Jacqui and Bridie’s six weeks in North America became six months and when they returned, they appeared in the concert room at St. George’s Hall and talked about their experiences. They mentioned the dancing dolls and the audience told them, “We’ve got them here.”
Glynn Hughes, a rhythm guitarist, remembered a song that his mother had sung. It concerned Seth Davey, a street entertainer in Liverpool who had dancing dolls. He rewrote the song as ‘Come Day Go Day’. Doreen Turton, a clog-maker’s daughter from Wigan, made Jacqui and Bridie some new dolls. The singers could stand them on a plank and once they hit the plank, the dolls would dance.
Bridie recalled in 1984, “When we came back from America, we found the Seekers were in the charts with Judith Durham’s lovely voice. They sang some folk songs and it was interesting that were getting national acclaim and something was happening to folk music. The Spinners had gone fully professional while we were away and we got on a TV show with other folk musicians called Hootenanny. Folk music was becoming very popular. The main difference between pop and folk was that folk songs made you think a bit.”
Folk clubs were springing up all over the country and at one point there were 28 different ones on Merseyside. You could be out every night at a folk club. Geoff Speed, who has presented BBC Radio Merseyside’s Folk Scene with Stan Ambrose since 1967, and his own club in Widnes: “Liverpool was one of the first areas where folk clubs started mushrooming. No doubt it was the success of the Spinners club plus the fact that there were so many songs from Liverpool itself. People loved hearing songs about where they lived. The Black Diamonds started their own club in Chester. Stan Ambrose started the Bothy Folk Club at the Cattle Market in Prescot Road and then moved to Southport, where it’s still going to this day.”
As with the Beatles in Germany, Jacqui and Bridie had gone to America and come back a finely honed duo: indeed, they became the first professional female folk duo in the UK. They knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses and were able to build upon them. Returning to their weekly folk club, it was evident that they needed bigger premises. When the duo entertained a luncheon club at a Unitarian church in Mill Street in the Dingle, the minister offered them his church hall for a weekly meeting. That is how Jacqui and Bridie came to be at their best known venue, the Domestic Mission.
Unlike the Spinners’ club which had moved to Gregson’s Well at the top of Brunswick Road, the Domestic Mission was unlicensed. Young teenagers could be admitted and so Jacqui, Bridie and their friends performed for an audience from ages 15 to 80. Indeed, theirs was the only folk club in the area to cater deliberately for a family audience. It was less rowdy than some clubs and the patrons were coming for the music. However, they might lose the audience during the interval to the pub.
Maybe it was always thus with Aunt Nellies playing the pianos in the parlour, but the 1960s was a decade when the people started making music. Almost anyone who could sing or could play an instrument was encouraged to do so in public and there was a vast rise in beat clubs, jazz clubs and folk clubs throughout the country. Following a TV documentary, Liverpool was called The Singing City.
Despite their nationwide popularity, both the Spinners and Jacqui and Bridie determined to continue their weekly nights in Liverpool – oddly both on the same night, Monday, though this happened to be the night when professional bookings were fewer. Being close to the community enabled them to develop their repertoires and they would use club nights to try out new material. Several of the folk artists, including Jacqui, played guitars made by a local musician, Stan Francis.
By now, folk music was taking off, largely because of Bob Dylan and the Byrds, who recorded amplified folk songs. I remember Bridie chastising the Byrds one night as they had recorded ‘The Bells Of Rhymney’ but had no idea how to pronounce some of the Welsh names. Whilst checking through some old papers to write this piece, I came across Tony Davis commenting that a folk singer was “not a youth in an army surplus jacket and mop hat droning a protest”, though, of course, to many people Donovan was just that.
A lot of folk clubs had come out of Communist party meetings and they were heavily left-wing. As Alexei Sayle had a Communist childhood in Liverpool, I asked him if he had ever gone to any folk clubs. “Certainly not,” he replied, “I hated folk music.”
Although there was a left-wing bias in Jacqui and Bridie’s club, it was never verbalised. Jacqui and Bridie’s repertoire often expressed their humanitarian feelings and at one stage, they toured a refugee camp.
Following this folk music explosion, there was a split in the folk clubs with some favouring more contemporary singer/songwriters and others wanting more traditional fare. Definitely the Spinners and possibly Jacqui and Bridie were in the latter group, but in a way both groups were unique as they had a passion for songs about Merseyside. When I heard Jacqui and Bridie sing about the area in ‘Cathedral In Our Time’ and ‘Parky Laney Street’, I wondered how such esoteric material was received if they were performing in Birmingham or Southend. Probably very well as they were always touring. Neither Jacqui nor Bridie came from Liverpool but singing these songs gave them a joint identity.
But their songs could come from anywhere. Once Jacqui and Bridie wanted to learn ‘Four Marys’ from Jeannie Robertson’s repertoire. They went to see her in Aberdeen only to find that Joan Baez had been round the week before with the same purpose. Undeterred, they learnt the song and put in their act.
Another unique factor was both the Spinners and Jacqui and Bridie would draw their followers together once or twice a year for concerts at the Philharmonic Hall. These concerts were sometimes recorded so you can still hear the marvellous rapport between performers and audience and how well loved the performers were. It was something of a novelty to have folk at the Phil: apart from Buddy Holly in 1958, the Phil even didn’t touch pop or rock music until 1970.
The Philharmonic concerts would be advertised to Jacqui and Bridie’s folk club audiences and they would circulate posters and leaflets around the other clubs in area, perhaps making guest spots in the process. The Philharmonic concerts were much more structured than the folk nights: they could use lighting effects and they had set lists. Stan Francis recalls guesting with the Spinners: “I was on stage with them at the Phil and we all lined up at the end. I remember Hughie saying to us, ‘ Bow’, and I thought, ‘They’ve moved into show business now.’”
During 1965, when Jacqui and Bridie were the guest artists for the Leesiders at the Central Hotel in Birkenhead, Paul Simon came out of the audience for a floor spot. “He was very slick, which we certainly weren’t,”says Jacqui, “and he was a marvellous guitarist and I was very impressed.”
Jacqui and Bridie were constantly recording. In 1964, they released their first single, ‘Roving Jack’, a song which mentioned 22 Liverpool streets. After that they made several albums for different labels. They recorded for Major Minor, which had the same owner as Radio Caroline, so they were assured of pirate airplay from the North Sea. They appeared on national TV and radio shows such as Country Meets Folk, often with Liverpool’s Paul Brady and Hank Walters representing country.