7 folk
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Originally called “The Methodist Messengers” for the purposes of taking a Wells Road Methodist Church concert item to Baildon in 1965, the seven performers agreed they rather enjoyed the experience .... things developed from there for Liz Ellis, Gill Harrison, Margo Sutherland, Malcolm Atkinson, Richard Bailey, Brian Dickinson and Syd Hunter.
Liz married Brian Dickinson; Margo married Malcolm Atkinson. On their marriage in 1968, the Dickinsons moved to the Midlands at which point Keith Wilde stepped in as guitarist. He had been at Leeds Road Congregational Chapel one Sunday where the 7-Folk were singing. Inspired by the music and knowing Malcolm, Keith offered his services should the group ever need a guitarist. Within a week, Keith got the call - Liz and Brian were moving away! Maintaining the group’s close friendships, Gill married Keith Wilde. Carol White then, briefly, Linda Rutter stepped in to replace Liz. By the time Syd also moved away, Sue Varley had stepped into the final line-up. It occasionally proved difficult to maintain the membership of seven, causing some confusion when only 5 or 6 turned up!
Most Saturdays, some Sundays and the occasional weekday evening after work, they were out and about, to the point rehearsals were often held on the move in the Atkinsons’ Bedford van. As time went by they thought nothing of heading off to the county’s furthest corners and beyond, appearing at an amazing range of venues. Larger local venues included the Royal Hall, Harrogate; Leeds Town Hall and St George’s Hall, Bradford.
The original 7-Folk
7-Folk Westminster Central Hall (1969)
LP sleeve photo
Autographed tambourine
Reunion for eight 7-Folk
At a time when bands/groups were going for volume with electric guitars, kit and amps, the “7-Folk” chose a different dimension: one acoustic guitar (eventually a 12-string!), three tambourines and the occasional Kazoo.
They always maintained they were not a folk group as such – rather they sang songs “folk liked” and there happened to be seven people (folk) singing them! With their origins at the height of the “protest movement”, there was a wealth of material by the likes of Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary and Joan Baez; modern folk songs in the style of The Spinners and Seekers. added to a mix of spiritual and religious material. “Traditional” folk singers they were not, although they did appear at a couple of folk clubs. Things were not all serious – audiences loved some of the fun songs interspersed with corny jokes!
Their origins were within the Methodist Churches at Leeds Road and Wells Road in Ilkley, a principal source of their bookings coming through the Methodist Association of Youth Clubs. However, their appearances ranged far and wide through other denominations and charities, notably for the handicapped and children.
Originally called “The Methodist Messengers” for the purposes of taking a Wells Road Methodist Church concert item to Baildon in 1965, the seven performers agreed they rather enjoyed the experience .... things developed from there for Liz Ellis, Gill Harrison, Margo Sutherland, Malcolm Atkinson, Richard Bailey, Brian Dickinson and Syd Hunter.
The world of Methodist youth work broadened their experience with invitations to sing at London venues – Westminster Central Hall (1969) – , Victoria Palace Theatre (1971), Royal Albert Hall (1972) and out of doors on the plinth of Nelson’s Column (1974). There were regular visits to sing to patients at the local hospitals and a even one-off at Armley Prison – where the girls’ mini-skirts proved popular!
Outdoor venues brought their own headaches but the venues were memorable – notably a farm near Halifax and a trade fair in Ilkley’s twin town, Coutances, which they visited as part of an official delegation in 1973.
However, it was the more intimate gatherings which were best – there were many return visits and long-standing friendships formed particularly around West Yorkshire from visits to small chapels, community groups and charities.
Most of the time they just asked for their expenses to be covered. However, one fee-paying appearance earned them all of £10.
After the initial phase when wearing anything in denim or needlecord was agreed, some performances required something more special. A series of matching outfits emerged. Bring on the Crimplene kaftans with Velcro fastenings! Matching shirts and ties held good for the lads for quite a while as the girls swapped between mini-skirted suits or full-length dresses.
A final flourish before their eventual retirement in 1974 was recording an LP in the front room of Sue Varley’s house, copies of which are known to be still in circulation.
Their official last performance was in 1974 – witness a tabourine autographed by members of the audience - but subsequent years saw several reunion performances for family and friends.
Top left to right Keith Wilde, Malcolm Atkinson, Richard Bailey
Btm left to right Gill Wilde, Margo Atkinson and
Sue Varley