‘Last hurrah’ for Banwell’s Bell Folk Club, which hosted some of Britain’s finest acts

PUBLISHED: 13:00 17 June 2018

Magenta performed at the folk club as a three-piece in 1976.

Magenta performed at the folk club as a three-piece in 1976.

Archant

On a Sunday night, five decades ago, a bemused punter strolls into Banwell’s empty Bell Inn, questioning where its legion of regulars was.

The Bell Inn, in West Street, Banwell.The Bell Inn, in West Street, Banwell.

‘They’re in the skittle alley’, the barman replied.

Almost 100 villagers had crammed into the pub’s back room to enjoy the debut of its newest club, which for 15 years saw big-name acts perform on the wave of a folk music revival.

The Bell Folk Club will be revived for its ‘last hurrah’ in two weeks’ time, featuring a performance from its former resident band, giving reporter – and Banwell resident – SAM FROST a chance to look back at its packed Sunday nights.

The rise of folk music

The 1960s saw folk music peak in popularity, with Bristol welcoming some of the biggest names on the scene, and the ripple effect was felt across the West Country.

Magenta in 1985, the year the club disbanded.Magenta in 1985, the year the club disbanded.

Arthur Brown, organiser of the revived concert, told the Mercury: “Following the folk revival, clubs such as the Troubadour in Bristol featured artists like Paul Simon, Davey Graham, Al Stewart and local hero Fred Wedlock.

“Hundreds of folk clubs sprang up in the back rooms and skittle alleys of pubs. They became training grounds for future stars as well as venues for established artists to perform.”

Banwell’s own folk club launched at The Bell in 1970, where the skittle alley behind the pub was transformed into a hub of live music on Sunday nights.

In the beginning, the programme was made up of performances from local acts and ‘come all ye’ nights – with the microphone open to anyone willing to take the stage.

A new committee took control in 1975, moving the shows to Saturday nights, and an influx of well-known performers followed.

Mr Brown said: “The small triangle-shaped room, which held up to about 80 people –although it is rumoured that some nights there were double that number squeezed in – welcomed the top folk acts on the UK circuit.

“Guests included Jake Thackray, John Renbourn, Roy Harper, Richard Thompson, Diz Disley, Tannahill Weavers, Bert Jansch, Bonny Dobson and Gordon Giltrap.

Magenta are still going strong five decades on.Magenta are still going strong five decades on.

“Typical evenings at The Bell in the late 1970s and 80s would begin with a few floor singers and the residents, Magenta, who would warm up the audience for the evening’s guest who would usually play two half-hour sets.”

The club’s demise and rebirth

The rebirth of the folk club will feature a performance from Magenta, who were residents at The Bell from 1978 until its closure in 1985 – meaning the music from the club’s best days will be heard later this month.

This time, however, the folk club will not meet at The Bell – instead the village hall will host the night of nostalgia.

Mr Brown said: “Since the club closed down, the village hall has been used on occasion to promote concerts featuring some of the club favourites.

“The concert on June 30 may well be The Bell Folk Club’s ‘last hurrah’ but it promises to recreate some of the old Bell atmosphere.

“There will be a display of original posters and publicity boards recently found in a garage, plus a raffle from which proceeds will go to the Strawberry Line charity.”

The Bell Folk Club, featuring Magenta, will take over the village hall, in Westfield Crescent, on June 30 at 7.30pm.

Tickets, priced £10, are available from 07970 525826.

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