THE MAN WITH A VOICE AS STURDY AS A FIVE-BAR GATE
Now when it comes to these pieces, it is customary to start with a rundown of the relevant career details. Truth is however that with Keith Kendrick, the résumé is a bit more labyrinthine than most! So I will duck that for the moment, to save bombarding you with facts. I will instead come at it from a different angle.
I have always seen voices in terms of COLOUR…e.g. Johnny Collins as dark chocolate, Kate Rusby as mellow yellow etc. However, with Keith Kendrick's vocal DNA, it is not colour that is evoked, but an everyday item that is a major feature of our countryside, up and down the land.
I have said elsewhere that his voice is as English and as sturdy as a five-bar gate. And added (let me Michael and Christian be so NON politically-correct, as to re-state this analogy on a GERMAN website!) … that had Hitler crossed the great North Sea in 1940, we would not have needed any marching songs to repel him: it strikes me that the Keith Kendrick solo voice - so redolent of the BACKBONE of old Albion - booming out from Dover Castle would have been enough to make Mr. Schicklgruber think twice!
He is a fellow who has this big booming voice, a love of Nature and the Great Outdoors, and above all a degree of certainty that makes him unafraid to dance to his own particular drummer, even if he might scandalize purists in the process.
Do you want an example? Well, try this on for size. This is a man with bags of confidence: a man who does not mind being 'different'. I swear only Keith would, when listening to the hymn 'Lord Of All Hopefulness, Lord Of All Joy' have the chutzpah to fit the words of 'The Life Of A Man' to it. (That they fit very well, is not the point: he must have known that he could never improve on that divine melody already made famous by such as Cyril Tawney and Roy Harris. And furthermore, he'd put some Folkies' noses out of joint by such an action.) That said however, he still had the 'cojones' to press on regardless.
Okay, preamble over, I suppose I had better get down to the interestingly complex career details.
Keith's first significant venture into the world of folk performance was of course with The Druids. Originally that was KK, John Adams and John Squire. Soon after their formation, Mick Hennessey joined on double bass and "Squigsy", sadly, left around the same time. Dave Broughton joined, to replace John, and Judy Longden came in then too. Soon after, they began to put their instruments aside and concentrate on unaccompanied harmony work. Four albums for Decca's 'Argo' label followed, but within two years the group disbanded.
Mick joined Roaring Jelly, John Adams went on to become part of Muckram Wakes, Dave got married and moved to Scotland and Judy entered a career in television. KK kicked his heels for a couple of years during which he turned his attentions to the various forms of traditional dance and guising activities. He joined the Derby morris men and was one of the founders of The Northworthy Folk Dance Club which spawned a country dance display team, a ladies morris side (Derby Crown), and a rapper side. Northworthy eventually became 'Mumpers Ceilidh Club' and that club is still rolling and very popular today.
In 1974 he formed 'Ram's Bottom Dance Band' and a harmony trio called 'TUP' with Lester Simpson and Jim Boyes when Swan Arcade came off the road. 'TUP', unfortunately, wasn't to last long because Dave Brady decided it was time to hit the road again and presented Jim with a diary full of continental work, which no-one in their right mind would have refused…and so that was the end of that.
Ram's Bottom however, ploughed on and at some point changed unrecognisably from a directionless group into a more positive English Band which worked steadily and nationally for many years and produced an album 'The Young May Moon' for TSR. At the time of the change, Barry Coope joined the band and Lester left to form Ginger's Street Theatre. Almost inevitably Barry and KK teamed up and enjoyed the greater part of 12 years singing together in a harmonious duo (sandwiching a 3 to 4 year stint for KK with Muckram Wakes III in between), until KK left Derbyshire to live in Broadstairs with the woman who was to become his second wife - Pam Porritt - then, joint organiser of Broadstairs Folk Week.
Out of that journey came 'The Anchor Men' with Ian Smith (concentrating mainly on maritime songs and sea shanties) and English Country Dance trio 'The East Kent Hoppers' with Lizzi Stephens and Boz Austin. The latter is still rolling but not the former as Ian has gone to Turkey to teach scuba diving for a living. The Anchor Men produced one CD 'Nautical - But Nice!' for VOR.
Recent years have seen KK in partnership with the "Hertfordshire Nightingale": Lynne Heraud. The two created a CD for Wildgoose - 'Stars In My Crown'. Then we saw him back singing shanties with '3 Sheets To The Wind' (Geoff Higginbottom and Derek Gifford) and they have a brand -new CD just out for Cock Robin Music called 'All Tide Up'. His solo career has rolled steadily through all this and there are three solo CDs - 'Me 'Umble Lot' (VOR), 'Home Ground' (Fellside) and the recent 'Well Seasoned' (Wildgoose).
Phew! I am quite dizzy. So many facts that one could write a BOOK on the man, and not just this short profile. And to think that I have not even mentioned that he spent many months of 2003 working in Japan singing sea-shanties! (No readers: don't get a notion that a whole new market for Songs of the Sea exists in the Land of the Rising Sun! His was very much a one-off long-term engagement in a Japanese Disneyland type establishment!)
And Keith has packed all this into his 54 years. I wondered how it all started for him in the Normanton area of his native Derby, in the East Midlands of England.
"My earliest influences were much the same as many others who date back as far as I do like The Everly Brothers, Pete Seeger, The Weavers, Peter Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, The Carter Family - all these people were coming over the Radio Luxembourg airwaves throughout the early/mid Sixties late at night - yes all this stuff was on the standard playlists then. At that time I didn't really know it was folk music - but it was all American and at that time I had no knowledge of our own cultural music. Then came the Beatles of course and the Hollies etc. - highlighting my obvious attraction to vocal harmony. All these people among others, were my musical awakening.
By 1964, I had my first guitar and had learned about six chords. Donovan just arrived on the Scene, and I learned one of his songs. And around this time my father and Mick Hennessey's dad were both going to the same Working Men's Club in Elton Road, Derby. And one night a young 15 year old got up and sang 'A Pub With No Beer', and my dad thought HE'S GOOD, and then the man alongside him said 'That's my lad!' The youth was the young Mick Hennessey, and our two fathers got us together. That's when the journey started.
It wasn't until my first introduction to a folk club by John Squire my old school friend (and founder member of The Druids) in 1965 that I became fully aware of what everyone called 'The Folk Movement' and the folk music of my own country. Then the flood gates opened! The Spinners, Cyril Tawney, The Ian Campbell Folk Group, The Watersons, Ewan MacColl, The Critics Group, Martin Carthy, The Young Tradition, John Kirkpatrick, and of course through them and my local club colleagues - the traditional performers like Harry Cox, Sam Larner, The Copper Family, Scan Tester, William Kimber, Pop Maynard and of course the King - Joseph Taylor."
He then went on to tell me about the part that Tom Addison of The Somgwainers had in teaching him that he did not have to constantly look to America for influences. Here in Derby, Keith said, he soon was listening to "English voices singing English songs".
Being Welsh, I pounce with indecent speed. Did Keith REALLY mean English, or British?
He thought for a moment. "Oh…British. Fair point. For there were several Scots around the Derby folk scene in those days. But I am English, and I suppose I was speaking just there from the point of view of MY indigenous position…"
I told Keith that I really do not buy this 'English' thing. Had he, as an East Midlander born and bred, HONESTLY got more in common with fishermen in Cornwall and shepherds on the Northumbrian moors, than he had, say, with Glaswegians in Scotland and Cardiffians in Wales? So wasn't this 'Englishmen singing English songs' thing, all a bit precious? Surely we should be allowed to sing what we like, as long as we sing it in our own voices?
"I see where you are coming from Dai, but my position stems from the fact that most of today's [British] youth automatically choose to sing ANY song in an American accent, and I want to get the message across that they have their own songs on their doorstep. There is no need for them to sing American songs. But I agree with you: it is more than just OKAY to sing in your own accent, i.e. as you speak. In fact, I'd say it is essential."
We then went back to talk of his influences. He mentioned several names, but one name seemed to be pre-eminent: that of Roy Harris. "Roy's influence beats through the heart of everything I do, and has ever since. This was/is a man that could spellbind an audience just by being in the room - no instruments, no box of tricks, just the man and his voice and his stories. No man in my view ever quite 'got it' like Roy. I won't try to analyse here just why - it will end up dominating the interview - but suffice to say - he is 'Number One' for me!"
I then ask him what was his biggest disappointment in his years on the British Folk Scene.
"Well, ONE of the biggest disappointments was that 4 years full-time with Muckram Wakes had to come to an end…it ended because there were three of us - John Adams, Ian Carter and myself - and we were all family men and we could not get quite enough work to feed three families."
His mentioning past formations, made me wonder how did The Druids get their name? After all, his native Peak District of Derbyshire is not exactly the Mynydd Preseli druidic hotbed of Wales (the mountains incidentally that provided the blue stones for Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain). What evidence of druidic activity was there in the Rolls-Royce factory in Derby, where he then worked? (I was teasing him, obviously!)
"Well we all shared this passion for traditional music - so much as we understood it back then - and when we were thinking of a possible name for our group, John Squires said 'well it needs to be something OLD, doesn't it?'…always the astute thinker was our John, he still is. I was disappointed that the Druids never stayed together. We almost got to very heady heights. And just as we were about to reap the benefits of that, it all fell apart. It was nothing to do with me as far as I know."
I ask the actual reason for the break-up? "Too personal a question to answer, Dai. I am not prepared to talk about that because it involves other people."
So we change the subject. I tell him I know he has views to expound on, regarding the matter of people 'singing the way they speak'.
"Well - yes - I personally think it is important to do this. Why? Well, because one of the great aspects of the Revival that grabbed my attention when I first came into it in the mid 60s was the naturalness with which people sang and performed their songs and it was the dialect styles in particular of people like Harry Boardman, Lou Killen and Bernard Wrigley, for example, that impressed me most. So refreshing from the (in my view) pretentiousness employed within the British popular music world where most English recording artistes - then and today - employed a Mid-Atlantic emphasis to their singing style. It's true that many did sound different to the US originals but often because their Englishness prevented them from sounding convincingly American - but the tendency to try to imitate the US drawl was always discernable.
This, I believe, is what really gave rise in the 50s/60s to clubs like The (London) Singers' Club (Ewan MacColl) and the NTMC (Roy Harris) operating a policy which encouraged all singers attending there to sing in their native accent. Why should everybody sing like Americans - especially as many of the songs collected there originated from here in the first place? After all - Americans always sang the way they spoke (and still do) - even in the 'pop' world and even down to the various States they came from without giving it a second thought - in contrast to the rest of the English speaking world who in terms of 'vocal delivery' seemed almost as if ashamed of who they were.
The average Englishman - unlike the Irish, Scots and Welsh - still doesn't know he has an indigenous music-and-singing 'cultural identity'. Not that he could care less, anyway! Hardly surprising, given the relentless media focus on the 'pseudo cool'. It seems to me that the Revival has, among other things, served as the greatest tool for turning this particular tide. Whether it has been significantly successful is still open to debate.
This is not to suggest that we should all be fanatically pre-occupied with linguistic territorialism - we are one world and should be all-embracing of all differing cultures in whatever form - but we should also feel as confident in the world at large to sing the way we speak without fear of judgement or criticism as anyone else and not allow ourselves to be intimidated by what the media of the day (again) tells us is 'Cool'. Only the other day I heard a group of young teenagers in the street on a Friday night singing - admittedly in a tongue-in-cheek way - 'She'll be Coming Round the Mountain' (quite refreshing really) and they all sounded like Whitney Houston on a bad day - and that's just one of many instances where I've heard youngsters burst into song with an affected Mid-Atlantic accent to their voices - as if they subliminally feel that's the only legitimate way to sing! If it hadn't been for the MacColls and the Harrises of this world taking the 'hard line' in order to raise awareness of the options in the way they did - I'm sure it would be a whole lot worse than that today! If I'm attracted to an American/Scottish/Irish song, I always try to sing it as an Englishman and if the attempt to do that makes it sound pretentious or inappropriate in any way, then I won't sing it in the end.
It's also both interesting and irritating to observe what is happening between English and Celtic music and song in the psyche of the English folk audience of today. Especially with regard to the Englishman's acknowledgement of his own cultural identity. The Folk/Traditional music of good old Albion is becoming the poor relation yet again - particularly song - despite the mammoth efforts of passionate individuals like Rod Stradling, John Howson and John Kirkpatrick and others to redress the balance. For pity's sake - what do we have to do?"
I then ask Keith to tell me three things he would most like to see happen within the folk club scene. He looks me straight in the eyes and smiles. "Wow! Now here's a potential can of worms! First, I think I would like to see it grow by 400%! We'd still be the most relevant minority music form but solvent. One of the ways of achieving this would be for more of the newer and more importantly, younger red hot performers of the day to open they're own venues - in much the same way we all did back in the sixties and seventies. In those days the sheer volume of venues in each town couldn't fail to make the man in the street aware of the music - even if he didn't go - he had more respect for it than today for instance, and then perhaps through sheer weight of evidence on the ground he might, again, be more easily tempted to try it out at least. This would also give all performers more places to play and prevent the possibility of the scene going musically and financially bankrupt on a large scale! Losing our musical genre among the general mêlée of so called 'popular' music (as certain factions would suggest) is not the answer. Another is to find an effective way of encouraging a more positive response to our work and music from the Media and Press through education and lobbying.
Second, I'd like to see more clubs charging more realistic door charges in line with what most people expect to spend on a night out doing almost anything else. Back in the good old days - most clubs would charge approximately the price of 2/3 pints of beer so between £4 and £6 is what that represents today. I know that many clubs have had this right for years and others admittedly are hampered by certain historic and political restraints preventing them from increasing prices dramatically without committing suicide - as it were - so rest assured I am taking those into account. It's just that I worry about the message that's given out to any potential new club member that Folk is only worth £1. And in some cases nothing! Faced with that notion, surely, Mr Public will simply go where he sees a greater self worth in evidence to spend his hard earned money - like the local night club, the cinema, the dogs etc; for all of which he will gladly pay anything from fifty to a hundred quid for his pains - what's wrong with folk music getting some of that I wonder? My guess is he would get far more for his money and still take change home from a £10 note!
And third, I'd like to see more clubs where members attend on a regular basis because of the overall quality of the club's atmosphere and regular entertainment - where the clued-in organiser has built up the trust of his regulars - where a guest is the "icing on the cake" - and not the sole reason for attending that particular venue, that week (The Bums On Seats syndrome…groan). There are still many clubs in existence who can demonstrate success in this way - I believe they all know who they are: (Chichester/Stockton/Sharp's/Everyman/Faversham/Tiger/Swindon/Robin Hood/Shoddy Doggie/Singing Out etc.) and they all have my utmost admiration and gratitude. The folk scene was never about the 'Star' factor and heaven forbid that it should one day become so - exclusively. Folk clubs in my view are about the involvement of all: where guests would be booked more because of what skills and inspiration they might pass on to other aspiring participants and not because they were 'celebrities' - even though they may be just that. It's all about balance and emphasis.
I do not of course decry the other club/venue styles - far from it, thank the gods there's room for them all - singarounds, concert clubs, song and suppers etc; they all serve a subtly different purpose. That variety is paramount but so is the 'mix'. Too much or not enough salt, both spoil a good recipe."
I ask him with regard to the '400% growth' if he thinks the BBC Folk Awards will help. He hesitated and said that he was in two minds about them. I countered that he wouldn't be 'in two minds' were he nominated for Album of the Year, would he?
"I'm not sure. The problem is that there are awards for everything these days - the best farter…whatever. I think that this helps move the Folk Scene into the superficial Pop world. There is a tendency to create icons, whereas in reality, icons create themselves. Like Martin Carthy, for instance. Nobody 'created' him."
I say to Keith that let us indeed TAKE Martin Carthy, and also let me play devil's advocate for a moment. How can he defend Martin's occasional prolonged bouts of re-tuning his guitar onstage?
"I've never minded him having the respect for me in the audience to take the trouble to tune his guitar so that when he actually delivered what he had to give, it was as tuneful for me and as listenable as possible. What I perhaps DO have a problem with is the impatience of the occasional member of the audience. Give the man TIME…because what is going to come out of it is going to blow your head off!"
I congratulate Keith on a great answer, And then ask another tough question: what does he think about Folk Festivals which might be charging Top Dollar in ticket prices, yet are unable/unwilling to pay the 'Undercard' on their bill?
Keith thinks for a few seconds, mulling over my question in his head. "It is totally unacceptable. But the real solution maybe lies in my answer to that 'Folk Awards' question you just asked. You see these artificially created icons mean that there is now a bigger top layer/strata of Folk superstars, and with their hefty fees they are taking a disproportionate amount of the moneys available to pay performers…and thus the money often does not run - or even TRICKLE - down to the semi-pros who are propping up festival bills. And it SHOULD."
It is time to ask Keith an easier question. What does he think readers want to see in an online Folk Music Publication? After all, editors online are not subject to possible editorial pressure from heavy advertisers, and thus can surely then 'tell-it-like-it-is'!
"Yes, you are right. They can deliver the truth. And so the truth - basically - is what I want: whether it be a review of a CD or a 'live' performance or an editorial on any aspect of the folk revival. The truth is the only thing that can help. I don't think reviewers and writers should use such a medium to expound their subjective views in a destructive and therefore irresponsible manner (and some do) - they should make some effort to be honest yet objective - one man's meat is another man's poison. 'Truth', with a modicum of 'positivity' is the ticket. I think that some print (and maybe some online too) publications over the years (and I definitely do not mean Folkworld!) have done much to muddy the waters with regard to the maintenance of a healthy outlook on "Folk Music"."
I ask him what he thinks of 'World Music?'
"Look, shouldn't ENGLISH music be 'World' music too? We are part of the world too, aren't we? And you know, I sometimes half-seriously wonder if perhaps it was 'fRoots' who artificially created the 'World Music' bandwagon, in an attempt to ensure the growth of their magazine."
It occurs to me that we had not really talked about his Derbyshire roots. It is clear that Keith is very proud of his background. I ask him to talk to me specifically about Derbyshire culture. I know that he proudly espouses and promotes it. (Just look at the Derby Ram on his fine 'bells & whistle' website!) But I tell him that here's what puzzles me: although I can see there are accents and dialect words that tell me that I am in Derbyshire, what else denotes it from other East Midlands counties like Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire... especially in a Folk Music sense?
"Nothing much really - that I can put my finger on - except perhaps to note that Derbyshire doesn't appear to be widely rich in the traditional social singing culture to be found elsewhere. It seems that Derbyshire was a concentrated area for the growth of the Methodists and Congregationalists, hence the large amount of hymns in the psyche of the older generations. They tended to be the songs passed down, rather than the general 'social comment' and comic and bawdy songs found elsewhere. There were a few people like George Fradley from whom a good store of the latter (The Squire of Tamworth, The Cow i'th Gate, Mrs Merry's Ball etc, Mary Anne, The Derby Ram - several versions and The Hounds of the Meynell) were collected... collected mainly by John Tams, Roy Harris, Roger Watson, Colin Cater and Tufty Swift. Great work indeed."
Just before finishing our chat, I ask him if he is disappointed he has not made an impact in Continental Europe, outside the British Isles?
"Disappointed? I suppose, yes I am a little. But not surprised really. As I have said before: I am very slow (and even perhaps a little reluctant) in the self promotional area and so I suppose I can't expect a high percentage response from a zero input in that sense. I have worked the Continent a little over the years, paying isolated visits to places like Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Norway, France - I've even been to Cyprus, New Zealand, the U. S. (I'm working right now on a US tour for next June/July), and of course that one-off in Japan last year, but I would dearly like to do much more folk circuit work abroad for sure. Interestingly enough I have a strong following in many of these places: perhaps I should get off my bum and chase the gig, eh?".
Yes Keith. You said it, not me. Remember the door to Success is labeled 'PUSH'!
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