Singing at Red Hill Folk

by Meg Philp

Looking for a bit of variety in your week? Something unexpected, held in good company?
You never know what a Wednesday night’s going be like, till you turn up and join in, at Red Hill Folk.

This gathering of folk aficionados began the Sixties. There had been a random folk scene in Brisbane until a 1963 Pete Seeger concert where he asked if there was a central folk place in the city. A group of friends decided to start one.

Long-time member, Paul M, said of the leader of The Folk Centre in Ann Street, "All cultures are based on crucial people who anchor everybody else."

He was remembering one ordinary Brisbane bloke named Stan Arthur who "anchored folk culture in Brisbane in the 60s" simply because he was passionate about 'singing good old songs with stories in them.' Stan died in 2004 leaving behind a strong community tradition of welcoming all comers, collecting and sharing music. He and folklorist Bill Scott were great mates.

Stan and Kathy Arthur ran thrice weekly sessions at the Folk Centre in the city from 1964. Despite the loss of their irreplaceable collection of folk music and recordings in the Flood of ’74, Stan’s legacy was his leadership of the Wayfarers, a regenerative, legendary, house band. Here he mentored more than 100 musicians over the years.

When the Folk Centre closed, there were several moves until they settled down in Paddington’s Kookaburra Café and stayed for 17 years. Then in 2011 the club was fortunate to find its current venue in Red Hill, thanks to the current MC, where it still holds to the same traditions of playing acoustic music, welcoming new talent and an 'open' floor policy.

One annual UK visitor, a regular on the Cambridge & Bury St. Edmonds folk scene, says he was 'struck by the inclusiveness of the group' and the variety of performances.'

Walk in to The Red Hill Community Sports Club on Fulcher Road. Pick up a drink from the main bar as you enter. Then drop $2 in the tin as you slip into the side room.

People greet you as you arrive. Chat goes back and forth. Newcomers are introduced; seats found for them. Some have been here a while, setting up the tables and chairs, organising front of 'stage' with the Standard Lamp in the corner. The MC arrives, thanks the helpers and quickly gets down to business. Performance brackets are organised, time allocated and confirmed; all recorded in her notebook. Each month there are 'Special Guest' acts, a single performer or group specially invited for a longer (40 minute) set, to add variety and cross-pollination with other clubs.

At 7.30 pm prompt, the MC makes a loud ting-a-ling on a triangle. All present join in singing the chorus of The Old Triangle. This beginning also signals the audience’s spontaneous harmonising with any known song sung that night. As John W, one newcomer, remarked afterwards "It’s like singing in your sitting room."

Another was amazed at how "everyone gets an opportunity to perform no matter where they are on the virtuosity / experience scale." (John O). First time performers are surprised when the audience harmonises with them. "This audience really listens!"

"Just be here early", says the MC who has been a folkie since she was a teenager. Scrupulously fair in time allocation, Anne leads by example and, has a vast repertoire of her own songs, as well as a prodigious memory for traditional songs.

The first half of the night may feature 3 performers and then a guest.

Half – time signals the free supper, provided by regulars and tea or coffee costs a dollar. This catch-up time for the night’s crowd is usually hard to break-up. As the MC reports, "It’s a privilege and a pleasure to herd the folk cats every Wednesday night."

A plethora of songs are sung about life, love and adventure from Dylan to Simon. But it’s traditional songs that stir and connect everyone - from Sea shanties to Gospel, Country and old Ballads.

"Participating in a folk club brings back memories," says another visitor. "My father loved singing at family gatherings. Those haunting (Irish) melodies have stayed with me."

Close to 10.30pm the MC leads the crowd singing the closing song from Pete Seeger "So long, it's been good to know you."

People at Red Hill Folk are mostly in the later stage of life, from all walks of life. This weekly get-together offers a golden, singing apple, one of those immortal fruits given by the goddess Idunn to any god of Asgard. One bite and we begin to feel revived, then refreshed and uplifted - all in good company.

Thanks to Anne Infante, Sue Wighton, past issues of The Folk Rag and the folk I interviewed.

Meg Philp   -   Storyteller, July 2017.