event. An historian's life is not a happy one!, particularly as I now have in front of me an article published in the Coventry Standard (I presume was written by Douggie Grosvenor who worked for them at the time) in 1965, stating categorically that the club was founded in March 1962!

Another point unresolved is exact beginning of the Tavern Folk Club. I said that it was open in June 1964 at the Swanswell Tavern and that the venue was 'short-lived' as the club transfered to the Wine Lodge to become the Cofa's Tree Folk Club. Some readers recall that in fact the tavern went on for quite a time after, at least a couple of years and I'd be grateful for any more information to throw light on this. For example, did the club at the Tavern continue under the same name or did someone else take it over when the Cofa's tree was formed?

I do have access to an article that appeared in the local press in 1964, stating that the club had been going successfully for about 6 months. A few quotations from that article should be of interest to those who remember the club:

"....In these commercial days, the venture is non-profitmaking, and the admission charge - two shillings for members and three shillings for visitors - goes towards paying for visits every month or six weeks by nationally famous singers like the Ian Campbell Folk Group, featured at the club on Nov 22nd. I asked Ben Arnold and Bernard Overton, two of the club's organisers, what they thought they had brought their members, now well over three hundred in all, and the answer seems undoubtedly to be the variety and the quality of the entertainment offered....I heard English and American ballads from Ben, Scotch and Irish songs from the Kerry singers, modern ballads, English, French and German from Bernard and Lesley, American ballads from the brothers and american blues from Rod Felton."

I would like especially thank the last person mentioned (Rod Felton) for his help with this issue's article. My original intention this issue has been to look at Coventry clubs in the early 70's, but I would like to postpone that for another issue or so. Roddy has very kindly lent me his famous scrapbooks, which contain a wealth of information on the local folk scene during the mid to late 60's, and more specifically on what rod himself was doing musically during this time, which is what I'd like to concentrate on for the main part of this article. Hopefully in future articles, I shall cover the same period of time as seen through the eyes of other local musicians who played different styles of music at different venues.
Rod Felton by Rod Felton 65 - 69

Above is an attempted reproduction of of a photo of Rod that appeared in the Coventry Standard in July 22nd 1965, accompanied by an article headed "Rod Felton - a newcomer in the Bob Dylan folk tradition." It went on:

"The name Rod Felton, a Coventry folk singer, could soon become a household word like Donovan or Bob Dylan - and all because of a Government decision not to go ahead with plans for the HS 681 military freight aircraft....Rod, a former commercial artist at Whitworth-Gloster Aircraft Ltd.' Bagington, was made redundant some 18 months....He had been folk singing in his spare time for two years. As he left the aircraft factory for the last time, thoughts of professional folk singing were already uppermost in his mind.

"Sipping coffee in the Sombrero, Coventry's currently fashionable coffee house with the 'in-crowd', he told be: 'I was at Whitworth-Gloster for five years and making some pocket money doing a bit of folk in the evenings. then when I was made redundant I decided to turn professional as soon as I could.....Recently he appeared at folk clubs in Coventry, Rugby, Leamington, Birmingham and London- and everywhere he goes he is approached with pleas for a return performance.

Diz Disley by Rod Felton
"Diz Disley, the well known jazz guitarist and vocalist, has been one of many to voice openly their approval of Rod's musical abilities. In fact he became such a popular fellow in Coventry that he recently shaved off his beard top escape recognition.....Rod's immediate plans include a summer season at a seaside holiday camp -  and then he is all set for the big time and a recording contract!"

Not a journalistic masterpiece, but at least the local press was showing more interest in local folk acts than they have of late.

Digressing if I may for a while, I referred in the last issue to the change of venue in 1965 of the Coventry Folk Club, from Binley Oak to the Craven Arms (now The Bear), High street. There is more detail of that in another cutting from the scrapbooks, headed "Folk Wave Hits City Scene". It describes a particular evening at the Coventry Folk Club and then runs through other folk events in the same area and mentions Rod's popularity as a popular singer. Articles like this appearing in the local press did much to bring the local folk scene to everyone's notice. Not only did the people of Coventry know that there was a growing movement of folk enthusiasm in the city, but they knew where to go to see it on stage. Local acts, like Rod, were given particular encouragement.

I hope journalists reading this take note.

Here are a few quotes from that article -
"The fact that the Coventry Folk Club at the Craven Arms was packed by 7.50 on Thursday night makes its own comment on the subtle change coming over the folk scene in this country."

"Sure enough the visitor was American, Tom Paxton. Sure enough he does sing a few protest songs. But Paxton is a vastly different kettle of fish to Bob Dylan....Donovan and their subsequent cult of demi-clad, hirsute 'folk poets' and revolutionaries"

The article describes Paxton as 'a  real professional' and implies he is not a weirdo like the others, then goes on:
"meanwhile folk music sessions are taking place in the city most nights of the week, including Sundays"
(and here is a list I could have done with when compiling the article last issue!).

"When fans congregate at the Weaver's Arms Hotel in Bell Green Road, the Cofa's Tree Folk....The Heart of England Folk Club at the Fox and Vivian, Leamington."

Then back tot he original theme when the article quotes The Heart of England F.C. chairman, Peter Farley: "...One of our most popular resident singers is a Coventrian. He is Rod Felton, the blues artist, who has shown interest in the club since our formation 18 months ago." The article also makes reference to a club Roddy ran at the Market Tavern in Coventry on Wednesday evenings.

Whether it is journalistic flair or whatever, constant mention is made in these articles about the enthusiasm and the packed audiences at these clubs. 1965 seems to have been the year when folk was 'new wave' although the impression seems to be (from the newspapers' viewpoint at least) that this was due to the cult heroes Dylan and Donovan. American influence, including country music, and of course Irish traditional music appeared to be two main factors in the folk scene, skiffle becoming a thing of the past by this time. I mentioned last issue that anthologies of English traditional material were not so abundant in the early to mid 60's as they are today; publications such as Karl Dallas were still being prepared. It could be that the so called 'Traditional' folk Clubs, such as we know them today are, strangely  enough, a more recent innovation than clubs where more so-called 'contemporary' music is played. Please write in your thousands if  I'm wrong!

Roddy and Rob Armstrong formed the New Modern Idiot Grunt Band in the mid sixties and quickly achieved fame throughout Britain and Germany. A selection of quotes from various newspapers reveals a little of their past:

"Three Coventry folk singers plan to spend a fortnight in Germany, catering for this Teutonic taste in British folk music." 1968 "Two of the trio, Geoff Smedley and Rod Felton were with the Mummers in Keil last year. Third member of the group is Rob Armstrong....They plan to present German folk fans with just about every type of folk music - blues, English contemporary, traditional and so forth. Primarily the three are going as individualists, but will occasionally play together - Rod and Rob as 'The New Modern Idiot Grunt Band' and the three of them as 'Gentle Idea'." "Rob Armstrong and Rod Felton play a kind of 'new' modern folk music with a 'beat', which involves sustained grunting. And they call themselves 'idiots'. Which all adds up to their curious name...."

These Rod Felton cuttings from The Broadgate Gnome Lots of good Cov material on that site.

More extracts from the Felton scrapbooks are included here (although there wasn't space in the magazine for all the material). Suffice to say hey are packed full of letters, cuttings, photos and posters relating to people involved with the local and national folk scene from the mid 60's to the early 70's. They also contain many details of Rod's own career as a folk singer, including tickets, ads, posters and other publicity of concerts he has performed along with Savoy Brown, 10cc, Bronx Cheer and Julie Felix. A brief rundown of rod's career up to the age of 25 appears in the programme of the concert at the Playhouse, Harlow, one of the venues where he appeared with Julie Felix:

"He has played guitar since the age of twelve and started playing in clubs at the age of fifteen. he teamed up with Beverley Kuter (Martyn) who later married and partnered John Martyn."

"He then formed the New Modern Idiot Grunt band which was a great success in Northern England and Germany. When they stopped disbanded, Rod decided to build a solo career and recently signed management and recording contracts with with Barry Murray and Harry Simmonds - managers and producers of  Mungo Jerry, Savoy Brown, Chicken Shack etc... who in turn signed him with the newly formed British Talent International Agency who handled Mungo Jerry, Savoy Brown, Prelude, Peter Skellern, Weather Report and Herbie Hancock. Rod is currently working on his first album and single."

More on Rod Felton on this site - here -

More on The New Modern Idiot Grunt Band on this site here

Another local artist who received much attention in the local and national press was Beverley Kutner (later Martyn), or just plain Beverley. The Daily Sketch (Aug 23rd 1966) ran an article headed 'Now Beverley has the key to the top' which read:

Beverley Kutner (Martyn)  cuttings sources from The Broadgate Gnome 

" If there was an award for sheer will to win in the pop business it would this year to an 18 year old singer billed simply as Beverley. Just a year ago she came to London and Demmy Cordell, who makes discs for Georgie Fame and the Moody Blues, heard her sing in a club. Cordell told me: "I offered her a recording contract. She is the only person, other than Georgie and the Moodies, I've wanted to record. "But Beverley told him: 'I'm going away - i'll see you when i think I'm ready'..Beverley went back to her home in Coventry with a guitar - which Denny Laine of the Moody Blues had given her - and learned to play. Now she is rated by Jimmy Page of the Yardbirds, as ' the best girl guitarist' he's heard."

Here is a typical selection of other cuttings about the lady, proving the press moves in mysterious way:

"She's an 18 year old Chelsea-looking brunette from Coventry who has just cut her first record. The title is 'Happy new year' (Derem)." " Beverley......wore a cool black satin pajama suit - with enormous flapping trousers - at London airport yesterday. To keep away the chill winter breezes she wore a snug fox fur on top. Beverley was flying to Munich to make a broadcast and make promote her new record....""She admires Donovan's interpretations and was particularly thrilled when, in a London club recently, he stepped from the audience and offered to accompany her on guitar." " that at 20 she has at last found her real self thanks to the Love Thy neighbour hippies of San Francisco. Beverley has just returned from Hippie-land after taking part in the Monteray pop Festival."

It seemed for a while that Beverley was in the limelight of press attention and attracting a lot of interest in the national folk/rock scene. When she married and worked with John Martyn, interest in her from the music media fell lost much of  its previous intensity. The sleeve notes on John and Beverley's album Stormbringer simply refer to the fact that she once worked for a jug band in Coventry. Mentioning no names.

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