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.......... King Bill Folk Club
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BEGGARS' HILL

This is the story of the Beggars' Hill folk-rock album from 1976 which is now much sought-after by collectors of vinyl records. In 2010 it was professionally restored and officially released on CD for the first time by Talking Elephant Records.


Life After Beggars' Hill - Jo & Chris Walker


Jo and Chris had played as a duo (guitar and voice) in local folk clubs since 1973, and carried on doing so, in places such as Sutton, Kingston and Croydon (the ‘Wonderful Waddon’). Browsing in antique/junk shops we found an autoharp and a hammered dulcimer. Jo brought the easy-to-play autoharp into the act, but never mastered the dulcimer. Chris was in his final year studying drama at Goldsmith’s College London in 1976/77 and recalls that period:

“Having cracked a version of open tuning on a tour of Norfolk with a ‘white-van-theatre-company’ [with a certain KINGLSEY ABBOTT, facilitator of Beggars’ Hill’s recent re-release] and bought a good hand-built guitar from Peter Abnett of Kent, I answered an advert at Goldsmith’s College for musicians to accompany a morris dance side. Thus I met Chris Robinson.

We combined to accompany (on concertina and guitar) the ladies morris side ‘Ladies of Pleasure’ (the name of a tune) which Chris and his wife Daph ran. Jo became a member of the side, and the Ladies danced by invitation at pubs, fairs and festivals in the SE London area. With Chris and Daph and a friend of theirs, Elizabeth, we went on to form ‘March Hare’, a ceilidh dance band. This boasted concertina, hammered dulcimer, accordion, autoharp and guitar in its original line-up and morphed into other combinations along the way. We were members of the band from its beginnings in about 1977/78 until 1985.”

Jo and Chris got married in September 1979 and John Rodd and friends played at their wedding ceilidh. Around that time, we were keen followers of the Albion Band, including when John Rodd was a member, and went to a number of National Theatre productions which had involved them in musical collaboration. The original Lark Rise to Candleford was among these, as were settings of the Mystery Plays.

March Hare was going strongly and, at one stage, had added full drum kit, bass, mandolin, melodeon, fiddle and banjo. We had augmented our membership with musicians from another morris side who were based in Greenwich. Early gigs had been around the London College folk club scene, including Goldsmiths, Birkbeck and the Rachel Macmillan teacher training college. Best moments? Supporting Blodwyn Pig and a jazz reggae fusion band at LSE; and a ceilidh dance at a sailing club, located on a steeply-raked slipway into the Thames - we had to stop each dance when the dancers got too close to the water!

March Hare still exists as a South East London / Kent area band, associated with Greenwich Morris, and is over 30 years old. Two members of the eighties line up remain – Margaret and Colin. Visit their website at www.marchhare.net.

Chris continues: “Since then I have been in folk remission twice, but had a rush of blood whilst listening nostalgically to a Planxty album in the early nineties. They accompanied me on a daily commute from South London to Chichester [shortening the journey by at least ten corners] in 90/91. I couldn’t get the opening tracks out of my head, with Liam O’Flynn weaving his magic on the Uilleann pipes. Jo must have cringed when I arrived home exclaiming, ‘That is what I want to play! None of this rhythm malarkey, I want to play the tune!’

Between 94-97 I filled the family home with squawks and groans as I attempted to wrestle the instrument into some kind of submission. It always won. I was given very generous help by Dublin pipers Dennis O’Toole and Nollaig MacCarthaigh, the brilliant Mickey Dunne, a piper / pipe maker from the traveller community in Limerick and more recently from Jimmy O’Brian-Moran. We returned to Dublin last April, 2009, to meet up with the folks from the Irish Piping Society, where we had first visited in 1995.

We had moved down to Emsworth (Hampshire coast) in 1991, and joined up with some old friends who had an interest in Morris and dance music. They were playing with an accordionist who played her father’s repertoire. At this point I was still playing the guitar. A new band was formed – The Reel Thing - when Avril retired to the Isle Wight and it carried on playing the repertoire for country-dances around West Sussex and Hampshire. The band had concertina, whistle, fiddle, mouthorgan, guitar, bass guitar and bodhran. Best moments: playing in a real barn and having to stop as the band and dancers collapsed with hay fever and asthma attacks; and playing at the Design Award winning ‘shell’ building at the Weald and Downland museum.

I morphed from guitarist into whistle player at this time and then added the pipes when I could control them. Jo and I got involved with a local project led by Ashley Hutchings called ‘Sway with me’ [better than it sounds!] in which I planned to play the pipes in public for the first time, but the guitar player on our song did a runner on the performance day and so I had to play the guitar again – and I was able to postpone the moment of realising just quite what a monster I had taken on!

In 2001 I was asked to play the pipes on a CD by a local singer/songwriter John Richard. After that, for various reasons I stopped playing for several years, as we sorted out family business following the deaths of all four parents.

I returned to the pipes about eighteen months ago and have learned a repertoire of traditional tunes. I have even heard comments such as: “Was that you? It sounds good, it can’t be you.” I now play with singer/ songwriter John Butler who recorded a CD in the autumn of 2009 and we have formed a trio –The House Band – with guitar, bodhran and myself on pipes and whistles. We play in local pubs and clubs and are part of a lively local art / literature performance scene.”

Jo writes: “I was not fully involved in the Emsworth village ceilidh band Reel Thing, but joined in with their Christmas productions, which included singing. I was more involved in worship bands in the churches we attended, first in Chichester, where I was included on a private recording of original gospel music; and latterly in Southbourne, where I led a group that sang contemporary lyrics set to traditional tunes, published by a Christian community on Iona.

In 2000 I joined temporarily the well-regarded local Renaissance Choir, which needed extras for a millennium concert. It was the first time I had sung ‘proper music’ and in Latin too. In 2004 I plucked up courage to audition to join fully, being candid about my lack of formal music training. It has been a steep learning curve, but I can now sing a-capella polyphonic style and have enormously enjoyed the buzz of performance. The choir has a lively social life and Chris has been able to accompany me on tours including to Budapest and Lisbon. This year, June 2010, we are going to Krakow. I have been involved in two recordings with Renaissance so far, with a third planned this summer. Visit the choir website at www.renaissancechoir.org.uk.

As Chris was getting going again on the pipes, in 2008, a friend told me she had always wanted to play the autoharp. Before thinking, I said I had two in the loft, and we were off on autoharp playing days for beginners, run by the UK Autoharp Association. I was intrigued to find out that, because the American bluegrass /’old time music’ culture dominates autoharp playing, the US style of holding the harp upright has prevailed since my playing days in March Hare. New harps are built accordingly, so one has no choice but to learn to play the new way, which I am enjoying. The UK Association’s activities are producing a growing English style and repertoire and it is now possible to learn to play UK traditional tunes and songs as well as American. I have yet to brave a public performance!”

Jo and Chris,

February 2010


Jo & Chris Walker in 2003 (Jo second from right, Chris first on left)

Jo & Chris Walker in 2003 (Jo second from right, Chris first on left)


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Jo Battley in 1975 (in front of Laura)
Jo Battley in 1975 (in front of Laura)

Chris Walker in 1975
Chris Walker in 1975