The first obvious change was in the audience, who though always polite, began to show a distinct preference for British music. Songs influenced by the American contemporary folk scene produced a very lukewarm response to the extent that the performers of such material never came back a second time. Unaccompanied singers of British material went down exceptionally well, however. Singers like John Boler thrived on English traditionally orientated songs such as Shoals of Herring written by Ewan McColl. Hearing the club roar out the last line of each verse sent a shiver down my spine.
The club had developed in a way that we didn’t fully anticipate. The preponderance of British traditional singers had quickly attracted an audience, which preferred this music to the exclusion of most other forms and particularly American, both soul and contemporary. This in the end resulted in another dramatic upheaval in the club though it didn’t affect the club’s success at the time.
A new group called the Crofters began to visit the club and perform their songs. At first, as with most new singers, the audience was sympathetic towards them and, shortly after their arrival, Stan began to give them a helping hand with their vocals. This gave them a lot more kick because, although they were four in number, they didn’t have a strong vocalist. Stan gave them more vocal power and extra instrumentation which helped their overall performance considerably. It also gave Stan a chance to perform music of a much wider range, which appealed to him rather than just British material. Unfortunately the Crofters did almost exclusively the very material the club members had little interest in and they, with or without Stan, soon got the polite but muted applause response.
Running the club and making up a balanced singers’ evening was not easy and, when the Crofters began arriving late and leaving before the end of the evening, it became even more difficult. The crunch came when they asked for more songs in their set and we had to refuse. This went down badly and they left the club in a huff, taking Stan with them. I thought it would all blow over but we never saw them again and as far as I can remember Stan never came to the club again either. We had to accept that we had lost the original driving force for the club and I appeared to have lost my good friend Stan. Thankfully I soon found that I hadn’t and was pleased to hear that Stan and the Crofters were now getting regular gigs in clubs around the Birmingham area. The Clansmen were now down to two, although it must be admitted that Stan, Erick and Chris had never gelled as a group, being poles apart in both attitude and personality.
The club sailed on undisturbed and I soon added myself to the singing personnel and eventually added to the group my sea shanties and ballads. Erick’s clever harmonies gave the group individuality and we gave up the Clansmen name for the Folk’sles. Having no Scottish material this made sense. The club then dropped the MacDonalds title and instead became The Australian Bar Folk Club. Everyone enjoyed each Friday evening, including all our regulars, whether singers or non-singers, as well as the pub landlord. The only problem now was cramming everyone in.
Clive Collins, a small but dynamic personality, joined the group and Chris left. He was never happy as a group member and when Clive started to insist on regular practice sessions away from the club, it offended the free spirit in him. He still came to the club but not so often and remained a good friend.
The success of the Folk’sles and the size of the club eventually led to our next move…… To The Birmingham Arms.
The details above have been supplied by Ron Wheeler, who currently lives in Taunton, and was one of the founder members of the club.