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Welcome to Beggars' Hill
The Group
Planning and Rehearsals
Recording the Album
Producing the Records
After Beggars' Hill
Before Beggars' Hill:
.......... Flyntlocke
......... King Bill Folk Club
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Review of June Tabor
Review of June Tabor, Epsom & Ewell Advertiser, 14 March 1974
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Before the Beggars' Hill album was produced in 1976, three of the members had run the King Bill Folk Club from 1973-4 at the King William IV public house in Ewell, Surrey.

King Bill Folk Club
King Bill links:-
Photos, Guests, Songlist & Top 10
Songs (not ready yet)

King Bill Folk Club

Looking back now, more than 30 years later, I really can't remember exactly how we decided that we would run our own folk club. So here's my best recollection of those times...........

Our original group, Flyntlocke, had quietly faded away, mainly, I think, because Jo left the scene for her university course, and it's hard to continue without your lead singer. Possibly others were also unavailable due to careers or studies. In the resulting vacuum, several of us did continue to make music and play floor spots in various folk clubs. JM Davis, Marc Isherwood, Chris Walker and I performed during the following year, either solo, or as a duo, or trio. Gradually Marc became less involved, leaving JM, Chris & I playing together more often as a trio.

During this time, we were fans of folk music, as well as performers. We probably spent more time visiting clubs and pubs to watch our favourite artists than actually performing ourselves. We regularly visited the Fighting Cocks Folk Club at Kingston, and the Waddon at Croydon. I remember Peter Sharp and I going to see Anne Briggs at Wimbledon, and Chris & I went to Putney to see Dick Gaughan and Aly Bain. There were also several trips up to the City of London to visit Merlin's New Cave (see the Club Dates listing in Folk Review magazine), a rather special club near Farringdon underground station, and there we rubbed shoulders (almost literally) with some of the top folk stars - too many to mention, but Heather Wood, Barry Dransfield, Richard Thompson and Trevor Lucas were amongst those mingling with the audience. Perhaps JM and Chris will remember some of the others.

As I said earlier, I can't remember how it came about, but we must have thought that rather than spend so much time and money going to visit all those places to see our favourite artists, we would run our own club and book them to come to us! That sounds rather a good idea, doesn't it?

Choosing The Venue

First, we had to find a venue. Not as easy as it sounds, actually. I found a great place near Chessington North railway station - a pub with a spacious hall attached, but separate from the bar area, so noise wouldn't be a problem. But if you think back to 1973, not that many young people had their own transport. JM and Chris each had a Mini, but I had no transport and I think that very few of the girls had cars. Back then, we often used the bus or walked. The problem with the Chessington pub was that it was not well served by public transport - just one bus route, and one stop from the end of a quiet branch railway line.

Fortunately, someone else (I can't remember who) suggested the King William IV public house in Ewell High Street, so we went along to check it out (don't try to find it now, it was renamed a few years later). Sure enough, it had a separate function room, so noise from the bar would not disturb the music (and yes, in case you're wondering, we had played at places where the bar was in the same room, and that was something we definitely wanted to avoid). As for public transport, no less than four bus routes passed the pub (noise was not a problem, as the room was at the back away from the road), and there were two nearby railway stations both on through lines. There was also a car park at the King Bill, and another public car park just down the road. Finally, there were no competing clubs for several miles, so that settled the decision. The King Bill Folk Club it was to be!

So JM, Chris and I roped in another organiser, Jane Gibbens, who had been one of the founder members of The Shades, the group later renamed Flyntlocke. Together we decided who we wanted to book as the main acts - for anyone unfamiliar with folk club evenings, it was usually divided into two halves, with a "beer break" in between. The resident singers/organisers would open each half, then invite the volunteer floor singers to perform, then the main act would finish each half. The main acts would be paid a fee, and everyone else performed just for the thrill of it (and the waiving of the normal entrance fee). We decided to hold the club every Sunday evening - chosen so as not to clash with other competing clubs, or with the commitments of the organisers (we were all in our early twenties and still studying for qualifications).

Booking Guest Artists

We discovered very early on that the more famous performers charged a higher fee than the less famous - no surprise there, but the economics of running a club were very precarious, particularly for impoverished students. From our visits to other clubs, we felt that an admission charge of 50p would be about right. We had to pay the Licensee £2/week for the room hire, and we advertised the following month's guests in the folk gigs section of Melody Maker.

So who did we book? Well, for the full list click here, but some of the more famous acts included June Tabor, Richard Digance, Richard Thompson + Linda Peters + Simon Nicol, Peter Bellamy, Nic Jones, Shirley Collins & the Etchingham Steam Band, Robin Dransfield, Martyn Wyndham-Read, John & Sue Kirkpatrick, Bob Davenport, and Royston Wood. Not that they were all quite so famous then.

For instance, June Tabor had not even made her first album, and she was only semi-professional, combining singing with her main job as a librarian. When I phoned her to make the first of her two bookings with us, she was almost apologetic for being an unaccompanied female singing (long and boring) traditional folk songs - OK, she didn't actually say "long and boring", but that was the implication. I'm very pleased to say that we did proceed with the booking, and even more delighted that she proceeded to have a very distinguished folk singing career.

Richard Digance first came to our attention a few years earlier when he was part of a young trio, then duo, named Pisces. We saw them a couple of times at local folk clubs, and were impressed with his song-writing and his humorous attitude. Pisces had made a record and were mainly a musical act. When we booked Richard for the King Bill, he was at the start of his solo career, and the humorous anecdotes were becoming a larger part of his act. At that time, he was still making his living from folk clubs - his career in concert halls and TV was still a long way ahead of him. Having seen him in concert again in 2003, it was good to see that guitar playing and singing are still in his performance. A nice guy, he helped our precarious finances by waiving his fee for his second booking with us, provided we advertised his gig in Melody Maker, as his solo career was just starting to take off.

Don't assume that it was only famous guests who were booked - we couldn't afford that! We also booked some really excellent local amateur or semi-professional acts. These included Heritage, a fantastic unaccompanied four-part harmony group, and also Antic Hey, a trio featuring John Rodd who would later join us on the Beggars' Hill album. Most of these local bookings were made by direct contact at one of their gigs, but for the better known acts we contacted them from their listings in the Folk Directory issued by the English Folk Dance and Song Society in London, or from their adverts in the Folk Review magazine. The most famous were actually represented by a professional agency run by Jean Oglesby and Jane Winder, two nice ladies who were very helpful to an inexperienced folk club booking secretary (me!).

Getting Started

Apart from booking the first few guests, we also needed to attract some customers. We have been really fortunate over the years in having an excellent relationship with several of the local papers, including the Surrey Comet, Epsom & Ewell Advertiser, and Epsom & Ewell Herald. So naturally I contacted them again, with as much information as I could about the new club. The result was better than I had hoped. Not only did they print articles in advance of the club opening, but we had regular visits throughout the short life of the club, with reviews appearing in the papers, together with advance notice of special performers. I have always found that giving local papers detailed information about local people, places and events is mutually rewarding - the paper gets interesting news and in return the organisers get free advertising (well, free apart from the effort of producing the information, that is). In particular, I would like to thank Pam Warner and Ian Elvin for their support, articles and reviews, and also the mysterious M.McA. whose reviews only gave her initials (I did know her name in 1974, but I can't be sure now - was it Maureen McAllister?). Click here to see reviews

Our second means of attracting customers was to produce some posters. At that time, I had dropped out of University for a year and was working for Atkins Research & Development in Epsom as a sort of technical assistant. Also working there as a temporary typist was a young lady named Jayne (I never knew her surname), who was studying at Epsom School of Art & Design, and she kindly offered to produce a drawing for the poster. I didn't know what to expect, but she produced a pencil drawing of the bird which later appeared on the cover of the Beggars' Hill album. Being a trainee draughtsman, I transferred it to A4 tracing paper in ink, added a border, and wrote the text with Letraset, leaving a big gap for the future dates and guest performers to be added by hand (this was well before computers and graphics software). Photocopying was also in its early days, and I seem to remember that we couldn't photocopy the poster, as the areas of solid black would have come out mottled grey - instead we had to have it litho printed, if my memory is correct. Once we had the posters we started placing them in suitable places - not fly-posting, I hasten to add. After all, we were all aware that "BILL STICKERS WILL BE PROSECUTED" .......... poor old Bill! They always pick on Bill(!) ............. No, we visited local shops and asked their permission to place a poster in their window, and of course we put some posters up in the King Bill itself.

The third approach was through the specialist folk music press, so I regularly sent our lists of guests for the next month or two to Melody Maker, the national weekly paper, the excellent Folk Review monthly magazine, and the Penny Dreadful, the 2p local magazine. I'm not convinced that the national listings brought us many extra customers, as our audience was mainly local, but the publicity certainly helped.

Club Nights

Sunday evenings soon settled into a regular routine. Jane Gibbens set up a table by the door, and was our cashier collecting the 50p admission charge. She was also responsible for our weekly raffle - we sold raffle tickets during the "beer break" and the prize was a folk LP record (by a twist of Fate, the first winner was my brother, Melvyn Frohnsdorff). JM, Chris & I were the resident performers, so we had to rehearse enough songs to be able to fill the time before the main act if no floor singers turned up - fortunately we were rarely short of floor singers, possibly because we produced a fairly welcoming atmosphere and were not biased towards either traditional or contemporary folk music. We put up our posters informing our audience of future guests, and we also posted the reviews of the previous week from the local paper, so they would have something to read while queuing to come in.

The room was quite small, so we arranged a space at the front for the performers, then tables and chairs for seated audience, with space for standing behind. When it was really busy, there was a disused bar at the back, so people could sit on the bar or even stand behind it - we probably had space for about 80 people when it was absolutely full. Perhaps it was because it was small that we had such a relaxed, intimate atmosphere - there was no need for amplification for even the quietest music.

From time to time, one of our friends in the audience would record the main act, and sometimes our own performances. These recordings were made on a cheap portable cassette recorder, so the quality of the sound is not very good. The stop/start switch on the microphone also added some unwelcome clicks, but I hope to be able to clean up these recordings to an acceptable standard some day.

John Davis has a few more random memories of our club nights:
  • "The week BEFORE Richard and Linda, when Melody Maker advertised them a week early and we had queues round the block for a singers’ night.
  • The local paper reviewing John & Sue Kirkpatrick and describing Sue's oboe as “a quirky kind of clarinet”.
  • Chris Coe, quietly furious when we had one of those nights with the club jammed with floor singers; so although they played to a packed house and sold loads of LP’s we were only able to pay them their minimum fee.
  • My dad feeding Peter Bellamy a couple of enormous pink gins before the gig, which did not improve his performance in any respect. Royston Wood, by contrast, managed to postpone some fairly heroic consumption of scotch until after his gig – possibly Peter had warned him".
Peter Bellamy

That reminds me of an email conversation I had with John recently concerning the late lamented Peter Bellamy, who had set many of Rudyard Kipling's poems to music:

JD - .... My dad feeding Peter Bellamy a couple of enormous pink gins before the gig, which did not improve his performance in any respect.

DF - That explains why he stopped during his performance and laughed hilariously at the painting on the wall, which showed a little boy holding a large French loaf in both hands, which Peter saw as a phallic symbol - I think he was the only one who did!

JD - Thanks very much for the other half of the Peter Bellamy tale; I can see him now, leering at that inoffensive little picture and swaying gently. The next morning he took me on a second-hand bookshop trawl looking for old Kipling editions & found me a rather tatty first edition of the second jungle book which I bought and still have................................................. Marc and I bumped into him in Leamington a few years later and asked permission to do a couple of his newer Kipling songs – we were singing “Oak and Ash and Thorn” quite regularly at the time – and I believe he got us a tape from a local radio station of some unrecorded stuff. We asked him how he’d suddenly come to set a second batch of Kipling poems and he said “Oh, a dear friend of mine went to Morocco a few months ago and brought me back a delightful carved wooden box. When I opened it I found it full of absolutely the best hash I’ve smoked in years…” A lovely bloke, far too idiosyncratic to ever have been the star he felt he should have been, but a shocking waste when he died so young.

DF - I, too, have a tatty old Rudyard Kipling book - a 1926 edition of Rewards & Fairies, the second Puck of Pooks Hill book, nowhere near a first edition but I'm still pleased to have it - can't remember how I got it. In recent years, I have bought many of his collections of stories - I think Kipling was a fantastic story-teller, and Peter Bellamy introduced many of us to his works.

Special Evenings

We had many great evenings at the folk club, but there were a few really special ones. The first of these was our Christmas party, held on Sunday 23rd December 1973. For that evening, we abandoned our usual format. We had no main act, but filled the evening with folk-ish seasonal entertainment. As it was the Christmas vacation for our friends who were normally away at university, we were able to form several small groups each performing a few songs. Flyntlocke reunited for three songs, as did Thridding (Chris, Jo and her current boyfriend Ian Ayres), JM and Marc sang "January Man", and an impromptu sextet of JM, Chris, Marc, Neil, Fluff and I led the massed singing of "White Christmas". There were also some of the older traditional carols, including "Gaudete", "The Holly and the Ivy", "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen", where the group were joined by Jo, Jane and Trish Chapman. And to put the icing on the cake, we had a mince pie break instead of the usual "beer break". To provide some variety in the entertainment, we also invited other local groups, who performed a shadow puppet show and a Mummers Play. It was the sort of evening where there was very little separation between performers and audience.

We had such a good time at Christmas that we asked the South Circle Mummers to return as our main act shortly before St. George's Day, when they performed the traditional mummers play "St. George and the Dragon". For anyone who hasn't experienced a mummers play, it is a bit like pantomime, based on a loose storyline, with much improvised dialogue, hammed-up over-acting, and plenty of humour. I like to call it a Medieval Mystery Tour (with apologies to The Beatles).

The most anticipated evening was Sunday 27th January 1974, when our main act was to be Richard Thompson, Linda Peters and Simon Nicol (gasp!). Yes, folks, I really do mean it - the folk-rock legends who had been members of Fairport Convention and the Albion Country Band were actually going to perform in our little folk club. Nobody knew quite what to expect from musicians who normally played amplified electric instruments in large concert halls. Well, fortunately Richard and Simon mainly played acoustic guitars and mandolin, and I don't remember any of them using microphones. The only time Richard played electric guitar was on a couple of country songs, where he demonstrated amazing dexterity by accompanying himself with his feet playing bass on organ pedals. Despite all suffering with colds, they gave us a really enjoyable evening to remember.

We had a similar event on Sunday 21st April 1974, when Ashley Hutchings took a step back from performing in large venues with the famous folk-rock groups he had founded (Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and the Albion Country Band), and formed the Etchingham Steam Band with his (then) wife Shirley Collins (vocals), Terry Potter (mouth-organ) and Ian Holder (accordion). This was an all-acoustic line-up, with Ashley playing an acoustic bass guitar, which I'd never seen before - I don't think anybody else had either.

But all good things must come to an end, so they say, and at the end of the first year we closed the King Bill Folk Club. We made the decision jointly, partly due to the difficulty of finding enough time for rehearsing new songs, booking the guests, arranging publicity and attending the club each week, when we all had study or work commitments. But the main reason was financial - the club was losing money, and the loss increased steadily each week. By the time we closed, the club owed us organisers the massive sum of £47.10 (it was worth more in those days!), and we were unwilling to gamble financially when we couldn't really afford to. However, if you look at it in a more positive way, the four of us spent about £1 per week between us on our hobby, which sounds to me like fantastic value for money. Still, the decision was made and that chapter came to an end. If it hadn't ended, the circumstances would not have been right for us to make the Beggars' Hill album, so I have no regrets.

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Folk Review's Club Dates listed both the King Bill and Merlin's New Cave
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click below for larger image of Club Dates listing in Folk Review magazine for the King Bill and Merlin's New Cave
Folk Review's Club Dates listed both the King Bill and Merlin's New Cave
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Review of Old Peculiar
Review of Old Peculiar, Epsom & Ewell Advertiser, 6 December 1973
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