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81 f Festival Year Zero


Keele Folk Festival 1965 was where the UK folk festival scene that we know today really started. We take you back to the beginning, and over the following pages the whole story is illustrated with Brian Shuel’s remarkable photos.


We’re talking the dawn of time here! Younger people used to the hundreds of folk festivals that take place every year in the UK may be surprised to realise that before 1965 there weren’t any as we know them today, mixing large and small concerts, workshops, informal sessions and a bit of dancing. Up until then, there’d been folk dance festivals and grand multi-artist song concerts in big


the increasing prominence of folk music in all communications media has gradual- ly created an undefined need for centrali- ty and a focal point.


T


The English Folk Dance and Song Society is the one organisation which should be able to provide this leadership, yet in past years it has signally failed to do so. However, early in 1964, owing mainly to the continuing efforts of Peter Kennedy, the EFDSS started to ‘get with’ the folksong club ‘scene,’ and out of its Club Organisers’ Conference in May ‘64 came the definite call for a Folk Festival. The Folk Advisory Committee of the EFDSS, which was formed as a result of the Conference, and which has some twenty members from all over Britain, was put in charge of running a Festival, and work started.


First problem: where to have it? It was decided to approach Keele University for two main reasons: a) relative geo- graphical centrality; b) the amenities available. Also, the ‘campus’ set-up at Keele seemed to favour what might be the main event of the Festival: the Club Organisers’ Conference.


Once Keele had been decided upon, the other aspects of the thinking on the Fes- tival fell into place. It would be basically a residential weekend, with the possibility of a limited number of non-residents attend- ing the events. Unlimited attendance, as at Newport, even if desirable, would be out of the question, for there is nowhere to erect tents, nowhere to sleep locally for really large numbers of people, and nowhere nearby to park really large numbers of cars. Tickets are therefore limited.


he idea of a major folk music festival in Britain has been in currency for a number of years. The emergence of more and more clubs and singers, and


halls, but in July of that year two events saw their birth, Keele and Cambridge. And Keele was the first by just a few weeks. As anoth- er season kicks into action, fRoots looks back at that extraordinary event through contemporary writing and later reminiscences. One of the first signposts that something was about to happen was this feature by Rory McEwen in Folk Music issue 10, Spring 1965.


“Who will be there?” is the question that is most often asked at this stage, together with “Will there be any tradition- al performers?”


The answer is this: the committee felt that, in principle, the more performers and experts who could be persuaded to attend as residents the better. However, since there are several hundred singers in the clubs in Britain, and since the EFDSS is not in a position to take a large financial risk that would be involved in offering fees, expenses etc. to even a percentage of them, it was decided to divide all ‘per- formers’ into three categories: 1) work- shop directors; 2) traditional performers; 3) revival performers.


The Festival is based on the principle, tried and tested elsewhere, of workshops and joint discussions; the workshop direc- tors are therefore the hard core who must guarantee to be there, and they have been invited to do the job for a fee plus expenses.


Twenty-three traditional performers have been invited (several have already accepted); they have been offered expens- es and accommodation, and nearly 60 ‘revival’ performers, both professional and amateur, have been offered residence at cost, to be refunded to them, wholly or in part, after the Festival. Judging by the response so far, a large percentage of those invited will accept; there will be pro- portionately as many traditional as revival singers (possibly a higher proportion of traditional singers).


The Festival, with all its varied activi- ties, will centre on Keele’s Students’ Union and will flood out into the halls and rooms around it. Residents will have their meals in the University refectories; those arriving by day on Saturday or Sunday will be able to get snacks and refreshments, and licences will be extended as late as


possible. If the weather is fine, Saturday will no doubt see many informal gather- ings out of doors; there is space for every- one under cover.


The Festival, to be successful, must conform in shape to the limitations of the site; Keele offers a sort of controlled infor- mality, and this is what we hope the Festi- val will be like – not a complete shambles as at Newport, and not an over-regiment- ed ‘course’ in folk music, but a balance.


If all goes according to plan, in fact, Keele should be a Festival in the full sense of the word – an occasion where people with a passionate interest in common can strengthen, freshen and celebrate that interest by sharing it and communicating it with each other.


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