The generation game: Edinburgh Folk Club at 50

Launched at a time when traditional music was considered “niche”, Edinburgh Folk Club is marking its half-century with a vibrant programme that brings together both veteran and younger generation performers, writes Jim Gilchrist

As musicians and singers across the country gear up to mark the inaugural Scottish Folk Day on 23 September, one of Scotland’s longest-running weekly venues for traditional music, Edinburgh Folk Club, is celebrating its 50th anniversary with an enticing programme of veteran and younger generation performers extending into next year.

While Scottish Folk Day, of which more later, arises at a time when what is generally termed “the folk scene” is flourishing as never before in all its facets of music and song, Edinburgh Folk Club was launched in the basement of Edinburgh University’s George Square Chaplaincy Centre in September 1973, at a time when traditional music was, at best, consigned to a “niche” category by the musical establishment.

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The capital had other folk clubs by the early Seventies, all long since vanished, when three enthusiasts – Ian Green, a police sergeant who went on to establish the productive Greentrax folk label, the late Kenny Thomson, a journalist, and Edinburgh University student John Barrow – put their heads together in the folk sanctum of Sandy Bell’s and decided there was a need for another club.

Josie Duncan PIC: Euan RobertsonJosie Duncan PIC: Euan Robertson
Josie Duncan PIC: Euan Robertson

Barrow, EFC’s first secretary, is now a retired teacher, proprietor of Stoneyport folk agency and chair of the weekly club which, after many flittings over the years, meets in the Ukrainian Community Centre on the eastern fringes of the New Town. The whole scene has changed hugely over the club’s five decades, he agrees: “It’s pretty obvious that the quality of the music and the talent playing it have improved enormously,” he says. “I don’t know if that’s attributable to things like the Conservatoire [the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s BMus degree in traditional music], or other traditional music courses going on, while in the Highlands the Fèisean movement has done a fantastic job of producing young musicians.

“Folk music is now a more broad-based genre than before,” he adds. “In the past you wouldn’t have got, say, [Edinburgh-Senegalese singer] Samba Sene performing at the club.”

What he does regret is the ageing demographic of folk club audiences. Which is ironic, he adds: “In the Sixties, when I started going to folk clubs, it was almost like an act of rebellion, you were going somewhere your parents didn’t go. Now, 50 years later, it’s the kids who aren’t coming.”

Demographics apart, the club’s 50th anniversary season is widely appealing, combining new-generation performers with esteemed veterans, as the next month alone demonstrates. Following the young Australian duo Saije on 27 September, a 50th anniversary dinner on 4 October features singer-songwriter Robin Laing, while the 11th hosts Irish folk hero Andy Irvine. Award winning young singer-songwriter Josie Duncan appears on the 18th, with later dates including the Scottish-based, European-accented Firelight Trio and, from England, singer-songwriter Reg Meuross (1 November) and veteran accordionist John Kirkpatrick (6 December). Next year includes such renowned voices as Archie Fisher, Martyn Wyndham-Read and Allan Taylor.

Meuross’s last EFC gig particularly impressed committee member Dave Francis (who makes his own appearance on 22 November, with Mairi Campbell in their acclaimed duo The Cast): “Our importance is as the flagship club in Scotland’s capital, offering audiences a weekly opportunity to catch touring and home-based artists in all their variety.”

Francis is also director at the Traditional Music Forum, organisers of Scottish Folk Day, part of a wider European Folk Day, and expresses his enthusiasm at the response to this inaugural event: “The passion and eagerness of musicians, clubs and community groups to participate and network together is a testament to our love and appreciation of folk music as a country.”

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Events across the country range from the Lochaber band Dàimh at Ardgour Memorial Hall and a day of workshops and performances at Aberdeen University’s Elphinstone Institute, including Ron Jappy, Jenn Butterworth and Eryn Rae, to a free ceilidh at Arran’s Whiting Bay Village Hall and an eclectic music programme at Edinburgh’s Scottish Storytelling Centre.

See the full Edinburgh Folk Club programme at For Scottish Folk Day, see