Among the guests at Jacqui and Bridie’s club were Phil Ochs (who wrote ‘There But For Fortune’), the one man band Don Partridge (honouring a commitment to play for £12 after making a Top 10 single), Robin Hall and Jimmie McGregor (‘Football Crazy’ was ideal for Liverpool), the Scottish duo the Corries, and the creators of the radio ballads, Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. Jacqui and Bridie often performed MacColl’s ‘Shoals Of Herring’ and ‘First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’. They introduced both the McCalmans and the Houghton Weavers to Merseyside.
When Tom Paxton was appearing at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, Marnie bundled him into a car as soon as he had finished and he appeared at the Domestic Mission, borrowing Jacqui’s guitar to perform ‘The Last Thing On My Mind’.
No matter who the guests were, most people went to the club to see Jacqui and Bridie. They were very comic together and they created their own rapport with regular performers, notably the docker Arthur Williams with his hilarious poems of Liverpool life. Jacqui and Bridie performed his ‘Post Christmas Blues’ (based on a song by Cyril Tawney) and a surreal song about St John’s Beacon with its revolving restaurant. Arthur told Jacqui and Bridie about the vibrancy of Paddy’s Market and they made a radio programme around it, which incorporated their song, ‘Paddy’s Market’, that became popular in its own right.
There was some exceptional local talent. Pete McGovern, who ran the Washhouse folk club, wrote ‘In My Liverpool Home’ and ‘Rent Collecting In Speke’: Stan Kelly, a salesman with a Porsche, wrote ‘Liverpool Lullaby’ and ‘What Was The Colour’: Willy Russell was starting his performing life as a folk singer and one memorable night at the Domestic Mission, Shane Fenton, who was married to a Liverpool girl, did a floor spot before becoming Alvin Stardust. As Rhona Jones remarks, “The great thing about floor singers is that you never know who is going to turn up.”
Rhona recalls her own performing debut: “Jacqui and Bridie’s folk club in the Domestic Mission was the first folk club I had been to. They were marvellous days and I liked the long intervals where we would go to the pub and then stagger back. The first time I sang in public was at their club – my knees were shaking, everything was shaking, as I did ‘Four Strong Winds’. I kept forgetting the words, forgetting the chords, but the audience was very kind and I soon improved, or I hope I did.”
The travelling became excessive as there were folk clubs all over the country: pity Martin Carthy who managed it all by public transport. Jacqui and Bridie covered 55,000 miles in one year, and this is largely before the motorway network. They would return to the club each week and tell the audience of their travels. “We went to Germany to entertain the British troops,” said Jacqui one week, “and Bridie entertained them one by one.”
For some time, they also had Jacqui and Bridie’s Monday Afternoon from 4pm to 5.40pm on Monday afternoons on BBC Radio Merseyside. It was a sort of Savile’s Travels as they would interview people they had met during the week including, on one memorable occasion, Dusty Springfield.
Being popular in Scotland was clearly something of a two-edged sword. “I’m very glad that we went to all these wonderful places and had wonderful times,” says Jacqui, “We did a lot of the Scottish folk clubs and I can remember Barbara Dickson being on the door of the Dunfermline folk club taking the money.”
After 10 years Jacqui and Bridie had to give up the Domestic Mission as the area was being redeveloped. The premises have now been demolished and they could only find licensed premises after that. The club met in pubs in London Road and Hanover Street and for a time, at the Holiday Inn in Paradise Street. “Once they put us by the swimming pool,” recalls Jacqui, “We were on one side with microphones and the audience was on the other, and the hotel guests were swimming up and down between us. I don’t blame them: they had paid good money to stay in the hotel and they wanted to swim. We made a lot of jokes but it was a very difficult evening and in the end, I said to Bridie, ‘Do you want to sing the last song from the middle of the pool?’ She jumped in and I followed her and about 30 others joined us for ‘The Leaving Of Liverpool’. The more sensible ones stripped down to their underclothes but we were fully clothed.”
In 1978, Jacqui and Bridie appeared on a gala performance for royalty at the Liverpool Empire. They performed Harvey Andrews’ ‘I Am A City Dweller’ and also ‘Back Buchanan Street’, which had been written for a TV programme, Grief And Glory, by two brothers from Frodsham, Gordon and Harry Dyson. It reflected the moves from the terraced houses to high rise flats. After the show, the Queen remarked that it was “relevant”. Bridie would joke: “We sang before the Queen, but we didn’t know that the Queen was going to sing.”
In 1984, Jacqui and Bridie presented the Festival of Folk at the Garden Festival which gave them regular employment on their doorstep for three months. To promote the event, they recorded David Mallett’s ‘Garden Song’ (sometimes called ‘Inch By Inch’). The club continued in the Coffee House Hotel in Wavertree and then in Penny Lane.
Bridie’s healthy was failing and they gave their farewell concert at the Phil in 1987. They did a few bookings, but her voice was going and she died in 1992.
Jacqui has kept the club going but has had to contend with multiple scleroisis. The club met at Sefton Park Cricket Club once a month. “We’re an ageing group,” says Jacqui, “and I get friends coming along saying ‘I’ve had an awful day today. I got downstairs and realised that I put my bra on back-to-front, and it fits better that way.’”
During the 2010 Hope Street Festival, Jacqui was pleased and surprised to hear a tribute to the duo from Mike Neary and Eithne Browne. “I loved hearing Eithne singing ‘Liverpool Lullaby’,” says Jacqui, “She changed key a few times. I might have done that but she was doing it on purpose.”
So this, after 50 years, is the final night of Jacqui and Bridie’s folk club. It is not a night for sadness as we should rejoice that such a talented duo should have maintained their base in the city and done so much for music in the area.
Folk clubs are something of an anachronism now and have largely been replaced by Acoustic Nights. The Folk Roots magazine is now called F-Roots and encourages the culture differences in performers. By and large, the folk clubs of the 60s concentrated on British, Irish and American songs and now there is a vast amount of music from various ethnic cultures played on a wide variety of instruments. Intriguingly, in recent years, there have been two festivals of political songs at the Picket.
Jacqui and Bridie and their folk club are part of this city’s rich cultural heritage. Let’s hear those songs one more time and don’t forget to sing along. Indeed, the most common criticism that I used to hear of Jacqui and Bridie was that they made the audience do the work, and why not?