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93 f B


y the early 1970s, the number of festivals had grown to almost forty, although no other festi- vals featured the tradition so heavily as Keele/Loughborough. Not that the festival regarded traditional music as a museum piece, as the 1971 pro- gramme made clear: “It is a vital force, always evolving, giving rise to new forms and ideas.” This was the year that Lough- borough went electric. Bob and Carole Pegg’s band Mr Fox and the relatively new Steeleye Span were guests, and took part in a discussion on the relevance of electric folk music. Bob Pegg’s ironic comment that he was “only in it for the money” ruf- fled a few feathers, but there were few complaints about the inclusion of the two bands at the festival. Their members had appeared at the festival several times, and their involvement in ‘electric folk’ did not diminish their respect for the tradition.


Under Martin Winsor’s directorship, the festival placed more emphasis on revival singers as the “traditional singers of tomorrow.” When Roy Harris was appointed Director in 1976, his view was that ‘tomorrow’ was quite a long way off, and his “Celebration of Folk Music,” as he termed Loughborough, again emphasised “traditional music and the people who make it.” By this time the festival had an effective scheme by which clubs could sponsor traditional singers and musicians to appear at the festival. Sponsorship con- tinues at the National, and this year’s festi- val is sponsored by Folk Roots magazine and by East Midlands Arts.


In 1981, the festival had to be can- celled due to disappointing ticket sales which were not helped by administrative problems and the diminishing role of the EFDSS in the promotion of festivals.


After a rethink and a change of venue, the festival re-emerged in 1984 under the direction of John Heydon and with a new name – The National Folk Festi- val. But the spirit of that first Keele Festival lives on in the National’s policy statement (how many festivals have a statement of policy?). “Pride of place at the festival must go to traditional performers. Those in the folk revival are booked to serve in a supporting role. The festival emphasises the importance of the traditional perform- ers to the folk revival in terms of style, material and example. Preference is given to programming a series of small, informal gatherings.”


In 1965 the Keele Folk Festival certain- ly established the “focal point,” the “com- mon ground for the folk scene to meet,” which Rory McEwen, writing in the first festival programme, hoped for. But Keele was more than that. Not only was it effec- tively the first English folk festival, but it also presented a sympathetic context for the performance of traditional music by traditional singers and musicians for a revival audience. Martin Carthy recalls, “In the ’60s, festivals were high on the agen- da, but it was clear that Keele was the one that was doing it seriously, it was the one that mattered. Everyone who was serious about the music knew that. Keele showed that traditional music is vibrant and excit- ing. There was a fantastic buzz.”


Bob & Carole Pegg 2018 FOOTNOTE


people missed the National Folk Festival – the worthy successor to the Keele and then the Loughborough-based festivals.


B


Although my 1990 feature refers to other festivals, it was only when I later came to write the two books on the histo- ries of the Sidmouth and Towersey festivals that I realised how pivotal 1965 was to the folk festival movement in Britain. Keele was held over the weekend of 16th to 18th July, the first Cambridge Folk Festival was just two weeks later, from 31st July to 1st August, coinciding with the first weekend of Sidmouth (started ten years earlier, but adding the first torchlight procession and the first children’s events in 1965, the year that the Watersons gate-crashed the festi- val and slept on the beach). The first Tow- ersey festival was exactly a month later, 30th August. A year later, Broadstairs and Whitby were both added to the summer festival calendar. All except Keele continue, so why was Keele special?


The answers lie in the unique blend of traditional as well as revival singers and musicians, the informality and the range and quality of the workshops. All those features continued as the festival moved location over the years, although by the time the event entered the twenty-first century, the number and variety of tradi- tional performers from Britain and Ireland that the festival could draw upon were much depleted.


Carole Pegg, reminiscing recently on Facebook about the early Keeles, said “What a cracking programme that 1965 one was. The people I know I remember from that day – Fred Jordan, Felix Doran, the magnificent Margaret Barry & Michael Gorman, the Stewarts, Bob Roberts, Lou Killen, Sidney Carter, Reg Hall, Annie Brig- gs, Derek Sargeant – I saw or worked again with over the years, so can't remember anything specific except general inspira- tion. I visited Annie when she lived at


y coincidence, the same week that our editor floated the idea of this Keele retrospective, there was a flurry of Facebook comments about how much


Knebworth in the keeper's cottage and she taught me how to skin a rabbit, then again many years later when she lived in a remote area of Scotland – hoping to inter- est her in performing the Gay Goshawk but to no avail. 1969 sits more clearly in my mind because that was the beginning of the Peggs’ journey into Mr Fox and the folk-rock movement in general. That’s when the possibility was first aired and debated. It was also the year that Fairport had the dreadful car crash killing their Martin Lamble. After it, Ashley came to live with us to re-cuperate for many weeks. We talked of creating a folk-rock band with him and he listened to our recordings of traditional singers, including Bob's own from Yorkshire. When he went off to form Steeleye Span, we went ahead and formed the more English sounding (instrumental wise) Mr Fox, a thread Ash- ley later picked up with his Albion bands.”


It was the loss of the venue at Sutton Bonington which meant that 2005 was the final festival. But over those forty years, there had been an amazing opportunity for British folk enthusiasts to sit and listen to the ‘real deal’.


But back to 1965 and that first festival.


Brian Shuel’s exceptional photographs cap- ture the informality and indicate the popu- larity of the workshops and talks. There would have been very few other opportuni- ties to photograph some of the traditional guests, and unsurprisingly Brian’s images have been used on album covers, and in books and magazine articles over the years. Brian himself is, as ever, modest about the photographs he took. “The reason the pho- tographs are so familiar now is because no- one else was doing it!” he explains. Brian loved the first Keele – “it wasn’t just the first Keele, but one of the first festivals that ever there was.” The informality of the event made it easier for him to take the photographs, and a good proportion of them were taken outside the performance setting. At the time, photographing folk singers and customs was just one aspect of Brian’s work: his diaries reveal that the day after the first Keele, he was off to Boston to photograph peas for Sainsbury’s.


www.brianshuel.co.uk F


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