Friday, 23 March 2012

A Banjo-Ukulele Hero who will Have to Remain Nameless

Alas, he will have to remain nameless because I can't remember his name; let's face it, dear reader, it was a long time ago...

Picture, if you can, the Birmingham city centre of the late 60's... the icons we associate with the the 60's were all to the fore at that time - mini-skirts, mod hair-styles, dark eye-make-up, spiky eyelashes, very pale lipstick, Twiggy, the Beatles, the Stones, the Kinks, the Small Faces; I embraced them all - and something else, which was also in full swing; the folk revival.

In Birmingham, the hub of the folk revival was the folk club called the Jug O'Punch, in Digbeth, run by Ian Campbell of the Ian Campbell Folk Group. Every week, for many, many months I was there, about fourth row back, soaking up the best folk music in the biggest, most atmospheric folk club around.... and saw, live, as well as my favourite Ian Campbell group, guest artists like Jean Ritchie from the Appalachians, who autographed for me the album of hers that I won in the raffle, (still got it!) Ralph McTell, who was tasting success with his song, "Streets of London," the Dubliners, the Chieftains, the Spinners, Joni Mitchell.... and a little local middle-aged chap in a waistcoat who would come out from time to time and sock it us with his banjo-ukulele, Formby-style. The song that always comes to mind, because we all joined in the chorus, was "Auntie Maggie's Homemade Remedy." It always brought the house down. The banjo-uke was totally uncool, even then, but he was welcomed onto the floor, and the audience loved him. He sang other numbers, I'm sure, but "Auntie Maggie's Remedy" is the one that sticks in the memory. And since then I've always had a sneaking regard for the utter skill and virtuosity of good Formby-style banjolele players.

I hope he sometimes takes centre stage in whichever celestial halls he now frequents - and I wish I could remember his name. I hold up my half pint of ale in salute.

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