First Falkirk Folk Club: A musical revolution in an old cycling hut

It’s amazing how often our memories of past events have a musical accompaniment.

By Ian Scott
Wednesday, 29th December 2021, 4:30 pm
The Liverpool Spinners in folk club action.
The Liverpool Spinners in folk club action.

Our parents’ and grandparents’ life experiences both happy and tragic were often played out against a background of music hall song or big band dance music while my generation were the first to experience the Bill Haley rock and roll revolution and move from the dance floor at Doak’s to the dark excitement of La Bamba.

But there was another musical revolution going on from the late 1950s which grabbed the attention of many and changed my life forever.

The folk music revival came to Falkirk around 1960 with the opening of the first Falkirk Folk Club in what was the old cycling hut in Dalderse Avenue, now a small community garden.

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Tommy Blackhall, Neil Hall and Charlie Harkins in 1968.

My teaching colleague big Bill Smith was the driving force, along with Rab Williams still happily to the fore, my neighbour Davie Muirhead and Scott Murdoch, still a fine musician and singer.

Soon the weekly meetings were packed with ‘folkies’ listening to Scottish murder ballads, Irish drinking songs, sea shanties and songs from the Aberdeenshire bothies.

Most weeks the club had a special guest like Josh McRae, Alex Campbell, Hamish Imlach, the Liverpool Spinners, the Corrie Folk Trio and Paddy Bell and many more.

Some like Archie Fisher were at the start of long careers and others like the American Tom Paxton went on to become international stars.

There were floor spots where local singers had the chance to do a couple of songs and nearly sixty years ago I plucked up courage to ask for a spot.

Five verses of ‘The Juice of the Barley’ and I was on my way, three chords and all, and I haven’t stopped since.

In that wee room we discovered that our own country had some of the greatest songs in the English language and that the story of Sir Patrick Spens which we had heard at school was only one of 600 or more fantastic tales of war, murder, revenge, ghostly apparitions and other myths and legends that opened our eyes to the real history of Scotland and its people.

But we didn’t go to the Folk Club for a history lesson.

Many of the guests were the original stand-up comedians and most songs had rousing choruses which we sang with great gusto.

There was of course no licence and so half time meant a sprint along Dalderse Avenue to the Star Inn.

What the regulars thought of this invasion by a bunch of long hairs is not known but they were probably relieved when we disappeared after 20 minutes.

Over time, singers like the brothers Brian and Neil Hall and Charlie Harkins played a big part in keeping the club strong even when it had to move to other premises.

The Temperance Cafe in Lint Riggs was one with the nearby Newmarket Bar facing the weekly invasion!

Eventually the folk revival began to fade and the club closed its doors.

But the wish to listen to this kind of music didn’t die and the club has been revived several times over the years.

Thankfully it is going through a better period at the moment and making a real contribution to the musical life of the town.

Once Covid retreats, go along to the Tolbooth Tavern and you might reconnect with your own and Scotland’s past. Who knows it might change your life as it did mine all those years ago.

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