There is a Wolf in Wolferton woods. But it’s a big friendly one.
The Wolf Folk Club started in October 2005 and is regarded by many as the “daddy” – in at the start of the current folk revival. Host Roger Young notes: “There were very few folk clubs around here at that time. Several of those running currently are scions of The Wolf Folk Club having been started by Wolf regulars who wanted more during the month.”
A recent Wolf ran from 8.30pm until midnight and attracted 61 people. Floor spots had two turns each side of the beer break and raffle. When a guest band like Hayley Moyses and the Bluegrass Forum – recently back from Nashville – takes the second half, floor spots provide the first half only.
Some folk clubs are mostly made up of performers sharing their work with each other – nothing wrong with that – but the Wolf attracts a large dedicated regular returning audience which actually outnumbers the performers.
Roger and Patsy Young are genial facilitators, smiling in encouragement – especially of newcomers – and mostly keeping their own musical talents hidden under a bushel. Roger presides over the long sequence of performers with Geordie good humour and bad jokes – and a firm emphasis that this club is about folk as in people.
A handful of the floor spots were comic actors, storytellers, Tudor sonneteers, satirists and other purveyors of spoken word, often with a strong Norfolk flavour.
The music ranged from dedicated amateur to gig-hardened professional. Veterans of the professional folk and jazz and bluesgrass circuit rub shoulders – and sometimes bang guitars, banjos, ukeleles, bodhrans, coconuts – with novices taking the plunge, or trying out a new instrument in public, for the first time.
The solo singing of Lennon and McCartney’s I Wanna Be Your Man (the song and which gave The Rolling Stones their first Top Ten hit half-a-century ago) attracted a backing of guitars, percussion, foot-stomping and backing vocals from all over the large room.
It’s tempting to say these playalongs are the best moments – they certainly bring a smile everyone’s face and a swing to their hips - but the other kind of sharing, where a lone voice sings out and the audience is moved to laughter or sometimes even tears – is just as vital.
Roger is delighted that I find The Wolf Folk Club a pleasing and rewarding environment, but insists it is not “his” but “ours”.
He says: “I have run two folk clubs before. The Honeysuckle Blues Club in Gateshead and the Cannon Folk Club in Newport Pagnell and learned a good deal from those experiences, lessons which I apply in the hosting of this one.
“We have had some fantastic guest performers mainly from the USA. Muriel Anderson, Adam Hurt, Chance McCoy, Dave Bing, Gerry Milnes, Beverly Smith & Carl Jones and Hayley Moyses and the Bluegrass Forum.” (Hayley’s mum is a regular Wolf floorspot.)
Roger continues: “We operate according to the French principles, Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. Everyone is treated equally and is free to play or sing what they want as long as it causes no harm to others neither offends the spirit of brotherhood. The beginner, the nervous or disadvantaged are supported and encouraged to play a full part. There are no ‘stars’.
“We actively discourage any show business or concert mentality. We actively seek to escape from the tyranny of ‘Broadcast Quality’ which has done so much to stultify and suppress the performing and creative arts at village and community level offering as it does the world’s best at the push of a button.
“We are non-profit making. Any proceeds from the raffle are ploughed back into the club. Faces at the club continue to change. There is the hard core of regulars but around the periphery we get some new ones and lose some old ones in a process of slow and steady evolution.
“The quality of a club is entirely dependent on - and the product of - the people who turn up to perform or to help. All that it is, is due to them.
“The warm and welcoming fire which brings the atmosphere to life and the bar service is usually provided by Lorna and Rennie Gifford. The two ladies who go round with the raffle tickets are Toni Kavanagh and Jacquie Candy - they call themselves the ‘Wolf Club Groupies’. Admission is free – the best value for money anywhere in Norfolk.
“The club has become something more akin to an ‘extended family’ rather than an occasional meeting of relative strangers.”
Roger concludes. “Anything which gets people into real activity rather than the vicarious experience via a TV screen is worthwhile in my book.”