Monday, 24 September 2012

Just Another Saturday Night: Sussex 1960, A Folk Music Scene? (Part 3)

The development of a local scene

While friendships and social networks linked some of the traditional singers, it would have been a mistake to assume that, despite their shared Sussex location, most knew each other and interacted on a regular basis. Theirs had been a relatively static culture with scant social or geographic mobility and minimal mediation via publicity to a wider public. Yet the 1950s and 1960s saw far-reaching social changes that impacted upon this residual culture, forcing its members into greater proximity and prominence.

While the breaking up of the urban traditional working-class community in the period after the Second World War has been well documented (e.g. Hall and Jefferson 1976; Clarke and Critcher 1979), this period also witnessed the decline of the agricultural labour force and the transformation of traditional rural communities.

As the extensive railway network was dismantled, private car ownership correspondingly grew bringing greater geographical mobility and easier access to neighbouring towns and to villages. Many small village schools were closed, catchment areas were widened and more children travelled by bus to larger educational establishments in towns, thus breaking long-established generational continuities in hitherto isolated rural communities. With the break-up of the British Empire considerable numbers ex-Colonial armed-forces officers and senior government civil servants returned to the home country and became landlords or regular customers of rural pubs. The idyllic vision of village life held by this ‘Gin and Tonic brigade’ (as they came to be colloquially and unflatteringly known through their choice of drink) effectively gentrified the public house, heightening its class tensions and marginalising the traditional customer base.

A contradictory movement of same time was the ideology of ‘classlessness’ that dominated the, then, contemporary socio-political discourse and pervaded public-house architectural design. Spatial divisions reflecting status and class differences were thought to be no longer relevant or appropriate. The resulting open-plan settings spelt the end for the traditional multi-room public-house layout. Spontaneous singing in pubs became less tolerated, out of keeping with the spirit of the times and an unpleasant throwback to a cruder culture.

Traditional singers who were made to feel unwelcome sought alternative, more sympathetic surroundings, forcing them into more face-to-face meetings and the forging of networks, not only with each other but with the younger members of the emergent culture. To fully appreciate this impact upon the older generation we must first examine how the emergent culture of younger singers became a fully-fledged folk revival with five clearly defined local scenic qualities.

Firstly, it was temporally and geographically delineated and distinctive. The Sussex folk revival began in earnest in the 1960s and peaked in the 1970s. It blossomed first in coastal Brighton albeit with preceding developments to the north at Horsham and to the east at Hastings. It then quickly spread via transportation networks to other county towns such as Worthing, Shoreham, Lewes, Seaford and Eastbourne. Its second scenic feature was the formalisation of musical events. Leading figures in the emergent culture set up and helped run folk clubs. Some clubs had formal membership with annual subscription although most necessitated paid admission by an audience to scheduled sessions by specialised singers at advertised venues. Many used pubs as venues but others employed entirely different types of buildings – coffee bars, church and public halls, ballrooms and restaurants. Even in pubs there was perhaps the utilisation of a stage in a separate upstairs ‘club-room’.

What was therefore occurring here was the organisation of regular singing ‘performances’ differentiated from the wider context of sociality. Although singaround and song-swap sessions remained popular, this led logically to the third scenic feature, the establishment of more formalised role distinctions between producers, fans and singers. The fourth scenic element was the way in which this revival was created, sustained and developed by informal D-I-Y networks relying upon volunteer labour and support facilities. Fifthly and finally, this involved the use of what, in another context, Thornton (1995) has labelled niche and micro media to create an alternative, localised identity in contrast to a mass-mediated, marketed musical mainstream. An examination of how the folk clubs were promoted will provide an interesting illustration of these fourth and fifth scenic elements.

Early events were publicised by the use of micro media such as posters, handbills and brief newsletters. These were independently produced, often crafted or typed by hand, and personally distributed or posted to club members. As the folk revival grew, the increasing number of individual clubs ensured the proliferation of such publicity material. An attempt to collate these into one publication had led by 1970 to The Brighton Folk Diary.
Edited by scene members Jim Marshall and Vic Smith, early issues of this listings magazine were produced though home-based collation and stapling sessions by volunteers. Its success in spreading the word and subsequent expansion of areas and clubs covered was reflected in its change of title by 1973 to The Sussex Folk Diary. Jim Marshall continues to this day to edit and produce what is now called The Folk Diary, spreading the word beyond the county boundaries into Surrey and Kent.

Niche media such as the local press were uninterested in developments happening in folk clubs until Jim Marshall secured a regular column alongside the existing jazz section in the Brighton and Hove Gazette. First published in June 1967 and interestingly entitled ‘The Folk Scene’, these “What’s-On” guides ran until 1981. A new technological development occurred when Jim Marshall began to produce home-made tapes in his front room for transmission on local radio. As it was with the press, the radio station had no in-house folk specialist, so invited Marshall to submit suitable material. The ensuring combinations of interviews and musical snippets made on his portable tape recorder were broadcast monthly on BBC Radio Brighton from late-1968, the fifteen minutes format reflected in the title ‘Folk 15’. By 1971 these radio slots had become a half hour programme re-titled ‘Minstrels Gallery’. Subsequently lengthened to one hour and recorded at the studio, they continued until 1996 – British radio’s longest-running folk music programme.

Sources for whole article


Bennett, Clive (2002), Sussex Folk: The Folk Song Revival In Sussex, Bakewell: Country Books.

Clarke, John and Critcher, Chas (eds.) (1979) Working-Class Culture: Studies in History and Theory, London: Hutchingson.

Copper, Bob (1973) Songs & Southern Breezes: Country Folk & Country Ways, London: Heinemann.

Hall, Stuart and Jefferson, Tony (eds.) (1976) Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain, London: Hutchingson.

Harker, Dave (1985) Fakesong: The Manufacture of British ‘Folksong 1700 to the Present Day, Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Muggleton, David (2011) Just another Saturday Night: Sussex 1960 – eine Folkmusikszene? In ‘They Say I’m Different’: Popularmusik, Szenen und ihre Akteruinnen (Edited by W. Fichna and R. Reitsamer), pp. 21-36. Wien: Löcker Verlag.

Musical Traditions Records (2000), Just Another Saturday Night, Sussex 1960: Songs From Country Pubs, Liner notes accompanying Double Compact Disc MTCD309-10, Stroud: Musical Traditions.

Peterson, Richard A. and Bennett, Andy (2004), ‘Introducing Music Scenes’, in Andy Bennett and Richard A. Peterson (eds.) Music Scenes: Local, Translocal and Virtual, pp. 1-15, Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.

Sinfield, Alan (1989), Literature, Politics and Culture in Post-War Britain

Thornton, Sarah (1995) Club Cultures: Music, Media and Subcultural Capital, Cambridge: Polity.

Williams, Raymond (1977), Marxism and Literature, Oxford: Oxford University Press


EFDSS – English Folkdance and Song Society,, (accessed December 2009)

Musical Traditions,, (accessed December 2009)

Topic Records,, (accessed December 2009)


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