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The ’70s, Deleted

Pete & Chris Coe
Pete & Chris Coe
Photo: Dave Peabody
History has been even less kind to the artists who didn’t manage to make it past the front door of a record label. You could possibly explain away the failure of the West Country’s popular Mudge & Clutterbuck by their hippy shambolicism (or a crap name). But why, for example, people like Anglo-American duo Michael-Claire (Mike Milner & Claire Hart) didn’t make the breakthrough is much harder to imagine. With great voices, songs, guitar playing and fabulous good looks, they played all the right venues of the day like Les Cousins and the London and Bristol Troubadours, appeared on the BBC’s radio folk show, even hung out with the gang in London’s popular post-gig café La Fiesta that included the likes of Sandy Denny and Trevor Lucas, but they never got a record out. Finally, in 2008, Italy’s Night Wings released their extraordinarily good 1971 demos – but only on vinyl, not CD, so they’re still nearly lost to posterity.

Michael-Claire
Michael-Claire
If received history has got the relative popularity and importance of certain songwriters and folk rock explorers out of kilter, it has nothing on the cruel hand dealt to most of the great younger exponents of traditional song and music of the day. For a while, most of the popular artists around the folk club circuit of the early ‘70s who didn’t record for Topic were on Bill Leader’s Trailer label. It operated on pretty much the same shoestring and with similar basic equipment as we did with Village Thing, and was also distributed by Transatlantic. Beginning in 1969, by 1973 his catalogue included wonderful albums by Nic Jones, Pete & Chris Coe, Tony Rose, Dave Burland, Bob & Carole Pegg, Robin & Barry Dransfield (who made Melody Maker folk album of the year and reputedly massive sales for a folk album), Dave & Toni Arthur, Roy Bailey, Martyn Wyndham-Read, Swan Arcade, John Kirkpatrick, Alistair Anderson, Vin Garbutt and many more, alongside some fabulous traditional recordings on the sister Leader imprint. This was the era when things had moved on from the stern folk revival of the Ewan MacColl days and to a great extent set the stylistic foundations for the younger folk performers of today – particularly in the case of the Nic Jones albums.

So why have most of these artists been almost entirely written out of history, hardly appearing in any current literature, neglected by trend-defining journalists, their reputations only living on in the memories of older folkies and, increasingly their musical offspring (like Kate Rusby or Nancy Wallace) who grew up with their parents’ record collections?

Well, in the late ‘70s Bill Leader sold his label, all the masters, to another company and later still – with no reference to Bill – it was all sold on to Celtic Music in Harrogate, run by one Dave Bulmer. For reasons that seem totally inexplicable to everybody who has ever heard the story, the famously litigious Bulmer has sat on his treasure hoard ever since, hardly re-issuing anything other than on badly packaged CDRs. Here you have a decade of such great importance in the evolution of modern British folk music, already being sidelined by the historians because it doesn’t tick the right London/ major label/ name producer/ intriguing back story boxes, and modern audiences simply have no access to it at all.


fRom fRoots 328, October 2010

 

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