Isca Morris danced Caseg Eira, the Nantgarw Morris dance from Tâf Vale, as a tribute to Les Chittleburgh at Gwent Crematorium, Cwmbran. Les, who was secretary and webmaster of Isca Morris, passed away suddenly on Saturday, November 9, just as he and his widow, Carole, were about to attend the Tredegar House Folk Festival benefit event at Usk Community Hall. Morris and Welsh dance teams paid their respects; among the teams were Cwmni Gwerin Pont-y-Pwl, where Carole danced, Cardiff Morris, Plymouth, The Widders from Chepstow, Gwerinwyr Gwent and Bristol.
Les and Carole lived at Henllys, Cwmbran. The couple met at the folk dance club at Reading University, and later moved to South-East Wales; Les was a founder member of Gwerinwyr Gwent, but he left the Welsh dance team to form the Isca Morrismen, who stood out by wearing their historical green woollen ‘Monmouth Caps’. Isca was the Roman name for the gigantic fort of Caerleon, and a popular date in the Isca diary was May Day, when the men got up before dawn to dance the sun up at the open-air Caerleon Roman amphitheatre; quaffing an early-morning beer was just one of the perks.
Although Les had left Gwerinwyr Gwent to form Isca, the two teams danced out at pubs at Isca’s summer tours in the spectacular Wye Valley. Isca joined in Gwerinwyr Gwent’s tours to Belgium; they even danced under the English Channel (on a Channel Tunnel train) and at the gigantic Zolder coal mine, now closed.
Les was fond of real ale; he was a member of CAMRA and the Real Ale Club at the Mount Pleasant in Old Cwmbran, the pub where his wake was held.
Dr Sarah Morgan
Dr Sarah Morgan, composer, arranger and singer with numerous harmony outfits such as Craig; Morgan; Robson, Bread And Roses and Curate’s Egg, passed away on Sunday September 15, 2013 of inoperable cancer. Sarah, who also sang with her ex-husband Don and with Cornish resident, musician and storyteller Mike O’Connor, was a huge influence on the English folk music scene and, according to Chippenham Folk Festival organisers and friends Bob and Gill Berry, “a great holiday companion and a lovely person.”
In the Autumn of 2003, Moira Craig, Sarah Morgan and Carolyn Robson decided to combine their talents as an a capella harmony trio. They captivated audiences in the UK and America, earning accolades such as: “A joy to the ear” and “A harmony master-class”. Their debut CD, Peppers and Tomatoes, was hailed as “a gem of an album” by former BBC Midlands Radio presenter Mick Peat.
Craig; Morgan; Robson brought a new dimension to the art of a capella singing, weaving beguiling harmonies around material from the British tradition and beyond. Timeless songs of love and longing rubbed shoulders with compelling contemporary pieces, and passionate, dramatic ballads took their place alongside lilting Shetland melodies or stirring hymns from the Ozark mountains.
Sarah had more than 30 years’ experience as a performer of folk music. Her CV included working with American singer Mary Eagle, with Bread and Roses and with Hen Party, as well as with Mick Ryan and others in Fieldwork’s production of A Tolpuddle Man and A Day’s Work. As a soloist, Sarah sang with warmth and conviction, and developed a enviable repertoire of traditional and more recent songs. She had a particular interest in songs from her adopted county of Hampshire, and her ‘Home Lads Home’ – a Cicely Fox Smith poem set to her own tune – has become a classic. She became involved with the Community Choirs movement and the 2006 Gardiner Centenary Concerts. She published a number of song books with arrangements both for solo voice and in four-part harmony, some of the latter used by the choirs – and she recently finished her doctorate. She was still playing and singing only a day before she passed away.
Derek (The Amazing Mr.) Smith
Derek (The Amazing Mr.) Smith passed away suddenly on Sunday, December 8, 2013. His friend Joe Stead paid tribute: The world has lost a very funny man; some of us have lost a very good and sincere friend. In the meantime, my condolences go to his daughter Rosie and to his good friend Annette. I was his best man when he married Viva. I’m simply devastated.”
Derek was described as Monty Python’s answer to John Williams. His combination of mad inventions and brilliant acoustic guitar playing made him one of the funniest and most original entertainers around. The cardboard tube double bass, the musical shoelaces, the nutcracker played on the tu-tu xylophone, the blue danube on the condom harp and his three-minute rendition of Riverdance had to be seen to be believed.
Time Out magazine referred to him as a “Delightfully eccentric comic musician”, and other praiseworthy reviews included one from Manchester: “Mr Smith was absolutely mesmerising to watch and side-splittingly funny. He could make music from anything, including contraceptives, and the duelling banjos was a great idea. Mr Smith quite rightly got applause after applause, and two well-deserved encores.”
As well as being on the comedy circuit for at least 10 years, he made people laugh in every conceivable type of venue in the UK, performed on local and national TV and toured the USA five times (also Holland , Germany, Norway and Jordan). Although his act was very visual, he was asked to play some of his bizarre instruments on Ned Sherrin’s Loose Ends.
Derek married Viva Smith, vocalist with the female trio Dangerous Curves. However, Viva contracted cancer, and she passed away in April, 2009.
Blind master mandolinist and old-time fiddler Kenny Hall should have been celebrating his ninetieth birthday, but passed away on September 18, 2013. Kenny was born in San Jose, California, and later lived in Fresno. A unique and individual musician who played in festivals and concerts all over America with his band, Kenny had a longstanding gig at the Santa Fe Basque restaurant in Fresno, every Wednesday evening. Last October, The Fresno Folklore Society organised The Kenny Hall Festival, a benefit to raise funds to support the film Circle of Friends: The Life and Music of Kenny Hall, by documentary filmmaker Chris Simon. Kenny’s widow Marta used to play bodhran in the band with him.
The Fresno folk community was still reeling with the news of the passing of folk singer Rita Weill Byxbe, who died in September. Rita married Michael Byxbe, and she made three albums. Her autoharp could be heard on the 1973 Frankie Armstrong Bay Records album Out Of Love, Hope And Suffering, which Rita co-produced.
Austin John Marshall
Austin John Marshall, the father of folk-rock whose entrepreneurial skills developed The Incredible String Band, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, The Albions and so many more in the sixties and early seventies, died on November 3, 2013. It was Marshall who, in 1964, hatched the audacious concept of teaming his wife, traditional folk singer Shirley Collins, with guitarist Davy Graham, a folk player whose own refusal to follow traditional lines had already seen him combine with bluesman Aleis Korner for the 3/4 AD EP. Marshall also produced Shirley and sister Dolly’s still epochal Anthems in Eden, and he nurtured and delivered Steve Ashley’s seminal Stroll On.
His label Streetsong was responsible for one of the most remarkable of all Bert Jansch recordings, 1978’s The Black Birds of Brittany. In the world of fostering folk’s emergence into the rock mainstream, only Joe Boyd can be said to rival Marshall’s impact. He knew unique talent when he heard it, and he refused to work with anything else.
Austin John Marshall was born in Leicester on 30 March, 1937. A talented graphic designer, he was working for Vogue when he and Shirley met. Her career was already underway, buoyed by her travels around the US with Alan Lomax, and flowering with the Heroes in Love EP, recorded for Topic in 1963; they met when Marshall designed the front cover for a compilation she was appearing on, Rocket On.
Marshall conceived Folk Routes, New Roots, the album Shirley and Davy Graham recorded together, and which is now widely regarded as one of the very foundations of all that was to follow. The alchemical blending of musical disciplines – Shirley’s folk purity, Davy’s jazz leanings – into a brew so utterly unlike any other that the future could not help but pour through the doors it flung open.
Within three years, 1967-1970, he oversaw the crystalline beauty of Shirley’s Banks of Sweet Primroses album, Anthems in Eden and its follow-up Love, Death And The Lady for Shirley and sister Dolly Collins; plus a 1969 album by The Wooden O, an early music group comprising recorders, harp, mandolin and double bass. A Handeful Of Pleasant Delites maintained Marshall’s fascination with blending traditional and jazz musical disciplines, baffling period critics and still astounding modern ears.
Marshall had never made a movie in his life – but he also made films, about Jimi Hendrix and the Incredible String Band. The Incredibles’ Be Glad, For The Song Has No Ending is a must-see for anybody intrigued by that band’s so subtle rending of the rock-folk fabric of the pre-Liege and Lief late sixties. – and a poster that Marshall designed for an Incredibles gig, with Shirley supporting, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall is now in the V&A Museum collection.
Marshall and Shirley divorced in the early 1970s, and his attention turned now to the Canterbury folk band Spirogyra and Steve Ashley, the brilliant young singer-songwriter who Shirley introduced him to in the late 1960s. Their first stab at stardom, a single for Polydor in 1969, bombed, and Stroll On, recorded with the cream of the folk-rock scene, including the original Albion Country Band line-up that Steve had fronted through the summer of 1971, searched four years for a label before it was acclaimed as a masterpiece. Marshall emigrated to Ireland in 1975 and wrote the brilliant ballad-opera, The Great Smudge. He reunited with Shirley and Steve, both of whom sang on the recording project; other players included Barry Dransfield, Dave Pegg, Robert Kirby, Lol Coxhill (the avant-garde saxophonist who had worked with Shirley earlier in the decade and who unfortunately died in 2012) and more.
But the music industry grew tired of concept albums, many of which had crashed. Marshall concluded that if The Great Smudge was ever released, it would be under his own direction. He launched the Streetsong record label; but just one single appeared, Bert Jansch’s ‘The Black Birds of Brittany’, coupled with Shirley’s stunning version of Coleridge’s ‘Ballad of the Ancient Mariner’. Streetsong breathed its last, and The Great Smudge lay fallow alongside it. Marshall moved to the US in early 1981, living in New York.
Tomás Ó Canainn
Traditional musician, poet and writer Tomás Ó Canainn passed away on September 15 at The Mercy Hospital in Cork City. He was 82. The Derry-born uilleann piper was best known as a founder member of Na Filí, when, together with fiddler Matt Cranitch and whistle player Tom Barry, he brought Irish traditional music to an international audience in the 1970s.
Na Filí (The Poets) recorded three albums for Outlet: Farewell To Connacht (1971), Three (1972) and A Kindly Welcome (1974). Tomás recorded two albums as a solo artist: With Pipe And Song (1980) and The Pennyburn Piper Presents: Uilleann Pipes (1998).
Tomás was born in Pennyburn, Northern Ireland, on the outskirts of Derry. He went to Liverpool University, where he graduated in Engineering, becoming a PhD; he later moved to Cork, where he became Dean of Engineering at Cork University (where he studied for a music degree under Seán Ó Riada.) He also took over the Irish music lectures at the College after Seán’s death in 1971, and taught music at the Cork School of Music. Tomás’s daughters also play violin, viola and ’cello, and all three appear with him on his last solo release.
He was the author of a number of books on traditional music and poetry, as well as writing two novels and Sean Ó Riada’s biography. Tomas lived in Glanmire in County Cork, where the funeral was held. He is survived by his widow, Helen, and daughters Nuala, Úna and Niamh.
– “Ralphie” to his fellow Mudcat folk forum members – passed away on January 3, 2013, only the day after being hospitalised by a fall which fractured his pelvis and resulted in his organs failing.
Many shocked musicians paid tribute to the brilliant BBC recording engineer and skilful McCann duet concertina player they had worked with; Tom and Barbara Brown called him: “The best accompanist on the scene. A master technician. A brilliantly creative musician. A delight to have worked with. A good friend to have known. How you will be missed – but so fondly remembered.”
Songwriter-singer Mick Ryan, who teamed up with Ralph and James Patterson (formerly the duo Silas) to form the “supergroup” Crows, said: “Ralph will be very much missed by very many people. He was a real artist as a musician. It was an honour to work with him. Much more importantly, he was a really nice, good-hearted, bloke. In the end, that is what really matters.” Journalist and Sharps folk club organiser Sheila Miller said: “I had been friends with Ralph for 40 years or slightly more, through all the various bands and groups, and always thought him a kind and gentle person, as well as a superb musician. He leaves a big gap in our musical scene.” FolkWales Online Magazine editor Mick Tems remembered how Ralph had cleaned up and “de-scratched” 15 of traditional singer Phil Tanner tracks for John Howson’s Veteran Records for a CD commemorating the Gower Nightingale’s death in 1950, restoring and revitalising them to their original quality.
Ralph played concertina for a number of English bands, as well as accompanying solo singers. There’s a video on youtube of Ralphie accompanying Irene Shettle at Godalming Folk Club. Irene says: “Sad to think that we will never perform that one together again – in fact, that song was the first one that he heard me singing, and that gave Ralphie the idea to turn my talk, then in preparation, on the life of Lucy Broadwood into a show with accompaniment. It was a privilege and a joy to work with him. We were talking more than once in 2012 and 2013 about making a recording of the songs as a record of what we had done; sadly that will now never happen.”
Irene shot a youtube video of Ralphie playing in the Housewives’ Choice band. Housewives’ Choice then consisted of Ralphie (duet concertina), Ed Rennie (melodeon), Trefor Bennett and Alan Rawlinson (brass), Pierce Butler (percussion) and Tim Normanton (banjo).
San Francisco folk singer and activist Faith Petric has died peacefully at the age of 98. Faith hosted jam sessions for the San Francisco Folk Song Club every fortnight, and the sessions went late into the night – but her name spread beyond California, to America and the whole world.
Music and activism shaped her life. In the 1930s, as the Depression dragged on and the civil war in Spain raged, she became a left-winger. She added anti-war and union songs to her vast music bank, and she learned to play the guitar.
She retired at 55 from a job at the former State Department of Rehabilitation and she became a full-time folk musician, playing at festivals, clubs and protests around the world. She travelled through Wales and England with another Folk Club entourage, the Frisco Fire Band – early Llantrisant Folk Club members will recall how Faith whipped up such a happy storm on one of her gigs there. She was a fixture at folk gatherings, such as the Old Songs Festival and the Hudson River Revival. In 1998 and 2001, she toured Australia.
She said: “All of your life, someone dictates what you have to do – then you retire, and at last you can do what you want to do.”
She marched for civil rights in Selma, Alabama. She was the first one to stand up for the openly gay couple who moved into her neighbourhood. She co-founded the Freedom Song Network and enlivened hundreds of protests with hopeful songs about peace and justice.
In 1948, Dave Rothkop founded the San Francisco Folk Club, “the legitimate child of Hiroshima and the Cold War,” according to the group’s literature. Faith began running the club in 1962, and before long, the Friday meetings had migrated to her Clayton Street home. The club has never advertised or so much as listed itself in the phone directory – but on a Friday night years ago, a famous guest singer hailed a cab with his guitar and directed the driver to Haight-Ashbury. “Going to Faith’s?” the cabbie asked.
With a folk revival stirring, several dozen people and half as many guitars materialised on a busy night. Sixty showed up for Faith’s birthday celebration; but it pales in comparison to the old days, when as many as 100 folkniks regularly would crowd into five sweaty rooms, playing bluegrass in one, swing in another, country-western music somewhere else. “There’d be so many people in the living room, you couldn’t sit down,” Faith said.
At one such meeting in 1972, Faith first decided to become a performer. In her kitchen late one night, five folk clubbers dreamed up the Portable Folk Music Festival. They bought an old school bus, and 15 people and one dog set out to tour the country. They returned some months later with 18 people and two dogs. “I got bit by the bug. I loved it,” Faith said. “From then on, I became a travelling folkie.”
In the busy summer of 2013, a year before her death, Faith played at the Oregon Country Fair. She travelled to Puget Sound for a guitar workshop. She sang at an anti-nuclear protest on the anniversary of Hiroshima. As she had for 20 years, she toured with the Chautauqua Group, which brings a variety show to small towns that have little live theatre. Cardiff resident Frankie Armstrong was flying to San Francisco to sing at a Faith Petric Memorial memorial concert.
American shanty singer and folk musician Bob Webb died peacefully at home in Phippsburg, Maine on December 25, 2013 from complications of hereditary hemochromatosis. Born in Santa Monica, California in 1947, Robert Lloyd Webb grew up in Culver City, California. He attended Culver City schools and the University of Oregon, and graduated from California State University with a degree in English.
Bob had a life-long love of history and research and was fascinated by a wide variety of topics, from the geology of California to automobiles and aircraft, antique firearms, sailing ships, the history of the Martin guitar and the writings of Jack Kerouac. Childhood explorations around the Los Angeles waterfront with his uncle, Ted Brown, gave him glimpses of vanishing times and a desire to preserve and document those times. Maritime history brought him to the East Coast of America, first as librarian and educator at the Kendall Whaling Museum in Sharon, Massachusetts and later as curator at the Maine Maritime Museum. In addition to public programs and exhibitions, Bob wrote dozens of articles and three significant books – ‘Sailor-Painter: The Uncommon Life of Charles Robert Patterson’ (2005); ‘Commercial Whaling in the Pacific Northwest 1790-1967’ (1988); and ‘Ring the Banjar: The Banjo in America From Folklore to Factory’, which was published in 1984 to accompany a ground-breaking exhibition on the history of the banjo in America at the MIT Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His frequent appearances at the Mystic Seaport sailing museum in Connecticut were a sheer delight.
Music also framed Bob’s life and adventures, from the hootenannies of his youth, to the True and Trembling String Band on the West Coast, two tours with the young Tom Waits, festivals around North America and Europe and happy afternoons of tunes around the house. A talented player of the clawhammer banjo, guitar and MacCann duet concertina, he was also a fine singer of songs of the sea, old-time ballads and songs of the American and Canadian West.
He was a talented raconteur, and a lucid and facile writer, comfortable in fiction, non-fiction and poetry. He could discuss, at the drop of a hat – he liked hats – The Dharma Bums, the relative tonnage of Maine-built sailing ships, or the banjo’s African antecedents. Whatever his subject, in public or private, he brought an artist’s eye and a scholar’s sensibilities to the discussion. Those who knew him, even briefly, came away with the imprint of a man dedicated to his work, to collegiality and conviviality, to scholarship and truth, and to artistic expression, whether in print, on the stage, or in conversation.
Bob is survived by his widow, Helen, and daughter Margaret. A memorial service is planned for the spring.