It’s funny how sometimes one thing just leads to another thing and then before you know it they’ve all sort of connected and taken on a life of their own, even from the smallest of events. For instance, I was running a series of acoustic music sessions in a local pub during the winter months from 2000 until 2004 and some of these were attended by a chap called Alden Evans. He’s a superb musician and was a member of The Wire Daisies in those days. We sort of clicked and I began to see him from time to time. Fast forward now to a few years later, Alden is now free lance and looking to form a group so he and his mate Joe Francis came along to one of my pub gigs and we all sat chatting after this. Alden suggested we form a band but with my previous experiences in groups, the tensions and such that are produced therein, I was wary so I agreed in the first place to just come to his local pub and sit in session with him to see what might emerge. Still with me? OK.
It was at one of these sessions that I first met Mark Burke, another fine musician and friend of Alden’s. These sessions grew into a wonderful series of nights of just playing great music with skilled musicians and everyone enjoyed them until they petered out due to things moving on for the players. Alden and Mark were now in a band called The Flamin’ Infidels, with Matt Exelby, Stephen Jackson and Joe Francis and they were a brilliantly exciting and talented group which I went to see and enjoy as often as my work would allow me. So over time I became friends with Mark and his lovely partner Mandy. Mark and Mandy had frequented the Swan Folk Club in Truro where I’d been a resident performer along with John The Fish and others, and now, through their son’s schooling, they’d become friends with Lucy & Bob Brightley who as luck would have it were now living in what had once been the Folk Cottage at Mitchell. This venue, just a big old barn at the time, had been one of the first folk clubs in Cornwall and it was here that a young Ralph McTell, Wizz Jones, Pete Stanley, Clive Palmer, Pete Berryman, all gathered at one time or another to play their music. Mark knew that I was a friend of John The Fish and after he and Lucy & Robert had been chatting about the history of the cottage Lucy wondered if we might like to come and revisit the old place. This was now a beautifully converted cottage with fairly extensive grounds. Mark duly got in touch with me and I mentioned it to Fish who said he’d be delighted to go back and reminisce for a while. So this is how my wife Chrissie and I, Mark and Mandy, John The Fish and his wife Carrie all ended up sitting on a comfy sofa in the Brightley’s front room eating cake and sipping coffee and chatting about the old days at the Folk Cottage, Mitchell.
Cake, as you will discover in this missive, came to be a major consideration and featured ubiquitously in all of our future discussions.
I took a camcorder with me to record events and it was such a pleasure to witness the joy and wonderment on dear John’s face as he wandered the grounds recalling all sorts of great memories. He explained to us where the original door had been, where the coffee bar, run initially by ‘Whispering’ Mick Bennett – more of whom later – had been situated, the outside wooden, that’s right wooden, fire escape had been. He showed us the rear stage wall, now in a bedroom, where a large painting in silhouette of a bare breasted woman, the so-called ‘Naked Lady’ had been. The painting was now regretfully covered over with layers of emulsion. John pointed out the well near the front gate, now safely covered in, that had once been a repository for all manner of unwanted and possibly undesirable things not least the huge number of empty liquor bottles brought in by the audience as the club was ‘dry’. It was a lovely day and the Brightleys were so welcoming and generous it felt like we’d all been friends for ever!
This genuine kindness and friendliness was what led me to request that Robert and Lucy consider allowing me to bring Ralph McTell to their home in order to film and interview him for my film project to document the history of the Folk Cottage at Mitchell and the famed Pipers Folk Club at Bottallack from their beginnings.
They agreed to this without a moment’s hesitation and that was how Ralph McTell, Robert and Lucy, Chrissie and I came to be sitting on a comfy sofa in the Brightley’s front room eating cake and sipping coffee while I was filming my interview with Ralph!
Meanwhile the ever effervescent Lucy had begun to have imaginative and creative thoughts and that was how some time later over a beautiful Sunday lunch Lucy asked me if I thought it might be a good idea to try to organise a Folk Cottage at Mitchell Reunion. We could invite all the people who’d been a part of the whole whether as performers or audience. Some of the early musicians of course had gone on to achieve International fame. I thought it was grand idea so we put our heads together and that was how Chrissie and I came to be sitting on a comfy sofa in the Brightley’s front room eating cake and sipping coffee while we discussed how to go about making this idea into a reality. Initially we thought we’d have to limit the guest list to only those who’d been involved at Mitchell but this, by necessity, changed as you’ll see further down this article. Over the course of several months, emails were sent out, ‘phone calls were made, and furtive canvassing was done to test the waters; it all had to be shrouded in secrecy for fear of the Garden Party Event being overrun by avid fans etc. Further, cake related (with cheese on one occasion!) meetings took place and at one of these Robert and Lucy had exciting news regarding the loan of a huge marquee to house the Sound Stage and be a shelter from inclement weather for the audience too. This would be invaluable of course in what seemed to be the wettest ever summer in memory. The work went on apace though during a visit to John The Fish and his dear wife, the ever lovely Carrie it began to become evident that I could do with some help so both John & Carrie volunteered to assist and were eagerly recruited to the Folk Cottage at Mitchell Reunion Team. This was a very good move because I hadn’t as complete a list of qualifying invitees as John & Carrie did and so with their help the guest list was broadened to include people who’d been a part of the Club when it was held at other venues such as Rose, near Perranporth and Truro where the club had moved to as time progressed.
It all came to fruition on the afternoon of Monday 31st August 2015. Around mid morning, inside a huge marquee erected in the garden, I brought in my Stage Gear and with help from my good friend Adrian O’Reilly we set up a comprehensive Sound Stage, with a live recording facility. I also brought in my trusty Film Camera Manager, Marty Fitzpatrick, who’d filmed some other events with me, and he set up for a multi camera shoot. The earlier rain had stopped, then, as though bestowing goodwill on the venture, the sky cleared and the sun came out to shine down upon the beautiful surroundings and things slowly gathered pace.
The Stewards and Car Parking Teams, Keith Gauntlett, Emma McCreadie-Thompson and her husband Wayne, arrived to bring order to the vehicular proceedings. Invited guests began arriving, some of whom had travelled great distances just to be there to witness this historical musical event and what a delight the whole thing was!
Robert & Lucy had set up a huge refectory table absolutely crammed with home baked cakes and assorted goodies with an unambiguous sign reading: ‘Help Yourself!’ Two large bowls of apples hand picked from their orchard flanked the entry to the massive marquee. John the Fish and Carrie also brought their cake with the top bearing a copy in icing of the famous ‘Naked Lady’ a painting in silhouette which had adorned the rear of the Stage back when the Club first started. Sadly, as John tried to lay his iconic creation upon the cake the icing stretched, so the Naked Lady got a little taller and a little thinner and looked somewhat misshapen but that, on a day like this, was a minor detail.
We had music from a huge array of past performers who’d all played at the club at one time or another and also from those who’d been in right from the start. Musicians like John Sleep, John The Fish, Ralph McTell, Wizz Jones, Pete Berryman, Mick Bennett, Jonathon Xavier Coudrille, John Wood, Dave Deighton, The Four Fifths Jug Band (especially reformed for the occasion), Jake Walton, Joe and Diane Partridge, and others who had come along after the club had moved from Mitchell, like Thorn & Roses, myself, Adrian O’Reilly and Dick Reynolds (as Bisquitry), and Stephen Hunt.
Co-hosted by John Sleep and John The Fish, it was off to a flying start with an introduction and a poem from John The Fish, who’d interrupted his lunch to get things moving on time. This was followed by a simply wonderful set, crammed with superb musicianship and deft humour, from Jonathon Xavier Coudrille who also had been wrenched from his no doubt tasty and healthy lunch due to an unforeseen stage equipment glitch. Jonathon’s amazing impromptu performance set the bar high and created a standard the others all bravely played up to. As the equipment glitch was still ongoing Sylvia Fletcher, Rowena Metters and Jinks Jenkins a.k.a. Thorn & Roses stepped in at short notice and gave us a beautifully harmonic set, as they invariably do, including a funny song about somebody called Willie! John The Fish then introduced John Sleep one of the Folk Cottage’s founder members and he gave a short history of its inception. With the equipment glitch finally cured, we had a set from Dave Deighton accompanied by his wife Josie, playing some fancy blues and ending with a rendition of Bob Dylan’s ‘Girl From The North Country’.
Next we heard from John Woods who’d cut his teeth in the original cottage. Now living in Oslo it was sheer chance that he was in the country just as the event was happening. John entertained us with a couple of songs and also brought some very old photos of the folk cottage and its people from the early days. I hope to have a few of these in the film that is planned of this day’s doings.
Then it was a turn from Terry Broad, Alan Jewell and Kippy, a.k.a. The Four Fifths Jug Band and they soon had feet tapping as they filled the tent with their infectious music.
One of the regulars from the early Folk Cottage days was Jake Walton and he, with Joe Partridge playing guitar accompaniment, brought us back to earth with some songs of a sweet and sensitive nature and this was very well received by all. Joe stayed on stage to
accompany his sister Diane and when they had played their set there was a ten minute interval so folk could mingle and have a good old chinwag and chat without affecting any musical performances.
During this short break I was approached by John Sleep who told me he’d been wondering who was paying for all the equipment etc., and I was able to tell him it was mostly free; we’d all made our contributions in terms of equipment and time etc., for the good of the Reunion. However John, clearly impressed with what had been achieved, insisted on making a donation. I wasn’t sure how to handle this and tried to dissuade him but John would not hear of a refusal so I sought advice from John & Carrie who suggested I ask Robert and Lucy and when I did they were of one mind; ‘Put it towards next year’s Reunion!’ they said. I must admit, given the huge success we were witnessing, I’d had a sneaking suspicion this might well be their reaction.
It was suggested then that an announcement could be made from the stage inviting those who wished it, to make a donation but to stress that this was entirely voluntary. I duly made the announcement and a bucket was produced to contain the monies received. It did very well and we now had the beginnings of next year’s event!
Then the break was over and the stage was given over to Mic McCreadie, Adrian O’Reilly, and Dick Reynolds a.k.a. ‘Bisquitry’ who started off the second half of the concert, for that’s what it had become, with an eclectic set of songs.
Folk Festival Fan and aficionado, Stephen Hunt was on next and sang some Gospel flavoured songs encouraging the audience to join in with him in rousing choruses which they did with relish!
A true legend of British folk history then took to the stage in the form of Pete Berryman who played two of his own compositions before inviting yet another legend of the Folk Cottage, Mick Bennett, to come and join him. The next two songs were superlative and though I suppose the last one might be described as slightly scurrilous, it was nevertheless immensely funny and had the listeners laughing with its lyrical content and curiously creative rhymes!
This brought us neatly to the highlight of the event; an appearance by Ralph McTell who gave us two wonderful songs: ‘Hesitation Blues’ and ‘The Girl From The Hiring Fair’ then he left the stage after inviting Wizz Jones to come up and take his rightful place before the by now ecstatic crowd. Wizz also did two songs in his highly inimitable style then brought Ralph back on to join him in finishing the proceedings with two more brilliant songs: Woody Guthrie’s ‘Deportees’ and the foot-stomping ‘ I Ain’t Got No Honey Baby Now’.
It was a stunning musical climax to such a wonderful and beautiful afternoon. Robert & Lucy Brightley were presented with a bunch of flowers very soon after Lucy had been serenaded by Jonathon Xavier Coudrille, he on one knee earnestly and passionately playing up into her stunned but delighted face!
So, all in all, it was an amazing afternoon and it’s really pleasing to think that it’ll all happen again next year too!
All things being equal etc.