Just a few months after the death of Phil Steele, I learnt that another fixture of the folk scene of South West Durham from the late 1960s had also died, some months earlier. And there are links.
I was alerted to the death of Derek Jolly by Bill Taylor, my good friend from Bishop Auckland who has spent most of his adult life in Canada. He came across mention at the folk forum Mudcat.
Phil and Derek were also friends even if, like me, they had lost contact. Both were from my own home town of Shildon and were involved in the folk club I opened at the Castle Hotel in the market place in Bishop Auckland, three miles away.
That club later moved house, relocating to the Aclet on the other side of the town. And just as I left County Durham to try my luck in London, Derek and his then wife set up home in Reading, where he again helped to run a folk club. Later he lived in Cyprus and then Bulgaria, where he died
He was great fun, with a wry sense of humour and something of the mischief-maker in him. The last time I saw him was when he pitched up on my doorstep back in the 1990s and we ended up having a few pints of beer followed by takeaway fish and chips.
A Mudcast contributor, Simon Needs, wrote in September 2020 "Derek Jolly died recently in Bulgaria where he had lived for the last few years. Derek was originally from the North East of England. I believe musically he was mainly a blues man but is chiefly known on Mudcat as the writer of My Grandfather's Ferret.
"His claim to fame, or so he said, was having the first sound to light disco - I have no idea whether that was worldwide, countrywide or in the North East."
Derek, who would have been around 73 when he died, based his amusing My Grandfather's Ferret on the well known song, My Grandfather's Clock, written in 1876 by Henry Clay Work, who also composed Marching Through Georgia.
The original was inspired by the longcase clock that stands at the George Hotel on the outskirts of Piercebridge, a village that lies within Co Durham though the hotel is just across the River Tees and therefore in North Yorkshire.
Some accounts claim Work stayed there - indeed some accounts say the highwayman Dick Turpin did, too - but there is no evidence he ever left the US. A likelier explanation is that he heard the story of the clock, which suddenly stopped ticking the day its owner, the publican, died. One version is that the tale was taken back to American and to Work by a touring "blackface" ensemble, Christy's Minstrels. As for the George, I can at least confirm a) that I have definitely stayed here and b) the clock was still standing when I did.
Derek's song began like this:
My grandfather's ferret was a creature of little merit
And it lived round the back in a cage.
If you peered in through the bars you'd see its eyes like little stars
Glittering with impotent rage.
The smell it gave off made you splutter, gasp, and cough and its habits were unspeakably gross.
And it bit off anything it could chew if you came too close.
... and can be seen in the clip below.
"Derek Jolly - what an appropriate name,`' wrote another Mudcatter, `'McGrath of Harlow'. "Just back from a session in a pub where I sang it. The fella playing the mandolin had to stop, because he was cracking up with laughter."
Back in 2009, Phil Steele's wife, Carol, reported that Derek had suffered three heart attacks, two years later prompting a response. Derek wrote: " ... Still alive and well and Annie and I are now living in a beautiful restored farmhouse in North-Eastern Bulgaria with two dogs and a retired donkey." I thought I knew who "Annie" was but have now found out I was mistaken.
There are clearly gaps in my knowledge and I shall update as I learn more.
Derek was witty, smart and instantly likeable. The memories he leaves are good ones. Rest easy, pal, and condolences to Annie.