Nettlebed Folk Club’s 40th Birthday Bash!!!

Monday 28 September saw the great and the good of folk music take to the stage at Nettlebed Village Club to celebrate the 40th Birthday of Nettlebed Folk Club!

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Nettlebed 40th Birthday Cake –
Photo Frank Dumbleton

The club was set up in 1975 by Mike Sanderson and a group of folk song lovers from Maidenhead in the Shire Bar of The Bull in Nettlebed. It quickly became the ‘must play’ venue for the major folk performers of that time. Sadly, the pub is no longer there, but the club’s reputation grew and grew and they moved to the 200-seater Nettlebed Village Club in 1991. The club is still run by volunteers with Mike being the main organiser. Just about everyone who is anyone in the folk music world has played at Nettlebed on that stage with its famous black curtains covered in silver stars.

I first went there in the early 1990s to see Ralph McTell, who was a favourite of mine as a teenager. He was supported by a new duo called Show of Hands. Mike has always been a brilliant spotter of talent and had been booking the now famous duo since 1987. They were soon to return to Nettlebed as the headline act. I went to that gig, was then hooked by the Nettlebed bug and have been a regular ever since. I picked up my first copy of Shire Folk magazine at the club and then 10 years ago became an album and concert reviewer for it. Three years ago I became one of its Editors, so I think Mike and Nettlebed are partly to blame for my lack of spare time!

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Phil Beer – Photo Frank Dumbleton

Appropriately, the ‘birthday bash’ concert commenced with Phil Beer and Paul Downes, a duo that played at the club in the very early days. Phil is now a Patron of the club and has probably spent more hours on the Nettlebed stage than any other artist. Jackie Oates, one of the club’s residents was next on and gave us lovely renditions of ‘Bill Riley’ and ‘Robbers Retreat’. Jackie was followed by another of the club’s resident, father and daughter Terry Page and Maria Jaffray, aka Kith and Kin, who sang ‘John Barleycorn’, which led me to wondering how many times this song must have been sung on this stage over the 40-year period.

Mr Sanderson himself made a rare appearance with the Nedron’s Jig (plus a few extras!) They played a song and a tune used in a recent episode of the TV drama series ‘Midsomer Murders’. Part of the episode was filmed at the club, with many of the regulars taking the part of extras. The first half finished with a stunning set by Irish band Craobh Rua, who had extended their tour just to be part of the celebrations. The highlight of their performance was a song called ‘The Pride of the Springfield Road’ and I will certainly be back when they play at the club again.

After the usual raffle, a huge birthday cake (I had a piece – it was excellent!) was brought onto the stage and there were various presentations to all those who have made the club the success that it is. Mike was visibly moved by his gifts and all the kind words from everyone. His contribution not only to this club, but to folk music in general, is immense.

After another rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’, the second half started with a 30-minute set by the ever-popular Feast of Fiddles, featuring fiddlers Chris Leslie, Ian Cutler, Phil Beer and Tom Leary, as well as the usual backing band led by the irrepressible Hugh Crabtree.

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40th birthday – Photo Frank Dumbleton

Professional Yorkshireman Bruce Gomersall has been singing at the club for 38 years and he sang a couple of his songs supported on double bass by the talented Pete Thomas. Following Bruce was local squeezebox player John Spiers from the mighty Bellowhead. John told us the story of his first visit to the club as a teenager to see his hero John Kirkpatrick. The bus he had taken from Abingdon broke down and he had to thumb a lift to the club. He played a selection of tunes including ‘Red Kite’, ‘Jiggery Pokerwork’ and ‘Abingdon Sunset’. John mentioned that Bellowhead would soon be no more, but one imagines it won’t be long before he is back at Nettlebed with another band or project.

Fittingly, Downes and Beer returned to the stage for another session before twenty artists crammed onto the small stage for a final version of the Rolling Stones song ‘It’s All Over Now’ … and then it was!

At 11.45 we all left clutching our copies of Shire Folk, and looking at the usual Nettlebed advert on the inside front cover to see what acts we would be enjoying at the start of the next 40 years.

Graham Hobbs

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Nettlebed 40th Birthday Cake –
Photo Frank Dunbleton

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Phil Beer – Photo Frank Dunbleton

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40th birthday – Photo Frank Dunbleton