Joe Stead – The Ramblings of an old Codger – Volume 180 - September 2015


Special Anniversary Issue

Volume 1


September 2015 is a landmark month for two reasons.  Firstly it marks 14 years of non-stop Rambling; which in itself is quite an achievement; but secondly and more importantly, it marks my 50th anniversary of being a professional performer on the folk circuit of Great Britain and other parts of the universe.  This must make me one of the Grand-daddies of British folk music alive today.  There are others who have been at it longer of course but not that many.  I suppose Martin Carthy must wear the mantle of 'Godfather' although I might suggest that Wizz Jones pushes him a close second.  Carthy has done more for folk music generally than Jones but both were working professionally in 1958 which beats my first professional date of 12th September 1965 by 7 years.  I actually started singing folk songs in my rugby club in 1958, but that does not count as being professional.  Mind you a lot of the songs were earthy and very traditional in their own way, but in those very early days I certainly wasn't paid for it, and had no idea that one day entertaining people would become a full time profession. 


It was in the summer of 1958, in either late July or early August, that I met and sang with Paul Robeson.  With the McCarthy era of witch hunts abating slightly Paul had just got his passport back from a paranoid American government and came to London.  Previously in 1955 The State Department had declared “Robeson is one of the most dangerous men in the world.  He is a direct threat to the security of the United States."  To be fair Paul had been a one man civil rights movement in America since about 1932 when he declared to the Daily Express in London that "The modern white American is among the lowest forms of civilization in the world today".  But by 1958, with his Moscow connections hanging like the Sword of Damocles over his head, Martin Luther King did not welcome him into the civil rights movement which exploded after Rosa Park had refused to give up her seat to a white man in a bus in Montgomery Alabama.  So wanted world wide Paul came to London where Peggy Middleton was acting as his world wide secretary and agent.  Peggy had a garden party, I was invited and there Peggy actually summoned Paul to come over to meet me, and the rest is history.  I was just 17 years old; but if I was ever invited back into that garden I could probably show you exactly where it all happened. I can tell you now you don't forget meeting, talking privately and singing with a man like Robeson, although to be honest the real significance of that chance meeting did not really dawn on me until many years later.


So I guess I can safely say that 50 years working professionally on the folk scene is quite a landmark; albeit the early years were part time.  Looking at the EFDSS Folk Directory for 1965 shows the following singers already performing on the folk scene, these have now died:- Davy Graham, Pete Sayers, Ewan MacColl, Steve Benbow, Alex Campbell, Diz Dizley, Long John Baldry, Don Partridge, Bert Lloyd, Dominic Behan, John Pearce, Alex Atterson, Cyril Tawney, Louis Killen, Cliff Aungier, Alexis Korner, Peter Bellemy, Sydney Carter, Margaret Barry, Ian Russell, Redd Sulivan, Martin Winsor, Bridie O'Donnell, Jerry Lochran, Bert Jansch, Johnnie Silvo, Robin Hall and Jimmie MacGreggor, and Stan Crowther who retired from performing to become the Labour Member of Parliament for Rotherham.  The great Jake Thackray was not listed, I think he was still teaching in Yorkshire.  All have passed away and there will of course be others, but because they are deceased they don't count at this time.  Others have subsequently retired:- Malcolm Price, Nigel Denver, Bill Clifton, Royd Rivers, Leon Rosselson, John Foreman, Paul Snow, Stan Kelly, Miles Wootton, Derek Sarjeant, Roy Harris and Bill Clifton to name a few.  Again there will be many more performers singing in 1965 who have subsequently retired; I can't name them all.  But there are some notables still on the go:- Julie Felix, Shirley Collins, Peggy Seeger, Dave Swarbrick, Bob Davenport, Rambling Jack Elliott, Pete and Chris Coe (who were not listed in the 1965 EFDSS directory - so they might have started later) and Ralph May (later to change his name to Ralph McTell); all spring to mind.  And it was with Ralph May that I made my first professional appearance in September 1965.  Jeff Dale was running the Downe Folk Club, a small village just outside Bromley in Kent at the George and Dragon, and he was going on holiday.  He booked myself with Ralph at £2 each.  I got the bug immediately.


The first folk club I went to was The Skiffle Cellar in Greek Street, Soho. Where the ladies of the night, who walked the street in those days, scared me stiff to be honest. (Excuse the pun it was deliberate).  Here for 2/6d (12.5p) I could see any combination from Steve Benbow, Margaret Barry, Lisa Turner, Michael Gorman, Pete and Marion Grey, Hilda Sims, Long John Baldry and with Rambling Jack Elliott frequently in attendance; to name but a few from many more whose names seem to have faded with the years.  Carthy was probably there but I don't remember him.  Wizz Jones was too busy being a penniless beatnik to go to a folk club.  It was 1958 and Alex Campbell was still busking in Paris.  At just 17 Soho was like a different world.  I was an apprentice heating engineer working in Wells Street that runs north from Oxford Street.  A fresh faced kid with a dreadful stutter.


Then clubs started springing up all over the place.  In Bradford the Topic club had been running since 1954 and amazingly it still runs today.  The oldest folk club in the world.  Locally to me in South East London at that time the Catford Railway Tavern Club ran every Friday and now I became aware of Martin Carthy, Martin Winsor, Anne Briggs (who I didn't appreciate much if I'm honest), The Hickory Nuts, The Southern Ramblers and The Strawberry Hill Boys (later to become The Strawbs).  It was after one such night that Tiny Craig suggested that, as it was his birthday, he and I should go to the signal box just outside Croydon where he worked for British Railways as a signal man for a bit of a sing.  So armed with a bottle of whiskey and his guitar we spent the whole of that particular Friday night celebrating his birthday tucked up in his signal box, singing songs, consuming whiskey and watching the trains go by.  Pulling them signal leavers was a hard old job, but I guess the whiskey helped.  Irresponsible or what?  We were fed early the next morning, about 5am I guess, when staff started appearing at the railway station, by the tiniest Pakistani man I had seen at that time with bacon and egg sandwiches, and he took the photograph you see below.  Judging by my attire it might have been summer, but my memory tells me it was still dark at 5am so it was probably late autumn.


joe stead


I never really discovered what happened to Tiny.  Years later when playing in Margate, where rumour had it he then resided, I was told by the club organiser that Tiny was doing time for gun running for the IRA.  But not wanting to slander the man I would emphasize this is hearsay and I will happily retract this statement if someone can prove it to be untrue.


I suppose the Downe Folk Club in the George and Dragon was a very favourite haunt back in those early years.  That and the Orpington club run by Dave Plane.  I had just started a folk club at The Eleven Cricketers in Dartford, where on the first night we had Malcolm Price. The place was packed out.  Malcolm was just wonderful, especially as he had just come from a funeral where he had buried his brother that afternoon.  The local paper showed up too, probably The Kentish Times, and took a photograph of me before the club opened sitting on the window sill.  The banjo, which I still play badly, belonged to my grandfather who had died in 1961.  My grandmother hated it especially as he bought it directly after the first world war for £18; then equivalent to about 6 months groceries.  That "Bloody banjo" she called it "every tune sounds the same".  And if I'm honest they did.  But he would get it out of an evening down in the kitchen at 52 Stockbridge Road in Winchester and twang away plectrum style.  I always rushed down to listen to him fascinated; so when he died in 61 he left it to me, totally unaware that by 1961 I was a Pete Seeger advocate of the highest degree.  The perfect family heirloom just landed in my lap.  It was one of the best banjos around.  A Clifford Essex XX Special; and I've always reckoned that having such a class instrument made my appalling banjo playing sound OK.  I think sometimes it actually plays itself.


joe stead



The beard appeared in 1967.  Friday August 18th to be exact was the last time I shaved.  So I suppose it really started on the 19th.  In those days beards weren't exactly in fashion, certainly not like today.  Beards had previously been worn by beatniks, but by 1967 the hippie generation had taken over and they were just slightly more popular than they had been previously.  I didn't smoke cigarettes and I certainly didn't indulge in the green, green grass of the Caribbean Basin, and if anybody had talked about Afghanistan Black, or Lebanese Red I wouldn't have had a clue.  The hippie generation passed me by.  But that year (1967) I played 74 venues earning £525, at an average of approximately £7 a night.  Believe me this was luxury and of course an amazing increase on the £2 pay packet I had first earned just 2 years previously in September 1965 with Ralph May who had by now changed his name to Ralph McTell.  £525 was equivalent to £43.75 a month and was considerably more than I was earning as a qualified heating engineer looking after major heating and ventilating projects for Kent County Council. 


By 1968 I was taking out full page adverts in the EFDSS Folk Directory.  I had to turn down a short tour with Joe Brown and the Bruvvers because I was not a member of the Musicians Union.  The MU was an expensive union to join, but appreciating I should at least be in a union I joined Equity; which was to prove extremely useful 30 years later.  Joining Equity in those days was not an easy business.  You had to show a contract with at least a six month stint somewhere or provide proof of 150 single bookings in any 12 month period.  The latter, with engagements thanks to the EFDSS advert, now becoming even more frequent I was easily able to do; and thus I became a fully paid up member of Equity and stayed with Equity until 2007.  I was never a musician anyway.  I simply stood behind the banjo and sung, so Equity was more suited to my very limited talents.


joe stead


You note the advert includes television.  Absolutely true.  I had gone to the Downe Folk Club one Sunday night in the summer of 1966 (June 20th) and talking with Jerry Lockran afterwards he had told me it was easy to get a slot on the Westward Television Local News programme in Plymouth if you happened to be touring in the area.  They paid £12 a song.  Crikey that was worth a shot!  At the time the British Telephone Company had not installed a telephone at my home in Erith.  I was still using my parents telephone for evening calls (they took messages) and EC Perry in Forest Hill, where I worked during the day, for daytime calls.  So, on the following Monday morning armed with four pence, I marched off down to the telephone box in Avenue Road.  Phoned up Westward Television, told them I was on tour in Devon next week and could I come on the programme?  The fella I spoke to sounded delighted that someone as important as Joe Stead was actually in the area and they could fit me in on the following Tuesday.  Talk about TV executives not knowing what they were doing.  He must of thought I was the bees knees; where, if truth be told in the summer of 1966, I could only just manage the three chords of C,F and G.  I then telephoned a few clubs in the area and low and behold the Newton Abbot Folk Club were happy to pay me £5 to play the Monday night preceding.  I remember arriving at Westward Television with an almighty hangover to see a sign saying "Westward Television welcomes Joe Stead".  The producer of the programme was called Rollo Gambol and it turned out that they had had a camera breakdown and they couldn't find a replacement.  They only had two working cameras and the staff at the station were saying it was going to be impossible to shoot a whole 30 minute news programme live with only two cameras.  They were laughing and calling it The Two Camera Gamble.  Well I sang Jimmie Crack Corn with intense frailing and drove home to Kent that evening on cloud nine when I suppose a car would have been more sensible.


joe stead


So I was keen, fit and as you can see from the drawing below provided by Jeff Dale of the Downe Folk Club, together with his photograph and a self portrait in the bottom right hand corner, incredibly thin.  Why Jeff had drawn Martin Winsor hanging from the gallows I forget.  Martin Winsor, who once told me how important it was to always have a guitar capo in your pocket to use as a knuckle duster, died in August 1992; and I'm enclosing an obituary written by Eric Winter to conclude this editorial section of the Ramblings.  Not sure if the capo was buried with him.


Every month for the next 12 months I will reflect and recall certain episodes in 50 years of life on the road.  We've sort of reached 1968.


Martin Winsor, folk-singer, born London 6 December 1931, married 1983 Jeannie Steel (one son), died Boston Lincolnshire 4 August 1992.


IN THE late Fifties, skiffle performers like Lonnie Donnegan, Wally Whyton and John Hasted, helped to spawn skiffle's successor: the folk-club network which covered Britain from the early Sixties. Martin Winsor was a prime mover, a front-liner at John Hasted's 44 Club (44 Gerrard Street, Soho, London) and he went on, in 1963, to run the Troubadour Folk Club in Earl's Court with the late Redd Sullivan.


For British and foreign performers, the Troubadour on a Saturday was an obligatory stop. This ate into Winsor's and Sullivan's singing time. But on some less busy Tuesday nights, Winsor would do a diverse set - London songs, a sea shanty, one of his own settings of Kipling's 'Soldiers' Songs', a faultlessly sung Scottish traditional ballad - all delivered in a rich, sonorous, baritone voice that was the envy of many a comparable singer. Winsor also used his gift of mimicry and well-captured regional accents. His impressions of a jazz trumpet were unbelievable. And as a patter man and raconteur, he had few equals.


The dominant powers in the English Folk Dance and Song Society viewed the club movement as a bit common and Winsor as brash and too outspoken. It was therefore all the more extraordinary that he became a member of one of the society's councils, the British Federation of Folk Clubs. For many years he worked tirelessly for the federation. Also for the society, he directed the Loughborough folk festival for several years in the Seventies. He pursued an adventurous policy of choosing performers from different backgrounds and styles that gave the festival a sparkle and energy which reflected his own.


Winsor's life was greatly enhanced by his singing partnership with Jeannie Steel, whom he met in 1962 and later married. Virtually unknown in their own country, the couple toured western Europe many times, where they were an enormous success.


The record industry treated him poorly. There is little of that handsome voice on disc or tape - a couple of early LPs with Redd Sullivan and others, a tape with Jeannie Steel, a track here and there. Jeannie and Martin ran 'Nightride' for London's Capital Radio; while the Spinners thought well enough of him to let him host their thriving Liverpool club when they were on tour.


Martin Winsor was a great talker. Ideas and opinions, most of them sensible, poured out of him. He loved an argument and a stimulating discussion, and he would not readily accept those with pomp to puncture or pretentiousness to prick. Everything he said was straight from the shoulder. A lot of it found its way into the columns I was writing for Melody Maker and New Musical Express (with the highly colourful language edited out).


Fund-raising, conversation, organising festivals - none of these detracted in any way from Martin Winsor's ability as an entertainer. He was that par excellence. Less noticed, perhaps, than many less talented people, but a prince of good fellows, and a giant of the folk scene.

Eric Winter






The End

Special Anniversary Issue

Volume 1


Volume 2 follows next month.







Fixture List for Kimber's Men and Joe Stead




Aug 29th (KM) Sail Royal Festival Greenwich

Sep 1st (Joe) Rochdale Masonic Buildings. Richard Street, Rochdale 2pm - Robeson.

Sep 5th (KM) Great Yarmouth Maritime Festival

Sep 6th (KM) Great Yarmouth Maritime Festival

Sep 7th (KM) Mansfield Folk Club, Black Bull, Woodhouse Rd, Mansfield

Sep 13th (KM) The Staithes Arts and Heritage Festival

Sep 25th (KM) Keighley Folk Club, Ukrainian Club, 9 Henry Street

Oct 3rd (KM) Liverpool Shanty Festival

Oct 4th (KM) Liverpool Shanty Festival

Nov 13th (KM) Recording New CD at Foel Studios

Nov 14th (KM) Recording New CD at Foel Studios

Nov 15th (KM) Recording New CD at Foel Studios

Nov 20th (KM) Market Theatre, Market St, Ledbury, Herefordshire HR8 2AQ

Nov 21st (KM) Rhosygilwen, Rhoshill, Cilgerran, Pembrokeshire. SA43 2TW

Nov 28th (KM) Hepworth Live, Hepworth Village Hall, Towngate, HD9 1TE.

Dec 6th (KM) The Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Rd West, Southport

Dec 19th (KM) The Marine Theatre, Lyme Regis.


Jan 6th (Joe) Pudsey Men's Forum - Valparaiso round the Horn

Jan 30th (KM) Beeston Methodist Church, Chilwell Rd, Beeston, Notts. NG9 1EH

Feb 1st (KM) Barnsley Folk Club, Barnsley Trades Club, Racecommon Rd.

Feb 3rd (Joe) Bolton Methodist Church, Bolton Road Bradford BD2 4LB - Valparaiso

Feb 5th (KM) West Deeping Village Hall, King St, West Deeping, Lincs PE6 9HP

Feb 6th (KM) Binbrook Village Hall, Kirmond Rd, Binbrook, Lincs PE10 0NR

Feb 12th (KM) Burton Joyce Village Hall, Trent Lane, Burton Joyce, NG14 5EY

Feb 13th (KM) Gunthorpe Village Hall, Davids Lane , Gunthorpe. NG14 7EW

Feb 19th (KM) Long Whatton Community Cente, The Green, Long Whatton.

Feb 20th (KM) Elmesthorpe Village Hall, Wilkinson Lane, Elmesthorpe. LE9 7SP

Feb 26th (KM) Morton Village Hall, High St, Morton, Lincolnshire PE10 0NR

Feb 27th (KM) Market House, Market Street, Long Sutton Spalding PE12 9DD

Mar 18th (KM) Harmston Memorial Hall, School Lane, Harmston LN5 9SN

Mar 19th (KM) Frampton Village Hall, Middlegate Rd, Frampton, Boston PE20 1AR

May 13th (KM) Clennell Hall Folk Festival

May 14th (KM) Clennell Hall Folk Festival

May 15th (KM) Clennell Hall Folk Festival

May 20th (KM) Either: Shepley Folk Festival with Skelmanthorpe Brass Band

May 22nd (KM) Or: Shepley Folk Festival with Skelmanthorpe Brass Band

May 26th (KM) Ostend at Anchor Festival

May 27th (KM) Ostend at Anchor Festival

May 28th (KM) Ostend at Anchor Festival

May 29th (KM) Ostend at Anchor Festival

Jun 17th (KM) Mylor

Jun 18th (KM) Falmouth International Sea Shanty Festival

Jun 19th (KM) Falmouth International Sea Shanty Festival





World Peace through Song.

Private Label

One of the side effects of a General Election is that the electors become aware of a number of colourful characters in new and interesting ways.  In this case, it is in CD form, by a jolly chap who subtitles himself 'The Singing Politician', and who stood in the Calder Valley constituency representing the World Peace Through Song party.  If enthusiasm and the ability to self harmonize on folk melodies were vote winners, he would have walked the election - and his last place , pulling in only 165 votes, is nothing more than tragic.  It is now possible to purchase this legendary promotional disc for yourself, if you aren't lucky to be one of the 165 Calder Valley voters who got in first...

Alright I know that this isn't going to set the charts on fire - there are only 27 minutes of music - but there is a lifetime of influences encapsulated herein.  The bulk of the tracks feature Joe Stead on vocals and banjo, with A.M other on guitar on Somos El Barco.  Other titles give the lie to what were probably the core thrusts of his manifesto, for example, Planet for Sale and My Rainbow Race.  There's even Paul's Song(St Paul's letter to the Corinthians).  It all rattles along at a jolly old pace and made me smile throughout.  No there ain't hundreds of instruments, or bundles of originality, most of the original material being clichéd 60's relics, but as he's virtually giving these away I would heartily commend this to you.  If I lived in his constituency he'd get my vote hands down (particularly as the SNP don't stand in West Yorkshire).












Dear Joe.

I find that particular advert meaningless.

The only thing I can say I found vaguely amusing was that in the run up to the election, some wag substituted the face of a certain prime minister whose name is not a million miles from Dave on the main character and posted it on the web.

Ian Petrie





Hi Joe,

Doug had an experience at Whitstable’s Oyster Festival when calling a Barn Dance on the harbour for Tim Edey on Sunday who thought it would be a great diversion from the Celtic concert. Doug began by instructing “Men on one side and Women on the other” and was immediately heckled at by two lesbians who declared “This is Whitstable mate…We’ll have no sexism here, we are all human beings.”….. !!!!

I guess a Dos se Dos wouldn’t be of much use to them either. !!!!





I like what your quoted psychologist says about her efforts with a glass of water but if she wants to appear rigorous in her research she needs to be a bit more precise about how she presents her findings. If she held up that glass for a week it would not become a single iota heavier, it might feel it but it certainly wouldn't become it.

Ray Black

Pedants' Corner


And yes, the apostrophe is exactly where it should be





Thinking of psychology and oldies as referred to in your blog (Vol 179 Aug 2015) all of which I approve of. I suppose you ought to know that this one is not giving up anytime soon at 70. I am too old to go offshore with the Tall Ships Youth Trust TSYT they will not allow that after 65 so crossing the Atlantic with them in Stavros would be out. The Dutch have a different view fortunately for me. I have been able for the good of my soul psychological health and general wellbeing  been offered and able to accept an invitation to sail with another square rigger bark Europa. In October I join her in Tenerife when we shall sail for Salvador in Brazil and from there nonstop to the south,you guessed right Joe, Cape Horn again.  The sea air is bound to be good for me as we battle to the west the hard way round the Horn, the reason is to mark the naming of Cape Horn by Wilhelm van Schouten when he and his ship Eendracht rounded the headland on 29th January 1616.  He named the rock at the bottom of the world Cabos de Hornos after his home town of Hoorn: I never expected to be there once back in 1991 in Søren Larsen but twice now there’s a thing.


Sailing from east to west against the winds and currents in a square rigger is not the easy option, note the shortest such passage was in 1938 when the four mast bark Priwall made 50/50 in 5 days 14 hours, the longest time off the Horn was the full rigger Susanna in 1905, 94 days 50/50. Wish us luck.  


“So down along the southern ocean sailing down around Cape Horn


Chris Roche




Greetings Joe,

I live in the state of Wisconsin USA where our governor, Scott Walker has declared that he will run for the Republican Party Presidential nomination. I mention this because your "Ramblings" comment about some TV ads "turning your stomach" reminded me of much of what is transpiring as Walker and the other Republicans attempt to convince the voters that they are the "most patriotic", "most heterosexual", "most militaristic", and most able to send all of the "illegals" back to their country of origin. These politicians are appealing to the most primitive instincts of human beings. I lost my wife of 40 years to metastatic breast cancer in 2009. I guess that gives me the credentials to claim that I am not gay, although I have always believed that our sexuality exists on a continuum with most people living somewhere on the line between 100 percent gay or 100 percent heterosexual. That aside, my stomach is churning as Walker and the others spew their hateful messages. I am embarrassed that our so called representative democracy cannot seem to find more thoughtful people to hold these "high" offices. I think my core values closely resemble those of President Obama, but he is also beholden to the big corporate interests that dominate our political process. I look forward to your "Ramblings", in part because I am also and old codger, and proud of my status and the perspective it affords.

Thomas Falk

Wisconsin, USA




Dear Joe,

I'm glad I was able to contribute something to your good newsletter this time. Always good to hear from you. I'm back in the hospital for another round of chemo, which so far is going well. I'm feeling stronger and, even if there are still no guarantees, more confident. I've been surrounded by caring staff and friends who come to visit -- hard to feel down and defeated with love like that coming in. Hoping all is well with you, my friend!


Jan Christensen - NY USA.






I got so drunk last night I lost my  glasses. The rest is a blur.





A man is seeking to join the Glasgow Police force.

The Sergeant doing the interview says:
"Your qualifications all look good, but there is an attitude suitability test that you must take before you can be accepted."
Then, sliding a pistol and a box of ammo across the desk, he says:
"Take this pistol and go out and shoot six illegal immigrants, six drug dealers, six Muslim extremists, and a rabbit"
The man being interviewed asks,

"Why the rabbit?"
"Excellent" says the Sergeant. "When can you start?"






A man joins a soccer team and his new teammates inform him, "At your first team dinner as the new guy, you will have to give us a talk about sex." The evening arrives and he gives a detailed, humorous account of his sex life. When he got home, his wife asked how the evening went and not wanting to lie, but also not wanting to explain exactly what happened, he said, "Oh, I had to make a talk about yachting," his wife thought this a little peculiar but said nothing more and went to sleep. The next day she bumped into one of his new teammates at the supermarket and asked, "I heard my husband had to make a speech last night. How did it go?" His mate said smiling, 'Oh, it was excellent! Your husband is clearly very experienced!." The wife looked confused and replied to his mate, "Strange, he has only done it twice and the second time he was sick."






It's game 7 of the NBA finals and a man makes his way to his seat at center court. He sits down and notices that the seat next to him is empty. He leans over and asks his neighbor if someone is sitting there. He responds, "No, the seat's empty." "The first man exclaims, "What?!? Who in their right mind would have a seat like this for the NBA finals and not use it?" The neighbor responds, "Well the seat is mine, but my wife passed away and this is the first NBA finals we haven't been together." The first man responds," I'm sorry to hear that. Wasn't there anyone else, a friend or relative, that could've taken that seat?" The neighbor responds, "No, they're all at the funeral."


Keep smiling, keep singing.



Joe Stead




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