Old Mermaid Bar, Students Union, Birmingham University, Edgbaston , Birmingham 1966 Friday
  1973 Tuesday
  1974 Thursday
  1976 Wednesday
Date Formed:
Known to be running Jan 23rd 1973
Date Folded:
Unknown still running Mar 18th 1976
Dave Hunt
Andy Thompson
George Frampton
Richard Banach
Stefan Larsson
Graham Clarke
John Allenby
Steve Sutton
Martin O'Leach
Ian Nisbet
Dave Barker
Dick Woodhouse
Early Residents:
Dave Hunt

One of the people who started the University folk club was Dave Hunt, when he was Deputy Catering Manager at the Union in 1966. The folk club at Birmingham University booked  some great guests, as they were supported financially by the university. They were very pro-active and showed a sense of humour in the leaflets that they produced (see examples below). The University also ran a very successful dance section, which I hope to produce an article about in the future. In the 1970's George Frampton  was one of the organisers of Campus Folk, producing some of the leaflets reproduced below and he has supplied his memories of running the club  during that time.



Birmingham University Folk Club

Although I wasn’t to know it at that time, the university folk club was formed by catering assistant Dave Hunt, who I was yet to meet at The Old Crown and Traditional Music Club, and in his later guise as one half of Doctor Sunshine’s Pavement Show.

In September 1972, my year underwent Freshers’ Week. The Folk Club seemed to be led by a trio of postgraduates called ‘Billycycle’ led by Richard Thomas who performed singalong Spinners-type numbers. There was also a concertina player called Andy Hindley who, as I understand it, was a second year Medical student. They led a folk evening which was certainly a good promotion for the Thursday night club in the Mermaid Bar. Before that first night, there was a concert in the Debating Hall in the Union – I believe the headliner was the humourist duo ‘1812’ with their Jake Thackeray tribute and homage to Tchaikowsky!

By comparison, the Thursday night club didn’t match that pizzazz. Amongst the floor singers Andy Hindley was prevalent with Ed Pickford’s song ‘Ah Cud Hew’ and ‘Watford Brewery Song’. By comparison, Billycycle took more of a back seat. I think Dick Woodhouse also sang, and recited his Marriott Edgar monologues made famous by Stanley Holloway. From my own year, I think undergraduate mechanical engineer Andy Thompson from Bolton had started singing with guitar accompaniment, and physicist Steve Sutton from Sussex likewise. I was ‘yet to find my voice’. Of the guest list booked by the previous year’s organisers, I recall few. Richard Thomson was the first guest performing with Linda Peters (later Thompson), playing acoustic guitar and bass pedals with the repertoire from his solo album ‘Henry the Human Fly’. John Kirkpatrick was also on the guest list.  Taffy Thomas’s Magic Lantern were unable to attend at short notice (I believe Pete & Chris Coe had just left to pursue careers as full-time performers, perhaps?). their substitute being a hilarious trio called Roaring Jelly. Of the remainder, I recall that the enthusiastic audiences of Autumn had dwindled by the Spring, with Tony Rose attracting half a dozen seated – a great pity!    

The Autumn term also had a Rag Week barn dance featuring the North Circular Accidental Band with Hugh Rippon calling. The experiment was never repeated. Perhaps its day was too early, or too much organisation. A pity, as it seemed very popular. 

I myself made my debut in the Spring term, and was busy amassing a core repertoire of songs ‘borrowed’ from The Young Tradition and The Watersons.

There was a ‘tradition’ – borne out of necessity, that second year undergraduates took on the running of the club the following year, with myself, Steve Sutton and Andy Thompson at the helm. I insisted the club be advertised outside the university via the local music press, and for reasons logical to me at that time, changed its name to ‘Campus Folk’. Aaarrrggghh!!! The Autumn term had the previous year’s booked guests, and the Spring term allowed the three of us to mould the club with our own preferences. In retrospect, the Folk club nationally was past its heyday. It became apparent that audiences turned up in droves to see comedy acts like Bernard Wrigley, Bob Williamson and Jasper Carrott. Peter Bellamy easily identified himself with a student audience, and Roaring Jelly reprised their act of the previous year.

For much of that 1973-74 year, we as organisers were at loggerheads with the Guild organisation. There were vague plans to extend the Union shop into the Mermaid Bar – where the club was held. The first floor of the Union building had been revamped and decorated. There was a new carpeted lounge bar on this floor dubbed the New Mermaid Bar, but we weren’t allowed to use it, and was offered the television lounge opposite. Given no alternative and, with the old Mermaid bar declared off limits, the offer was reluctantly accepted. There was no atmosphere, and the large room gave little opportunity for intimacy. After nearly two terms of this, we appealed for reuse of the old Mermaid – pending development, and – after a bottle bar being trialled, permitted its reuse with the bar fully operational. This remained the case when I left in 1976.

My other memory is as nominal club treasurer. It was hoped we, at least, would break even per night. As it was, it was loss-making, and periodically would go cap-in-hand to the Guild Entertainments Committee to bail us out. 

In 1974-76, the new incumbents were Dave Barker from the Potteries, Richard Banach (Manchester), Stefan Larsson and Graham Clark from Bedford. I am reminded that others organising at this time were John Allenby from Hartlepool, Ian Nisbet and Martin O’Leach. I recall Graham doing a solo jig when John Kirkpatrick was the guest. We also had a guest appearance from drama student Vicky playing an electric piano – who turned out to be the late Victoria Wood!

My understanding is that my Surrey-born compatriot Mick Bisiker took on the club in 1978-79, presumably after Dave Barker and the others had left or passed it on in turn. He has no idea if the club continued after he left, nor who he took over from.

Facebook tells me the club is again in existence, reconvening in 2012 as the UoB Folk Society, which appears to be a collective of like-minded performers, although in writing this in June 2021, meetings have been sparse due to Covid.

One spin-off from the University club were the Sunday night folk evenings held in the Rev John Duncan’s Anglican Chaplaincy in Farquhar Road, about ten minutes’ walk from the Vale site in Edgbaston Park Road. I was persuaded to go by Andy Hindley. The reverend struck me as being an ungodly character with very libertarian views – a great guy! His cellar bar was well-stocked, warm and humid, with a Desperate Dan mural. Andy and I did our party pieces in front of a full and receptive audience and, as the evening drew to a close, to my astonishment in came Dr Brendan Massey, lecturer in Embryology at the university and member of the Senior Common Room at Lake Hall where I dwelt during my first two years. Their bar was obviously closed for the night, and he took his place at the chaplaincy bar cradling his Guinness, and persuaded to sing. He always gave ‘The Titanic’ (which quickly became absorbed into my repertoire). When asked to sing a second, on one instance he sang Dominic Behan’s ‘The Sea’.

On arriving in September 1972, the Student Union handbook told us that, if we wanted to find anything about local (specialist) music, get hold of ‘The Grapevine’, a monthly magazine detailing all the local folk, jazz and classical concerts.


The University too had its own concerts. Although the few held in The Union building were in the Debating Hall. Each hall of residence had a budget to stage a concert. My own, Lake Hall (now the Shackleton admin building), had groups like Magna Carta and Decameron, rather than anything traditional-ish. By comparison, neighbouring Mason Hall had Sandy Denny, and later on a band assembled by Ashley Hutchings to bridge the three-month hiatus when his Albion Country Band had dissolved with the intention of reforming with John Kirkpatrick and Martin Carthy. This band had Richard Thompson on electric guitar with Linda Peters, Barry Dransfield, Simon Nicol, and Dave Mattocks, with John Watcham playing concertina for the Albion Morris Men. The following year, Mason had Adge Cutler and the Wurzels, before Adge’s tragic death later that year in 1974.

Photo Album:
Information Sources:

Comments powered by CComment

FacebookMySpaceTwitterDiggDeliciousStumbleuponGoogle BookmarksRedditLinkedinRSS Feed