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Often, when in the company of notable figures from our past, we have a tendency to allow our minds to wander through the annals of time. Tonight, when Archie Fisher was introduced on stage by the Roots Club's Ian Mather, memories returned to the precise moment when folk music burst through the doors, doors that had otherwise been closed to such music. It happened in the Audio/Visual section of Doncaster Central Library, a small room on the first floor of the building in Waterdale, which housed several browsers full of LP records, each encased in a plastic wallet, with an additional sub-section containing a date stamp card insert. I'd already exhausted the Jazz section, which included all the Blues records, my then current tunnel-visioned obsession, I'd also skimmed through the Country section and contemporary Pop/Rock browsers. Some of the Classical records had been sifted through and I'd even dipped into the spoken word, comedy and sound effects section when options grew increasingly thin. At this point the thought of venturing into the Folk section was still anathema to this young listener who still believed that folk music was entirely made up of records by The Spinners, The Corries and The Fivepenny Piece.
It was during the 1980s that I eventually realised that folk music wasn't necessarily that, but rather a treasure trove of excellent songs and dazzling musicianship. New names popped up in abundance as I discovered Nic Jones, June Tabor, Martin Simpson, Paul Brady, Andy Irvine, Dick Gaughan and countless others. One of the LPs lurking in the shadowy end of the folk section was a mid-1970s record called WILL YE GANG LOVE, its cover featuring a moustachioed figure, sitting beneath a tree wearing what looked like leather trousers and matching sandals, with the name of the album in the trees top left, whilst the top right displayed the name Archie Fisher. This, I discovered shortly afterwards, was one Archie Macdonald Fisher, a Glaswegian folk singer with a gentle voice and equally gentle guitar playing style. After this moment of enlightenment, I began seeking out folk clubs and discovered one local singer/guitar player, namely Mick Swinson, also present tonight, performing one of the songs from this record, The Broom A' the Cowdenknowes and a long term connection and friendship ensued.
People will have similar stories and memories of where and when they first discovered music and musicians and mine is no different from others. When Archie Fisher returned to the Roots Music Club tonight, taking his seat centre stage with his trusty Fylde Falstaff on his knee, after a suitably fine warm up set courtesy of Derbyshire singer Pete Davies, it did feel a little like going back in time but without the need of a DeLorean DMC-12. Songs and music combined with friendly and engaging patter can do this as simply as flicking a switch. The 79 year-old singer, songwriter, TV and radio broadcaster appeared relaxed as he delivered his songs tonight, reaching back into a repertoire that includes songs that have been with him since the beginning as well as some newer additions, songs such as Mary Ann, A River Like You, Song for a Friend, I Wandered by a Brookside, Final Trawl and Bonnie Border Lass.
With an unfussy guitar playing style and a clear vocal delivery, each song evoked a special moment from Archie's own past, of times performing in Gaelic to his mother's horror "stick to translations son", to his time touring with the late John Renbourn, regularly performing the song Lindsay together, which was also included in tonight's set. Having enjoyed a long career, singing with his siblings Cilla and Ray, and working at various times with the likes of Robin Williamson, Clive Palmer and Mike Heron (The Incredible String Band), Bert Jansch, Barbara Dickson, Tom Paxton, John McKinnon, John Doonan, Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy, Archie received an MBE in the 2006 New Year's Honours List and remains a legendary figure on the British folk scene today. Tonight's appearance in Doncaster did little to harm that reputation as the singer closed with The Parting Glass. I hope our parting won't be for too long.
More information about events at the Roots Music Club: http://rootsmusicclub.co.uk