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At: Groove Pad, 48 Saltaire Road, Shipley BD18 3HN
Venue (not Club) Tel: 01274 586542

Est: 1956



The Topic Folk Club
An Outline of History

Topic Fiddler Logo

Club Constitution, History,
Memoirs, Records,
Facts & Trivia

Club Constitution

The Club's Beginning
By Alex Eaton. A report on the earliest years of The Topic Folk Club written for 30th Anniversary and published in 1990 in Tykes' News in three parts.

The First 12 Years
By Denis Sabey, Tykes' News 1968

The First 25 Years
Booklet produced by the club in 1981

The Club in 1970-72
By Trevor Carolan. A personal memoir with some photos

The Topic at 60
The view from 2016, by John Waller

Three T&A Articles
Written by John Waller in 2022

Historic Photo Gallery
A selection of photographs from the very early days of the Club

Songs for The Topic at 60
Songs written by club members to celebrate The Topic's 60th anniversary, performed 3 November 2016

Gigs List
Club nights from 1957 to last week

Compiling the Records
Trevor Charnock on tracking down sources for the gigs listed

Guest Artist Links A to Z
Web links for 732 Topic acts

The Club's 15 Venues

Sept 1956 to 11th Apr 1958:
Laycock's Rooms, Albion Court

18th Apr 1958 to Aug 1959:
Oddfellows'/Unity Hall, Rawson Square

4th Sept 1959 to ?Apr 1960:
Fox and Goose, Canal Rd

May 1960 to mid-1963:
Oddfellows'/Unity Hall again

Mid-1963 to 22nd Nov 1968:
Sun Inn, Sunbridge Rd

29th Nov 1968 to 24th Jan 1969:
Market Tavern, Godwin St

The year of 4 venues: The Market Tavern, 6 weeks, Rawson Hotel (Jan 31 only), The Ukrainian Club (Feb 7th-Sept 19th), and then the start of the 22-year stay at The Star Hotel.

Sept 26th, 1969 to Mar 1st, 1991:
Star Hotel, Westgate

March 8th, 1991 to Jul 8th, 1995:
Peel Hotel, Richmond Rd

Jul 13th, 1995 to Dec 29th, 2005:
Melborn Hotel White Abbey Rd

Jan 5th 2006 to Feb 28th 2008:
Cock and Bottle Barkerend Rd

Mar 6th 2008 to Dec 19th 2013:
Bradford Irish Club Rebecca St

Jan 2nd 2014 to Aug 22nd 2019:
Glyde House, Glydegate

Aug 29th 2019 onwards
The Merchant Bar, Peckover St

--20 month Covid Break--

Nov 4th 2021 - ongoing
Groove Pad, Saltaire Rd, Shipley

Club Night
For nearly 40 years the club met on Fridays - also with Saturday concerts in some of the earlier years - but it has been Thursday nights from March 24 1994.

Logo & Straplines
June 1995 - first appearance of the Wandering Fiddler logo
September 1995 - "Probably" dropped from "Probably the oldest Folk Club in the World".
January 2009 - Wandering Fiddler dropped. New strapline

Drinking & Smoking
The club was a non-booze venue at the very start, with a lot of school-age attendees, but moved to a pub (the Fox and Goose) in 1959, so U-18s no longer allowed. March 1995 saw "Thank you for not smoking" appear, and 1st July 2007 smoking in pubs was made illegal.

The raffle started on 26th August 1966, after the Committee had noticed funds depeleting. The first prize was a 15/- record token, and 1 6/8 was taken in ticket sales (a little under half what was taken on the door that night). It has continued ever since.

Secretaries & Bookers

Club Secretaries
1958 to 1982

Isobel Arlott
Sept 1958 - Sept 1959
AM (Molly) Brown
Sept 1959 - ?
Sandra A Kitchingham
April 1961 - ?1962
Malcolm McGeorge
?1962 - Aug 1964
Hilary Stevenson / Tideswell
Sep 1964 - March 1966
Pat Butterfield
April 1966 - June 1967
Jan Heatherington
July 1967 - March 1968
H Denis Sabey
April 1968 - May 1970
Jim Boyes
May 1970 - Nov 1971
Roger Sutcliffe
Nov 1971 - June 1972
Ken Hall
July 1972 - March 1974
Mick Wheeler
March 1974 - March 1976
Trevor Charnock
April 1976 - April 1982

Booking Secretaries
1982 to now

Ronnie Wharton
May 1982 - May 1988
Deanna Norman

June 1988 - March 1992
Brenda Baldwin
March 1992 - March 1993
Roger Sutcliffe
March 1993 - Nov 1994
Philomena Hingston
(sometimes with Finola Hingston)
Nov 1994 - Dec 2003
John Waller
Dec 2003 - Dec 2008
(with Simon Alexander Jun-Dec 2006)
Rahel Guzelian
Jan 2009 - Dec 2010
Joe Grint
Jan 2011 - Jan 2012
Anthony Charnock
Jan 2012 - Sep 2013
Sue Gaffney
Oct 2013 - Dec 2015
Rahel Guzelian
Jan 2016 - Jan 2018
Sue Gaffney
Jan 2018-Jan 2020
Martin Richards
Jan 2020 on


NB: The first few months of a new booker's reign were generally booked by the previous incumbent.

The Topic was founded in 1956 by Alex Eaton - once he had left the local Young Communist League choir - and some friends. It was the height of the Cold War, with Suez and the Hungarian Uprising dominating the headlines. From its very beginnings as a fairly informal opportunity for like-minded youths - many of them teenagers still at school - to get together and talk politics and sing folk songs or play skiffle, up to its current policy of around two-thirds guest acts, The Topic was always and remains now a weekly club (sometimes, in the earliest days, twice-weekly). Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020-21 put a big dent in that record.

For more information about the early days written by people nearer the time, have a look at Denis Sabey's article on the history of the Topic (published in Tykes' News in 1968), and The Committee's 25th Anniversary Booklet (published in 1981). The longest historical article is by Alex Eaton himself: The Topic Folk Club: 30th Anniversary, published in 1990 in Tykes' News in three parts. As well as covering the very first few years of the club in the late 1950s, Alex also discusses the wider folk and skiffle scene in Yorkshire and London and the simple difficulty of getting to hear and learn traditional songs. He writes too about the political and social environment of the folk revival, including the anti-nuclear and Workers' Education movements.

Alex Eaton had no note of the exact day or date of the first meeting, but it was some time in September of 1956 in Laycock's Rooms in Albion Court, at one time a place where political activists spoke and debated. He says of the very first venue "The room we entered was dingy, dusty and depressing, but we had no rent to pay at least. Most of the chairs were heaped at the back. We slumped in the few chairs arranged around the stained, green baize-covered table where the political orators dispensed their wisdom, for there were not many of us either. I had the only instrument, an excellent cello-bodied jazz guitar and we sang and talked a long time. We continued to meet there every Friday from then on. We had no name and no audience but our hopes were high."

Whichever specific date the club actually started, for a long time The Topic celebrated its birthday in early November, including the 25th Anniversary Party in 1981. This probably recognises the point when the club became organisationally more structured. One spur to creating a formal club that charged money - a shilling per person (5p in current money) in early days - was the desire to raise funds for refugees from the Hungarian Uprising of 22-24 October 1956. Money was also used to buy records and books as necessary research for the members to find out about folk song at a time when information was harder to find than it became in the age of the internet (where you're reading this, of course).

Since that time there have been peaks, slumps and shifts in the popularity, influence, styles and purpose of what is broadly called folk music, the definition of which is still argued about and which arguably (obviously) encompasses traditional harvest songs with unknown authors, 60s protest songs by very well-known authors, international roots music, Mississippi blues, electrified folk-rock, Irish pub songs, songs of the industrial tradition, skiffle, sea shanties, travellers' songs, Celtic new age, various European strands and a capella harmonising groups, among others. With all this the Topic has survived and adapted when all the other clubs formed before it (and many since) have folded up, and now it claims to be the oldest folk club in the world - certainly the oldest continuously-operating weekly folk club.

How do we justify this? Googling "the oldest folk club in the world" all you get is Topic references (admittedly many of the references come from this site...) Ewan MacColl had founded the first English folk club, the Ballads and Blues, in London in 1953; later known as The Singers' Club, it closed in 1991. The Good Earth, also in London, was founded in 1954 but had gone by 1959, by which time, according to Alex Eaton, the only provincial clubs listed in Sing along with the Topic were Wayfarers in Manchester and Spinners in Liverpool, both now long gone (though it seems The Bridge, see below, should also have been mentioned).

The Cornell Folk Song Club in New York was founded at some point in the 50s, maybe only as a university society to start with, and even now seems only to be fully-functioning during term-time. The Bush Music Club, Inc in Sydney was founded in 1954, but seems to be less a weekly folk club than an EFDSS-style organisation with publications along with dance and music - specifically bush music - workshops. The Bridge Folk Club in Newcastle was founded by Louis Killen and Johnny Handle in 1958, putting it in the same sort of ball-park era as the Topic. Its claim to longevity fame is that it has been in just one venue all its existence - apart from a 6-month gap for refurbishment of the pub - which the Topic certainly can't claim.

Although it's moved a rugby team of times in all, nearly half of The Topic's existence has been at just two venues - 22 years at the Star (1969-1991) and 10 years at the Melborn (July 1995 to the end of 2005, when the Melborn announced it was closing as a pub). You can see photos of the old venues, from Laycock's Rooms to The Irish Club, here.

The Topic has always been weekly. On Fridays for the first 38 years or so, Thursdays since 1994. According to records including the 1981 Silver Jubilee History and the Gig List 1957-Now, the club has been closed on less than 50 club nights (almost always Xmas and New Year) since it started. In its very early days it was often going twice a week, with a club night on Friday and a concert night on Saturday. So over the years there have been about 3,000 active club nights; and as well as the paid guest acts hundreds of other people have appeared on the Topic stage: semi-professional support acts, visiting club exchanges, and local singers and musicians.

The club was a place for young people to meet and talk folksong and politics and sing for themselves when it started. The very first guest was London-based atomic physicist Dr John Hasted, but it was a while before paid guests made regular appearances. We do have a very substantial but not yet 100% record of gigs going back to 1957 and it would be nice to fill in any the remaining holes. If anyone has old diaries, flyers, letters or other documents with missing information, please let Trevor Charnock know as he is acting as historian of the club and is collecting what he can so we can put it on the site.

We also have links to the websites of or other online references to over 700 individuals and bands who have appeared on the Topic stage since the 1950s. Well-known visitors over the years include Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl, Dominic Behan, Bert Lloyd, Ramblin Jack Elliott, Vin Garbutt, Bert Jansch, Shirley Collins, Robin Williamson and his Incredible String Band, Dave Swarbrick and Simon Nicol, Jez Lowe and the Bad Pennies, Martin Carthy, The Ian Campbell Folk Group, Jerry Silverman, Tim Hart and Maddy Prior, Ashley Hutchings, Billy Connolly, Christy Moore, Gordon Giltrap, Richard Digance, The Watersons, Mike Harding, June Tabor, The Oyster Band, Roy Bailey, Show of Hands, Kathryn Tickell, Alan Hull, Bob Pegg, Dick Gaughan, Kate Rusby, Davy Graham and Alexis Korner. And many others - Roger Sutcliffe made his 40th-anniversary appearance in 2004.

There is anecdotal evidence only that a very young Bob Dylan might have made a floor-spot appearance once, though it looks certain that Paul Simon never did show up - despite the legend. Among other names of the 60s and 70s, Al Stewart was never booked and we have correspondence to show that Ralph McTell was booked (for December 1969) but was withdrawn by his agent when his burgeoning career enabled him to fill bigger venues.

There is now a pretty full roster of guests, from the US, Canada, South Africa and Australia as well as all over the UK and Ireland, supported by local floor singers, and when there are no visiting artists there are singers' and musicians' nights, which have sometimes been loosely-themed. On any Thursday night you can just listen or you can contribute a song or two and continue the traditional ethos of the earliest days, with people making music for themselves and each other right there, live.

In 1981 the Topic committee produced a 25th anniversary pamphlet containing a brief history of the Topic to that point. At the end of it the committee looked forward to the next 25 years. We got there, and marked the landmark in 2006 not with a big party or weekend concerts but with an Autumn Season of guest bookings including blasts from the past such as Wizz Jones, Vin Garbutt, Allan Taylor and Julie Felix. And a 50th Anniversary T-shirt..

That second tranche of 25 years is now also well in the past and we are over halfway into the third quarter century. Maybe we will indeed be celebrating the 75th anniversary in the autumn of 2031.

The Covid Pandemic did put a bit of a dent in the smooth flow of history. The club, along with every other music and entertainment and sport venue in the country, had to close during the worst of the Covid situation. The Topic was shut for a good 20 months from the 12th March 2020, when it was at the Merchant Bar in Little Germany, to 4th November 2021, when we reopened at the Groove Pad in Shipley - our 15th venue.

Come along now we are open again, show support and join in. In a world where commoditised entertainment is pumped to consumers' homes via many different channels so that global media corporations can lever money out of your pocket and drop it into their revenue streams, it is good to do something for real.

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