Last week’s article covered Topic’s founding in 1956 and its first two years of development.
This week covers the next 60 years, bringing us almost to today, involving 15 different venues, over 3,200 club nights, over a thousand booked guests, at least the same live singers, and hundreds of Names give their own time and energy to do all those things that keep any club going.
Chris Newman and Maire ni Chathasaigh at The Peel in 1992
In 1957 Topic moved from Albion Court to Unity Hall in Rawson Square, where he stayed for about five years, with a six-month episode at Fox and Goose. In late 1963 we moved to the Sun Inn on Sunbridge Road. By now, a pattern had developed that continues to this day: weekly nights with one booked guest, alternating with “nights of singers and musicians,” where anyone could sing or play for everyone else. This is a model followed by many other folk clubs, founded and inspired by Topic’s example.
The Oysters at The Star’s Topic 25th Anniversary Celebration, 1981
By 1967, we had a lot of big names. Spinners, from Liverpool; Martin Carthy and Lou Killen, 9 hours from London on the Lambretta; The Incredible Strings, Peggy Seeger, Burt Jansch; and Roger Sutcliffe, who has since 1967 Play at least once a year. By 1969, Topic had traveled back and forth between four different venues, culminating in the Star at Westgate, where it remained for 22 years.
Subject member appeals check to mayor in 1982
For many, this was Topic’s heyday. Billy Connolly, Mike Harding, Maddie Player, Christy Moore, Leon Rosellson, Anne Briggs, Ving Garbutt, Roy Bailey, Scarecrow , The Oysters, Harvey Andrews, Jez Lowe, Ashley Hutchins, Janet Russell, Dick Gaughan, the Keppers, the Watersons… some of these many many times. These events are complemented by large weekend events commemorating our 20th (1976), 30th and 40th anniversaries, involving several bands and musicians, often in outdoor venues.
Mike, Lorna and Lal Waterson at the theme’s 21st anniversary, The Star, 1977. Image: Brian Lawton
Regular club nights often saw triple-digit attendance; although even in those years there were concerns that the topic was no longer appealing to the next generation of young people. Some were shocked when the committee decided to move, first to the Peel Hotel (the possibility of the club closing was actually under discussion).Then (1995) to Melborn on White Abbey Road: run by the Irish music Avid “brother” Amon. We stayed here until it closed in 2005.
MC Barbara Wright: Venue with The Spinners at The Star in 1984
Head to The Rooster and the Bottle, arguably Bradford’s oldest pub. A nice room, but a difficult venue for many. Then in 2008 to the Irish Club for over 5 years with better rooms until it closed. Then there’s Glyde House opposite the ice rink, the ideal venue for many – but it also closed abruptly in 2019. Merchant bars in Little Germany were notified on short notice until the pandemic closed for more than a year.
Phil Langran’s theme
So how has the subject changed and developed since 1960? As far as our program structure is concerned, not much. We are always striving to provide opportunities for the best performers in the wide range of acoustic music. It also helps young aspirants get their first foot on the acting ladder, and provides further opportunities for the genre’s biggest names to prove they still have everything they need. In between, giving capable local amateurs the opportunity to do what they can for each other.
compared to other clubs Bradford Over the past 30 years, we’ve managed to have a higher percentage of “booked guest” nights than singers and musicians nights, providing more opportunities for professionals who depend on clubs like ours for a living.
And we’ve probably got more people involved in running the club. Alex Eaton is no longer with us (though he was here in the early 2000s); but neither are the others in the early years. Many similar clubs are still run by the same people who might have started them 40 years ago. Topic, by contrast, has had several generations of newcomers in charge of selecting and booking guests (14 different people since 1974); looking after the money (six since 1972); organizing publicity, manning gates, serving as hosts, Served as club president and secretary… in the hundreds.
Before the theme’s 45th anniversary, no one on this committee was involved in theme management. This is one of our strengths. If someone leaves, someone always takes over.
A few of the many names worthy of recognition: Alex Eaton was motivated to start the topic; their political connections (Hasd and McCall) helped build it. Paul Tattersall was active for the first 30 years. Trevor Charnock, too, in the 70s and 80s (and painstaking historical research thereafter). Philomena Hingston embraced it when others thought it should close; and long-serving treasurer David Robbie, who took the bus from Halifax to meetings for nearly 25 years. There are many more who deserve their share of the credit, thank you very much.
Next week we’ll examine the current theme, and what’s likely to come in its future. We are still here! Our website – www.topic-folk-club.org.uk – shows our current Shipley locations and weekly shows on Thursdays. We would love to see you; play or sing, or even just listen.