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GUEST,Nicholas Waller Who invented Folk Clubs? (76* d) RE: Who invented Folk Clubs? 19 Jan 07

The Topic in Bradford was founded in September 1956 (it has just finsihed its 50th Anniversary autumn season, with Vin Garbutt, Julie Felix and Wizz Jones, among other, appearing).

The club often has the strapline "the oldest folk club in the world" on its T-Shirts and publicity but has never claimed to be the first ever. I look after the Topic's website and did a bit of research into this for the History page, and we can fairly safely say the Topic is the oldest continuously-operating weekly English-style pub-based folk club (with paid guests) in the world. As far as we can figure there have only been 33 "days off" in the 2600+ possible club nights since the start (usually when the club night fell close to Xmas Day or New Year: the most recent not-open night was Xmas Day 2003).

On my history page, from somewhere - Alex Eaton's detailed history of the founding of the Topic in Tyke's News in 1990, I think - I got the info that "Ewan MacColl had founded the first English folk club, the Ballads and Blues, in London in 1953", and there was also something called The Good Earth in London in 1954. The Bridge Club in Newcastle was founded in 1958, but has the distinction of being in the same venue since it started (the Topic has been in eleven).

Other early organisations are Cornell's university-based (and I think mostly term-time only) Folk Song Club, the Bush Music Club, Inc. in Sydney, which is more of an EFDSS-style operation for bush music than a folk club as far as I can tell, and the San Francisco Folk Music Club, which was apparently founded in the late 40s. I don't know that it is has been continuous from the start; I get the impression it started in people's homes in an ad hoc way and was only organised in a formal way in 1959 (though that same link says it is "not a club in the organizational sense since nobody has ever been elected to anything and there aren't any bi-laws or written rules"). It is fortnightly, and seems to be a series of singarounds in a large private (rather than public) house, and has plenty of side-events and workshops.

The Topic got formal within a month or two, as it soon started raising money for refugees from the Hungarian Uprising, which took place only a few weeks after the founding. The club's anniversaries and AGM tend to be in November, presumably reflecting this money-related formalisation.

The Topic's website has some of the history. We also have a gig list that is almost complete back to 1970, though unfortunately the minute books for the 1956-1970 period are missing, and a links page with links to some 350 past guests.

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