Ely Folk Club takes place in The Old Dispensary, 13 St Mary's Street, Ely, Cambs, CB7 4ER. There is no bar, but you are welcome to bring your own drinks or buy drinks from the pub across the road and bring them with you.
New start time: From September 2013 events at Ely Folk Club will start at 8.00pm, unless otherwise stated.
Concerts take place most months, usually on Wednesday evenings. We also hold occasional extra events.
Tickets may be booked in advance by telephoning 01353 740999 or 01353 664706.
The first meeting of Ely Folk Club took place on September 5th 1990, in the Kempen Room at the Maltings and featured The Kipper Family from Norfolk. The large, enthusiastic audience was delighted at the idea that Ely now had its own Folk Club. The founder members were Gerry and Sue Rees, who had recently moved to Haddenham from the Uxbridge area, where Gerry had for many years run the successful Load Of Hay Folk Club.
The club had a venue arranged, (The Maltings was too big to use on a regular basis), in the back room of the Angel public house. Guests in that first year included Richard Grainger, Damien Barber, Brian Peters and Andy Caven, all of whom have made return visits to the club, local band Witcham Toll. Top duo, Cosmotheka played at the club in April 1991, again in the Maltings as the Angel would not have been big enough to accommodate the large audience.
In September 1991, it was decided to move the club to the Red, White and Blue in Chief Street, as there was a suitable, more comfortable room there. Again the club played host to a wide variety of performers, locals Big Apple Pie, Phil and Phillippa Lyons and some nationally known artistes including Artisan, for whom the Maltings was again used.
The management of the pub changed several times during the year, and it soon became clear that this was not the ideal venue that had been hoped, so when the club was offered a home at The Royal Standard in Fore Hill, it was time for another move.
The opening night at the Standard, in September 1992 featured the band Shave The Monkey, who became one of the top folk-based bands in the country, playing at Glastonbury, Cropredy and numerous other large festivals both here and abroad.
In the Summer of 1993, Sue and Gerry moved to Northern Ireland, leaving the organisation of the club to fellow Haddenhamite, Ruth Bramley.
The club grew in popularity, attracting more performers and bigger audiences. The guest list featured not only big name performers such as Jim Couza, Anam and Show of Hands, but also lesser-known acts, and some local talent as well. The regular Singers' Nights were popular too - a chance for amateur performers to "strut their stuff" in front of an appreciative audience. This opportunity for new performers to develop their skills seems to be unique to the folk music idiom, with many well-known pop stars having started out by singing in their local folk club, e.g. Rod Stewart, Barbara Dickson.
The club continued to thrive, with audiences growing, until May 1997 when it was revealed that the Standard did not have the necessary Public Entertainments Licence which meant that another home had to be found at very short notice. Without the PEL a venue can only have soloists or duos, with no amplification, thus rather limiting the choice of artists who could be featured.
The Maltings helped out by offering the club the use of a room for a few meetings, then in September 1997 the club moved out to the Ely City Football Club. Unfortunately, this proved unsuccessful with people reluctant to come so far from the city centre, so another venue had to be found.
The first night at the Cutter Inn was phenomenal. It was the Christmas meeting in 1997 and featured excellent medieval duo Misericordia, who played to a near-capacity audience. There was some concern that the mince pies laid on that night might not be sufficient!
During the stay at The Cutter, the club went from strength to strength, with even more top name performers, Huw and Tony Williams, Tom McConville and return visits from favourites Show of Hands and Shave the Monkey. All looked well until May 1999 when the problem of the PEL again reared its head. The pub had failed to renew its licence, so the club again had to move, this time to the King's Arms in St Mary's Street.
It was at this point that a committee was formed to run the club. Ruth was joined by Ely residents Andy and Joan Wall, Sue Bursnall and Dave Boddy.
To get around the PEL problem it was decided that the club should become "members only", but that meant meeting in a separate building from the pub. The King's Arms has just such a building, behind the pub, so the committee spent much of the Summer break preparing the room, re-rendering and painting walls and generally cleaning up. Some chairs were purchased so as not to remove all those in the pub itself, and all looked hunky dory.
The Maltings was still used for occasional "big" events, such as Steve Knightley's stunning solo performance in October.
Although the room at the King's Arms was small, it seemed to be the best solution to the problem… until the cold weather set in. Despite the heaters, the room was almost unbearably cold, and audiences started to dwindle. Those made of tougher stuff sat huddled in layers of coats and blankets, and maybe the odd hot-water bottle!
It was at that point that the new manager at the Cutter invited us back, with plans to renew the PEL. Some investigation was done about whether the club could use the function room as a members only club. This seemed to be a grey area, but in February 2000 the club moved in, with an impressive guest list including Chris Wood and Andy Cutting, Alan Burke and Nancy Kerr and James Fagan.
Just a few months later, in May, the marching orders were again issued. The Maltings again stepped in to help out whilst another venue was found. The Shoulder of Mutton at Witchford looked like a possibility, but unfortunately that did not work out, so in July the club moved back to the Maltings, with some financial assistance from ADeC (Arts Development in East Cambridgeshire).
Despite the comfortable surroundings at the Maltings, and the superb selection of performers on offer, the audience numbers had fallen dramatically. The club's 10th birthday celebrations in October were poorly attended and the club suffered a large financial loss.
The club looked likely to close its doors at the end of the year. However, a few events were planned to keep the club ticking over as an occasional event. The sellout concert featuring Martin Carthy, who even took part in a specially written Mummers' Play, persuaded the organisers that all was not lost, and plans were once more afoot.
By September 2001 the club was again meeting regularly every month at the Maltings, and hosted an impressive list of some of the top folk musicians including Nancy Kerr and James Fagan, Tanglefoot (from Canada), Little Johnny England, Vin Garbutt, Jez Lowe and the Bad Pennies, Colvin Quarmby and many more. There have also been extra events, such as a Hurdy Gurdy, Bagpipe and Guitar workshop weekend held in the Arkenstall Village Centre, Haddenham. The club has hosted several events in conjunction with [act] (Arts in Cambs on Tour), and organised a coach trip to the Albert Hall to see Show of Hands.
And then...Ely Folk Club was on the move again. To mark our last meeting at the Maltings, the Mummers' Play was resurrected, slightly modified and performed on December 15th 2006, with the parts of Old Father Time and the Maltster played by Tom Napper and Tom Bliss respectively, (our guests on that night). The club was offered a new home in the Stables bar at the Lamb Hotel in Lynn Road, Ely, from January 2007, and it's there we have remained, apart from a brief break in 2011 when the Lamb was closed for refurbishment.
In February 2013 we received news that the Lamb has been granted planning permission to convert the Stables Bar into bedrooms, so, once again, we are on the move. From March 2013, Ely Folk Club will take place at the Old Dispensary, St Mary's Street.
The original script to the Mummers' Play of 2000 can be found here.
Some of the musicians who have played at Ely Folk Club are listed here.
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