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Singing from the Floor: A History of British Folk Clubs [Paperback]

JP Bean
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 Mar 2014

In smoky rooms above pubs, bare rooms with battered stools and beer-stained tables, where the stage was little more than a scrap of carpet and sound systems were unheard of, an acoustic revolution took place in Britain in the 1950s and '60s. This was the folk revival, where a generation of musicians, among much drink and raucous cheer, would rediscover the native songs of their own tradition, as well as the folk and blues coming from across the Atlantic by artists such as Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie and Big Bill Broonzy.

Singing from the Floor is the story of this remarkable movement, faithfully captured in the voices of those who formed it by JP Bean. We hear from luminaries such as Shirley Collins, Martin Carthy, Peggy Seeger and Ralph McTell, alongside figures such as Billy Connolly, Jasper Carrott and Mike Harding, who all started their careers on the folk circuit. The book charts the revival's improvised beginnings and its ties to the CND movement, through the heyday of the '60s and '70s, when every university, town and many villages across the country boasted a folk club, to the fallow years of the '80s and '90s.

The book finishes on a high note, with the recent resurgence of interest in folk, through such artists as the Lakemans, Sam Lee and Eliza Carthy. It is a joyous, boisterous and hugely entertaining book, and an essential document of our recent history stretching into the past.

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Singing from the Floor: A History of British Folk Clubs + The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs
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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (6 Mar 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571305458
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571305452
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 32,598 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'What a great story this is . . . JP Bean has put together something definitive.' (Mojo, * * * * *)

'There are tales a-plenty . . . of penury and hardship, of sleeping on couches, floors, under tables and bridges, in doorways, even the most celebrated of the scene's performers often living like dossers . . . "It was magic, an astonishing moment," recalls Martin Carthy, without overstatement.' (Uncut, 9/10)

'An impressive list of contributors . . . In true folk tradition, a story worth handing on.' (Q, * * * *)

'Takes the reader from the revival's earliest stirrings to gigs at the hipsterish Magpie's Nest in present-day East London . . . there is a telling story or unforgettable vignette on almost every page.' (Guardian)

'Summons up the mottled charm of a different era . . . this was a time when the English Folk Dance and Song Society had Princess Margaret as a president. When singer Ian Campbell told her he lived in Birmingham, she replied: "How unfortunate." ' (Daily Telegraph)

Book Description

The remarkable history of British folk clubs, brought to Faber by Editor-at-Large, Jarvis Cocker.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating if incomplete history 29 Mar 2014
By Steve Mansfield VINE VOICE
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This oral history of the British folk club is a fascinating collage of testimony from those who were there. Organised into roughly chronological order, and presenting an overview and/or context at the start of each chapter, 'Singing From The Floor' uses the highlights of what must have been hundreds of hours of interviews with the musicians at the heart of the folk club movement, from its birth out of the skiffle scene of the early 60s through the steady decline since.

As one who was too young to be there and came to folk music when the archetypal club model was already in decline, the history outlined and the tales told in 'Singing From The Floor' are endlessly rewarding and fascinating. Not all reputations survive unscathed - there is a good deal of criticism, for example, of Ewan MacColl, although Peggy Seeger is also represented to give her side of the story. The role of also Bert Lloyd is made more peripheral than might have been thought from other sources (notably Dave Arthur's fascinating recent biography of Lloyd, 'Bert').

Bean has made a fine continuum out of the multitude of voices he has amassed; there is great skill throughout the book in the way the story is progressed through multiple viewpoints of the same events or strands of the tale. It is to be hoped that the raw material of all those interviews is available for future researchers, because the very effect of such skilful and light-touch editing is that other stories must remain to be extracted from the source interviews. There are also individual contributions that are striking - one that particularly remains with me is John Tams' evocative and consciously semi-mythologising account of Tony Capstick's funeral.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece 20 Mar 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I haven't even finished reading this book yet but it's 'unputdownable'. The way Bean has organised the contributions of his huge collection of interviewees makes each chapter feel like a conversation.

The book confirms some things that I did know and tells of many things I didn't know and puts it all into perspective. Obviously, it tells of the Folk Club scene but it's also a marvellous record of Britain's social history from the 50s, too.

I'm only 20% through and can't wait to read the rest. Brilliantly put together and a 'must' for anyone who was around 'back in the day'. I have a feeling it would also be of interest to the current crop of young folkies, too.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For old "folkies" 15 Mar 2014
By martin
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A chance to wallow in nostalgia as JP Bean uses the words of the top performers to tell the story of the network of folk clubs that developed throughout the country in the 50s, 60s & 70s. It really brought it all back & made me realise how lucky I was to be around at that time. Recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful nostalgia trip for old folkies 10 April 2014
I read it from cover to cover in 24 hours, So many of the quotes resonated with me, and I knew a lot of these people personally. I first sang in folk clubs when I was still at school in the late '60s and helped run a club in the '80s and 90's, I felt part of a privileged group of very special people, with good honest values, insulated against the mass commercialisation that had taken over popular music,

I'm surprised though that in the comments about the future of folk clubs, nobody mentioned the purely practical issues of trying to run a club these days. It's not just that the organisers are getting too old or can't cope with newcomers. The venues are disappearing as pubs close down or turn their function rooms into restaurants, or meeting rooms with carpets and drapes which ruin the acoustics. Then there are the public entertainment licences, PRS fees, health & safety assessments and countless other bureaucratic hindrances to anyone wanting to run a music venue these days.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chin strokers and tankards ahoy! 8 April 2014
This is a very good read with some interesting stories by the people who were actually there,though i have to admit it would have been a five star review had there been more emphasis on the clubs themselves,in particular the organisers who,by and large ran these clubs on a voluntary basis,happy days!It would deemed harsh and stereotypical to describe folk fans as beared trainspotters with pewter tankards and Aran sweaters,even if that appeared to be the image that was portrayed.Its a pity that the eighties folk scene was not heavily featured,even the folk club 'heyday'was in the 50's and 60's,when the new wave folk acts such as The Oyster Band,The Pogues and Billy Bragg came to prominence.I was not present at the time,but does anyone remember seeing The Pogues perform at the Oxford Folk Club in 1984?Surely a few anecdotes from those who were there that night would have ensured that this book would have got that extra star from this reviewer as well as my appreciation.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must have book for old folkies 30 Mar 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
For those with memories of the folk clubs and so many of the performers interviewed for this book (some now dead but many still touring) this is a must have book. A vivid reminder of some often hilarious times and great musicians and singers. Some newspaper reviews have been less than enthusiastic but the reviewers weren't there and it is easy to see that reminiscences of people they have never heard of about music they don't know could be tedious. But if you are an old folkie this is a book for you.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Enlightening and nostalgic.
Published 17 hours ago by Carolyn Doyley
5.0 out of 5 stars memory lane
Published 11 days ago by E. J. Gregory
4.0 out of 5 stars One basic complaint: the title is misleading. It ...
One basic complaint: the title is misleading. It is a history of English Folk Clubs, with scant reference to the Scottish ones.
Published 1 month ago by Rosalind Cheyne
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great book. A must for all folk fans.
Published 1 month ago by Mr. B. A. Pegg
5.0 out of 5 stars Interested in folk clubs and the history of the folk revival? You must...
Fascinating book. A must read for anyone who has been involved in the folk music world for more than 15 years or so you will love this. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Brian Swinton
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant. Heard about this by word of mouth and ...
Brilliant. Heard about this by word of mouth and ordered it straight away. Absorbing accounts by the people who made it all happen.
Published 2 months ago by Steelbonnet
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic book. Highly recommend it
Fantastic book. Highly recommend it.
Published 3 months ago by David O'Toole
4.0 out of 5 stars Didnt get to Kent where Duke of Cumberland Whitstable, ...
Didnt get to Kent where Duke of Cumberland Whitstable, Chimney Boys in Faversham, Sticks in Wingham were a few of many local clubs.
Published 3 months ago by Mr. Joseph Eddington
4.0 out of 5 stars Review
Review - this is an interesting history of the folk clubs in England and of the various artists appearing in them
Published 4 months ago by Mary Ryan
3.0 out of 5 stars A collection of Vox Pops
In their own words, a collection of interviews, you could have subtitled this either, and to be fair the 'author' doesn't claim that it's anything else, but it does start to get... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Mr. M. C. Murphy
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