Memories of our first Chairman – Roger Davies

In writing this history I am conscious that people who helped to start the festival started at different times, at different levels and with different efforts and involvement.

For me it started as the Treasurer of the Sports Pavilion with Keith Thomson on that committee who started a folk club at the Sports Pavilion to improve the Pavilion’s finances that were at a low ebb because of flooding. (I wanted to learn how to play the guitar and rather than pay for tuition, joined in at the Pavilion where the leading lights at the time were Med Snookes and Norman Laurie Smith.)

One night Keith and I presented the Town Council with a cheque for £1,000 from the Carnival towards updating the town’s playground. After the presentation we retired to the King’s Head and as the carnival committee had decided to disband we chatted about what we would do next. After a couple of pints we decided to run a folk day and wandered over the road to the STAR to check out the upstairs room and the beer. After chatting to the landlord Ray Bird we obtained permission. We approached people at the folk club (which had moved from the pavilion via the Kings Head to the Three Kings at Hanley Castle).We held our first meeting where Ted and Jane Webb, Steve and Pat Cox, Keith, Norman, Barbara Hinton and I decided that we would fund any losses up to £60 each. Later it was decided to ask Pete Geoghegan to book people to play and sing at the STAR on the 8th July 1989. Kempsey Morris, led by Richard Hannah , hosted the dancing and Old Meg and Kempsey danced on the day. A ceilidh was held at the boathouse. I did the programme sheet and under pressure to make it look better…..the one legged cat playing the fiddle was launched! We welcomed Artisan and Jez Lowe as well as the more local performers Bill Walters, Ray Hume, Med Snookes, Victoria Crivelli, and Pete and Stevie Geogheghan.

Richard and Diana Hannah were welcome additions to the committee where it was decided…. following Pete’s advice, to hold a five day festival on the first bank holiday in May! Ian Lewis, the landlord of the Kings Head, offered a marquee at the pub. This was agreed, but sadly Keith did not agree, and dropped out from both the Folk Club and the festival. Pat Cox looked after the Folk club and for my sins I was appointed chairman and treasurer of the festival. We were lucky in that first year to be allowed the use of the sports field and the pavilion and many many thanks are owed to the town council and to the sports club for allowing that to happen each year.

Finance was a big issue. We held raffles at the 3 Kings folk club and held many fund raising events…. including Vin Garbett at the Star, ceilidhs and discos. We were lucky to receive a generous donation from the carnival committee when it was disbanded. Also lucky, at the very last minute to receive a pump priming grant of £500 for three years from West Midland Arts. We survived the first year despite losing nearly all of the money we had raised. We learned a lot of hard lessons in the first two years of running the festival. After ten years of running the festival we formed the company limited by guarantee that still runs the festival. This was done in May 2001. The original directors were myself, Richard and Diana Hannah, Ray and Verna Connolley. I remember swearing an oath at the time…… to form the company….. and having to pay for swearing and for someone listening!

The committee expanded with tremendous support from everyone who attended the folk club, especially Rowan Thomas, Bob Dovey, Mike Jarvis, Norman Laurie Smith, Med Snookes, Cresby, Rowley Alcock, Roy and Sue Jones, Rod Penlington and Pat Scrase, Bill and Sue Smith.

Over 30 years I believe a friendly fun and frolic festival has been achieved. Each year we celebrate the birth of our favourite one legged one eyed cat fiddler born on the 5th May 1640.