Monday, 10 August 2009

Nostalgia 'aint what it used to be

One of my aspects of character is that I tend to be interested in the past. No surprise there, is there, as it's probably one of the things that made me an historical novelist! But one of the scary things about getting older is that I often think about some incident in my life and then realise '**** that was 30 years ago!' This happens more and more, sometimes - as with the end of steam engines in regular service - the figure is actually 40 or more.

This morning I was thinking about folk music. What started it was that yesterday, while cleaning a gutter out, a song came into my head that I haven't heard for a very long time. I'm not sure who used to sing it but possibly the Spinners - that's the Liverpool folk group not the guys from Detroit with the same name. (I like their music too but that's another story.) The song was a version of A Roving though I don't recall the Maid coming from Amsterdam or some of the coarse lyrics listed on the web. This was a folk song, not a rugby song, after all.

What out this song into my head I don't know, but it took me back, in my mind, to the old Manchester Sports Guild, whose folk nights I used to attend regularly with my then-girlfriend Catherine and even, on rare occasions, on my own. People like Mike Harding and Boys of the Lough used to appear, and on nights when no one of this class was booked members of the audience would get up and sing, often unaccompanied. These people varied in ability from excellent to brave, but we all had a good time, helped no doubt by the ever-open bar. Catherine and I would usually depart in time to stagger to the 23-30 train to Bury, but I think proceeding were generally winding down by that time anyway.

There was a great deal of Scottish and Irish influence in the music, but a lot of it also referred to English history. One wonderful female singer - whose name I wish I could recall - even had a song about Henry I and his brothers. There were also loads of references to the struggles of workers in the 19th century, and of course there was that wonderful Ewan MacCall song The Manchester Rambler. In my memory we all sang it every week - though I'm sure we didn't - and knew every word.

I could show you where the MSG once stood, though not a brick remains. (It fell victim to the continual redevelopment of Manchester that has robbed of us so many fascinating buildings, as well as a few, like the MSG, that were undeniably grotty but served a purpose.) The memory lives on


  1. "These people varied in ability from excellent to brave..." Well put.

    Here in the states, I listen to alternative radio (not even the upscale public radio, but the college stations--more risky both musically and politically) and recently heard a retrospective of the 60's folk scene: Joan Baez, Kingston Trio, etc. Brought me back. I loved that music and still have some vinyl albums. I intend to preserve them on CD--just another project waiting in the wings.

  2. Ah yes. Joan Baez! Had a few of her records. One of the few singers who sound even better unaccompanied.

  3. My mate, Ed feels the same about Sandy Denny. I believe she sung with Fairport Convention and possibly Pentangle.