A bit of context
The folk revival in the USA in the 1950s, was closely followed in the UK during the 1960s and 70s. The folk music being revived wasn't exactly dead, but was of minority interest and was in danger of being lost.
North Wales was as active as any other part of the UK and more active than some, in providing venues and interest for the folk revival.
This is where we start with our story...
Llandudno Folk and Boat Club
...or the Llandudno Youth Centre Canoe and Mountaineering Club and Folk Club, as it more correctly was known...
This section is taken from a longer document: Llandudno Youth Centre: Canoe and Mountaineering Club and Folk Club: Some personal recollections. by John Evans (with a little help from his friends...) Read all of John's book here
In 2006 when I decided to write this record of the time we all spent in the Llandudno Canoe and Mountaineering Club in the 1960s and ‘70s, I wasn't quite sure as to how I was going to tackle it. I came up with the idea of making it anecdotal, but although people I spoke to about the project all thought it was a good idea, initially only one person contributed.
I thought it would be left to me to record the past, for better or for worse, in the best way I could. I just hoped that the people who would read it, would read it for what it is, a series of personal recollections of the good times we all had, without judging it too harshly. Later, I am happy to say, photographs and other accounts came drifting in from several friends and acquaintances (see Acknowledgements) and are included, sometimes slightly edited, sometimes verbatim.
It all started on a recent trip up Tryfan, with Howie Lloyd Jones. The conversation got round to our old Canoe Club and we came to the conclusion that there was no record of that period in the 1960s when we were members of that section of the Llandudno Youth Centre. Thinking about this later I decided that this needed to be addressed before all who were members at that time have either forgotten those events of over forty years ago or passed on. With this in mind, I decided that it was time to do something about it before all was lost forever. To the outsider, the passages of this journal will be of little interest, but I hope, that for those who were a part of that exclusive band of adventurers, it will bring back many happy memories of that part of their lives, when we were all full of daring and adventure, with a great deal of fondness.
‘On the crest of a wave in a one seat canoe
On the top of a mountain at noon
That's were you'll find us
Our troubles behind us
East of the sun and west of the moon.’
The Llandudno Youth Centre
The year was 1959, Eisenhower was president of the United States and Harold Macmillan the Prime Minister of Great Britain telling us that we had ‘never had it so good’. Elvis was king of rock and roll and Buddy Holly had just been killed in a plane crash. On one bright, sunny evening in May that year, I was wandering around the Llandudno Youth Centre feeling very bored, since the club was always deserted in May, with not much to interest an 18 year old wannabe Llandudno teddy boy. My wanderings took me to a part of the club where I came across a man who I knew vaguely, but did not know by name. He was in the process of putting the final touches to a canoe.
He continued with what he was doing then, after a while, he looked up and bade me ‘Good Evening’. He asked me if I had ever fancied having a go at canoeing. I replied that I would not mind. He then said that if I came to the club the following Thursday, he was going to take the boats out on the front shore (Llandudno’s North Shore) and I could have a try to see if I liked it. Little did I think as I walked out of the club that night, that this casual meeting I had just had, would go on to shape my thinking and my whole future, as well as that of many other local young people for a long time to come.
The following Thursday, the weather was warm and sunny, all who were interested gathered in the club and proceeded to carry the boats to front shore. We then took it in turns to take trips to the end of the pier and back. At the end of the evening the man who I by now had come to know as Humphrey asked me if I would like to go out again the following Sunday, I said that I would. That morning arrived and the weather was once more warm and sunny. I turned up at the club to be met by two other young people who I knew as Jimmy McMullen and Harry Williamson. (Harry later met with a premature death while climbing in the lakes with the RAF; that was a great shock to us all).
When Humphrey arrived, we went to Deganwy beach where we launched two boats, Harry and Jimmy in one boat, Humphrey and myself in the other, we proceeded to paddle up the Conwy River. We paddled for about an hour until we arrived at a little shingle beach where we beached the boats and spent the next couple of hours just sitting, having our lunch and chatting. When the tide had turned we launched the boats and slowly paddled back to Deganwy as the sun began to set in the west.
Later that evening I met some friends, John and Wyn Griffin in the local haunt called the Venezea. I was very tired, stiff, every muscle in my body ached, but I felt over the moon as I told them about the trip up the Conwy in a canoe. I said that we would be meeting again the following Tuesday evening and suggested that they come along and have a go, which they did. The following day they went back to school and told their friends about the canoeing and suggested that they should come and try. As a result, Peter Baster and Rod Burrows, who were both scouts, joined us. That was the start of what was later to become a very exclusive club of young men looking for adventure.
May went into June and then to July and the size of the group had, by this time grown quite a lot in the few months since that first trip out back in May. Among the new members were people like Gary Roberts, Alan Owen, Geoff Griffiths and Kenny Jones to name just a few. Then one night in late July, I went to the club and whilst in conversation with Humphrey, he said that a new member had joined and he called over a lad with blond hair, a round smiling face and an ambling gait. Humphrey introduced him as Colin; thus friend Metcalfe had arrived. My impression of this fresh faced young man was that he was lacking in any form of teen-age credibility. I got to know Colin very well, and despite our differences and priorities in life, we became very good friends.
I would say that it was the differences in members’ personalities that helped to make the canoe section of the Centre such a success. The club always strove to maintain high standards in every thing we did. It was understood that we should not do anything that would bring the group into disrepute, whether we were away on a club outing or on some unofficial engagement. This had the advantage in that you only had to mention the fact that you were ‘one the boys from the canoe club’ and this would carry a lot of weight.
In its embryonic stage the membership of the club was predominantly boys from Mostyn School, but by the end of the summer we started to get a trickle of lads from John Bright’s School; people like Ian Roberts, Howie Lloyd Jones, and ‘Ming’, alias Malcolm Williams, to name but a few. As the summer went on we continued to do trips up the Conwy River but few of them stand out in my mind so much as when John Griffin, Rod Burrows, Peter Baster and myself decided to go canoe/camping up to Errant Bay.
The Folk ClubBy 1963, folk music had become as much a part of the club as canoeing and mountaineering. In addition, we would spend a lot of our time in 8 Morley Road playing and singing. That year, John Les, Gary and Trevor Roberts, Colin Metcalfe and I made a trip to Manchester Free Trade Hall to see The Kingston Trio. We went there in my 14-year-old Ford Prefect car that broke down twice on the way but we did at least get there in the end.
Such was the fun of motoring then, cars were not as reliable as they now and you never new if you would reach the end of your journey. The trip remains memorable in that we laughed all weekend about one thing or another. On reflection, I think it was that trip and the following weekend that really kick-started our Folk Club.
The following week was Easter and on the Good Friday we arranged to go to the Groes Hotel for a pint and there we met some lads from Liverpool who were camping in Rowen. It turned out that they shared an interest in folk music and we all spent the night singing, drinking and sharing this common interest and that was in away how the folk club started.
When we got to know the Liverpool lads it transpired that they were members of a Liverpool folk club called The Wash-house Club and they invited us to go there for a week end. That trip turned out to be quite eventful in one way or another. We set off on a Saturday morning in a borrowed minibus in order to do some shopping in the afternoon before going to the club at night. John Les bought a new banjo with his hard earned savings and was over the moon with his acquisition. Later in the evening we set off for the Wash-house Club but for some reason or other, John decided not to take his banjo to the club but to leave it in the van (big mistake).
Off we went to the club full of anticipation of what we would see and hear. The club was in a cellar beneath a restaurant. The access was down a narrow stairway that led into a low ceiling, dimly lit room. The walls were thick with nicotine. There was a small stage at one end. The atmosphere was fantastic; full of good folk music and good-hearted banter. We left the club at about 12 o’clock at night, full of the atmosphere and enjoyment that we had all been a part of only to have the whole thing dashed on our return to the van where we found that it had been broken into and it's contents stolen, including John Les's brand new banjo. After an unsympathetic visit to the local police station we made our way home only to take the wrong lane on the exit from the tunnel and ended up getting lost. When we did get back on the road, our problems were compounded when we ran out of petrol 30 miles from home. It turned out to be a never to be forgotten day of disasters.
It was as a result of that Easter visit to the Groes that we would subsequently gather there every Wednesday until in the end, the folk club became so popular that in 1965 we had to find a new venue. We moved to the County Hotel in Craig y Don were we stayed for quite a few years before moving to The London.
Much of Wales was still ‘dry’ during the 1960s. This was the result of a decree made in 1881. Following pressure from Parochial Welsh Churches, Parliament decided that all public houses in Wales should not open their ungodly doors to the public on a Sunday. As a result of this very draconian law, we, the good people of the Llandudno, had to go without any form of alcohol on a Sunday. As a result of this law, the only form of Sunday entertainment in Llandudno was a coffee bar called The Venezia on Mostyn Street.
There the young people of Llandudno would gather to play records on the juke box and drink over-priced frothy coffee. This was life in the fast lane in Llandudno – on a Sunday. As money was in short supply, we would make a coffee last as long as posible and would pool our money in order to have enough to play a few records on the juke box. One enterprising young lad called Tommy Macarton would go round scrounging a penny from as many people as possible until he had enough to play a record of his choice.
The only exception to this law (which for us locals was of no use what so ever) was that if you were from outside the area and staying in a licensed hotel, you could get a drink. The only ray of light in this dark abyss was the steamship trip to Puffin Island. The rule was that once the boat had cast off from the pier it was no longer a part of Wales and was legally able to sell alcohol. For obvious reasons these trips were always very well supported, particularly with people from England who were either staying in unlicensed boarding houses or for some other reason, unable to get a drink. This ludicrous situation would continue until 1962, then the people of Wales were given the opportunity to vote for (or against) Sunday opening.
Yet the influence of the church in Gwynedd was very strong and it was decided that we should continue to follow the path of the righteous and not partake of the demon drink on a Sunday. The county nearest Llandudno to vote in favour of Sunday opening was Flintshire and, as Rhyl was the nearest sizeable town, it came to pass that on Sunday evenings, the ungodly of Llandudno would drive over in droves in order to get a drink. The most popular bar in Rhyl at that time was The Haven Hotel.
This had a bar called the Hovercraft Bar so named after the hovercraft service then operating between Rhyl and Liverpool. Our comute to Rhyl continued for about five years until in 1967 another referendum was held. Again the god-fearing folk of Gwynedd voted against Sunday opening but this time Denbighshire ‘went wet’. We now only had to go as far as Glan Conwy or Colwyn Bay to quench our Sunday thirst. We would have to wait until 1972 before we in Gwynedd would be able to enjoy a Sunday pint in our own home town.
Through the interest in folk music, quite a few new people joined the club. On such person was Johnny Junction. John was a very gifted artist and had charismatic charm (particularly with the women). It turned out that John had the use of an isolated cottage (Cedryn) up in Cwm Eigiau, which was a distinct advantage for our group in that it provide an overnight base for many parties and sorties into the mountains. Those trips to the cottage became legendary and are still talked about to this day. One such trip in the summer of 1965 stands out as the trip to eclipse them all.
We all gathered in the Y Bedol Hotel, Llanbedr, drank all evening, then drove up to cottage. If you have ever been to that part of Snowdonia you will know that the road to the dam is particularly difficult to negotiate, so to do this at night, with quite a few pints inside us was to make the trip even more of a hazard. When we got to the cottage, the party continued until the early hours of the morning by which time most had paired off with the various young ladies who had joined us and disappeared to different parts of the cottage to spend the rest of the night. One couple went to sleep in a van and were awoken by an irate mother banging on the side, demanding to know if her daughter was in there.
To get to the cwm must have been quite a feat for this lady to undertake, no doubt hoping to save her daughter’s honour. The following morning was warm and sunny and some of the party went for a walk up the mountains whilst others spent the time lazing around doing a bit of illegal fishing or just sleeping it off in the sun when the mountain ranger appeared out of nowhere. He told us that my car was blocking the track and he would book me for obstruction if it wasn't moved at once. On attempting to move the car it got stuck down to its axles in the mud and it took the might of all the party goers and Metcalfe's Champ to get it back on to the road. As for the lady in the van, I don't think that young man was able to see her again.