Folk Federation of NSW held its 50th anniversary celebration

Danny Watson, first Chair of the Folk Federation of NSW recounts some of the early history

In 1970 the Vietnam war was raging, Simon and Garfunkel were top of the hit parade and blokes were wearing platform shoes and flared trousers. Something much more interesting was happening though. A group of dedicated folkies was organising the first Port Jackson Folk Festival on the Australia Day long weekend 24-26 January 1970.
The Festival was a great success and attracted many hundreds of attendees to see the great lineup of Australian talent, including Margret RoadKnight, Declan Affley, Alex Hood, Dave de Hugard, Colin Dryden and Danny Spooner.
The Festival organising committee were justifiably pleased with the outcome, not to mention the tidy profit they made. They met soon after, and, in the immortal words of Bernard Bolan’s song, in which he fantasises about the supposedly enormous power wielded by the Chairman of the Folk Federation “They formed a committee with Irish and Scots on, led by one Daniel Rasputin Watson” (link to the song here).
Danny Watson, Bernard Bolan, Warren Fahey, Declan Affley, Colleen Burke, Frank Maher and many others from that first committee organised a visit by the noted English folklorist AL Lloyd in May of 1970, as well as many concerts and other events. They also organised the second Port Jackson Folk Festival in 1973. These festivals, together with corresponding ones in other capital cities formed the basis of the National Folk Festival, now located permanently in Canberra.
The present committee of the Folk Federation of NSW, led by Pam Merrigan, could not let the 50th anniversary pass without celebrating in some way. Originally it was intended that we would have a Folk Fed anniversary session at the second Sydney Folk Festival, to be held on 14th and 15th August last year. You all know what happened to live entertainment of any sort at that time and we had to substitute an online Zoom festival. This could not do justice to our anniversary, which needed a live format.
Approaching the end of the year there was sufficient easing of restrictions that we could finally organise a live event. The Gaelic Club at Central had all the facilities we needed, including a stage, PA system and, importantly, a bar. Margaret Walters organised the program, which, as part of a long tradition, had to include the Mummers Play, presented as always by Black Joak Morris.
The Club was packed to its COVID-constrained limit. Many of the first committee were able to attend and all of them recounted entertaining anecdotes. Danny gave some interesting background on the early days and related as much gossip as he could remember. Warren wrote a most entertaining poem that also contained plenty of hilarious anecdotes. He was joined by Frank to reflect on the early days. Bernard joined by Zoom from Victoria and Colleen recited one of her incisive poems.
The items from the original committee members were interspersed with performances. There were acapella harmonies by Forty Degrees South and The Fossickers. Sweet Songs and Soft Guitar lived up to their name. The Mummers were wild, crazy and hilarious as usual. Craig Sinclair, just arrived last year from Perth, showed that he is definitely Sydney’s gain. The afternoon concluded with The Last Aurochs playing a wonderful, high energy, eclectic mix of music from Ireland, Portugal, France and just about anywhere else. You can see the celebration on the Folk Fed’s YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5q-UjTu0-M
A great afternoon and a great way to end the year. Hopefully some of the audience will still be around to celebrate the centenary.

2 Comments

  1. And a big thanks to Bruce Cameron who was there, via video, contributing his droll obserations of the early days of the Folk Fed.

    And perhaps this is a good place to share the text of Warren Fahey’s doggerell written specially for the occasion:

    Warren Fahey’s doggerel – declaimed at the 50th Anniversary gig 13/12/20

    They asked me for a few words, some thoughts on longevity
    Should I be serious, frivolous or carelessly throw abandon to levity?
    Of how for fifty years or more I have carried a personal history
    Of how the Folk Federation happened, yes, reveal its dark mystery.

    Well, I was there in those heady and strangest of musical times,
    When singing of folk songs was a joy, (unlike these crook rhymes)
    There were shanties and singing of lyrical folk songs so sweet
    No internet, no mobiles and not one bloody tweet.

    Serious we were, singing musty old ballads with verses seventeen
    About incest, adultery, murder and those delightful things in between;
    The verses and choruses rang out – and we all joined the fray
    We’d laugh, sing and sing… often, after club night, until break of day.

    There were clubs in the pubs, a crafty old decision
    To ensure we were all legless and there was no division
    With our finger’s in ears and heads held up high
    Our choruses rang out – right up through the sky.

    And then we said righto – let’s see some real action
    And before we knew it, there was the Port Jackson
    I was lassoed in as the festival’s illustrious program dir-ec-tor
    ‘Ridiculous!’, cried Danny Watson, (who wanted Phil Spector!)

    I devised a dazzling program to cover all the folk song bases
    I even allowed those jiggling Morris men to cut a few paces
    There were poets and pluckers, song singers and touters
    And a special room for renowned folksong shouters.

    Many singers have past and gone, moved on, to sing a last song
    Voices fine and never forgotten – their music still ringing along
    Jacko Kevans, Peter Parkhill and that big lad we all knew as Huffy
    Gordon McIntyre, Danny Spooner and the great Declan Affley

    We will never forget the genius of John Dengate and Shearston
    Don Henderson, John Francis and, of course, Colin Dryden
    With voices raised high producing applause and acclaim
    That far away 1970 festival just a ghost and a role call of names

    After the festival, exhausted we lay, but also aware we had paved a way
    So a group of us brave folkies, foolishly, eagerly, thirsty to play,
    Set up an organ-is-ation – and called it – the NSW folk federation
    Fifty years ago – yes, that’s cause for thought and real celebration.

    There was the Hotel Elizabeth, Sussex and my Edinburgh Castle,
    Maitland & Morpeth, Pact Folk. Royal George – and others farcical;
    We gathered as one to maintain the true folk club tradition
    And the Federation rolled on – with the occasional cry of ‘sedition’.

    I miss the old folk club nights and their welcome camaraderie,
    I miss the old faces and songs that became such a part of me,
    But the music never stopped and the performers are still shining
    (Probably time I returned to Netflix and stop this bloody whining)

    The years have fled by and I am now in my ancient mid-seventies
    And looking back I can still see that festival in nineteen-seventy.
    But times they do change, and I guess, in another half century
    The NSW Folk federation will joyfully celebrate its historic centenary.

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