|A Short History by Mick Harrington:|
It was in 1965 that brought together the Puritans folk group. Although its original line-up* only performed together for 4 years, they were the only winners of the English Folk Song & Dance Society National Competition for groups. Their success, in 1967, for so traumatic an event for this august body, that the competition was never repeated. But the seeds had been sown and in 1970 the remnants of the Puritans** began their quest for a suitable base for their enthusiasm.
Months of searching for a suitable venue ensued. Existing records indicate that over 30 premises were considered as a suitable venue. Eventually, after some months of painstaking research, the Woodman Inn in Mount Pleasant was found. However, the Woodman was already in use on Fridays, a popular local disco was held there , so the search was renewed. Less than a month later however, thanks to the antics of some boisterous local youths, the Woodman was offered as a venue for a folk club.
So the date was set for opening in February 1971. Guest artists were booked for a 3 month period, a further list was provisionally drawn up and advertising organised.
Before the folk club opened at the Woodman however, the remaining two Puritans determined to enlist further members. They felt that another instrumentalist was needed to augment Mick's economic skills on the banjo and guitar. Again, many evenings visiting pubs ensued, but all to no avail. Then, suddenly, inspiration. Residing in Birmingham, sharing a house with Mick's brother amongst many others, was another young (this was some time ago) teacher, Pete Warhurst - known by many locals as 'Pete the pianist', at least this is what he claimed at the time. Pete was an engaging performer on the piano, but more was required. If he was to be a member of a premier Midland folk group he needed to display abundant talent and virtuosity. Instead he joined the Puritans, where he quickly picked up the whistle and mandolin. He later picked up the accordion, although this was much more of a strain.
So with a resident group in place, the opening could go ahead. One major problem struck however. At that time, most of the bookings were organised by post - amazingly, few performers even had phones. The letters of confirmation to the first three acts were duly posted in January- a day before a national postal strike which lasted for nearly two weeks. The arrival of the first guests was a major relief!
So the club opened on schedule with an audience of nearly 80. The first guests were Tommy Dempsey and Jon Swift (lute) who followed the Puritans with two lively sets.
At the end of the second week, a fight broke out between the guests, Dave Phillips and Brian Patten and members of the audience! The landlord was reassured that the disco mentality was not re-emerging.
The pattern of guest nights continued but towards the end of the first season Club Nights, soon to be known as Singers' Nights, were tried. These met with mixed success, two successive evenings having 13 and 1 visiting performers(well, it was snowing) and 75 and 13 in the audience ( it was snowing very heavily actually).
At the beginning of the second season a new troubadour entered the scene from Eastern lands. This visiting player, yet another teacher, had just moved into the area and was seeking enjoyment and fun. After two spots as a floor singer he was invited to join the Puritans and the rest is history as they say. Andy's prowess as an instrumentalist added further possibilities and the Puritans offered their services for dances as well as folk clubs. This development led to another innovation at the Woodman. For a 12 month period, Singers' Nights were replaced by Celidhs. These had to be abandoned however, because the audience grew too large to be able to have dances! The Puritans finally reverted to a trio again when vocalist John Wadham left in 1978.
The 1970s continued to be halcyon days for folk clubs. A folk club diary of 1975 listed 6 clubs in Wolverhampton, 4 in Dudley and 3 in Stourbridge. The Woodman continued to book all of the major names on the circuit including the Watersons, The Dransfields, Nic Jones, Martin Carthy etc etc. Another pattern of guests emerged at this time, the folk singer comedian. Many of these graced the Woodman including Mike Harding, Jasper Carrott and Tony Capstick. Sadly however, Billy Connolly was turned down as he demanded a fee of £40 when £35 was the upper limit. I knew all along that he would live to regret this impetuosity.
Another tradition developed from the early days of the club, the Christmas Special. After a few years of carol singing, Mummers plays and Victorian melodramas, the Woodman Christmas Pantomime was created. Many months of toil, blood sweat and tears went into these mammoth spectacles creating family entertainment, with lavish costumes and acting of the highest order.
The Woodman Folk Club has also seen 7 landlords come and go, yet another victim entering the fray as we go to press!
The days of folk clubs on every street corner have certainly gone and with more leisure opportunities available, the task of continuing to run a successful club has become more and more difficult. Interestingly however, the membership at the Woodman has been higher in the past 5 years than ANY other 5 year period. So here's to the future and another 28 years!
John Wadham vocals
Carolyn Petrie vocals, guitar and whistle
Rob Porter vocals and guitar
Mick Harrington vocals, guitar and banjo
** The Puritans remaining in 1970 were: