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hese were the delights of the Keele Festival… these and a thousand other happenings, many of which are caught in words and pictures here. How was it possible that such a festival should happen at all? It owed much to the reshaped image the English Folk Dance & Song Society has presented to the world during the past two years or so. It owed much to the Folk Advisory Committee of the society, who set the wheels of Keele in motion and did most of the preparatory work. Above all, it owed most to the peo- ple who sang, played, talked, lectured, demonstrated… and to those who lis- tened attentively.


T Most of the people who made up The Clubs Conference W


hat the American visitors to Keele lacked in num- bers they more than made up for in interest. There was Ethan Signer,


who helped out Bill Clifton with the blue- grass music, and Arlo Guthrie, son of the famous Woody Guthrie to whom the U.S. revival owes so much, and to whom the debts of many young British folk enthusi- asts are not inconsiderable. From Ameri- ca’s number-one folk magazine Sing Out! came music editor Ethel Raim… and Broadside magazine of New York sent Josh Dunson, who came to report Keele bearing in his hand copies of his new paperback book Freedom In The Air – the story of American song movements of the nineteen-sixties.


Like everyone else, the Americans got around a lot. In such tempting sunshine, who could blame them? Indeed, there was a good deal of open-air singing, play- ing and talking at Keele. Someone described Keele as “a busy festival with numerous relaxed moments.” That was


With enormous thanks to and great mem- ories of the late Eric Winter who donated his archive to us, including all the original prints of Brian Shuel’s photos for their Keele ’65 book: and to Brian himself for agreeing to our republication here.


not a bad summing-up. Everywhere you went you could meet groups of people (Ewan and Peggy chatting to Louis Killen was a typical example) exchanging ideas, tunes and songs. The ‘traddies’ walking were one such group. They were just enjoying life. So was everyone else at Keele – except perhaps poor Rory McEwen, who bore on his shoulders the brunt of the organisational headaches.


Rory was called variously Chairman of the Keele Festival Committee and Keele Festival Director. Actually, neither the committee nor the post of director had any existence. Rory was in fact chairman of the EFDSS Folk Advisory Committee and he assumed the mantle (not to men- tion a lot of hard work) of director because somebody had to do it and the committee considered Rory a natural can- didate (or muggins!). Seriously, without the Folk Advisory Committee – set up by the Folk Club Organisers’ Conference in May 1964 – and its chairman Rory McEwen, there could have been no Keele Festival. Two committee members who stand out in the memory are Roy Guest, who did a lot of the admin, and Peter Kennedy, whose finger on the pulse of the folk scene was quite invaluable.


Two people who had come to Keele with a question mark in their minds put it this way: “We wondered what it would be like, whether there would be a hundred mini-Dylans drearily churning it out, whether there would be a drunken sham- bles, whether there would even be a riot in the Beaulieu tradition, whether any- thing would happen… well, it turned out to be a cosy, family affair really. And we enjoyed it…”


Of course, there was much to enjoy. Possibly more than anything there were the fine surprises… Tom Canning from Cork, for instance, a fine accordeonist who plays when he’s in England with the Liver- pool Ceilidh Band, and who turned out (in the middle of Saturday night and Sunday morning) to have a really splendid voice, singing traditional airs in Irish and English with an immaculate sense of style and a deal of lyricism. Another grand surprise was the arrival of Jeannie Robertson, the flower of Aberdeen, brought from Liver- pool by the Spinners.


Keele’s congregation were members of one or another of the folk clubs (over four hundred at the last count) that sing out all over Britain. The organisers of many of these clubs were present in May 1964 at the Clubs’ Conference that gave the first clarion call for a Keele Festival. At Keele, those organisers met together again for a second Clubs’ Conference.


It was here that testimony was amply given to the fact that most of the people who make up Britain’s folk clubs really care about the future of folk music in these islands. They had been exhorted by Rory McEwen, who chaired the confer- ence, to show that “we are not just trying to promote a mindless rave” and show it they did. Here the club organisers stood up to describe their efforts to extend beyond a mere club evening or two, from Cyril Tawney’s magnificent creation of a folk centre in the old Devonport (Ply- mouth) Guildhall, to Arthur Argo’s account of the wide activities of the Scot- tish Federation Of Folk Clubs. Everywhere there were signs that people did not see folk music as something that stopped when the door of a local club closes for the night. Instead, clubs are encouraging study, listening and performance that argues exceedingly well for the future of the tradition in Britain.


The Clubs Conference struck a seri- ous note on the Sunday morning, ending with a resolve to reconvene later in 1965. Then there was lunch and the traditional performers’ concerts that everyone had waited for.


What an unmatched array of tradi- tional talent it was. Shuttling between the University’s two biggest halls, the singers and players left everyone crying for more. The concerts were all too short. Almost before one noticed it, the Keele Festival was drawing to a close. It ended as it began, with a great handshaking. Those who think it unlikely they will see old and new friends again for a twelvemonth were confidently saying “See you next year at Keele.” The confidence was soon echoed by the English Folk Dance and Song Soci- ety, which booked the University for 1966 before the strains of the 1965 event had died away on the evening air.


Just as the last of the festival-goers were departing, a bottle turned up in the Students’ Union building. The bottle was labelled ‘THROAT GARGLE’. It seemed a fit- ting comment that it should be empty. F


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