1. What is the Topic Folk Club?
A Bradford-based weekly live music club that provides a stage for performers broadly in the area of folk music and song (but not folk dance). The Topic books a lot of professional artists but also, like most folk clubs, offers amateurs and budding professionals of various levels of experience a chance to perform in public. A typical annual programme has about 35 Main Guest nights and, once a month plus every week in August, 15 Singers' and Musicians' nights. Depending on how the dates fall, we may be closed around Xmas and New Year.
2. What range of music is on offer at the club?
Quite a variety, from traditional unaccompanied singers to contemporary electrified bands. We have singer-songwriters like Jez Lowe, sometimes alone and sometimes with The Bad Pennies; performers with a guitar and a political attitude such as Roy Bailey; all-women acapella groups like Soundsphere or Wench All; folk-rock bands like The Durbervilles, The Queensberry Rules and Entropy; solo interpreters of Americana like Judy Cook; duos specialising in fiddle and accordion dance tunes like Richard Heacock and Becky Price; 60's blues veterans like Wizz Jones and Roger Sutcliffe; shanty masters like Kimber's Men; specialists in the Scottish, Irish, English and Welsh folk tradition; a band made up of folk music graduates from Newcastle (CrossCurrent); and writers and performers of American folk like Dana and Susan Robinson. Guests are mostly from the UK (many from Yorkshire and the North East) but also from the US, Canada, Australia, South Africa. Take a look at the A to Z links to websites of our past guests
3. Where is the Topic?
At The Merchant Bar, Peckover Street, Little Germany. BD1 5BD Tel: 01274 721100 . A map is here.
4. When is club night?
Every week, on Thursdays, from 8:00 to end at 10:30. The club is closed only very rarely, generally only when it clashes with Christmas Day or New Year.
5. Members and non-Members all welcome?
Even though the Topic has all the formal club accoutrements such as members, an elected committee, an annual general meeting, a treasurer and a club chequebook with two signatories, anyone can come along to club nights without being a member (subject, that is, to normal licensing laws regarding entities like young children). Membership costs £5 pa, running from January 1 to December 31. It saves you £1 on the cost of entrance and gives you a chance to get involved with running the club. Ask about membership when you visit.
6. What does it cost to get in? And where do you get tickets?
We almost never have tickets for sale in advance, so you pay on the door. Entry prices on Guest Nights are always the same, whoever is performing. The current prices of £5 for members and £6 for non-members have been held for several years, and will eventually have to rise; but our policy is to hold them at this affordable level as long as we can.. If you are performing a floor spot on guest nights you still pay the normal amount. On Singers' and Musicians' singaround nights, where there are no paid guests, entry is free for everybody.
7. Where does the money go?
We pay our professional guest artists, of course, and that generally accounts for 100% (occasionally even more!) of the entrance money on the door on any one night (depending on artist and the minimum guarantee required). The club is otherwise financed out of membership fees and the raffle (and occasional items of merchandise) which pays for things such as ads in Tykes' News, printing flyers, paying web costs, and an emergency pot in case the audience take does not reach the agreed minimum guest fee.
8. So how does a typical night pan out?
It varies according to the type of night (See Section 10 for types) but the evening starts at 8.00. On guest nights, the MC will perhaps introduce the floor singers, and/or a Featured Support artist, and then the main act will perform for 40 minutes or so. After a short break the structure will be repeated - floor spots, main guest - with the aim of finishing up around 10:30pm. There will also be the raffle. By contrast, Singers' and Musicians' nights are informally organised, and no money changes hands (well, except at the bar).
9. Can I perform at the Topic?
Yes. Floor singers are welcome to on every club evening (though we can't guarantee a turn), but please sign in before 7:45. The easiest time to get a chance to play is on a Singers' and Musicians' night when everyone can have a go; see the next section (10) for more details. If you want to play on a professional basis as Main Guest or on a Double Header evening first see our Bookings Policy in Section 13 and then write to us at email@example.com
10. What do you mean by terms like "Double Header" and "Floor Singer"?
We have a variety of club evenings and types of performer, with levels ranging from solo first-timer having a go to international touring professionals, and here they are:
Singers’ and Musicians’ evenings.
These are sometimes called singarounds and are about once a month (and every week in August) and are very informal, with attendance anything from five to around 30. In some clubs you go to the front and standup to perform, but here participants take it in turns to tackle a song from wherever they are sitting. Sometimes a theme is announced in the website or publicity - say, Burns night, or Death, or The Sea - but if so it is not in the least compulsory and is simply intended to give a bit of inspiration. Sing what you like. Not many people turn up just to listen, but you can if you want to, for fun or, for instance, if you want to get a feel for what goes on before tackling a song at a later gathering. There is no admission charge and there is a raffle only if there are enough people there. If you're new, just show up and introduce yourself and see what happens.
Floor singers are unpaid performers on the nights when professional acts are booked. Floor spots are not booked, though you might want to let someone know in advance if you want to perform (especially if it involves lugging a double bass over to the venue...). We can use between two and six floor singers in an evening, usually more available in the first half of the evening. Floor singers generally perform two numbers, and come to the front of the room to perform to the audience. As well as there being no fee payable, floor singers pay the normal entry charge to come in. Please be sure to sign in with the MC by 7:45 on club nights, so the MC can work out a running order. . There are some online tips for what to do/expect in Floorsinging for Beginners; some of the contributors to that have, as it happens, played the Topic in their time, but there's no other connection.
This is a formal support act to a Main Guest, attracting a (small) fee, and might be booked weeks or even months ahead, affording the chance to get into Topic printed advance publicity (as well as onto the website and into the historical archives of gigs since 1957!).
This features two acts of equal billing co-headlining, each performing two sets of about 25 minutes each. Double headliner slots are only offered to performers of a standard similar, or very close, to full Main Guest ability, and are generally booked six months in advance. The arrangement is much as for a single headline guest: they get the door take, split between them, and there will be floor singers on the night .
This is the standard format for professional artists, who perform two 40-minute slots. Such bookings are reserved for well-established performers and/or performers who have worked their way up through one or all of the stages outlined above. Main guests can be booked approximately 9 to 12 months in advance, and all the door money goes to them.
11. Who has played at The Topic?
Quite a few over the years including, in the old days, Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl, Ramblin Jack Elliott, Bert Jansch, Shirley Collins, Robin Williamson and his Incredible String Band, Dave Swarbrick and Simon Nicol, Martin Carthy, Tim Hart and Maddy Prior, Billy Connolly and Gerry Rafferty, Christy Moore, Mike Harding, Vin Garbutt and June Tabor. More recently Julie Felix, Kate Rusby, Jez Lowe, Artisan, Pete Morton, The Durbervilles, Maggie Boyle, Kirsty McGee, Plumhall, Jon Palmer Acoustic Band, Rod Clements, Roger Sutcliffe and Wizz Jones have played.
There is anecdotal evidence that a very young Bob Dylan, on tour with Ramblin Jack Elliot, once played a floor spot, to very limited contemporary approval. However, it looks as though Paul Simon never did show up - despite the persistent legend that he was refused even a floor spot, presumably on his "tour of one-night stands". On the website there is a list of hundreds of weblinks to various known past guests, and also a comprehensive gig list since 1957.
12. When was the club started up?
September 1956, by Alex Eaton and friends. It was not the first folk club in the UK, but it is the only survivor from then and now claims to be the oldest continuously-operating weekly folk club of its type in the world. By our reckoning, it has only been shut on 50-odd out of more than 2,500 possible club nights in that time (mostly for Christmas and New Year). It has been in fourteen venues, having moved to The Merchant Bar in 2019. See the History page of the website for more background.
13. What is the booking policy for professional guests?
a. First performance
We could fill our schedules two or three times over, and while we don't want to get stuck repeating the same programme over and over again, we only have a little room to experiment with artists who are unknown. One route to a headline booking is by attending a Singers and Musicians session, or asking for a Featured Support slot.
Headline performers who have followed this route to Headline status include Duncan McFarlane, Roger Davies, Stuart Douglas, Yan Tan Tether, Trials of Cato, Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne and Bella Gaffney. All these now-established Main Guest artists appeared at the Topic first at Singers' and Musicians' evenings, and most then also performed as Featured Support, when we had that option, before being booked as a main guest.
b. Return policy.
It is rare that a Main Guest will be invited back or booked again earlier than 18 months after their last performance. Policy for Double Headers is more relaxed, but as demand for these slots increases, it is unlikely that a booked return earlier than a year later could be expected. Floor singers perform according to demand, and absolutely anyone can come and perform any time at a Singers' and Musicians' evening.
Main and double-header guests are paid 90-100% of the door take on the night (subject to an agreed minimum). All other club costs are paid out of the cost of membership and the raffle.
d. How to approach us.
If you’d like to appear at the Topic, please do get in touch. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can just turn up at a Singers’ and Musicians' evening, or email to request a floor spot at a guest night. If you are looking for a more formal booking, by all means send a demo CD (they will be returned, or paid for, on request). This should be accompanied by as much informative blurb as you can muster: performance style, history, previous performance venues, reviews, website address and so on, including your geographical location - all grist for the marketing mill.
14. Who runs the Topic?
There is a Constitution, under which a committee of eight members is elected at each Annual General Meeting. The Committee meets quarterly. Specific roles such as Secretary, Treasurer, and Committee Chair are appointed by and from the Committee, and other Committee members agree to take on the crucial roles of Guest Artist booker, Publicity, and Door Manager. There is a solid core of Committee members who have been active for several years (though none prior to 1996); but every year one or two Committee members step down, so there is always room - and encouragement - for any member who'd like to help run the club to join the Committee.