Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Pauline Black on the Coventry Folk Scene

This may be a surprise to those who only know Pauline Black as the lead singer of the Selecter, but Pauline Vickers (as she was known then) began her singing career on the Coventry Folk Scene -

- largely encouraged by the legendary Coventry ragtime guitar-player and folk club organiser - Dave Bennett.
Pauline (then known as Pauline Vickers).

First - Some extracts from Pauline's excellent and very revealing autobiography - Black by Design.
Available from Amazon here and well written and well worth a read!

"My singing career began in 1976, a few months after my adoptive dad died......I returned to Coventry to pour my grief into my new hobby, singing"  - (armed with a Spanish guitar.).

Pauline gives an evocative description of the Old Dyers Arms from that time in Black by Design....

"The Old Dyers arms in Spon End was run by Mavis, ably assisted by her long suffering husband Barry. Mavis was a Yorkshire women of ample girth, whose backcombed beehive stood up proud as the foam on her pints. She ruled her clientele with an iron fist and pulled pints with the muscular dexterity of a wrestler, but most of all she was fun. Mavis and Barry were an entertaining double act, just like the sit com characters George and Mildred.

Often a couple of the Fureys, a famous radical Irish band, would turn up in the back room for the Sunday afternoon folk session and wow everyone with their pro-republican songs. Mavis always allowed a drinking 'stayback' when they played, because invariably the room would be heaving with Guinness drinkers, which meant more money in her till. It was an exciting place to be in the mid 70's."

Enter Dave Bennett
"The bloke who ran the backroom folk club was Dave Bennett. he was an excellent guitar player, with a penchant for John Martyn songs. During one Sunday evening session, he asked his girlfriend, who sported a blond, pudding bowl hairdo reminiscent of comedienne Victoria Wood, to sing. She chose a Donovan song, Colours (Yellow is the Colour of my True Love's Hair). As soon as she began, i knew i could sing as well as her, if not better. The blokes in the pub lapped it up. I decided then and there that the following week I would attempt a song at the Sunday afternoon session. probably a surfeit of bitter shandy influenced my decision. I spent the following week practising singing while accompanying myself on guitar......"

Pauline begins with Bob Dylan
" The first song i sang in public was Bob Dylan's 'Blowing in the wind'. I had typed the words out on a piece of paper and written in the relevant chord changes. My hands shook and my voice wobbled for the opening stanzas, but then i just forgot the audience was there and performed. i loved it. Polite applause greeted my rendition, but I could see that I had impressed Dave Bennett and Terry (her boyfriend). I didn't much care about the others in the room.

The following week I turned up to the session again. Dave smiled knowingly at me and said 'Bang one out Pauline'.

I'd chosen Bob Dylan's Girl from the North Country, complete with complicated finger picking. Dave winked at me after i finished and said the immortal words: "Yeah, you can stay".

My musical career began with those four words!

Tim Crowe
"Soon after my debut, I got to know another male singer who had an anarchic streak to his performance that I found captivating. His name was Tim Crowe. His after-hours party piece was a mean version of Brown Sugar; ...Tim had an idiosyncratic style of playing and singing that was beautiful to listen to. He had the knack of the best performers, the unique ablility to take a song and make it his own. His version of Leopard Skin Pill Box hat easily rivalled that of Dylan. I liked him - he was a maverick. Musically we supported each other. Sometimes he would get so raucous he would get thrown out of the pub. On those occasions i would leave too in solidarity..."

Expanding the Territory
"By the end of 1977, i outgrew the Dyers Arms. I was offered a gig in a folk club at the Golden Cup on Far Gosford Street. (we think this was the Pitts Head not the Golden Cup - see Folks magazine below - Ed) They needed a support act quickly, because somebody else had cancelled. I think I was chosen out of desperation, because no one else was available. I wasn't sure what was expected of me, until the guy who ran the evening and booked the acts said that ten songs would be enough and would i accept £10 for the performance? Ten songs! For ten pounds! A pound a song, what a result.

Ever the optimist, I dug out my songbook and settled my first set list: a few of mine, a couple of Joni Mitchell, some Bob Dylan and some Joan Armatrading. Most of them were far beyond my capabilities but I carried on, oblivious to any technical deficiencies that i had."

"My self confidence night i was pauline the singer / guitarist, clad in yellow linen shirt and brown corduroy dungarees, performing at any folk club that gave me a gig. i didn't try too hard to be anything very much. i just enjoyed myself.

I can't remember exactly how my first gig went, mainly because I was so nervous. there wasn't any PA system, so no enhancement was offered to my vocals or guitar playing. About 30 people sat quietly and dutifully applauded when I finished each song. What I hadn't reckoned on was what you're meant to say between songs during a set. I'd never played a whole set before.....the slick patter of a professional was replaced with innumerable 'ums and ahh's'....probably my novice stagecraft became very monotonous after the third song...but nobody complained be honest the audience was waiting for the main attraction......Bert Jansch."


Below - Pauline Black going acoustic more recently.

One of Pauline's numbers was a self-penned macabre song called 'A Whore's Life' about the dreadful spate of killings around Bradford.

Pauline then goes on to described the path that led her to meet Charlie 'Aitch' Bembridge and her eventual recruitment into the Selecter.

From Pete Willow's Folks magazine
Issue 1 August 1978
"A frequent visitor to the Pitts Head folk club, Far Gosford Street, is Pauline Vickers (Later Black), who
Pitts head up for sale!
will be making her first guest appearance at any club on September 14th, and I'm sure it will be the first of many. A nice lady with a voice that will make you sit up and take notice, she has in no time at all, progressed from a slightly nervous floorsinger to a highly competent artist. And with good looks thrown in she can't go fail."
September 4th - PAULINE VICKERS - First guest appearance of a local lady with a beautiful voice.
Well that prediction certainly didn't fail!

In Pauline's book she mentions the first gig as being at the Golden Cup, Far Gosford Street. Looking at Folks Magazine, it looks like this was the Pitts head instead as its advertised as her first paid gig. She's advertised as the main artist - no mention of Bert Jansch. Donald Gregory suggests the same thing in response to the article
"Donald Gregory I remember seeing her at the Old Dyers Arms. Then I saw her at the Pitts Head in Far Gosford St., which was apparently her first paid gig. It was the Pitts Head and not the Golden Cup (unless they were 2 separate events)  I definitely saw her at the Pitts Head. I don't remember Bert Jansch but I could have missed him.."

Trev Teasdel's Memories.
"About 1978 my friend Sue came up to visit and i took her to the Old Dyers Arms - Dave Bennett's folk club. Pauline got up to do a floor spot. I'd never seen her before but she seemed to break the mould in more than one way. Folk clubs back then were largely male dominated and white and often traditional. Pauline was none of those and bravely got up to sing not just the usual contemporary songs played in folk clubs but tackled numbers by the Stones and Joan Armatrading. I'd never heard a Stones number or a Joan Armatrading song played in a folk club before. I was most impressed as I loved the music of Joan Armatrading. As far as i remember she played Paint it Black but may have done Brown Sugar too. I thought it was very brave as some folk clubs are not tolerant of material from the rock or pop arena. Sue and I went over to give her the thumbs up, thinking she had good potential but never imagining that in a year's time she would become the queen of Ska!.

About a year or so later i went to a Lanchester Polytech gig. Neol Davies had a new band called Selecter I'd known Neol since the Umbrella club some 10 years before and went along to catch his latest band. I was surprised to see not only Pauline there but Neol talking to her. Things had clearly progressed and i assumed he'd persuaded her to do a solo spot. It was a great surprise then to see Pauline get upon stage with the band and without the guitar!  It was just prior to the release of On My Radio and although the songs had the Neol Davies sound I remembered from earlier bands like Mead they had this new sound and very danceable pulse we've come to know as Ska. In the past, in a student environment, you just listened to the band but this new music insisted that everyone move - it was impossible to stay still however self-conscious you felt! Pauline had dramatically upstaged her folk singing alter ego and soon On My Radio would be racing up the charts. The rest of course is history!"

 This is Pauline Black's Selecter with a song that returns to folk roots, based on a Woody Guthrie song -

Below, Pauline Black's first live solo appearence at Folk at the Pitts in Coventry, then known as Pauline Vickers.

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