Some history of the Fo'c'sle
by Brian Hooper
The Fo'c'sle started on 10 May 1963. The trouble is, I was never any good at history (History O-level, 1965, grade 9, because there wasn't a grade 10), so here is some story. Mostly from memory, and not necessarily in chronological order. Who needs facts when they have memories?
Joining the Fo'c'sle at the Joiners
I first visited the Fo'c'sle in 1973, when it was at The Bay Tree in New Road, across the road from Southampton College Of Technology. It was in an upstairs room, and there was a table in the corridor where you paid before going in. You waited for the sound of applause first. That is still the convention, but then it was rigidly enforced; opening that door during a song was punishable by social death. Non-smokers were also punished by asphyxiation and stinky clothes. It was always crowded, and there were usually a few people lurking in the corridor or in the bar downstairs, for a chat, a stretch or just a breather.
Folk clubs in those days were mostly either 'traditional' clubs or 'contemporary' clubs. I sang mostly modern American songs at the time, so I was more involved in the Anvil Folk Club, named because it was at The Blacksmith's Arms in Shirley. The Fo'c'sle leaned toward 'traditional', but I was nevertheless welcomed when I started going there in 1975, and soon became a 'resident' - just too late to be on the vinyl LP "Residents' Night Out". By that time, the club had moved a couple of times and was at the Joiners Arms in St Mary Street, starting the trend that eventually made the Joiners an iconic music venue.
What were 'residents'? They (we) were committed to being at the club more often than not, and being ready to perform. In return they got free admission and a bit of kudos; it wasn't just a matter of turning up, you had to be pretty good to be a Fo'c'sle resident.
Here's an incomplete list of Fo'c'sle residents, from 1973 to until the concept either stopped or petered out.
Dave Williams - one of the founders of the club, and of its predecessor 'The Balladeer'.
Mike Sadler, better known as Gutta Percha - Dave's brother-in-law and the creative genius behind 'The Woolston Ferry', which was a hit for Gutta Percha's Elastic Band; the band included percussionist (he played the pasteurised milk bottle) John Edgar Mann, another of the founders.
John Paddy Browne - yet another of the founders.
Graham Penny - the man who wrote 'The Channels' and many other fine songs.
Pete Harris, Chris Mitchell and Jon Witcher - as soloist but also a trio called 'Common As Muck' in deference to Steeleye Span's album 'Commoners' Crown'.
That trio became the five-piece 'Hampshire Union' with the addition of Bob Creese and Dudley Savage. Incidentally, Dudley married Terry Gregory, who was not related to Terry Gregory who later took over from John Edgar Mann as the club's Secretary.
Rob Sibthorpe - later to present Radio Solent's show 'FolkScene', and a popular dance caller often working with The Bursledon Village Band.
Dave Ingledew - who led the Bursledon Village Band for many years.
Bill & Sylvia Rogers - Bill later became an Anglican priest.
Geoff Jerram - also a leading light of Morris dancing.
Steve Jordan - sadly no longer singing.
Phil Hugill - son of Stan Hugill, Britain's last working shantymen.
Phil and Philippa Lyons
Mike & Jill Winterson
Roy Harrison - the 'singing cobbler'.
Jeff Henry and Annette Costello - as a duo, then a threesome with me (Brian Hooper) in 'Cats Whiskers', also a four-piece with Tony Fry.
Rock Berntsen and Bill Eddie - as 'Upmarket'.
Carl Danby, John Player and Eamon Duffin - as 'Real Earth'.
Carrie Jones, Jim Bailey and Adrian Postle - as 'Jones & Co' and/or 'Bittersweet'.
Le plus ca change - Concerts or singarounds
The Fo'c'sle currently has a number of different formats for the evening, the two staple ones being guest nights and singarounds.
On a guest night, we start with typically four local performers - the MC and a few 'floor singers' (when folk clubs first came into being, they sang from the floor but the guest sang from the stage). The floor singers are sometimes organised in advance, but more often the MC chooses whoever is available on the night. Then the guest does two 45-minute sets, with a break in the middle for the usual reasons and for the raffle.
In a singaround, we work round the room and everyone who wants to can give us a song or whatever (a tune, a poem, a story). There's a break, usually a bit earlier than on a guest night.
In the Fo'c'sle's early years it was nearly always a guest night. In those days, each half of the evening included floor singers and then a 30-minute set from the guest. That was the industry standard. Then closing time moved half an hour later, and at the same time fewer people came along to sing from the floor, so professional folk singers found themselves doing 50% more work for no extra pay. They didn't seem to object. In the early 90s, I think, we moved all the floor singers into the first half, happily disregarding the fact that the first half is now something over two-thirds.
When it wasn't a guest night, it would probably be a 'come-all-ye'. Floor singers and/or residents would do normally three-song sets, filling the whole evening (apart from the usual comfort and raffle break). Or it could be a 'special', such as "Chairman's Evening" when the Chairman (or whoever) arranged friends and acquaintances to fill the evening. John Edgar Mann used to write pantomimes - I still have the script for one of those - and we once had a silent Mummers play, with Carrie Jones on piano. We once performed 'The Transports', the ballad opera written by Peter Bellamy; we called in Mick Ryan to play the male lead, and he has subsequently gone on to fame and fortune as a ballad opera writer himself.
In 1993, the club sort of closed. The then organiser, Terry Gregory, facing declining membership, attendance and therefore cash, pulled the plug. Immediately, lots of people came to a meeting and supported Debra Chesman and Trish Carn to resurrect the club. Under new management, we became a hybrid between a guest club and a singaround, and we stayed that way until 2012, when I was elected as "organiser".
Now (2016) we have several different formats. We still have guest nights and singarounds, but also 'Local Hero' nights, and variety nights which may include two guests or three people in a 'song circle' and could be with floor spots or in the singaround style. No doubt, we will continue to evolve.
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