SONG SWAPPERS: January 1959 - January 1965
The Inaugural meeting of the Song Swappers was on Wednesday 28th January 1959 at La Boheme, Aston Street. Rosemary Redpath (already on radio & TV performing traditional folk material) started the club with accordionist Mary Evans (both of whom worked for the English Folk Dance and Song Society) in the upstairs room of Andre Drucker’s continental coffee bar to run fortnightly on Wednesdays. The core members were friends from the EFDSS who, before that, had met occasionally in each other’s homes to sing traditional songs, socialise and exchange news; some members of the University’s folk society, plus others interested in playing instruments and singing
Initially the La Boheme club room was free in exchange for having a coffee break to allow the singers to enjoy foaming coffee in glass cups from hissing Italian coffee machines. No alcohol. Occasionally instrumental groups and soloists twanging guitars would sit on the stairs and sing for those in the coffee bar downstairs. Gradually the club expanded and singers began travelling to the club from the wider Midlands (Ludlow, Derby, Bromsgrove, Nottingham). It always retained the original idea of a ceilidh - singers from the ‘floor’ rather than audience-plus-visiting group. Occasionally there would be a ‘special’ night when someone from further afield came over to Birmingham: they would have a particular ‘spot’. We did not invite ‘big names’ but a regular was Luke Kelly (of the Dubliners) who lived in Birmingham at that time, Ian and Lorna Campbell occasionally came. We also had an occasional drop-in visit by people like Robin Hall & Jimmy McGregor, and a shy Lizzie Higgins (daughter of the famous Scots Traveller Jeannie Robertson, who had recently moved to Birmingham) and Dave Brady, later leader of Swan Arcade.
Hugh and Rosemary became an established singing duo around 1960 and married in 1961. Looking back it all seems rather amateur - but full of youthful eagerness. The whole folk scene changed over those seven years. When they had to leave Birmingham in 1965 to pursue jobs in Liverpool, the club was taken over by Malcolm Shakespeare (now deceased).
When Hugh & Rosemary moved out of Birmingham, the running of the club was taken over by 3 people Malcolm Shakespeare , Brendan O'Brien and Dave Hunt. The club remained at La Boheme for a time, then moved to the Old Crown in Digbeth. It is known that it was running in Digbeth in 1967, but the date of the move is not known.
Information taken from a Peanuts Folk Club publication in 1964, also gave the following information about the club:-
The clubs aims were to encourage everyone to sing, even if they were a beginner and it was run as an informal "sing-around", with Rosemary & Hugh Gentleman as resident hosts compering the evening.
BBB and ITV covered three of the Club's birthdays and both the Birmingham Post and Birmingham Sketch wrote illustrated features about the club. ( see below). The Club was also affiliated to the EFDSS, and through them arranged to have records, books and catalogues on sale at the regular meetings. During 1964, the Club held 2 singing canal trips, one in July and one in September.
Hugh very kindly found all his memorabilia ,scanned it and sent it to me in the summer of 2019, there are a number of photographs of people singing at the club below. Does anyone recognise themselves, if so please let me know and I will put a name to the photo? There are also a number of newspaper articles about the club and some of the other things that Hugh and Rosemary did around the country and on the radio.