With the green sheen of the summer months comes the welcome sound of York’s fantastic folk music scene.
Bringing together excellent musicians and folk music lovers alike, the City of York Folk Weekend rolls into York once again, from the 1st of June to the 3rd.
Hosted by the Black Swan Inn across Peasholme Green, this musical extravaganza is a storied community affair, celebrating all that is great about York’s folk heritage with performances, workshops and jam sessions for all ages.
Beginning back in 2003, this is the festivals 16th iteration and it’s bigger and better than ever with over 45 singers and bands performing over the course of the weekend.
Black Swan Inn, Peasholme Green
Fri Jun 1-Sun Jun 3
But for the organisers and fans alike, this year holds special and poignant meaning.
This will be the final folk weekend organised by original founder Roland Walls, who is stepping down for health reasons.
Roland is well-loved around these parts, a pillar in York’s folk scene and an encyclopaedia for the genre.
As a long-standing key member of the Black Swan’s Folk Club for over three decades, Roland has played an integral role in the formation and success of the City of York Folk Weekend, placing his own indelible stamp on York’s impressive folk legacy.
We sit down for a chat with the man himself.
‘There’s a very lively folk scene’
I got interested as a school boy and once I was old enough, I started going to folk music clubs near where I grew up. I just became a big fan and though I should say I was never a musician myself, I’ve always been an enthusiastic listener rather than a performer.
I gradually took on more and more responsibility as people pulled out and nobody volunteered, and so from 1987, and for about 31 years, I’ve been the main organiser.
We just celebrated our 40th year and the whole thing was started by students in 1978. Since then, it’s always been a highly thought of club and ten years ago we were voted Folk Club of the Year at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.
Everyone on the bill is either from York or the immediate area, or they have some strong connection with York. It was very much designed to bring the different elements of the York folks scene together for the weekend and showcase them to the wider community.
It was decided from the outset, it would be a free event and we wanted to welcome in as many people in as possible. The bands are happy performing, and they don’t want any payment. We obviously have some expenses. Because it’s free, people can just wander in for three hours or three days, it’s up to them.
The folk club goes from strength to strength, and it’s the same for the Folk Weekend. The pub management has been very supportive, and obviously we couldn’t do it without them.
We had about seven hours of live music on the last Sunday at the Black Swan, and we’ve done that every year for the last eight or nine years.
The club is very active, we promote concerts at the National Centre for Early Music for the bigger bands, and we occasionally co-promote other venues. We’re doing something at the Crescent soon with an Irish band who were named folk band of the year at this year’s BBC Folk Awards. They’re called Lankum.
It’s not just about named artists though, we always have opportunities through the weekend for people to sing and play together informally. For example, we have a rolling folk club where people can put their name on the door and sing a couple of songs when their turn comes. We also have another room made available for musicians who want to just jam together. So, it’s a participation thing as well.
We try to have one or two workshops each year, and we always try to do something that’s geared toward children. We also have a spoken word session as well, people reading poetry or doing story-telling.
There was a very famous York poet called Don Walls who passed away this year, and he was a frequent attender at the Black Swan. It was him who probably inspired us to have a spoken word session at the festival.
If you are interested in singing yourself, then I would recommend Soundsphere’s Singing Workshop on Sunday morning. They’ve run that for us for about five years now, it’s always very popular.
If you’re interested in American old-time music, Bella Gaffney and Polly Bolton are doing a little workshop on Sunday.
They are two phenomenally gifted musicians who will hopefully inspire you on your chosen instrument.
The 2018 City of York’s Folk Weekend promises to be a grand few days, and a veritable cornucopia of rambunctious performances, roaring ceilidhs and rolling jam sessions, and after nearly 16 years of service to the weekend and over 30 years’ service to the Black Swan Inn’s folk club, Roland Walls has been there every step of the way.