In The Spotlight

Talkin’ Thelwall City Blues (& Folk)

Talkin’ Thelwall City Blues (& Folk)

WRITTEN ON THE side of the Pickering Arms pub in Cheshire are the words: “IN THE YEAR 923 KING EDWARD THE ELDER FOUNDED A CYTY HERE AND CALLED IT THELWALL”.

Although Thelwall may not be a city in the modern sense of the word, it’s a piece of folklore the Village is happy to hang its hat on, so much so it recently applied for National Lottery funding, subsequently awarded, to hold a series of events to celebrate the 1100th anniversary of its ‘Cyty’ status.

And on Friday 15th September 2023, I was lucky enough to attend one of those events, a sold-out evening of Ballads, Blues and Folk at the Grappenhall & Thelwall Royal British Legion.

It’s fitting that folk music should play an integral part in this year’s celebrations given the influence the late great Maggie Goodall’s folk club, which was held at the Pickering Arms throughout the 1970s, had on the local music scene.

The Pickering Arms with, far right, its inscription celebrating Thelwall’s ‘City’ status.

Maggie, sadly, is no longer with us but thankfully another legendary figure on the local folk music circuit is, and what a concert Norman Froggatt, co-founder of Warrington’s most famous folk club, the Minor Bird, delivered.

Featuring a host of artists with local connections, including some of international repute, the audience was treated to a never-to-be-forgotten evening of traditional and contemporary folk music interspersed with blues, roots music, poetry and even a spot of clog dancing.

First up were Sixpenny Cut, a Warrington-based band that takes its name from a ginnel that connects School Brow to Battersby Lane. The band’s repertoire of traditional and modern folk certainly connected with the Thelwall crowd, especially their cover of Fairport Convention’s White Dress and a song written specifically for the event called Here’s To Thelwall.

Next on stage was Geoff Bibby, a much-loved singer of unaccompanied traditional songs, whose renditions of classics such as Wayfaring Stranger had a captivated crowd singing along.

Geoff and Ruth Bibby.

Geoff was supported and later followed by his daughter Ruth, an award-winning clog dancer who, assisted by Richard Peach on fiddle, took to the floor to show why she secured the title of Lancashire & Cheshire Clog Dancing Champion three years in a row.

After Geoff and Ruth came former Longford resident, Billy Pook, a singer, songwriter, poet and expert hurdy-gurdy player. Chatting to Billy before his set he promised it would include “some narration, some medieval rants, a few songs and a couple of tunes” and that’s exactly what he delivered – an eclectic mix of humorous and serious songs, all of which went down a storm.

The final performance before the concert’s interval saw Norman Froggatt take to the stage to perform another song written for the event, The Ballad of Lost Sailor Jack, inspired by the story of a Thelwall lad who was lost at sea during the second world war.

Opening proceedings after the break was Paul Thompson, a Lymm-based singer of largely comic songs in the style of Jake Thackray. Paul has co-authored a book on the life and times of Thackray, one of folk music’s great raconteurs, called ‘Beware of the Bull’ and he had the audience chuckling along not just to his Thackray covers but also to his own compositions. His lament to a soon-to-be-upgraded Smart phone called Calling Time went down particularly well.

Billy Pook (left), Sixpenny Cut (centre) and Paul Thompson (right).

With Paul’s set complete it was time for the headline act – Warrington-born blues guitar virtuoso Pete Price.

Pete, who has lived in Thelwall for over 30 years, wowed the audience with a solid set of blues classics written by the likes of Muddy Waters and Mance Lipscomb.

Accompanied on stage by Clive Mellor on harmonica, a man who recently appeared on Liam Gallagher’s number one album Knebworth 22, double bassist Russ Williams and Hawaiian guitarist Bill Leach, Pete had the audience in the palm of his hands. He’s certainly come a long way since being taught his first guitar chords aged 9 by Norman Froggatt’s brother Jack. Look out for Pete’s concert at the Pyramid Parr Hall on Saturday 9th December, another event not to be missed.

The evening ended, fittingly, with all of the performers joining Pete on stage to sing the song that always closed the meetings of Norman and Jack Froggatt’s Minor Bird Folk-Song Club – Wild Mountain Thyme. But it wasn’t just the artists who joined in on the chorus, it was the whole of the Royal British Legion’s audience, singing along in celebration of an event that didn’t just commemorate Thelwall’s 1100th anniversary as a city, but also the powerful, uplifting and communal spirit of folk music as a whole.

Host Norman Froggatt (far right) joins Pete Price and friends in a rendition of Wild Mountain Thyme

Rather like Thelwall’s ‘Cyty’ status, for those who were there, it was an event that will be remembered for years to come.

If you were unable to attend the event, you can listen to some of the concerts’ highlights, including interviews with the performers, below: