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Penicuik Folk Club

   
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History

Genesis - People - Concerts - Singers Nights/Sessions - Ceilidhs - Educational Projects- Web page - Endbit - Gig List

GENESIS

In the beginning, when Harry and Neil made the Folk Club, Penicuik was without form and void, with darkness over the face of Cornbank and a mighty silence that swept over the surface of the Esk. Harry and Neil said "Let there be a folk weekend"; and there was a folk weekend; Harry and Neil saw the folk weekend and saw that it was good. Harry and Neil said "Let the folkies be gathered into one place; so that a folk club may appear" and so it was. Harry and Neil called the folk club The Penicuik Folk Club; and the gathering of folkies they called the members; and Harry and Neil saw that it was good. Harry and Neil said "Let there be Singers Nights at the Folk Club and let them serve as signs both for Festivals and for Concerts and Ceilidhs. Let them also be a place where Penicuikers can enjoy making folk music and listening to each other". Harry and Neil said "Let the Folk Club teem with countless folk fans, and let the singers sing, the guitarists plonk, the fiddlers scrape and the bodhran players be consigned to the darkest depths of the ocean". So they encouraged the folkies and said "Be noisy and increase. Fill the air of Penicuik with your songs and tunes and let the music flow across the land.

Fortunately, the bit that says "Evening came ..." has not occurred! The above story of Penicuik Folk Club’s emergence is more accurate than its biblical model (sorry, fundamentalists) but it’s still not quite right. Penicuik had, if accounts are to be believed, "Folk Clubs" before the Penicuik Folk Club and folk musicians have always lived in Penicuik. For example, Jon Redpath ran a particularly successful Folk Club, essentially as a one-man impresario and on a shoestring, immediately prior to the formation of this club. He saw the importance of folk music and was prepared to risk his own cash and time in running it.

In 1984, however, Neil Muir from the then Midlothian District Council’s Department of Recreation and Leisure brought his professional aims and his love of folk music together and suggested to Harry Scott that a club be formed in Penicuik. Harry had been involved with folk music and clubs for most of his life and agreed. They ran a highly successful folk weekend as a pilot project and a series of concerts including the Easy Club, Bolivia’s Rummilljata and The MacCalmans. The Penicuik Folk Club existed in this embryonic and ad hoc form for most of 1985. The folk club was constituted properly at its first AGM on 21st January, 1986. The original committee comprised Harry as Chairman, Neil as Secretary, Gill Wood as Treasurer, with Bert Scott and Susan Kelly as Ordinary (if not ordinary) members. Neil’s brother-in-law, Ian Anderson and Ian Scott agreed to act as auditors, the fees were set at £3.00 (£5.00 for a family) and the Penicuik Folk Club was up and running. In 1986, it was decided that the club deserved a "corporate image" and John Cullen, a local artist and folk enthusiast, was drafted in to design a logo. John came up with a "heritage" design, incorporating pit head, mill chimneys etc. The resultant sketch was approved and later redrawn and computerised by Alan Murray (of whom more anon) and you can see the result above. John’s idea proved to be both distinctive and durable and gives the club an identity that is consistent with Penicuik’s industrial past.

Early on, the pattern was established that has stood the test of time and weathered some very lean times for folk clubs everywhere. The club meets weekly, on a Tuesday, in the Navaar House Hotel, Penicuik. The second Tuesday in every month is a Concert Night, where a guest artist is booked and supported by a couple of the club’s resident performers. The remaining Tuesdays are "singers’ nights" where anyone can attend, for free, to play, sing, recite poems, listen and chat. July and August and generally left blank, although singers nights continue unabated. The Folk Festival is held in October, in place of a concert. Occasionally, the concert night is rescheduled to accommodate a musician who is "passing through". The club’s booking policy is to book a guest at an agreed fee that it can reasonably expect to cover from door takings. If a large amount of money is taken in, the artist can expect to receive more than the guaranteed fee as the club is not a profit-making organisation. As long as there’s enough cash to cover a few "bad nights" the club is happy.

Over the past few years, the club has taken a progressively more "professional" attitude to concert nights. While it is entirely laudable and appropriate that folk clubs are run by amateur enthusiasts, purely for the love of the music, it is not now acceptable that paying audiences receive amateurish treatment. Professional folk musicians have recognised this and it is now unusual to find a professional or committed amatuer musician drunk on stage, playing an out-of-tune instrument or mumbling incoherently between songs. This principle carries through to the folk club’s attitude to "floor spots". The Penicuik club has always tried to strike a balance between encouraging novices to develop "stage skills" and making sure that precious audiences are given an evening of good quality entertainment. This is not easy and is not always popular with the denizens of the singers night! Happily, the club has been blessed by a succession of good resident performers with a diverse range of musical tastes and skills.

During the early 1990s, the club decided to acquire its own PA system - to allow more control, to offer a better "service" to our guest artists and to make the sound the audience hears as good as possible. This investment represents a commitment of club funds and extra work for the club’s "sound engineers" but we think it’s worth it.

Apart from that, not much has changed since Harry and Neil created the club. The original formula was pretty good and many of the original people are still around to maintain it. Singers’ nights are still loosely-organised, but not entirely random and the difficult balance between tunes and songs seems to be maintained well. The Navaar management and staff are very supportive, despite some organisational hiccups over the years. Brian and Alan have a few extra grey hairs to show for these! We are also delighted to report that the mid 1990s has seen an influx of young musicians (teenage and below) - so it’s not just an old farts’ club ... there’s some young farts as well. In the paragraphs below, we present an impressionistic picture of some of the club’s doings and personalities over the years. It’s not exhaustive, as records are incomplete, but we think that most of it’s true.

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PEOPLE

Harry and Neil, the club’s founding fathers, have been mentioned already. Sadly, both had to withdraw from involvement in the early 1990s due to pressures of work. Neil’s interests were largely as a concert attender, although rumour has it that he had been known to sing. Harry sang all the time (no doubt still does!). Harry is a fine singer of traditional and written songs - mostly unaccompanied - and we miss his singing, his enthusiasm and his belly-laughs. Susan Kelly was a member of the original committee and now sings widely with Stravaig - so we don’t see much of Susan now, which is a great pity. Gill Wood, another early "stalwart of the club" and treasurer for several years, is a lovely singer who has now moved back to England and lost touch ... a great pity ... we’d almost made her an honorary Scotswumman! Ian Scott and Bert Scott (no relations) have been in and around the club from the outset - Bert as a very active committee member for many years. Jimmy Wilson, Eddie Bone and Tom Moffat (aka Bracken - previously also with Dougie Walker who sadly died a few years ago) are indispensable, Eddie has taken a spell on the committee and Jimmy’s wife Norma has always been a vital member. Brian Miller lurked ominously in the background of the early club after many years as a semi-pro folk musician and took an active part when he got his PhD out of the way, becoming Chairman. His contacts in the folk scene are invaluable. Brian’s daughter Kirsteen whistled through the folk club in her teens as a fiddler and singer and his wife Jan often designs posters and advertising material.

In between, there's been Willie and Monica, Brian Hughes has come and gone and come again, Eddie Klimek passed through and no doubt this "turnover" will continue.

It's always sad when friends move on, but at least we're not stagnating, with an unchanging membership. The average age is older than we'd like - but we're nae deid yet!

The author of this short history (Alan Murray) joined in 1987 and was co-opted on to the committee in 1988. Since then his son Paul, daughter Suzanne (off and on!) and wife Glynis have become active members and performers.

Currently, the club has a small but committed membership - mostly performers - and the "turnover" is healthy (i.e. it’s not just the same old faces, years after year). There’s Ken, Dr. Dave and Barbara ... occasionally 2x(Dr. Dave) - figure that out! ... Big Ian, not-so-big Ian, Brian Cherrie and Charlie, in no particular order. As things stand, there’s no reason why this should not continue.

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CONCERTS

There’s an almost-complete listing of these here, compiled by Paul. They have been many and varied, ranging from the extremely-well-known to the almost-completely-unknown. Highlights are always very personal, but I (Alan) have very fond memories of concerts from (in no particular order) Martin Carthy(we are not worthy ...), Eric Bogle, Martin Simpson, Sileas, Dougie MacLean, Jez Lowe and Ian MacIntosh.

The format is fairly standard - we open up with a club act for about 15 minutes, the guest performs for about 45 minutes, we have a break for the traditional folk club raffle, we have another song or two from another one or two floorsingers and then the guest performs for another 45-60 minutes. Generally, Brian and Alan share the compering duties and sound engineering tasks (so it’s their fault when the PA goes belly-up!).

The only frustration in this part of the club’s life is the unpredictability. It’s disappointing to find that avowed folk fans who will turn out to hear (say) Dougie MacLean, have a whale of a time, yet will not trust us by turning out to hear someone they haven’t heard before. We have occasionally booked acts that we knew to be excellent, accessible and very entertaining (Les Barker? Dave Burland? Keith Hancock?) to have them perform to an enthusiastic handful. Harrumph!

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SINGERS NIGHTS/SESSIONS

Singers nights are funny things. Sometimes all the conditions are exactly right, everyone’s in a good mood and a singers’ night at the Penicuik Folk Club can be as good an evening’s entertainment as you’ll find anywhere with a bit of "magic" in the atmosphere. Sometimes we all turn up, we all sing to each other and we all go home happy enough, but without that "buzz" that a really good session can create. None of us knows what the magic ingredient is ... if we did, we’d bottle it and sell it! It must be something to do with synchronised biorhythms, but sensitivity, attentiveness and leaving wee spaces in between songs for a chat are clearly important.

What is clear is that sessions are what we make them. It’s essential that we welcome new faces and value old ones - that we encourage reluctant performers without frightening them off. We expect a wide range of abilities and novices should not be deterred by the apparently superhuman performing abilities of the old hands. Likewise, experienced performers have a lot to offer newcomers in terms of seeing how to do it (or perhaps, how not to do it!). For an experienced performer, the singers night is a good place to try out new stuff. Penicuik’s blessing - that we do have some very fine performers - has been a bit of a curse in the past, with allegations of "elitism" and "snobbery" being bandied about. That seems to be behind us now and raw beginners co-exist happily with semi-pro players in a happy atmosphere. It’s not sensible to expect a good player to play badly just to make the novices feel good, but conversely the experienced performers have a duty to value and encourage even the shakiest of performances. The old joke that a badly-out-of-tune guitar is "good enough for folk music" is wearing very thin now, but it is still true that "good" folk music can come from a performer with very limited technical skills and an abundance of commitment and enthusiasm.

What a tirade that was. Glad I got that off my chest.

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CEILIDHS

Over the years we have organised a few ceilidhs - particularly at festivals and around Burns time. The past few years has seen a tremendous resurgence in social dancing and our ceilidhs have benefited from it. Long may it continue. We’d like to think that we’ve helped ceilidh dancing along in Penicuik - by organising ceilidhs and also by organising a series of ceilidh dance classes and thus demonstrating that such a thing could survive in apathetic Penicuik - see below for more details.

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EDUCATIONAL PROJECTS

We’ve always encouraged youngsters to come to the club to try out their voices and instruments - regardless of ability and style (we’ve had electronic keyboards, recorders, fiddles, guitars, cellos and a zither-like instrument called a cimbala that looks like a cheese grater). However, we’ve also organised more formal teaching events. For several folk festivals, we have held a free fiddle workshop with tutors Jo Miller, Peggy Duesenberry, Amy Geddes, Clare McLaughlin and Ian Hardie. These have been aimed at youngsters but open to all and the workshop participants always play a few tunes to open the festival’s main event.

In 1994 we raised funds from Lothian Regional Council to support a series of workshops in traditional song in the 6 Primary schools in Penicuik. Our tutor was Sheena Wellington (we only hire the best!) and the Wee Kirkcudbright Centipede made its presence felt in 6 school gymnasiums (or is it gymnasia?).

In 1995 we again raised funds from LRC to support a series of ceilidh dance workshops with Annabel Oates, a popular local dance enthusiast, gym teacher and ceilidh dance caller. These were an outstanding success and gave Annabel the confidence and equipment (radio mike) to run a regular, well-attended ceilidh dance class every week, with a break during the summer. We are delighted to have been the catalyst for this tremendous development that benefits dancers from 8 to 80 in the local community.

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FESTIVALS

The pattern is now well-established.

Friday

Evening: Ceilidh

Saturday

Afternoon: TMSA Singing Competition : Edinburgh Crystal Trophy

Afternoon: Fiddle (and other) Workshop

Evening: Grand Concert ... we’ve had some stoaters

Sunday

Afternoon: TMSA Singing Competition : Edinburgh Crystal Trophy

Afternoon: Muckle Sangs Concert

Afternoon: (Weary) singing session

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WEBPAGE

Most recently, Alan created an early, fairly rudimentary Web page for the club. Since then, Paul has taken his reponsibilities as club archivist seriously and has expanded and extended it - such that we're now rather proud of this wee folkie web page. We aim to make it into one of the best non-commercial folk websites around. Folk music is, more than most, an "in your face", live form of music - not readily amenable to cyberness (cyber-folk? ... please not!). However, the Internet offers unparalled opportunites to share our love of "the music" with you and the world - so we hope you enjoy this site and link to it from here, there and everywhere (cue for a song that's destined to become a folk song, Messrs. Lennon and McCartney?).

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ENDBIT

So there you have us - Penicuik Folk Club, warts and all. We’re pretty pleased to be still crazy after all these years and we hope to be able to keep adding to this archive as we all acquire a few more grey hairs and get crazier still. Folk clubs are not perfect and we’re certainly far from perfect but clubs are almost unique in music, as they are organised by amateur enthusiasts out of love for the music alone. They have done folk music great service over the years and only occasional minor disservice. The challenge now is to retain the coziness, the friendly venue for novice and nervous performers and the informality, while raising the level of public presentation so that folk music can shed its old tarnished image ("three pullovers and an out-of-tune guitar singing the Wild Rover", since you asked!) and be seen as the exciting, vital and varied life-form that it is.

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Published by Penicuik Folk Club webmaster.
350, Rullion Road, Penicuik, Midlothian, Scotland EH26 9AD.
Tel : +44 (0)1968 678 610