1. Bert Jansch (Cambridge Folk Festival 2004) The first time I heard the voice of Bert Jansch, along with his distinctive guitar playing, was in the art class at Oswin Avenue School, when our new art teacher brought into class Bert’s first LP, specifically to play us the song “Needle of Death”. Heroin was the new number two death threat to school kids back in the late 60s, second only to being smashed to a pulp by a skinhead and just ahead of roller skating along the ledge of the gym roof, therefore a concern to all the grown ups around us. I immediately knew that this song was better than “Jennifer Eccles” and my ears immediately pricked up. The next time I heard Bert was on Pentangle’s Basket of Light LP, which was given to me by our church leader, who thought it might be of more use to me than it was to him. He actually gave me two LPs at the same time, the other one being the Velvet Underground’s White Light White Heat, complete with its embossed sleeve, which I foolishly swapped for Babbacomble Lee a couple of years later. I saw Bert several times after that but never dared speak to him. I think it was the first time I’d stuck to the ‘don’t meet your heroes’ rule, a rule I’ve subsequently broken several times sadly. The last time I saw Bert was with Pentangle at the Cambridge Folk Festival back in 2011. He passed away a couple of months later, leaving a gaping hole in not just the folk world, but in music period.
2. Nic Jones (Cambridge Folk Festival 2012) The first time I became aware of Nic Jones was via an old 1973 Trailer LP, Songs in a Changing World, produced by Bill Leader, which also featured Jon Raven and Tony Rose. In the late Seventies, I began playing in a duo with my old school pal Malc and we built our initial repertoire from some of the songs on that LP including “The Rosemary” and “Poverty Knock”. Later, after Malc sadly passed away, I began playing in another duo with John this time and “Little Pot Stove” from Nic’s seminal LP Penguin Eggs became a favourite chorus song to sing at gigs. Like so many of us, I pretty much wrote off any thought of ever seeing Nic Jones play live again after the horrific car crash which almost killed him back in 1982. Nic surprised us all however, by returning to our stages for a short spell between 2010 and 2013 and I was thrilled to see him perform a couple of times at both the Cambridge and Shepley festivals. He no longer played the guitar or fiddle and his voice wasn’t anywhere near as strong as it had been prior to the accident for obvious reasons, but this didn’t seem to matter on the couple of occasions I saw him. He could’ve just stood there as far as I was concerned; just seeing him up there smiling was enough for me. I met him in York at a Rachel Unthank and the Winterset gig in 2006, where he gave my son some advice, ‘Don’t take this folk music as seriously as we all did.. just enjoy it’ which I think Liam took onboard. I certainly did.
3. Graham Nash (Cambridge Folk Festival 2019) Though I’ve always considered myself something of a lifelong CSN fan, I never actually got to see them play together live, which I now regret. I did however get to see Stephen Stills, whose manager told me in no uncertain terms, that I would not be taking any photos during his performance at the Sheffield Hall, in a manner that suggested I’d perhaps been made an offer I couldn’t possibly refuse by Tony Soprano. I timidly locked the straps of my camera case, put it out of sight and whimpered rather dejectedly ‘yes, Godfather’, while Luca Brasi went and did something more useful, like getting his charge on stage. I’ll move on quickly as I appear to be mixing all my mafia metaphors. I never got to see David Crosby, though I’d love to have had a sit down with him at some point, if only to have him regale me of the details of his debauched life. Graham Nash however, I did get to see, back in 2019 at the Cambridge Folk Festival, where he treated the crowd to a run through of all his greatest hits including “Marrakesh Express”, “Teach Your Children”, “Military Madness” and his ode to Joni Mitchell, his then partner, “Our House”. During the 1960s, Graham’s voice would also ring out from all those Hollies 45s that we kept under the gramophone cabinet lid, like “Look Through Any Window”, “Bus Stop” and “I Can’t Let Go”. I never underestimate the greatness of The Hollies and photographing the band’s most prominent member was a treat.
4. Donovan (Great British Folk Festival, Skegness 2016) Despite being continually ridiculed by a. Dylan fanatics and b. the British folk police, I have to confess to having a soft spot for this Glaswegian songwriter/pop singer, who just happened to be in all the right places at the right time throughout the 1960s. A little like a hippie version of Forrest Gump, who notably exchanged songs with the aforementioned Bard of Hibbing in a Savoy Hotel suite during Dylan’s 1965 tour, which was captured in DA Pennebaker’s film Don’t Look Back, and who was also seen in Rishikesh with the Fabs, visiting the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in order to study Transcendental Meditation in the spring of 1968. He could also be responsible for inspiring the formation of Led Zeppelin, with Page, Bonham and Jones coming together to back him on his hit single “Hurdy Gurdy Man”. When I met up with Donovan for an hour-long chat in his holiday chalet at the very first Great British Folk Festival, I met with a thoroughly charming middle aged man, who was only too willing to talk to me about all aspects of his life and career. He was courteous, offered me tea, answered every question I put to him and with generous embellishment. At the end he even suggested that I use some of his songs in the finished article, with such songs as “Mellow Yellow”, “Sunshine Superman” and “Season of the Witch” immediately springing to mind. All the photographs I took of Donovan later that day back in 2010 were lost due to a faulty disc, which I now regret, but this one was taken when Donovan returned to the festival six years later.
5. Steve Tilston (Moonbeams March Weekend, Driffield 2014) I think I can remember the moment when I first sat up and took notice of this singer songwriter and guitar player. His name had been familiar to me for some time before I got to see him play live and I knew one or two of his songs through other artists, but the night we booked him to play the Bay Horse in Bentley was the night I felt I really discovered him for the first time. Sometimes this happens, when all things come together and you find yourself bothering your local record shop the next day (or in this case the day after, it being a Sunday) for everything they have by said performer. Since then I’ve seen Steve dozens of times and have always enjoyed his songs, his voice, his guitar playing and his company. I’ve also taken hundreds of pictures of him on stage, this one at Leyla’s Moonbeams March Weekend at the Bell Hotel in Driffield. I once took a sneaky off stage photo of Steve in the green room at the Wath Festival, while he was relaxing under a window, reading a newspaper, with dust dancing along the beam of sunlight shining through. I didn’t forewarn him or ask his permission, as it would have disturbed the moment, but I just thought it would make a nice shot. When Steve heard the click of the shutter, he looked up at me with some alarm, then said ‘Oh, I don’t mind you taking a photograph, I’m really more concerned that you’ve caught me reading the Telegraph!’
6. Ian Anderson (Doncaster Rocks, The Dome 2009) In the late 1960s and early 1970s, regular readers of the British music press were invited to vote for their favourite musicians in their annual polls, which always had the same old categories; best vocalist, best guitarist, best bassist and best drummer etc. For what seemed like years, the best singer would be either Plant or Gillan, the best guitarist Hendrix or Clapton, the best drummer Moon or Bonham and so on and so forth. Included among these was the Best Instrumentalist category, which would provide an option to vote for all the other marginal rock instrumentalists who might play the trumpet or the violin or the crumhorn; in other words, a musician who didn’t fit into any of the other standard categories. The top spot in this category was more often than not taken by Ian Anderson, for his relatively uncommon flute gymnastics. Not only could he play the flute exceptionally well and rather expressively to boot, he could do it standing on one leg and in green tights. The first record I ever owned by his band Jethro Tull, was the 45rpm single “Witches Promise”, which I bought immediately after seeing the band miming dreadfully to the song on Top of the Pops back in 1970. The band appeared on the cover of all the music papers at the time, showing an abundance of hair that had never troubled a comb and shortly afterwards, I could be seen around town sporting a similar overcoat, an idea I nicked from both Anderson and my then pal-around-town, these days a superb artist, Graham Firth. The last time I saw the band was in my hometown back in 2009, when Jethro Tull topped the bill at a one-day rock festival at The Dome. I was invited backstage to talk to another musician on the bill and couldn’t help stopping for a short while outside Anderson’s dressing room, to listen to him warm up, ‘lipping his flute’, as it were. Lester Bangs said some rather derogatory things about the band back in the Seventies, but I always quite enjoyed the band and all its pretentious excesses.
7. Roy Harper (Cambridge Folk Festival, 2012) My guess is that many people of my generation would have first heard the name Roy Harper from the closing track on Led Zeppelin’s third album, the band’s most ‘folkie’ record at the time. “Hats Off to Roy Harper” was a strange reworking of an obscure blues song, which intrigued me. I immediately reached for Lilian Roxon’s Rock Encyclopedia and leafed through. Let’s see now, Harper, Happenings, Hard Rock, Tim Hardin, Harper’s Bizarre, Slim Harpo, nope, no Roy Harper. I did the next best thing and tuned into John Peel’s Top Gear, but to no avail, then as a last resort, popped along to Foxes Records and scrutinised the sleeves under H and discovered Come Out Fighting Ghengis Smith, Folkjokeopus and Flat Baroque and Berserk, but instead came away with the cheap yet affordable sampler LP The Harvest Bag, which included the song “Living Here Alone”, which in turn would later resurface on the 1973 LP Lifemask as “South Africa”. Once I’d made a connection with the man and his music, it became clear to me that his name had been all over the place since the mid-1960s and I was soon up to speed with a singer everyone had apparently known for a good while. This photograph was taken during an onstage interview at the Cambridge Folk Festival, where in the natural light of morning, Roy appeared to glow.
8. Phil Beer (Cambridge Folk Festival, 2010) A couple of years ago, the presenter of the regular folk show on the Beeb started one of his shows with “The Last Day of July”, the opening track to A Thundering on the Horizon, a highly memorable LP by the Anglo/American band, the Arizona Smoke Revue, which prompted me to immediately stop what I was doing, stand up straight and raise a euphoric salute to the man on the radio for having such good taste. It was only a couple of minutes into the song that I realised why he was playing it, not because it was a great opening song to the show, but that it was being played simply because it was the last day of July, therefore a pretty tenuous selection. At first I felt a little short changed, but then thought how good it was to hear the song again, so I didn’t feel that I’d wasted one of the very few euphoric moments I’d been allotted. It was this LP that led me to Phil Beer some three decades earlier, a musician I continue to admire, not least for the songs he chooses to cover, The Band’s “Acadian Driftwood” for instance, or Graham Gouldman’s “Bus Stop”, the old Hollies hit, but also the Arizona’s superb version of the old Beatles b side “Rain” with – music cliche alert – ‘harmonies to die for’. I was introduced to this LP by a friend (JC) and then went out to find my own copy. This coincided with a return visit to the Fairport reunion festival at Cropredy in 1987, where between each of the acts, the DJ played “Border Song” over the PA, a Bill Zorn number which closes the album, featuring a guest appearance by the guitarist Richard Thompson. I distinctly recall hurrying along each of the bands on stage so we could get back to this song again. Phil is of course known for his long time work with another popular folk band that needs no introduction, photographed here during that band’s appearance at the Cambridge Folk Festival a good ten years ago. Nice bloke too.
9. Arthur Brown (Musicport, Whitby 2014) Prior to becoming a proper grown up, though I’m still undecided whether this has actually happened yet, there were two things that happened to scare the living bejesus out of me. The second of these occurred in the summer of 1974, when I tentatively took my seat at the ABC cinema in Doncaster, at the time a mere popcorn sucking 16 year old, to witness Linda Blair’s head-spinning, vomit-hurling, expletive-throwing shenanigans in William Friedkins’ adaptation of The Exorcist. “I told you not to go and see that bloody film” said mum, while making me a cup of tea at 4am as I paced the floor clinging to a rosary I borrowed from a lapsed Catholic school pal. The first thing however, happened a few years earlier, on Thursday 18 July 1968 to be precise, when I sat in front of the box with my two sisters watching Top of the Pops. A strange man jumped onto the screen, in glorious black and white, dressed in a white bed sheet with a flaming shelf bracket tied to his head and plastered in the sort of make-up application that would make Bette Davis’ Baby Jane look like the girl in the L’Oreal ad, telling us in no uncertain terms that he was the god of hell fire and that he was going to make us burn. I was just eleven and I’d never seen anything quite like it. “I told you not to let your sisters see this” barked mum, while pouring orange squash for my two sobbing siblings. ‘There, there’ she said, ‘Pans People are now on, dancing to “Yummy Yummy Yummy”, you can look now, it’s all right, that nasty man has gone away’. This photo was taken in Arthur’s home town of Whitby at Musicport back in 2014 and he’s slightly less scary these days, in fact he’s really quite lovely.
10. Roy Bailey (Shepley Spring Festival, 2016) The first time I heard the voice of Roy Bailey was via a 1975 sampler album called Our Folk Music Heritage, which opened with him singing “The Two Butchers”, with Martin Carthy accompanying him on guitar and Peter Knight on mandolin. It wasn’t too long after that when I found myself sitting in the middle of one of his audiences, listening to his interpretations of traditional folk songs and contemporary songs of social conscience as well as children’s songs. A decade later Pete Smith of the South Riding Folk Network invited the Buffalo Brothers to play a set at a Northern Exposure gig at Kelham Island Museum in Sheffield, where we went on in the afternoon just before Roy. After the show, Roy took us to the nearest pub and bought us both a pint, then sat and told us some stories, some of which made me ache in places I’d never before ached. That little duo I played in that day has another thing in common with Roy, in that we both appear on the charity album A Season of Changes, an album released in the late 1990s specifically to raise awareness of Autism. Not the best anecdote granted, but something I’m very proud of, in fact anything that puts me in association with this warm, funny, gentle, intelligent and charismatic man will do. I took this photograph in St Paul’s Church, Shepley at the Shepley Spring Festival in 2016.
11. Loudon Wainwright III (Cambridge Folk Festival, 2014) In the early 1970s it was not uncommon to shamelessly gatecrash random midnight parties, usually somewhere along Broxholme Lane after all the town pubs had shut. This is where I would indulge in many a conversation about music, which would invariably result in heated debate, usually about who was a better singer, Peter Gabriel or Frank Sinatra. Once the booze dried up, with just the remnants of a bottle of some unidentifiable green substance left, we would fall into our respective comas listening to something a little more soothing than Hawkwind’s In Search of Space. At one such gathering, Loudon Wainwright III’s Album II was placed on the turntable and everything changed. I never once thought of him as the ‘new Bob Dylan’, but I instinctively knew he was the new something. I went out and bought a copy of the LP shortly afterwards, together with his debut and I soon knew every single word to every single song on each record. I would then embark on the noble pursuit of annoying my younger sister to distraction by warbling the “Suicide Song” over the breakfast table – ‘Do the monkey, do the pony, Do the slop, do the boogaloo twist, Cut your throat, Cut your throat, Cut your wrist!’ Dad would peer over his morning paper and give me that Captain Mainwaring look. ‘Stupid boy’. I took this photo at the Cambridge Folk Festival’s 50th anniversary, for which Loudon was suitably attired.
12. Rab Noakes (Wath Festival, 2019) If ever a musician approaches me in the green room at a festival and says ‘oh, by the way, I remember something you once wrote about me..’, I immediately begin to worry, occasionally dehydrate, possibly flex my limited supply of muscles and always, but always, ensure there’s clear access to the nearest exit. ‘Yes..’ said Rab Noakes on one particular occasion, when I came face to face with him at the Wath Festival, ‘..you said in your review ‘his face is a road map of a life well travelled’ didn’t you?’ Just as I pointed my toes in the general direction of the exit, a huge smile appeared on that same face, which immediately put me at ease. I make no secret of my fondness for Rab Noakes and his songs, one of the great unsung heroes in the history of popular music, a writer of great lines and great melodies, with an early association with such outfits as Lindisfarne and Steelers Wheel, together with collaborations with Gerry Rafferty and Barbara Dickson. He once recorded an album with the producer Terry Melcher (Doris Day’s son), which is the subject of a conversation I shall have with Rab one day. He did tell me once that he’d been in the office where the original Dylan paintings for the covers to both Music From Big Pink and Self Portrait hung. Well, that’s a life well travelled just there.
13. Dave Swarbrick (Rotherham Open Arts Festival, 2009) If you were to scan Pete Frame’s Fairport Convention family tree, which used up more ink and parchment than the Magna Carta, the Book of Kells and the American Declaration of Independence combined, then you might be able to pinpoint my initial interest in the band right there on the name Dave Swarbrick, who first appears on the document at the end of the ‘Fairport 3’ line-up, joining the band as a full time member just in time for the Liege and Lief album, after guesting on the earlier Unhalfbricking. The first album I bought by the band was the double compilation History of Fairport Convention upon its release, complete with silk rosette, followed by their next release Rosie in February 1973, after seeing the band play at the Top Rank in Doncaster. Though these were my initial records by the band, I was already familiar with such earlier songs as “If I Had a Ribbon Bow”, “Walk a While”, “Cajun Woman”, “Lord Marlborough” and “Meet on the Ledge” from the various sampler albums I had hanging around. The cricket bat that had served me well in the mirror as a Fender Stratocaster suddenly morphed into a violin, utilising my old bike pump as a bow. Like most music obsessives, I worked my way back and forth collecting most of the band’s LPs, but with respect to the current band, my heart is, and always will be with the Swarbrick years. Dave has always been noted for his fiddle playing and that supple wrist, but what about his voice? I once saw Dave at a gig with fellow Fairporter Simon Nicol at the Rockingham Arms in Wentworth back in the early 1980s and after two long sets of tunes, with the occasional song delivered by Simon, the duo asked the audience for any requests for the encore. From the audience came the unanimous call for Dave to sing and so he did, concluding the set with “Rosie”. I took this photo in a freezing Spiegeltent in Rotherham Town Centre, which Dave described as being like George Osborne’s bedroom. What can I say, I miss him.
14. Tim Edey (Shepley Spring Festival, 2017) I’ve spent over half a century scrutinising the facial expressions of guitar players, from Alvin Lee and Carlos Santana (albeit from the now iconic Woodstock footage), Jimi Hendrix and Paul Kossoff (via the equally iconic 1970 Isle of Wight footage), Eric Clapton in person on three consecutive occasions at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Jimmy Page and Richie Blackmore on stage in nearby Sheffield, Pete Townsend with The Who in Wales, Mick Ralphs, Mick Taylor, Richard Thompson and Albert Lee at various scattered venues, not to mention one or two blues legends, such as BB King, Buddy Guy and Rory Gallagher. They all seem to have one thing in common (other than being brilliant guitar players that is), in that they all seem to show signs of physical pain the further up the neck they go. Lower down the fretboard, their expressions range from pure stoicism to mild bewilderment, as if they’re trying to thread a piece of frayed cotton through the eye of a needle, or perusing the instructions to an Ikea flatpack cupboard, yet once they get past the seventh fret, they seem to suffer the same sort of agony that Oliver Reed suffered at the stake in the closing scenes of Ken Russell’s The Devils. If you were to crop out the instruments, you would already be calling the emergency services. Occasionally though, the expression reaches the heights of pure joy, such as this one that I took of Tim Edey at the Shepley Spring Festival back in 2017. What an amazing fellow Tim Edey is.
15. Vin Garbutt (Derby Fork Festival, 2013) I can’t remember exactly when I first saw Vin Garbutt in the flesh, I would guess sometime in the early 1980s and probably at one of Doncaster’s folk clubs. The most memorable appearance though was at the Lodge Folk Club around this same time and I remember it being just before Christmas. Now here’s the thing, I’ve always believed that great memorable shows have many contributing factors and it’s not always just down to the act. The venue is important and so is the audience, especially at a Vin Garbutt gig. If the audience is up for a good time, then usually this helps the performance along and on this particular occasion, the audience was on fire; hecklers a plenty, contagious laughter from all quarters, an abundance of seasonal cheer and a weekend show of course, so no work in the morning. All the elements were there. Since then, I’ve seen Vin in action many times and have always enjoyed his clever mixture of heartbreaking songs followed by side splitting humour, a real health hazard was Vin. He could also include songs and opinions of a controversial nature, which would result in some interesting conversations at the bar later. In my role as emcee at the Wath Festival a few years ago, I had the unenviable task of bringing his set to a close, which was running over slightly, leaving scarcely enough time left for the closing band to perform their headlining set. After the jeering, I stayed backstage and couldn’t face an audience who clearly hadn’t had its fill and who was already preparing the ropes to string me up with. I took this photo at the Derby Folk Festival back in 2013. We lost him four years later.
16. Joseph ‘Powda’ Bennett (Cambridge Folk Festival, 2010) When the Jamaican boy band, The Jolly Boys, played at the Cambridge Folk Festival back in 2010, the audience was treated to such numbers as Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” and Iggy Pop’s “Passenger” each performed Mento-style by these entertaining old timers, the original forerunner of the music we now know as Reggae. Albert Minott’s engaging rapport with the crowd, together with Joseph Bennett’s glowing green shirt, top hat and minuscule maracas, brought a little sunshine to the festival all the way from Port Antonio. After the band’s afternoon set, I got to interview a rather pleasant and entertaining Albert, while Joseph sat quietly nearby, peering over his tinted John Lennon glasses with a fixed smile as his band mate spilled the beans. Sadly both Albert and Joseph have now left us, Albert back in 2017 and Joseph three years earlier, aged 78 and 76 respectively. I took this close up shot in an effort to capture the audience, but the microphone just kept getting in the way as they so often do.
17. Albert Lee (Leeds City Varieties, 2015) The last time I saw Albert Lee was at the Leeds City Varieties back in 2015, when he was headlining a show that also featured the MonaLisa Twins, a wonderful Austrian duo who I was really there to see, after being coaxed along by their manager, the illustrator Tim Quinn. ‘Why MonaLisa?’ I tentatively inquired. ‘One’s called Mona and the other’s called Lisa’ explained Tim, in a way that suggested he’d been asked this question a million times already. A memorable night for all the right reasons. About 45 years earlier, my initial venture into record collecting involved buying 45rpm singles, many of which I would gather from the ex-jukebox records on a second hand record stall at Doncaster market in the late 1960s. The big thing at the time was Tamla Motown, Northern Soul and the more poppy side of Ska and Reggae. Me being me though, I stuck rigidly to the old Byrds adage, that I wasn’t born to follow and sought out ‘groovy’ rock 45s instead, records by such bands as Ten Years After, Chicago, Jimi Hendrix, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac and the aforementioned Byrds, many of which I still have lined up on a slightly bowed shelf right above my head as we speak. Among the singles I found on that stall was “Warming Up the Band”, a single by Heads, Hands and Feet, a band that featured the future cockney singalong Joanna player Chas Hodges and the soon to become country rock guitar god, Albert Lee. I instantly recognised Albert’s gift as a guitar player and when he turned up in Emmylou Harris’s ‘Hot Band’ in 1976, I wasn’t in the least bit surprised, after all, he’s just a country boy at heart.
18. Iain Matthews (Fairport’s Cropredy Convention, 2015) It’s highly likely that I heard Matthews Southern Comfort before Fairport Convention, the band Iain Matthews had left shortly before forming his own band back in 1970. The band’s version of “Woodstock” was all over the place at the time, possibly the most radio friendly of the three versions then currently circulating, the others being Joni Mitchell’s original from her Ladies of the Canyon LP and the other, a full-on rock version by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, from their Déjà Vu record, which was used over the closing credits to the iconic film of the festival, which had been held a month after the first moon landing and a week after the Manson murders, the three events showing off the highs and lows of American achievement. You can see why they all wanted to get back to the garden. I don’t know, I was a school kid in a Yorkshire high school at the time, not so much livid about not being able to go to the festival, but fuming about not being able to get in to see Candy at my local cinema, when all my mates could, but I digress. What were we talking about again? Ah yes, Iain Matthews, or was it ‘Ian’ Matthews? it’s difficult to tell, he kept changing his name around to confuse us all. I met up with the former Fairport Convention, Matthews Southern Comfort and Plainsong singer backstage at the Great British Folk Festival back in 2011, a couple of hours before his set with Southern Comfort. He was reasonably chatty as we tried to condense forty-odd years of music making into a twenty minute interview, but I think we made a reasonably good job of it. He didn’t give me the impression that he wanted to be anywhere else in the world but there, so a bonus I guess. I took this photograph at Fairport’s Cropredy knees up in 2015, where he appeared on stage with keyboard player Egbert Derix.
19. Ray Davies (Cambridge Folk Festival, 1996) In the good old days when they used to forklift the main stage out into the open sunshine on hot afternoons at the Cambridge Folk Festival, making it possible to sit right there in front of the main stage in your little fishing chair, surrounded by copious quantities of Guinness in plastic beakers that you didn’t have to hire, a box of wine and assorted nibbles at your feet, one or two visitors to the festival would plonk themselves down, stretch out their legs and with a slurp of the ol’ black stuff, look up at the stage and say ‘right then.. entertain me’. Before I get on my high horse or indeed watch for the angry letters coming in, I confess that this is precisely what I did back in 1996 at 4pm on Sunday 28 July, just as Ray Davies walked on stage to entertain us, which he certainly did. Half way through his set, it occurred to me that every single song that he’d performed thus far, was not only familiar to me, but ingrained in every fibre of my being, each one an undisputed classic, which continued on until the end of the set. “Autumn Almanac”, “Sunny Afternoon”, “Dead End Street”, “Well Respected Man”, “Lola”, “You Really Got Me”, “Tired of Waiting”, “Victoria”and the list goes on. He finished with “Waterloo Sunset” saying, “remember, the river flows everywhere”. He also said ‘I’ll be thinking about you all in your tents tonight’, going on to remind us all ‘I’m a rich rock and roll star and I don’t have to camp’. Back in January last year, I took a nostalgic wander around Muswell Hill to try and get a sense of Ray’s formative years. I walked down Fortis Green singing “London Town” under my breath, so as not to raise suspicion, especially the bit that goes ‘If you’re ever up on Highgate Hill on a clear day, you can see right down to Leicester Square’. There’s not much of Denmark Terrace left now, so Mrs W and I walked up the street, had a peek at the old Fairport house (the wooden plaque is still there surprisingly enough), had a curry at the nearby Indian Rasoi, then went to see Sam Mendes’ movie 1917 at the Everyman, starring our latest celluloid heroes, which cost the pair of us £36 before we even looked at the price of the popcorn. I then wondered what Ray would make of it all, having probably only paid about tuppence to see The Girl Can’t Help It back in 1956.
20. Martin Carthy (Cambridge Folk Festival, 2014) Sometime around the mid to late 1980s, I helped co-found the Doncaster Society for Folk and Related Music, a lofty moniker I know, but boy did it help get us the funding we needed! Our aim was to bring singers, musicians and bands to our area, for shows that were to be staged at various different locations around the town, with a varied programme of events, which would include Gregson & Collister, The Kipper Family, Whippersnapper, Jo Ann Kelly, Martin Simpson and Vin Garbutt among others. One name that popped up time and again during our organisational meetings was Martin Carthy, who we eventually booked to play in an upstairs room at the Three Horse Shoes near the town centre. When Martin arrived, his hair was down to his shoulders and he wore an open shirt over a New Orleans Jazz Festival t-shirt, looking every bit the travelling minstrel. He was friendly and chatty as he played before a predictably packed house, then afterwards, just as we were clearing up, Martin asked about accommodation, something none of us had even thought about. Several pairs of eyes found their way to me and so I said ‘okay, no probs, follow me’. Mrs W and I had never had a guest stay over before, let alone one with historical links to both Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. As he chatted to me in the car on the way home, I was half listening, but my mind was focused on how one was supposed to deal with an unexpected house guest. Once home, I switched the TV on just as the late movie was about to start, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, and then put the kettle on. I then went directly into our son’s bedroom, threw back the duvet, picked up a sleeping six year-old and deposited him beside Mrs W who was sleeping in the next bedroom. Well, it was either Liam’s bed or ours, which neither Martin nor Mrs W would have been overly chuffed about. I then went back to the living room where Martin was sitting glued to the box, fully immersed in the film, just as Harrison Ford was in the process of ‘retiring’ the first in a series of bioengineered humanoid replicants on a rainy Los Angeles street. ‘I love this film’ he said, as I stirred the tea in the kitchen. After watching up to where Ford polishes off Joanna Cassidy, wearing an impractical raincoat (her not him), Martin ‘retired’ himself in a less dramatic fashion, while I took to the sofa and carried on watching the film to the end. I know – here is a legendary folk singer in the house and I decide to watch Blade Runner instead of asking him about Dylan, Paul Simon and how he manages to remember all 412 verses of “Famous Flower of Serving Men” every night. I suppose I was a shy host. Cut to the following morning, and I’m in the kitchen trying to explain who the stranger sleeping in Liam’s bed is, to someone whose closest association with folk music is David Cassidy and Bread. ‘Well, is Mr McCarthy a vegetarian?’ Mrs W inquires. ‘Not sure, though I guess a lot of these folk people are, do we have any vegetables in?’, going on to say ‘and it’s Carthy, not McCarthy’. While we dithered, a blurry-eyed folk singer, who looks remarkably like the bloke on the cover of one of my old records, the one with a man sitting on an elevated pallet playing his guitar, but with longer hair, walks into the kitchen. ‘Well’, I blurt out, ‘We’re having eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, black pudding, toast and a cuppa Rosie Lee, how about you?’ to which the now wide-eyed and bushy-tailed Mr McCarthy responds, ‘oh yes, ditto!’ This is one of many photographs I’ve taken of the man over the subsequent years, playing here with his daughter Eliza at the Cambridge Folk Festival back in 2014.
21. Steve Cropper (Great Britsih Rock and Blues Festival, Skegness 2013) The closest I ever got to this guitar player was in a backstage corridor at the Great British Rock and Blues Festival back in 2013, when I sidled up to his familiar lofty frame and politely asked him if he would like to do an interview with a Yorkshire-born Taurean of dubious character and chat specifically about his years working in the Stax Records house band, Booker T. & the MGs, together with his work with such giants as Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas and Johnnie Taylor, and perhaps his further work as a producer of many classic records, co-writing such outstanding songs as “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay” with Otis, “Knock on Wood” with Eddie Floyd and “In the Midnight Hour” with Wilson Pickett, or having almost worked with both John Lennon and Paul McCartney (until Brian Epstein canceled the sessions for security reasons), and his work with the Blues Brothers, Tower of Power, Rod Stewart, John Prine, José Feliciano, The Jeff Beck Group, Ringo Starr and Levon Helm’s RCO All-Stars and maybe even a quick word about his appearance with Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, Chrissie Hynde, Sinéad O’Connor, Stevie Wonder and Neil Young at Dylan’s 30th Anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden back in ‘92 and what he thinks of Keith Richards’ summation of the guitarist, ‘Perfect, man’ or perhaps how he might be finding the bracing East Lincolnshire coastline? He looked down into my pleading sad unworthy eyes and said in a highly distinctive Memphis drawl, ‘Nah!’ So I took this photograph instead an hour later.
22. Norman Watt-Roy (Musicport, Whitby 2016) Wilko Johnson refers to Norman Watt-Roy as the ‘Mercenary of the Bass’. I first saw him as the 21 year-old bassist in a band called Glencoe supporting Deep Purple on their Machine Head tour back in September 1972, when we all heard “Smoke on the Water” for the very first time live. The four-piece was previously known as Forever More, formed in 1969, but had recently changed line-up and their name, after a village in western Scotland. Glencoe gained a reputation of being a rather decent touring band in the early 1970s, who produced a couple of albums; their self titled debut Glencoe (1972) and their follow up Spirit Of Glencoe (1973), both of which are currently sandwiched between my Gordon Giltrap and Gong LPs on my anally organised record shelves. The bass player in this band was none other than Norman, whose funky bass playing would become almost universally known later when he joined Ian Dury and the Blockheads, notably on the band’s number one smash “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” back in January 1979. When I eventually had my long awaited sit down with Norman in Whitby back in 2016, I reminded him of those days, which he now likes to think of his ‘good schooling’ days, a time when his band would not only support the likes of Deep Purple, but also American bands such as Spirit and the Steve Miller Band. When I saw The Blockheads at a festival in Minehead in 2012, Norman was due to play with the band on the Sunday evening, but also appeared in the afternoon as one third of Wilko Johnson’s trio. When it came time for the Blockheads’ set that night, Norman was nowhere to be found. As I looked down at the band’s abbreviated setlist, which read, Sex, Straight, Knowledge, George, Inbetweenies, Wake Up, Sweet Gene, Billericay, Trever (sic), Waste, Reasons, Hit Me and finally Blockheads, the band announced that their bassist had buggered off with Wilko for another gig elsewhere. Mercenary indeed. I later saw Norman with The Blockheads at the Musicport Festival in 2016, obviously forgiven, where I took this shot. Did I say what a wonderfully pleasant man Norman Watt-Roy is to talk to?
23. Bob Geldof (Great British Folk Festival, Skegness 2016) Bob appears to be the only Saint I’ve ever rubbed shoulders with. When I say ‘rubbed shoulders with’, this is literally the extent of my dealings with the man. I was propping myself up against a giant pillar, which in turn was propping up the roof at the Great British Folk Festival, while I was taking snaps of Mick Jagger’s brother (okay, I’m deliberately name dropping now), whose trio was on stage at the time. During Chris Jagger’s second song, which was a gentle little acoustic number, I was rudely interrupted from my temporary reverie by the clatter of a canvas bag being violently thrown onto the bass bin in front of me, where I’d already gently deposited my camera bag, a beaker of lemonade and my jacket not five minutes before. As the lemonade rippled to the vibration of the bag’s metal fasteners hitting the sides of the speaker cabinet, a little like that scene in Jurassic Park when Tyrannosaurus Rex first appears (the dinosaur, not the goat-warbling elf duo), the word ‘knob’ immediately sprang to mind. I didn’t look up at the culprit, but felt his bulk poking me in the side as he vied for a better position against the pillar. It was only when he began heckling Jagger that I realised who was standing next to me and I soon felt the sudden discomfort of having all eyes on me, when my main objective was to remain inconspicuous. I swiftly picked up my bag, my jacket and my lemonade and moved to the other side of the stage, where I could observe the banter from a safe distance. When his Bobness appeared on stage for his own set, he looked like a grown up version of Gainsborough’s famous 18th century boy model, albeit playing an upside down right-handed guitar. Bob’s set actually clashed with Kate Rusby’s, but I made an effort to see a bit of both, having access to the relatively close backstage exits, although skipping between Kate’s ‘Underneath the stars I’ll meet you’ and Bob’s ‘It’s a rat trap Judy… and we’ve been caught!’ is a bit of a culture shock to the system. I have to confess though, Bob was much better than I’d expected, in fact I quite enjoyed singing along to some of the songs, particularly “I Don’t Like Mondays”, a) because neither do I and b) because I could.
24. Boo Hewerdine (Beverley Folk Festival, 2017) A quick ‘word search’ on the Northern Sky Reviews website, both album and live sections, shows that the name Boo Hewerdine appears dozens of times, not only in his capacity as a solo artist, but also as a collaborator, a serial accompanist, a fine producer and occasionally just a name thrown in simply to give a review some additional credibility. Boo is one of those musicians we should count ourselves lucky to have. Quiet and unassuming, this tall, gentle singer songwriter and guitar player has a charismatic and gentle air about him, though if you were to see him in the corner of a cafe, sipping coffee and reading the broadsheets, you would probably not want to bother him. When he hooked up with Brooks Williams to form State of the Union, he was quoted as saying ‘It’s like Bob the Builder meeting Sir Christopher Wren’, the kind of self-depreciation I like in people, but there again, he might have been mischievously referring to himself in the role of the inspiring architect and Brooks as our beloved stop motion cartoon hero! I doubt it though. Whether sitting beside Eddi Reader or Heidi Talbot, guitar sparring with Brooks Williams or Kris Drever, leading his own band The Bible or sitting behind the console with the express desire of making the musician before him sound as good as they possibly can, Boo Hewerdine fits the bill. The last time I saw him was in October 2019 at the Cast Theatre in my hometown, sharing a bill with Chris and Julie (While and Matthews), where he thanked the organiser and MC Jonti Willis for getting his name right, the singer reminding himself of the times ‘they got it wrong’ when reading from a slip of paper, ‘Eight O’Clock Hewerdine’ being perhaps the most lamentable. This black and white was taken at the Beverley Festival back in 2017, where he was serving a dual role by playing in Eddi Reader’s band, whilst providing a suitable nest for two small birds and their hatchlings.
25. Ed Tudor Pole (Great British Folk Festival, Skegness 2013) The date 28 April 2012 is etched in my memory as the day I interviewed Ed Tudor Pole, it being the shortest interview I’ve ever done. I actually met Ed a few years before, when my son and I supported him at the Town Hall in Selby, in fact he invited us up to join him for his encore, an impromptu “Honky Tonk Woman”. This time though, I was there specifically to interview him after his afternoon show at the Great Alternative Music Festival in Minehead. I helped him clear the stage, helped him with his battered guitar and his overcoat, which I noticed had a half-consumed bottle of red wine in the deep inside pocket, then we headed for a bite to eat, where I intended to chat to him over dinner. He asked if he could drop his guitar and bags off at his ‘chalet’ on the way, and so began a journey reminiscent of Joseph Conrad’s Hearts of Darkness. Along the relatively short distance between the venue and his digs, then his digs and the restaurant, he was stopped by literally dozens of people, sometimes individuals, sometimes in pairs and sometimes in large groups, each engaging in some of the most insane conversations, including memories of gigs with his band Tenpole Tudor back in the day, about his brief stint with the Sex Pistols, to his appearances on TV, both Top of the Pops and the Crystal Maze, then his appearance with the lovely Kate Winslet and the equally lovely Michael Caine, playing a dyspeptic in the film Quills, all of which I was burning to ask him about during our interview. Someone even opened his wallet and gave Ed a tenner. ‘What’s this for?’ asked our real life descendant of Geoffrey Chaucer, to which the man said ‘You lent me a tenner twenty years ago in a Camden pub and I always meant to give it back to you’. I was standing next to Ed, weighed down by his bags and getting increasingly fatigued. Approximately three hours later, after dropping said bags off, we arrived at our candlelit table and ordered dinner. He suggested we leave the recorder off until after dinner, during which we chatted about some of the more interesting aspects of his life, which he littered with useful anecdotes. When it came time to do the interview, he pulled out a cigarette, which I at first thought was real, immediately fearing an eviction by the maitre d. This was the early days of electronic cigs and I was momentarily fooled. Sitting opposite me, his expression grew stern as he drew on the cigarette, the end of which glowed with each draw, as he stared blankly at the twerp before him. I clicked the recorder on and after a preliminary introduction worthy of Michael Parkinson, I asked the ice-breaker question. ‘So Ed, tell me, is it true you formed your first band in 1976?’ He took a long draw on his toy cigarette and then stiffened up, leaned forward and with increasingly widening eyes, said ‘What are you talking about?’ then went on to spit out ‘I’m not Preee-Punk’, emphasising the preposition, then, ‘Get yer ‘effin’ facts right’ followed by ‘Listen, all YOU need to know is that I’M a guitar player and I do rock n roll’. He then leaned back, popped the cigarette in his top pocket, got up out of his seat and immediately left. I looked at the timer on my recorder and noticed the whole thing was over in under 30 seconds.
26. Kris Kristofferson (Cambridge Folk Festival, 2010) Just before Kris and his new band played “Me and Bobby McGee” on the opening night of the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, before an appalling crowd of useless hairy yobs, grouchy for having to cough up a mere £3.00 for the ticket, he turned to his band, which included Norman Blake on guitar, and said ‘I think they’re gonna shoot us’. If Altamont had built the coffin for the demise of the Summer of Love, then the Isle of Wight drove the nails in. Three days later the same crowd had the nerve to interrupt Joni Mitchell’s set, who was clearly distressed by the incident, and this is during a period when both Kris and Joni were at their best. Times do change though and Kris received a better reception during his appearance at the 2010 Cambridge Folk Festival, despite his voice being way past its peak. I have fond memories of seeing the singer songwriter and actor at pretty much the end of his career. At Joni’s recent 75th birthday bash, which featured performances by Emmylou Harris, Norah Jones, Chaka Khan, Diana Krall, Los Lobos, Graham Nash, Seal and Rufus Wainwright, Kris was helped to the stage by singer Brandi Carlisle, who guided him to the front and helped him perform “A Case of You”, chipping in when Kris began to struggle with the verses, which was an emotional moment. I’m glad I got to see Kris when he could still get through a set on his own and thrill us with his impressive catalogue of songs.
27. Richard Thompson (Cambridge Folk Festival, 2019) The first time I witnessed Richard Thompson in action was on Saturday 30 August, 1980, when he appeared in a soggy field on Spittals Farm in Cropredy, near Banbury with his then wife Linda. He wore a Norman Clegg flat cap, which had replaced the hefty woollen number suitable for either the Old Grey Whistle Test’s frosty studio or the Arctic Tundra, which in turn replaced his Robin of Sherwood woodsman’s hat and a good few years ahead of his obligatory baseball cap period and way ahead of his now familiar Wolfie Smith activist beret, while his wife wore a red floppy hat, which covered not only her head, but most of her face as well. Once she opened her gob, we knew the gorgeous voice belonged to Linda as it rained in diagonal torrents towards her and the rest of those on the stage with her. Within a year, the dream couple was no more as they embarked on what has become known as the ‘tour from hell’, for which their fellow band mates would remain in a constant state of fear of being caught in the rapid crossfire. The tickets for this one day Fairport reunion, which was billed as ‘A Day in the Country’, were £3.50 and Ralhp McTell was also on the bill, or at least that’s what was printed on the ticket. He didn’t even sing “Streest of Londno” either. Richard appeared with his old muckers later that wet night, including Simon Nicol dressed as a schoolboy and Dave Swarbrick wearing ‘Billy & Johnny’ dungarees, which effectively saw the Full House line up re-established, as they performed part of a lengthy 31 song set, which included an almost equally lengthy “Sloth”. I have to confess that when I first heard Richard Thompson’s voice, which would’ve been sometime in the early Seventies, it gave me a sensation not unlike the one I experienced whenever Mary Jane Taylor ran her beautifully manicured fingernails down the blackboard at school, but I learned to love it, as I had Dylan’s before him. I collected all the Richard and Linda LPs after seeing them together, being drawn in particular to Richard’s party songs such as “The End of the Rainbow”, “The Poor Ditching Boy” and “Withered and Died” (well have you ever been to one of my parties?) and I grew to love the sound of Richard’s voice almost as much as his guitar playing from the Hand of Kindness LP onwards. I’ve shaken hands with him, but never really met him, although the last time I saw him was at the 2019 Cambridge Folk Festival, when I found him sitting in my chair in the media caravan, which I’d just temporarily vacated, where he was in deep discussion with my mate Nic. You can’t go to the bloody loo without a guitar god jumping in your grave now can you?
28. Johnny Dickinson (Regent Hotel, Doncaster 2007) In the early noughties I was helping to run a music club in Doncaster at The Lonsdale, a large public house near the town’s famous racecourse, where I was first introduced to the North East singer and guitar player Johnny Dickinson. I can’t actually recall who we’d booked as the main guest on that particular night, but I remember having a couple of support acts already lined up when Jonti Willis arrived with this man in tow. I was slightly worried that we might not have enough time to fit everything in, so when Jonti asked me if I could squeeze Johnny in for a couple of numbers, it was with some reluctance that I agreed. When Johnny got up on stage however, he instantly blew me (and the audience) away; it was as if the voice of Paul Rodgers had been somehow tacked onto the hands of Ry Cooder. So impressed, I also managed to squeeze him in for another couple of songs in the second half, as well as securing for him a future booking. The next time I saw Johnny was at the 2005 Cambridge Folk Festival, when he opened the main stage concert on the Sunday afternoon, just ahead of The Duhks and Mary Gauthier. I was at the front of course, after going around telling complete strangers (rather annoyingly) not to miss him. Seeing him share a stage with another guitar hero, John Renbourn at the Rock shortly afterwards, made me wonder how much more talent could possibly be squeezed onto one stage in one night. The last time I saw Johnny was at the Roots Club in my hometown, where I had a long chat with him (with the tape rolling) about his life and career in music and I found him, as always, to be an absolute gem, despite him being so ill at the time. We lost this beautiful man in 2019, a musician I’d photographed on several occasions over the years, including this one, taken at the Regent Hotel in Doncaster at one of Bob Chiswick’s Monday night gigs back in 2007, which captures the smile we’d all become very much familiar with.
29. Eric Bibb (Cambridge Folk Festival, 2008) I have an old Fontana LP by a handsome young fellow from Louisville, Kentucky called Leon Bibb. The LP, Leon Bibb Sings Love Songs, has no date on the record sleeve or indeed the label, yet a quick scan through the great googlie mooglie reveals that it was in fact the singer’s debut record released back in 1959, which was a couple of years before I came along to bother people. In 1997, I was intrigued enough to go and perch myself in front of the main stage at the Cambridge Folk Festival to see Leon’s equally handsome son Eric, who was opening the Sunday evening concert with Danny Thompson, a concert that would also feature Flook!, Steve Earle, Hothouse Flowers and Dervish. Over a decade later, in 2008, he appeared on the same stage opening another fine evening concert, this time sharing the bill with Martha Wainwright, Allen Toussaint, lower case k.d. lang and upper and lower case The Imagined Village, which I thought was worth taking it easy on the juice and knotting my legs for the duration. I was completely bowled over by Eric’s performance and wasted no time in nabbing the gospel-tinged “Needed Time” for my own limited repertoire, which I occasionally get the guitar out for. This was taken the next day during a blues guitar workshop, where he seemed much more relaxed and laid back.
30. Barrie Masters (Great British Alternative Festival, Minehead 2012) I think what sets Mr Masters aside from his musical Barry peers (Manilow, Gibb, Wom) is that ever so crucial ‘ie’ instead of the traditional ‘y’, which gives this late rock and roller all the extra credibility he needed. The name Barry is difficult to pull off in rock music, a little like Colin, Derek and definitely Allan. When I was invited along to cover the 2012 Great British Alternative Festival in Minehead for Northern Sky, I remember picking up my chalet key, my press lanyard and my programme and then sitting with a coffee scrutinising the running order, while circling names of people I just might like to meet up with for a chat over the weekend. One of the names that rose to the top of the list other than Hazel O’Connor and the guitarist with the Boomtown Rats, was Barrie Masters, frontman with Eddie and the Hot Rods since 1975, who would no doubt have a tale to tell. I got in touch with him earlier in the day and we agreed to meet up after the band’s headlining Saturday night set, which finished in the early hours. It was around 2am on Sunday morning when I finally sat down with him, still pouring with sweat (him not me) after an energetic performance with the Rods. Almost exactly a year my senior, to just two days, I found the Southend-born singer, who was possibly most famous for the hit single “Do Anything You Want To Do”, to be utterly charming and immediately noticed that the little finger on his right hand, which had been there for 56 years, had more energy in it, than I had in my entire body at the age of 16. I discovered that we also had much in common, in that we both listened to similar records in our youth, which included the Steppenwolf Live LP, which featured the iconic rock anthem “Born to be Wild”, one of the songs the band had just played moments before. We were also big fans of the Stones compilation Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass) and both spent a good deal of our time listening to the pirate radio stations back in the day. Sadly, this energetic and charismatic singer died in his bedroom in October 2019 at the age of 63, the post-mortem results indicating that the cause of death was ‘intoxication by multiple agents’. It was those bloody multiple agents again.
31. John Otway (Great British Alternative Festival, Minehead 2012) ‘There is.. (wot?) a house.. (where?) down in New Orleans.. (wot’s it called?) well they call it the Rising Sun..’ etc. We’ve all been there and probably many times. Considered a cult hero by many, John Otway burst into my life at precisely the same time as he burst into many others back in 1977, when he fell flat on his arse midway through “Cheryl’s Going Home” on the Old Grey Whistle Test, after attempting to scale the north face of Mount Marshall Stack with no assistance from Sherpa Wild Willy Barrett. He was like a cross between Rik from the Young Ones and Syd Barrett having eaten one too many jelly babies. This was probably the turning point for Whispering Bob Harris, who left the rock and roll world behind shortly afterwards to go out looking for the Bee Gees, whereas I went out the next day looking to buy the single “Cor Baby That’s Really Free”, complete with the even more appealing B side “Beware of the Flowers (Because I’m Sure They’re Gonna Get You, Yeah)”, which in 1999 was voted the seventh best ever song lyric in a BBC poll, beating anything that Dylan ever wrote. When I sat down with him for a chat in 2012, I went into it with much trepidation, wondering what on earth I might be getting myself into, but found him a delight. When he was booked to play at the Lonsdale many years ago, I was the MC when the need for a hapless MC such as I was completely unnecessary. It was probably the only time I ever appeared on a stage surrounded by a pair of step ladders, a double sided guitar held together by hinges and a theremin. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, what can I say…?’ – ‘Nothing, now get off!’
32. Van Morrison (Cambridge Folk Festival, 2014) When Van Morrison made his Cambridge Folk Festival debut in 2014 in celebration of the festival’s fiftieth year, rumours had already begun to circulate Cherry Hinton all day long about the man’s demands, some of which may have been true, some of which may have been invented, just to add to the mythology. I sensed that people quite enjoy hating Van the Man. I heard the same joke at the media area, in the pit, backstage, at the bar and even at the Jesus Tent, ‘There are two kinds of people in the world, those who like Van Morrison, and those who have met him’. It might have been this reputation and the less than flattering anecdotes that seem to follow the Belfast Cowboy around that made me want to steer clear. I didn’t even ask for an interview, not that he would’ve been likely to have accepted the offer. But, having said all that, I’m a fan. In the early 1970s, around the time of Tupelo Honey, Saint Dominic’s Preview and Veedon Fleece, I knew of few who could touch him as a singer. Astral Weeks was my favourite album for years and if push comes to shove, it probably still is. It was played on a reel to reel I had next to my print machine in my days as a silk screen printer in the 1970s. I would have loved to have seen him during that time, but the first opportunity I got to see him was in 1990, when he’d already turned into the trilby wearing crooner, surrounded by brass and a sycophantic musical director who spent much of his time re-introducing his boss back to the stage for countless encores which began just 20 minutes into his set. I wanted to see the Van Morrison from the It’s Too Late To Stop Now period. For the press team at the festival, all the usual rules had been scrapped and a new set had been quickly drafted, which read like the sort of instructions you might get if you were visiting the White House. You know, keep out of the Oval Office, don’t bother the President and don’t nick the monogrammed bog roll. On this occasion, we were given the choice of sides of the stage, left or right, and once there, you stay there and don’t cross the chalk lines and definitely don’t get in his range of vision. It was impossible to get a decent shot from such an awkward position, but I wasn’t too concerned. I was enjoying the over the top banality of it all. I just wanted to see him close up again and hoped he would sing either “Cypress Avenue”, “Into the Mystic” or “Crazy Love” during the first three numbers, although it would be unlikely to hear any of those before having to vacate the pit. The thing I remember most clearly was ten minutes before his appearance on stage, just as I turned the corner backstage, when I found myself face to face with him, albeit a good twenty yards away with a clear run between us. He was standing bolt upright and stared right into my face, motionless, unsmiling, stiff, which gave me a chill. He was wearing his customary shades, so he could’ve had his eyes closed for all I knew, but I still felt his stare upon me. It was scary in a way. I almost turned and ran. Going back to the joke, well, I have no intention of meeting him, so therefore I will probably always like him, after all, Van is definitely The Man.
33. Jerry Donahue (Great British Folk Festival, Skegness 2012) There’s a guitar solo midway through “Polly on the Shore” on Fairport Convention’s ninth album, that confirms in a few notes just how important this guitar player was to the band back in the early 1970s. Nobody could bend strings on a Telecaster quite like this New Yorker, who like his predecessor Richard Thompson, is remembered as a major contributor to the band to this day, despite only being around for a short period of time, both serving barely three years each. I was probably still spinning records like “When I’m Dead and Gone” and “Spirit in the Sky” on my highly inadequate Dansette back in 1970 in an attempt to impress the girls at our local youth club, when I first saw the sleeve of the Fotheringay LP, which would eventually find its way into my collection via an original pink label copy that I picked up from the lovely Steve Free a few years ago. I was fortunate enough to meet up with Jerry for a chat with him and his fellow musicians in The Gathering, a short lived supergroup featuring members of Fairport, Lindisfarne, Steeleye Span, the Albion Band and Jethro Tull at the inaugural Great British Folk Festival back in 2010. I took this photo a couple of years later, during a guest appearance with the English Folk Rock outfit Hunter Muskett at the same festival. The last time I saw Jerry onstage was with the reformed Fotheringay in 2015, a few months before tragedy struck, when he suffered a severe stroke, which effectively put an end to his guitar playing altogether. In 2019, 23 musicians signed a signature Jerry Donahue Telecaster guitar to raise money to help their fellow musician, which included Paul McCartney, Jimmy Page, Pete Townsend, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, David Gilmour, Brian Wilson, Mark Knopfler and Robert Plant among them. A lovely man.
34. Seckou Keita (Cambridge Folk Festival, 2014) If you were to sit me down in front of a bowl of fruit, it would never occur to me, not in a million years, to take an orange and make a musical instrument out of it. I suppose there’s a massive cultural difference between a boy growing up in suburban Hexthorpe in the Sixties, with the constant rattle of trains going by on the Sheffield to Doncaster line, to a 14th century West African, who appeared to have instinctively known that a hollowed out calabash gourd was all one needed to create possibly the most beautiful sounds in music, with the additional help of a wooden stick and some leather strings. Seckou Keita is from Senegal and comes from a long heritage of griot musicians who have developed the almost trance-like quality of the Kora over centuries, whether played as a solo instrument or as an accompanying instrument to other such instruments or indeed voices. After working as a drummer in Baka Beyond, then becoming a popular soloist, supporting the likes of Salif Keita and Youssou N’Dour, he teamed up with the Welsh Classical harpist Catrin Finch, which brought the instrument to an even wider audience and having seen them both in action on a number of occasions, I can say with complete sincerity that their music is among the most sublime sounds I’ve ever heard. I’ve met Seckou on a few occasions, first at the 2014 Cambridge Folk Festival, then at the 2014 Musicport Festival and then again at the Songlines Music Awards Winners’ Concert at The Sage in Gateshead. I was also treated to a great show with the Cuban jazz pianist Omar Sosa at the Howard Assembly Room in Leeds, then once again at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2019, where I recorded an interview with him, congratulating him for his two nominations in the forthcoming BBC Folk Awards. I last bumped into him in a Manchester hotel bar after those awards, where he picked up the gong for both Best Duo (with Catrin) and Best Musician. Fortunately, it was in the days when you could still do a proper ‘high five’ and not just a virtual one.
35. Leland Sklar (Fairport’s Cropredy Convention, 2015) There are some musicians out there who you feel you know pretty well just by their name alone, names you see on countless albums before you actually put a face to them and Leland (Lee) Sklar is one of them. In the early 1970s, the name Leland Sklar appeared on dozens of records, frequently alongside drummer Russ Kunkel, guitarist Danny Kortchmar and keyboard player Craig Doerge, collectively known as ‘The Section’. Once Leland’s face became familiar to me, it was one that I wouldn’t easily forget, which was largely due to the impressive beard that would give ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons a run for his money. When Judith Owen appeared on stage at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention in 2015, all eyes were on her bass playing hubby Harry Shearer, better known to the world as the voice of Mr. Burns, Waylon Smithers, Principal Skinner, Ned Flanders and others in The Simpsons as well as being the bassist ‘Derek Smalls’ in Spinal Tap; ‘We do not strive for perfection, because perfection is the destination, imperfection is the journey’. My attention though, immediately turned to the other bass player further back, seated out of the spotlight, together with his familiar white beard, a musician who’d appeared on many of the records I grew up listening to. Well, there’s no such thing as a quick rundown of the albums Leland has appeared on, there’s just too many to mention, though one or two (dozen) would certainly be considered standouts; James Taylor’s Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon for instance or Roger McGuinn’s first solo record, Leonard Cohen’s The Future, Dolly Parton’s Heartbreak Express, Linda Ronstadt’s Don’t Cry Now, Rod Stewart’s Atlantic Crossing, Carole King’s Thoroughbred and Gene Clark’s No Other, as well as Arlo Guthrie’s Last of the Brooklyn Cowboys, Randy Newman’s Land of Dreams, Carly Simon’s Playing Possum, not to mention several by Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon and Crosby, Stills and Nash. Leland Sklar has been a very busy boy and has simply never had time to shave.
36. Mud Morganfield (Great British Rock and Blues Festival, Skegness 2012) I missed out on seeing the blues legend Muddy Waters, perhaps the greatest of the Chicago Bluesmen, along with Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon. I’ve been lucky enough to catch sets by BB King, Buddy Guy, Taj Mahal, Robert Cray, John Mayall, Eric Clapton, Keb Mo, Eric Bibb, Corey Harris, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, as well as several blues bands over the years, but I never did get to see the grand daddy of ‘em all. I did however get to see, and have a chat with, Muddy’s son Larry Williams, who by day goes under his mother’s maiden name and by night trades under the name ‘Mud’ Morganfield, his father’s name and who not only looks like his old man, albeit several shoe sizes bigger, but sounds like him too. Larry initially had no particular aspirations to follow in his dad’s footsteps, choosing the life of a truck driver instead. Things changed however after the death of his father in 1983, when he launched his own career in music and began to perform regularly in the blues clubs on the south side of Chicago. Ever since I first started listening regularly to Alexis Korner’s radio shows back in the 70s, I’ve been careful not to fall into the trap of becoming a blues obsessive, which is a little bit like becoming a trainspotter but without the binoculars and combined locomotive numbers book. I’ve seen first hand what affect this can have on otherwise normal people, like for instance the guy at the Cambridge Folk Festival, who took a bunch of Muddy Waters records up to the Mojo signing tent to get Mud to sign. ‘Why are you bringing me these?’ says Mud, with a bewildered expression. ‘My CDs are next door, go buy one and I’ll sign that’. Quite right too. I took this photo of Mud at the Great British Rock and Blues Festival in 2012.
37. Martin Simpson (Barnsley Acoustic Roots Festival, 2010) It was my pal Mick who first introduced me to the playing of Martin Simpson in the early 1980s, when he loaned me his copy of Martin’s debut LP Golden Vanity, from which I nicked Martin’s version of Randy Newman’s “Louisiana 1927”, which I went on to play countless times at our local folk club until I eventually tired of it, which was roughly 65 plays after other people in the audience had tired of it. I subsequently returned the album to its rightful owner and then bought not one, but two copies of it for myself (the second one, I just couldn’t leave in the charity shop). At the height of my obsession with Mr Simpson’s guitar playing, which was around the time of his Sad or High Kicking album, the phone rang one Sunday afternoon and Mrs W answered it. ‘There’s a Martin Simpson on the phone for you Al’ she called from the hall, as if it might be an insurance salesman. I almost gave myself a hernia with the speed I left the futon. ‘He said he found your number in an ad in the current edition of Folk Roots magazine and wondered if you could fix him up with a gig’, she whispered, with her hand over the receiver. He went on to tell me that he was looking for a gig near Scunthorpe so he could visit his mum at the same time. He also said he would do it for a nominal fee as long as I advertised the gig in the local Scunthorpe newspaper, just in case a few of his old muckers might show up. He’d been away after all, living the life in New Orleans. After a few words with the gang (the club), we were able to put our favourite guitar slinger on at the Bay Horse in Bentley, which hadn’t seen a folk night since it’s 70s heyday. When I greeted him on the night, the firmness of his handshake was such that I swear I said ‘Hullo Martin’ two octaves above my normal speaking range. This was by no means the first time I’d seen Martin Simpson, he was a frequent visitor to the Rockingham Arms in Wentworth, where I saw him on a number of occasions, both on his own and in a couple of duos, first with June Tabor and then with the utterly beguiling Jessica Simpson, who we don’t talk about anymore, and I’ve seen him literally dozens of times since. The pinnacle of those shows though, was the occasion when he showed up at the Rock sporting a flashy avocado green guitar, which he quaintly referred to as the Snot-a-caster, when he seemed to be on fire. It was edge of the seat stuff, incendiary, passionate, alive, you might even say ‘angry’, with such numbers as “Roving Gambler”, “Biko”, “Icarus”, “First Cut is the Deepest” and the absolutely sublime “The Granemore Hare” out to play. Sadly I don’t have such heroes these days, not to that extent at any rate, perhaps we grow out of that sort of thing, but at the time you could’ve handed me a spray can and I would’ve willingly scrawled ‘Simpson is God’ on the wall outside. That’s what his music meant to me back then. I took this photo at the Barnsley Acoustic Roots Festival in 2010, a festival that no longer exists, at a venue that has subsequently been demolished, organised by a man who I no longer see. Time marches on..
38. Martin Turner (Great British Rock and Blues Festival, Skegness 2012) When The Beatles finally called it a day in April 1970, fans tended to come down on the side of either John Lennon or Paul McCartney and never the twain shall meet. A few years later when Pink Floyd hung up their inflatable pigs, it was either Roger Waters or Dave Gilmour you vowed to follow over the wall or to the dark side of the moon. With hardened Wishbone Ash followers, the choice was to follow Andy Powell or Martin Turner, both of whom went on to labour in their own respective versions of the brand, one that could lawfully claim the name, while the other had to incorporate the brand name into a longer more cumbersome version, in this case ‘Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash’ or the even more clumsy ‘Martin Turner Plays the Music of etc’. We would probably agree with each of these examples, that we would have preferred the old team to kiss and make up and go on delivering the music we love, but hey, life ain’t like that. As an early fan of Wishbone Ash, and I say that purely as someone who bought their debut album back in the day before such squabbles began, I came down on Martin Turner’s side after all the punch ups and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was his voice that I associated with the band rather than the guitars, despite the fact that Wishbone Ash are noted chiefly for their twin guitar sound. I was lucky enough to see the band in their original line up of Andy and Martin, along with Ted Turner, who I initially thought was Martin’s brother but is in fact no relation, and drummer Steve Upton. I saw them again in the mid 1970s, this time with Mrs W by my side, after Laurie Wiseman had joined the band, replacing Ted Turner. In 2012, I met up with Martin for a long overdue chat, who was only too willing to trawl through the band’s turbulent history with me, not in the manner of a serious or bitter musician but in an almost playful, crafty cockney Joe Brown sort of way, despite originally hailing from Torquay. Editing that interview and splicing together such songs as “Blind Eye”, “Throw Down the Sword”, “No Easy Road” and “Lady Whiskey”, the song that first drew me to the band, which I heard on John Peel’s Top Gear, was a joy. One of my very favourite interviews on the Northern Sky website.
39. Townes Van Zandt (Cambridge Folk Festival, 1996) I first shared the same air as Townes Van Zandt, along with roughly a dozen other people, in a soon to be closed Doncaster pub back in 1990. It was hard to believe that this renowned Texan troubadour was in town, peddling his richly crafted songs, but not really surprising that the place was empty, the townspeople here being notoriously difficult to judge; in Donny, a promoter takes his (or her) chances. The thing that ought to stand out about that night should perhaps be the songs or the rapport he had with the audience or even how that audience, however small, reacted to having such a legendary character here, barely a couple of miles from their homes. But no, despite the fact that I was on the soft juice all evening and therefore very much alert, the thing I actually remember most about that night was clocking the officer behind the wheel in the car park next door as I left the Toby Jug, lying in wait, who followed me over the North Bridge and eventually pulled me over just before I reached Holmes Market, whereupon I was asked to blow into a bag, which obviously had a negative result. It wasn’t the worst conclusion to a gig that I’d ever experienced, that probably belongs to the night after an Belinda O’Hooley gig in Wakefield, when I received a parking ticket and then half an hour later was photographed speeding back into Doncaster. I digress. The next time I saw Townes was in fact the final time, at the Cambridge Folk Festival in the summer of 1996, where he played the main stage early Saturday evening before a crowd of Saw Doctors fans, who had already begun ritually lubricating in preparation for the band’s headliner set three hours later. I feared for Alison Krauss who was yet to appear on stage for her set. If the fans were this noisy at seven, Lord knows what they would be like by nine. Nevertheless, I endeavoured to listen to Townes Van Zandt’s songs through the miasma of noise and booze. Townes went on to see the rest of the year out, but sadly bowed out on New Year’s Day. I had a strange feeling that this was going to be the last time. This photo was taken with my dodgy Praktica SLR from a distance using an inadequate telephoto lens. But there again, a poor workman blames his tools.
40. Eric Taylor (The Maze, Nottingham 2009) I first discovered the songwriting of Eric Taylor through his ex-wife Nanci Griffith, notably the song “Deadwood”, which she covered on her 1988 live album One Fair Summer Evening. A couple of years later I met Mark Dowding, a Lancashire folk singer who was in town for an extended period of work, who came to the folk club I was helping to run at the time. He performed “Joseph Cross”, an Eric Taylor song that I immediately fell in love with and to cut a long story short, Mark joined our then current band Swiftnick, effectively adding the song to our repertoire. When that band eventually folded, I kept the song and included it in the repertoire of the new duo that sprung from the embers of the band, in fact John and I nabbed a lyric from the song for the name of our duo, the ‘Buffalo Brothers’. Some years after this shameless theft, plagiarism and pillaging of Eric’s repertoire, I came face to face with the Texas songwriter in the back room (the one with the noisy boiler) of The Maze in Nottingham, where he was appearing at one of the venue’s ‘Cosmic American’ shows, who indulged me in a good old natter about his life on the road and his contemporaries Townes Van Zandt and Guy Charles Clark (Eric always referred to Guy as Guy Charles) as well as Lightnin’ Hopkins and Mance Lipscombe among others. After seeing Eric a couple more times, I recommended him to Hedley Jones, who booked him for one of his famous house concerts in Barnsley. I came away feeling that he didn’t go down terribly well with the regulars on that occasion. I may be mistaken, but I think Eric’s gentle stream of consciousness delivery was a bit lost on them. I felt the same when I saw him once more at the Roots Club in my hometown in October 2015, where again, it was all a little too strange for an audience who clearly wanted more songs and fewer stories. In my mind, Eric’s storytelling was equally as important as his songs and I was always willing to take the journey over the prairies and through the badlands of America with him. I was slightly concerned when he turned up at the Roots Club using a walking stick for the first time. He hobbled over to me in the break and with a wry smile, said in his very distinctive Texas drawl, ‘if you even suggest that it’s time for me to slow down, you’ll get this over your head’. That was the last time I saw Eric, but his wife Susan continued to send me the odd CD. Eric is sadly no longer with us, having succumbed to liver disease in March 2020, but his records frequently come out to play, together with all those memories. A very special soul.
41. Brian Willoughby (The Rock, Maltby 2009) It seems such a long time ago now, but I’m pretty sure the time I heard Brian Willoughby was on Old School Songs, an album by Dave Cousins made up of acoustic versions of songs that had previously been released on earlier Strawbs albums. The single “Lay Down” takes me right back to Friday nights at the Silver Link in Doncaster in the early 1970s, when I was far too young to even be there. The song rattled out from the jukebox almost on repeat, with Hawkwind’s “Silver Machine” and Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” offering moments of respite from Cousins’ rasping voice. Brian joined The Strawbs a few years later, when the band reformed, effectively replacing Dave Lambert, who himself had been with the band since the Bursting at the Seams album. I didn’t get to see Brian play live until I joined the Wath Festival team, where he and his long time musical partner Cathryn Craig were regularly booked to play. For evidence of Brian’s credentials as a major league guitar player, we need look no further than “This Ol’ Guitar”, a song the duo often open each performance with, the Nashville singer’s voice ringing out like a nightingale, while Brian negotiates the twiddly bits with expert precision. I became friends with both Brian and Cathryn as soon as I met them. During an interview I once did with them, I made some sort of schoolboy error, quoting a song title incorrectly and momentarily losing my thread, yet the two of them immediately jumped in to make me feel adequate once again, which was lovely of them. The old thing about not meeting your heroes doesn’t count in the case of Cathryn and Brian, in fact it’s pretty much essential that you do.
42. Curtis Eller (Beverley Folk Festival, 2015) With the slew of guitar players already included in this formidable list, I thought I’d turn my attention to a banjo slingin’ Keatonesque dancer, whose penchant for serpents, pigeons, wirewalkers and assassins first drew my attention at the Beverley Folk Festival back in 2009. A true original, Curtis draws together an almost circus-like feel to each of his performances, where you imagine he might slip on a banana skin at any moment. His world is an adventure, which evokes a form of entertainment from a bygone age, Burlesque in places, old time Vaudeville in others, Curtis Eller’s American Circus is always a treat to witness, as the New York-based performer waltzes around the stage hugging his banjo, singing about such historical characters as Abe Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, Joe Louis, Stephen Foster, Busby Berkley, Jack Ruby and Amelia Earhart, balancing on an upright chair or unexpectedly leaping from the stage from an unfeasible height, his sneakers hitting the floor like a feather. I’ve had at least two conversations with Curtis on tape and several at the bar. Why he is not a household name is beyond me. This photo was taken at one of his return visits to Beverley in 2015, as he wanders through the audience like the ghost of Elvis.
43. Arlo Guthrie (The Duchess, York 2009) I took my younger sister along with me to see Alice’s Restaurant at the old Arts Centre in Doncaster in 1974 (now demolished), where it was being screened as part of the BFI’s run of double bills in British cinemas at the time, the other film being Richard Lester’s The Bed Sitting Room, an absurdist, post-apocalyptic, satirical black comedy that appears to have disappeared in the annals of cinema history along with other such period pieces as Candy and The Magic Christian. Half way through the film, written by Spike Milligan, I began to consider whether I should’ve taken my young sister to see The Towering Inferno instead. I already knew the name Arlo Guthrie from the Woodstock film – “Man there’s supposed to be a million and a half people here by tonight, can you dig that? New York State Thruway is closed.. Man” and all that hippie nonsense – together with what I’d read about him in the rock press, but this was the first time I got to see the film, which was originally released in 1969. Around the same time, I found an imported copy of the Alice’s Restaurant original soundtrack LP in a bargain bin at my local record shop, not to be confused with Arlo’s debut LP of the same name from 1967. I went on to collect all of Arlo’s records from that debut through to his 1980s releases before the ‘orrible CD came along, yet I only ever saw him play live once, at the Duchess in York in 2009. Armed with both 12 string and 6 string guitars as well as the customary harmonica rack, he performed songs from a repertoire spanning over four decades, which included “Chilling of the Evening”, “Motorcycle Song”, “St James Infirmary Blues”, “Cornbread Peas and Black Molasses” and “Key to the Highway”, together with the obligatory “City of New Orleans” and “Coming in From Los Angeles”. He also paid tribute to Woody with a rather faithful reading of “Pretty Boy Floyd”, whilst observing that “the more laws you make, the more criminals you produce”, one of Woody’s more astute observations. Arlo Guthrie isn’t one of the most important singers that the world has produced, but I really can’t imagine my youth in the same way without him.
44. Josiah Longo (Wath Festival, 2014) When I first saw Josiah Longo’s band Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams in 2009, I didn’t really know what I was looking at, but I knew it sounded good. A few years later, when we were coming up with suggestions for the Wath Festival line-up, the band was mooted as a possibility and I was worried, my first thought being that the Wath crowd was not going to get it. I’d been wrong before, several times evidently, like the time I went around telling everyone what a flop the forthcoming Batman film was going to be. It grossed $40.49 million in its opening weekend. Sadly, we didn’t gross anything like that, but we had a fantastic weekend nonetheless. I don’t think the little town of Wath upon Dearne had ever seen anything quite like The Grand Slambovians before that weekend in 2014 and probably hasn’t seen anything like it since. I took this shot from the side of the stage just after announcing the band onstage.