I first met with Clive Palmer in the late summer of 1972 at The Cambridge Folk Festival, through my new friendship with John Bidwell. John was then a member of C.O.B. with Clive and Mick Bennett. Although I was very acutely aware of Clive’s legendary musical pedigree, as a founder member of the Incredible String Band, it seemed the only one affected by it was me; Clive certainly wasn’t bothered by it. His natural charm and unaffected friendliness very soon dispelled my gawky awkwardness at being in the company of such an important musician.
Our friendship developed over the years and though there were times when we’d not see each other for several years it made no real difference; when we met up again we just picked up from where we’d left off.
When he finally settled in Cornwall we spent several happy years frequenting each others houses and attending folk clubs especially Pipers Folk Club in Penzance. When Clive and Shirley moved to Camborne it was me who drove the van that carried their belongings to the new house.
When Clive returned to Cornwall from his long exile in France with his new partner Gina it wasn’t long before we were back in touch. I’d taken on the stewardship of the Denis Clixby Recordings Archive in 2012 and while working my way
through the various tapes and cassettes I’d found quite a lot of material featuring Clive both solo and with others.
I cleaned and digitised this very old audio, recorded between 1975 and 1985 as far as I could ascertain, and brought it to Clive who was delighted to hear it, remarked on how ‘strong’ his performances were and that he’d love to have it made into an album release. This began a series of re-mastering and cleaning sessions and all three of us, Clive Gina and myself deciding which songs would make up the solo album. Sadly Clive passed away before this could become a reality but, with the unstinting and invaluable assistance of Ralph McTell, I continued the project. It seemed a natural extension of this to also organise a Memorial Concert for Clive so this too was put in train.
The dual projects came to fruition on Sunday 29th November 2015 in the large Functions Room of the Lowenac Hotel in Camborne. This was not the original venue selected for the Concert, but a mutual misunderstanding between myself and the management of Bramwell’s Mill in Penzance meant I urgently needed to find a new location. Hotel Manager Martin, his lovely wife Mirella and the catering staff gave us every assistance and support. So it was that an amazing array of talented musicians gathered to pay respect and make tribute to Clive Palmer and his music. Every musician I approached without hesitation agreed to perform and in no time at all I had a full stable of willing performers. I was also greatly assisted by what became known as: “The S-Team” consisting of my dear wife Chrissie, my beautiful daughter Emma and her husband Wayne, my niece Debbie and her partner Marty, and my old pal Keith Gauntlett. At 16.00 on the day we assembled and began to set up the Functions Room for the Concert. While I set up a Sound Stage and Marty set up a four camera video shoot, Keith arranged the tables and chairs and Emma took up station at the entrance to collect the voluntary donations. Meanwhile Chrissie in charge of the raffle armed with her book of tickets set out the prizes on a table and Debbie, in charge of the Merchandise table, laid out the advertising and the newly arrived copies of the “Clive – Live” CD.
Our M.C. for the night was the venerable John The Fish, whose history in the folk community of the South West stems from its very inception, so there could be no one better to host our Concert. The evening began with Clive’s personal bagpipe tutor, Bill Buchanan, in the foyer playing a some slow airs that he and Clive had worked on, as the guests began to arrive. The Functions Room was soon filling up with eager folk all keen to be a part of this tribute to Clive and his many achievements. The Concert itself began at 19.00 sharp with my two friends, Adrian O’Reilly, Dick Reynolds and I as Bisquitry though our set and the some of the following one were somewhat marred by a sound stage problem. This occurred because, just as I was getting set up for Bisquitry I had a very heated call from a very irate gentleman whom I’d arranged transport for, to and from Penzance, to say he was stranded and what was I going to do about it? The signal was intermittent and eventually we got cut off. Then, as I was being called for, I had to dash onto the stage to begin our set of songs. Sadly in the confusion, I’d neglected to turn up the mixer channels for Adrian and Dick with the result that their contributions could not be heard clearly, though I was fine of course! We started with Allan Taylor’s ‘It’s Good To See You’ but our song was interrupted and our sound problem was not helped by my ‘phone going off again as someone else tried to get in touch with me! I frantically switched the ‘phone off and concentrated on performing with the lads. I got our sound problem sorted with some assistance and we finished our set with a song we’d all performed with Clive at one time or another: ‘Jordan Is A Hard Road’.
Then John The Fish, introduced Tony Corden and Friends. Tony took the stage with Grahame Hood and the second round of sound problems began. I must thank the visiting sound engineer who came over to help me track and remove the low bass howl-round or feedback we were having on one particular microphone.
Grahame Hood: We played two of Clive’s songs; ‘In The Deepness Of A Summer Night’ , ruined by bad sound, though at least the feedback was in the right key, and ‘Evening Air’, with which I personally was delighted. Tony then swapped guitar for whistle to back Bob Devereux on a lovely ‘Suns & Moons’. Stonebreath’s Prydwn, now living in Wales, brought his harp to the party and played C.O.Bs ‘Sweet Slavery’ apologising in advance to Mick Bennett for any liberties taken. None were; he was excellent.
Once the sound problem was sorted however the rest of the night was relatively trouble free – sound wise.
Pete Berryman, legendary guitarist and former collaborator with Clive in the Famous Jug Band was next and his clever fingers wove a melodic line through many of Clive’s compositions in his own inimitable way before John The Fish introduced Noel & Pam Betowski aka D’jazz Celtica. Playing guitar/bouzouki and fiddle they elected to play without the benefit(?) of the sound system (and its equipment limitations) and set themselves up on the floor.
They were absolutely stunning and to the audience’s surprise and evident delight gave us a heady mixture of Hot Jazz and Traditional Irish, the melodies flavoured with choice sprinkling of modern pop classics which earned them the evening’s first encore.
Then we came to my ‘surprise’ guest. Clive’s long time friend and producer of both C.O.B. L.P.s – Ralph McTell. Ralph played a three song set of mostly newer material, some of it dealing with stories of his early days in music, busking around Europe and hearing Robert Johnson’s music for the first time. He would have come off after the third song but as he attempted to do so this sparked another encore such was the rapturous response of the mesmerised and appreciative audience. Grahame Hood: I have to say you could not help but admire his musicianship and complete command of the audience. So we had four from Ralph who, with his charming and lovely wife Nanna, sadly had to leave before the end as they’d long distance travelling to do early next day.
We had a ten minute interval so folk could mingle and chat during which Ralph generously donated a signed 4 CD Box Set of ‘The Journey’ for the raffle. Not to be left out Jonathon Coudrille then also kindly donated a book of his poems. Thus our three prize raffle draw soon became a five prize raffle draw! The first prize being one of Clive’s own walking sticks; an antique item with a carved lion as a handle, donated by his widow, Gina, who unfortunately did not feel able to attend in person. With Ralph’s Box CD Set, Jonathon Coudrille’s poetry book, two copies of cartoon type drawings Clive had made to illustrate a book of poems written by Mick Bennett, signed and donated by Mick, and an Incredible String Band CD of their first album kindly donated by Mike Heron and Corrina who had also wished to attend but sadly could not, it was a rather grand affair.
First up in the second half was Mike Silver, an exceptional singer/songwriter now residing in Cornwall and freshly returned from a tour in Europe. Backed by on lead guitar by Jo Partridge (and if you don’t know who he is, Google him, you’ll be amazed!), Mike is an accomplished and very good entertainer who also quickly displayed his command of an audience gained over a lifetime of performing and touring. There was even a song about mike’s wife’s gardening abilities and their set was received with rapturous applause from a highly pleased audience.
Next were The Pyschamores; Mick Bennett and Pete Berryman with newly added member Steve Hunt, late of the highly rated Cornish duo Corncrow.
The trio’s name, was coined by Mick because both Mick and Pete now live in flats in the same block; The Sycamores. They did three original songs and many in the room were knocked out by Mick’s remarkable voice, he also performed a poem in honour of Clive’s famous (and obviously much envied) blue corduroy trousers and a haiku sent all the way from Thailand by John Bidwell, complete with explicit instructions on how to perform it! Praising Clive’s organic take on music it ran:
Heady summer skies
Clive’s songs growing from the ground
Cornwall somehow changed
Jonathon Coudrille was as sensational as ever! A gentleman and artist who has been very involved in the early days of the Cornish folk scene, he once greatly impressed Shirley Collins by picking her up from Penzance Rail Station in his Rolls-Royce and driving her to her gig at The St. Ives Festival. With an air of eccentricity about him, dressing like a successful Wild West gambler and wearing a monocle, he sang a song in Russian, read two poems, and reverted to his true Cornish voice with ‘Let’s Go Down Lizard Town’ played on a 7-string banjo and accompanied by mandolin player Ashley, whose 70s style attire was making a statement of its own. In my humble opinion there is no doubt whatsoever that Mr Coudrille is a star.
Last, but certainly not least, was Tim Wellard,
a man whose role in the life and music of Clive Palmer is often under-rated. Joined by John Bickersteth whose own musical history is legend in the far South West (Zambula, Charlie Cool,) on melodica and Bob Morley the bassist from Clive’s last band, they played a four song set, two of Tim’s own songs with him on guitar and vocals and then, moving to banjo and doing an excellent take of the classic Palmer style, Clive’s ‘Big City Blues’ and the Stockroom Five’s ‘When The Train Comes Along’.
All in all it was a great evening, and more than one person has asked me if the Concert might become an annual event.
I suppose it just might at that.