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Jez Lowe on Folk Clubs and Comedy

Mike Harding | 12:17 UK time, Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Jez Lowe writes:

I had a conversation with a famous folk singer many years ago, wherein he predicted that one day, comedy would replace folk music as a "club-based" entertainment, and that one by one all the folk clubs across the country would close down and be replaced by comedy clubs.

I guess he was kind of right, though as usual, the folk club scene has put up an admirable struggle when faced with adversity.

Personally, I find a lot of stand-up comedy more irritating than entertaining, with some notable exceptions, so I'm doubly dissatisfied with this turn of events.

In fact, there are those of us who can remember a time, ironically, when comedy dominated the folk clubs, in a post-Billy Connolly/Jasper Carrott explosion of funny men with guitars.

Many of these went on to bigger and better things, and while others simply faded away.

The best of them, and amid cries of "Boo, hiss, crawler!", I would include our own Mike Harding high on this list, were doubly skilled, in that they did a stand-up routine full of wit and originality, and then went seamlessly into their "proper job", as singers, musicians and songwriters.

Maybe that's why most of today's stand-up comedians, with their Bob Hope-style routines of pacing the stage with a microphone, just leave me cold.

I was spoiled early on by funny men who knew when to be serious.

About fifteen years ago, I shared a stage at the Malvern Arts Festival with a comedian that I hadn't heard of at that time.

My set over-ran quite a bit, through no fault of mine, but he just sat waiting patiently in the wings, and when I'd finished we chatted for a while.

I remember he was very complimentary about an ad-lib I'd done when a clap of thunder overhead had interrupted my song about the perils of organised religion, after which he asked me about the guitar tuning I'd been using at the time.

We parted on good terms, and I watched the start of his act before having to heading off on the long drive back to Durham.

He was very funny. In fact he was Eddie Izzard.

The only other time I've seen him live was at Bob Geldof's "Live 8" concert in Edinburgh a few years ago, when he was at once quite hilarious, then quite overawed by fifty thousand voices intoning "Flower of Scotland" during his act, and then quite serious while playing piano behind Midge Ure on his Ultravox hit Vienna. Well, there you go Eddie. If you'd stuck with me you could be making a tidy living around the folk clubs now, instead of scraping by doing Ocean's Eleven with that George Clooney bloke.


  • Comment number 1.

    I would think that if Eddie were to read some of the current stuff on Mudcat, he could come up for the material for several tours!

  • Comment number 2.

    I'm not sure I ever really got on with them although I did enjoy some of Max Boyce.

    I certainly would not argue with you over the abilities of people like Mike Harding but even then on TV, I (in your terms) sort of found myself screaming at the set "for heaven's sake, get on with your 'proper' job".

    There was one though I heard live years ago. Not sure if it was the beer that night or my mood, the atmosphere or what but someone called Stanley Accrington had me in stitches.

  • Comment number 3.

    Jez is a firm favourite at Faldingworth Live and thats not an easy thing to achieve.

    I haved to consitantly balance the acts with people who can make my audience laugh. It doesn't have to be a comedian, but the person has to have a charisma and stage presence that endears the audience to the act. Jez has that.

    There are 7 acts that spring to mind, where my audience have really taken to them (besides Jez), because they have the humour and music ability that has entertained them.

    They are
    The New Rope String Band
    Shep Woolley
    Bram Taylor
    John Conolly
    Bill Whaley & Dave Fletcher
    Flossie Malavialle
    His Worship & The Pig

  • Comment number 4.

    My favourite of the folk club singers who did comedy was Fred Wedlock - he knew his folk music (there was a track of his on an early album called "Talking Folk Club Blues" that still makes me laugh) but he was also a complete natural for the perfectly delivered funny line. His "The Folker" parody of Paul Simons "The Boxer" has been done by so many other people that its nearly traditional in its own right. He could even make you laugh with patter that you had heard dozens of time before, he used to say they were "chorus jokes", now thats a real skill!!

  • Comment number 5.

    Two words only.

    Tony Capstick.

    Having said that Chris Sherburn comes close for impromptu.

    At Shepley Festival he followed Belinda O' Hooley who had revealed her day job was singing and entertaiing in old people's home's.

    Referring to the audience in front of him he said "Bit like what we do really!"


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