Saturday, 17 October 2009

The Couriers Folk Club, (named for the duo who ran it, Jack Harris and Rex Brisland), opened at The Queens Hotel in Charles Street Leicester in the autumn of 1964. The small room soon became inadequate and a move was made the following spring to the now defunct White Swan, situated roughly where the Fish Market now stands. Jack and Rex were the singers in residence and as was the custom, augmented by "unattached" local singers, sometimes natives of Leicester and sometimes guitar playing students doing their stint at University or Teacher Training College. The administration work was handled by Jack’s wife, Sue. During the folk music "boom" period, clubs were frequently run according to the taste of the organisers, sometimes narrowly purist and at the other extreme, closer to prevailing pop tastes. The Couriers Club soon acquired a reputation for booking good acts across the entire spectrum of the genre. Traditional singers like Bert Lloyd, MacColl and Seeger, Bob Davenport were regular visitors together with ageing ploughboys, miners and fishermen who were often so infirm or unlikely to make their own way to Leicester they had to be fetched by car. Trendy Trad based groups like the Young Tradition and The Watersons found a ready audience as did groups appealing to a wider taste such as The Spinners and The Ian Campbell Group. Humorous acts, mostly with limited musical ability, frequently reduced the audience to tears of laughter. Performers like Jasper Carrot, Tony Capstick and Alex Campbell come to mind. Every now and then a wonderful voice would come over the microphone and a hushed audience would delight at the sound of someone like Barbara Dickson, who as we know, became a hit on the West End stage. The Late sixties was also the age of the protest song, targeting the American involvement in Vietnam for the most part and it was the proliferation of American singer/ songwriters whose songs were eagerly added to the repertoires of aspiring singers in this country. Folk song clubs were seldom rich enterprises and even visiting Americans had to accept paltry sums of money. This state of affairs lasted for two or three tours while they built up their reputations and were then put into concert halls by the big promoters. All of them agreed however, that the British Folk Club scene was something special and intimate which they couldn’t find at home playing in noisy "lounges". Americans who played at the Couriers Club included Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton and New Lost City Ramblers. Tom Paxton stayed with Jack and Sue for weeks at a time using Leicester as a base for a grueling tour of one nighters. Finally The White Swan was scheduled for demolition and through his Church connections; Rex was offered the concert room of the local Catholic Club. This was comparative luxury after a run down City pub. The capacity was greater and the extra revenue generated from larger audiences meant that it was possible to keep up with the increasing fees asked by performers. So the best acts of the day still appeared at the Couriers Club and "Paddy’s", as the Catholic Club was known, was its base for many years. Sadly, like all good things, the tenure ended when the owners decided that they wanted to use the concert room for their own shows and The Couriers forced into another move, to an even grander venue this time. The Conference room of the local Holiday Inn Hotel. Very big; quite expensive; but the people kept coming and the usual high standard was maintained. The pressure, however, was beginning to show on the organisers. New employment schedules for Rex and Jack meant that it was far from certain that either could guarantee to be there on club night. It was therefore decided to go out on a high note and the club closed its doors for the final time in June 1974 after over ten years of having a lot of fun, meeting some super people, and, one hopes, entertaining thousands.
Jack Harris: December 2002
Dedicated to the memory of Rex Brisland.