It’s amazing how often our memories of past events have a musical accompaniment. Our parents’ and grandparents’ experiences both happy and tragic were often played out against a background of music hall songs or big band dance music while my generation were the first to experience the rock n’ roll revolution and move from the dance floor at Doak’s to the dark and mysterious 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 wooden cyclist hut in Dalderse Avenue. If I remember correctly 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 American protest songs by Woody Guthrie, Scottish murder ballads and Irish drinking songs. Most weeks the club had special guests like Josh McRae, Alex Campbell, Robin Hall and Jimmie MacGregor, the Liverpool Spinners, the Corrie Folk Trio and Paddy Bell. Some like Rae and Archie Fisher were at the start of long careers and others like the American Tom Paxton went on to become international stars.
Essential to each evening were the floor spots where local singers had the chance to do a couple of songs and I remember more than fifty years ago plucking up the 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 legends that opened our ears to the real history of Scotland’s people. But we didn’t go for a history lesson. Many of the guests were the original stand-up comedians and most songs had rousing choruses which we sang with 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.
In 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 new premises like the Temperance Cafe in Lint Riggs. Eventually the folk revival began to fade and the club closed.
But the wish to listen to this music didn’t die and the club has revived several times over the years. Today the site of the old ‘cyclist hut’ is an attractive community garden. Folk music is going through another revival in Falkirk and making a real contribution to the musical life of the town.
Go along on a Thursday night at 8 p.m. to the Tolbooth Tavern and you might reconnect with your own and Scotland’s past.
It might change your life as it did mine.