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Memories of an old Folkie - By Robbie Dalzell

Sadly, Robbie passed away in November 2005. He made a valuable and lasting contribution to the Club and will be missed by his many friends there. Rita is still a valued member and attends on a regular basis.

I started to learn to play guitar in the mid 50's. (1950's that is!). It was at the start of the Rock and Roll revolution and everyone wanted to be an Elvis or Buddy Holly. My preference was slightly different. I was a Folk and Blues fan and the advent of Skiffle was just what I needed. It really amazed me how many and varied songs you could play when you only knew three chords..... It still does!

With my three chords well practiced, (D,G and A7) I got myself into a small group playing the skiffle tunes of Lonnie Donegan, The Spinners, Chas McDivett and various other forgettable groups. We played all the expected places... Deserted lockups, backyards and Church halls. We were not the most successful group around but during my spell with "Jimmy and the Boys" I increased my chord output to six chords. This included the key of G. This put me amongst the elite guitar players of that time. Even Eric Clapton didn't know any more then.

When on Holiday in Whitley Bay, near Newcastle, England, I met up with a group of local lads and we formed a Skiffle come Folk group. There were three of us, Myself on guitar, Tony Leithhead on Teachest bass and Tom on banjo. It was with this group that I played my first paying gig. For our three hour stint in a Hotel in North Shields we were paid the grand sum of 12 bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale. It went down a treat! We had a varied repertoire consisting of the very latest in Skiffle, a touch of Scottish Folk which I was beginning to get into and some local Geordie material provided by Tony. We did very well in places like the Backworth Miners Club and the Robin Hood Inn. I can even remember getting paid in money! (But not very often).

After a couple of Summer holidays and a few long weekends with Tony and the crowd I found that my preferences were again changing. The folk boom of the sixties was just starting and the Bob Dylan era was about to begin. I found the Glasgow Folk Club up a dingy close near George Square and started frequenting it on a regular basis. Some of the people who were to become the backbone of the Scottish Folk scene were, like myself, just starting out. I struck up a particular friendship with a young fellow by the name of Hamish Imlach. Hamish would have been about 19 at that time although he was the same shape as he remained for the rest of his life....Rotund. He was known amongst his friends as the Humpty Dumpty of Folk Music. The Club was run by a fellow named Allan Moyes and we all got on great together. More of the Glasgow Folk Club later.

It has always been a problem for me that I am such a popular person. It soon became obvious to me that my popularity had got out of hand. The Queen was sending me official letters imploring me to be a part of her personal bodyguard. In these days we called it National Service. This put an end to my sojourn with the Glasgow Folk Club for a couple of years.

I had a lucky break in that I was eventually posted the the farthest north island in the British Isles, Unst. This is the Northernmost island of the Shetland Islands. In RAF Saxa Vord we had our own radio station which broadcast to the camp and most of the island. As the only musician in the camp I was made Musical Director of Radio Saxa Vord. This did not increase my RAF pay of forty-two shillings but did give me a great excuse to avoid some tedious duties. During this time I started writing songs. We had a programme which we ran each night, something like Cliff Michelmore's Tonight programme which ran on the BBC for years, in this I had to invent a topical song to start off the programme. This did get me into some little bits of bother as, truth to tell, officers don't like being told the truth.... even in song. (I have still got some of the original scribbles of these songs).

At local dances in Unst the band comprises of anyone willing to get up and join in the music. The band would be made up from a floating pool of Accordionists, Guitarists, Pianists and all the other ists you can think of, plus the most magnificent array of Fiddlers I have ever come across. I was lucky to be able to play at many of these dances and have never forgotten the experience. Singing and playing at these concerts and on Saxa Vord Radio were a great help to the development of my performing ability. My liking for all kinds of folk music developed during this time and I was able to add a few Shetland songs to my repertoire.

But all good things come to an end and eventually my National service came to an end and I returned home to Glasgow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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