Edinburgh Folk Club celebrates 40th birthday

Mike Whellans  played at the EFC's first gathering in  1973
Mike Whellans played at the EFC's first gathering in 1973
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She was referring to the fact that the folk club scene has seen many fall by the wayside over the years, while EFC has had its own shaky moments.

That it has survived, however, is flagged up next month when it celebrates its 40th birthday on 9 October with an appearance by the same artist who played at its very first gathering in October 1973 – the inimitably jittering Border bluesman Mike Whellans. The club’s autumn programme goes on to feature a string of established names, including blues duo Eddie Walker and Fraser Speirs (23 October) and English singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Pete Coe (30 October), while in November it presents its 12th Carrying Stream Festival, celebrating the memory of folklorist and poet Hamish Henderson.

When EFC first opened in 1973 in a George Square basement, having been formed by three folk scene stalwarts, Iain Green, John Barrow and the late Ken Thomson, Edinburgh could boast several regular folk clubs – the Triangle, the Crown and the police’s “Fuzz Folk”. Today, the scene has changed dramatically, agrees EFC’s chairman of the past 12 years (and editor of the aforementioned ‘Tis Sixty Years Since), Eberhard “Paddy” Bort. Those three clubs have long vanished, but others have sprung up in their place. “There’s still a very lively scene,” he says, citing Edinburgh’s present multitude of acoustic music venues, from pubs and clubs to house concerts, “but it also makes for a degree of competition, and for an urban club running on a weekly basis it can be difficult. That’s why the Star Club in Glasgow has downsized.”

Yet despite recession and shifting audience loyalties, EFC cruises on, having weathered what Bort terms “an existential crisis” at the end of the 1990s when the ebullient German, whose day job is with Edinburgh University’s Institute of Governance, and who was already steering the Wee Folk club at the Royal Oak, was coerced into the running of EFC.

Fast forward to autumn 2013 and Bort is cheerfully anticipating the club’s Carrying Stream festival (6-13 November), with this year’s guests including the fine singer-guitarist Martin Simpson, a celebration of the music of the legendary Dave Swarbrick, including Scots fiddler Duncan Wood with flautist and singer Cathal McConnell, a Fife Singers’ Night and an evening with a true veteran of the Scottish folk revival, the irrepressible Jimmie MacGregor.

The festival’s Hamish Henderson lecture will be delivered by Sheena Wellington, a singer for whom that oft-abused term “iconic” has seemed appropriate since she gave that magisterial rendition of A Man’s A Man at the state opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.