Albums of 2007: vintage year, gem of a winner
India beckons

Broken dream

Who wanted to be a folk singer? Professionally, I mean, not just getting up, as many of us did, to do floor spots at the local folk club.

Like Christy Moore, I certainly yearned for the life of the troubadour. There were two key obstacles: unlike Christy, I was a rotten singer and extremely limited guitarist.

But the will was there, as I was reminded during my recent moving epic when poring over old letters that passed between my (then) future wife and me.

It bears no date, but the contents make it clear that it was written when I was still living in Shildon, Co Durham and Joëlle was back at home in Le Mans.

The letter began with some waffly excuses for not writing enough. Later I revealed a modest improvement in my parlous financial position; my boss, the editor of the local paper where I worked, had said I could start charging all of £1.50 a week in expenses for writing a folk column.

Then these words appeared:

"Also, folk music looks like beginning to pay me. Phil Steele and I have a booking a Guisborough on Jan 29. We'll get £8 inclusive."

You may not think that amounts to much. But I am talking about prehistoric times, 1971 to be precise. And a half share of £8 went a long way in those days, as did even 30 bob. Why, I even posted something at Mudcat a few months ago suggesting that I used to get away with paying Vin Garbutt £3 at my own club, though that would have been a little earlier.

Phil was the driving force behind this emerging duo of ours. He played guitar exceptionally well and had a reasonable voice and interesting trad, blues and contemporary repertoire.

He did his best in the days leading up the gig to draw me sufficiently into his world so that we would look as if we knew roughly what we were doing. But in strict observance of the rule that you can take a horse to water but cannot make it drink, none of his efforts could prevent this being my one and only professional performance.

Phil has been in poor health for years. He suffers from MS and tragically had to give up playing a while ago though in his own professional life he has continued to represent a number of folk musicians doing well enough to need an accountant.

His recall of our grim night in Guisborough is hazy, which is understandable since he went on to perform as a guest, solo and with others, on subsequent occasions and therefore has every reason to forget this or that event.

But he does remember that the venue was a pub called the Globe. My letter described it thus: "It's supposed to be a hard club in which to sing, so it will certainly be a challenge."

Only too true. The juke box was roaring when we arrived, stayed on until the very last moment before our first spot began and was immediately switched on again for the break. From memory, there were no floor singers.

What did we sing? Leonard Cohen's Story of Isaac and possibly Bitter Green, both learned from a Johnstons album, and definitely San Francisco Bay Blues. Thirty-six years on, any other title I identified would be sheer guesswork.

But I do vividly remember two things. Guisborough is or was a North Yorkshire town where lads in their late teens and early 20s had a well deserved reputation for being hard knocks.

Before our spot began, one menacing youth had made an elaborate manoeuvre to force his way through to a chair beyond mine. He fixed me a convincing tough guy glare and offered this warm welcome: "Mind your feet. And mind your f***ing guitar."

And the other thing is that we insisted on being paid off at the break. No one seemed to have listened to our opening set, let alone joined in any choruses. I think the juke box may even have burst back into life briefly at one point. We just wanted to get out, as quickly as possible and each of us preferably in one piece.

I assume we collected half our fee. But I know we made it to the Trimdon Folk Club in time to catch Christy's second half there. He had clearly enjoyed a better night than us. But then, his audience had also enjoyed a better night than ours.

* The image of Christy is an example of the street art of the great French contemporary artist Jef Aérosol whose superb portrait of Sandy Denny graced these pages recently.

** For newcomers to Salut! Live, please do not be confused by the conflicting statistics given in my running total of visits, given the rather larger figure in the country-by-country table. The latter refers to the aggregate of hits to all three of my sites - the others being Salut! and Salut! Sunderland


Philip Steele

As you say,Colin, my memories of our one & only gig are extremely hazy, to say the least. I do remember that bloody jukebox though, as we had to ask for it to be turned off before I went on with the Neighborhood Blues band in the late 80's!
We definitely played San Francisco Bay Blues & did well to escape at half time
- Christy was a far better choice for the rest of the night than The Globe.
Keep up the good work

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