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Hugh Rippon was working for the EFDSS as their Public Relations Officer at the time. With fellow staff members Roy Guest and Tony Wales he went up to Keele early to help set up the festival. Hugh admits that they really didn’t know how the festival was going to turn out, although they felt that the university bursar’s fears of drugs and riots were unlikely to be realised! Hugh remembers many fuddy-duddy attitudes to the festi- val from some EFDSS members, although the festival was underwritten by the Soci- ety. Nan Fleming-Williams, the Society’s principal musician, was “one of the few EFDSS people who responded enthusias- tically,” and many people still recall Nan, Dave Swarbrick and Aly Bain fiddling together like demons in the early hours of the morning.

The Rev. Gary Davis at Keele 1966

who were invited – almost twenty – and the fact that the festival gave the opportu- nity for the revivalists to meet the tradi- tional singers and musicians informally.

There was uillean piper Felix Doran, Michael Gorman and Margaret Barry, The McPeake Family and Packie Byrne from Ire- land (or the Irish community in England). Scotland provided Jeannie Robertson (she hadn’t been booked, but she came any- way), Jimmy McBeath, Gaelic singer Flora MacNeil, and Alex and Belle Stewart. Rep- resenting England, there was Fred Jordan (still a regular at the National), Stan Hugill, Bob Roberts and Scan Tester. Over the fol- lowing twenty-five years, almost every tra- ditional singer and musician in Britain who has been willing and able to travel to the festival has been invited. A full list would be almost impossible to compile, but would include Lizzie Higgins, Willie Scott, Walter Pardon, Bob Cann, Seamus Ennis, Holme Valley Tradition, Jimmy Power, Oscar Woods, Frank Hinchliffe, Johnny Doughty, the Copper Family, Sara and Rita Keane, Rev. Gary Davis, Gordon Hall, Paddy Tunney… a folk music Hall of Fame.

For singers such as Bob Davenport, the guest booking policy was crucial. “The tra- ditional performers will provide the reality to measure the ideas against,” he wrote in the festival programme.

Norma Waterson remembers that

when The Watersons started singing as a group again in the 1970s, they were sur- prised that, in contrast with the ’60s, clubs and festivals – with the exception of Keele/Loughborough – seldom booked tra- ditional performers. The Watersons react- ed by refusing to appear at festivals unless traditional singers were also booked.

Keele’s policy led to the relaxed and intimate atmosphere which it was felt would be most appropriate for the tradi- tional performers. On the Saturday evening of the first festival, there were five separate events, billed as “informal ceilidhs and concerts” (although there was no dancing), each with comperes such as Louis Killen, the Ian Campbell Folk Group, Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger and the Spinners to introduce the guests. The Sun-

day afternoon saw two concerts featuring all the traditional performers.

The campus setting meant that resi- dential accommodation on a single site was available for everybody (in the first year there was no campsite!), and so both performers and audience members could not only sing and play together, but also meet, drink and eat together socially as well. Breakfast with Martin Carthy, lunch with Jeannie Robertson, and dinner with Scan Tester!

audience were all mixed up and there was no split between performers and audi- ence. There was no ‘top table’ for per- formers in the dining room, no separate accommodation, no elitism.”


Revival performers were not forgot- ten in the line-up and the first Keele included Martin Carthy, Anne Briggs, Syd- ney Carter, John Foreman, the Ian Camp- bell Group, the Spinners, MacColl and Seeger, Louis Killen, Cyril Tawney, Bert Lloyd, The Watersons, Colin Ross, Johnny Handle, and many more.

During the daytime, the hot summer’s weather attracted many of the performers out into the university grounds, and many impromptu song and music sessions devel- oped. It was a pattern which was contin- ued at Loughborough when musicians from Old Swan, Flowers And Frolics, New Victory and Umps And Dumps bands all played under the huge tree outside the Students’ Union building.

With all the enthusiasm and excite- ment the festival generated, it was too much to expect everybody to wander off to bed when the formal sessions ended just before midnight, and many singing parties carried on late into the night in the halls of residence. This also started a pat- tern which continued for many years at Keele and Loughborough. Eric Winter remembers that apologies for the late- night music had to be made to one of the university lecturers: the head of music!

o Tony Davis of The Spinners, the democratic nature of Keele made it like no other festival. “Traditional singers, profession- al singers, club singers and

Back at work on Monday morning, Hugh, Roy and Tony agreed that the festi- val had been a remarkable success. There and then Hugh wrote the editorial for the following issue of English Dance And Song magazine: “The first Keele Folk Festival was an historic occasion. One was aware of an electric spirit, an excitement in the air. People had so much music in them that they spent till the early hours of both mornings getting it out of their systems, and it finished on the Sunday afternoon with an upsurge of spontaneous jigging around to the dance music.” Scan Tester’s system was still full of the music: he played his concertina throughout the journey back in Reg Hall’s car. The weekend had been Scan’s most exciting musical outing, Reg remembers.

Ambitious plans for bringing in televi- sion crews, and for recording the festival for an LP came to nothing, but the sights and the spirit of the festival were captured by Brian Shuel’s camera. Eric Winter’s Sing magazine produced a souvenir of the festi- val using Brian’s photographs; it’s now a collector’s item.

Barely had the music died down than the university was booked for 1966, and the planning started over again. Both Martin Carthy and Bob Davenport believe that the first festival would not have suc- ceeded had it not been for the ability of Rory McEwen to circumvent the squabbles and personality clashes within the folk revival. Rory had been the chairman of the organising committee, but now it was clear that a Festival Director was needed. Firstly Roy Guest and then Tony Foxworthy and Martin Winsor built up the festival and its reputation. In 1968, the festival moved to Loughborough when someone forgot to book Keele University, and although 1969 saw a return to Keele, it was clear that Loughborough could offer better accommodation.

By this time, the Folk Advisory Com- mittee had become the British Federation of Folk Clubs, which continued to organise the festival for the EFDSS. ‘Jigging around’ was replaced by the more structured barn dance, and traditional dance teams such as Headington Quarry Morris and Abbots Bromley Horn Dancers appeared. Nibs Matthews was amazed when over sixty folk song club people turned up for his beginners’ morris workshop in 1966.

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