Tag Archive | Fylde folk scene

A Doxy’s Tale

After I posted about the sponsored walk I went on in aid of Luke Kelly’s charity (in my post Walking the Wyre), my friend Ross Campbell recalled how we got back to Fleetwood from Knott End at the end of the walk:

I remember that when we got to Knott End the ferry was temporarily unable to reach the slipway because of the low tide and the build-up of silt alongside, and Bev (terrified of water) had to get in a tiny inflatable dinghy that was taking passengers out to where the ferry sat in deeper water. Of course, as soon as they had safely transferred to the Fleetwood side, the incoming tide enabled the ferry to pick everybody else up as normal.

Yes, that was pretty horrible! But considering I’m not a fan of water, and never could bring myself to learn how to swim, there seems to have been a continuing seafaring theme in my life, nevertheless. I’ve long loved stories of the sea, having been drawn to films and books about the age of sail my entire life. Also, there is a strong tradition of seafaring in my family. My grandfather, Paddy Whelan, left Ireland and joined the merchant navy at a very young age, whilst my father John Whelan was also in the navy in his youth, and in later life worked as a trawlerman out of Fleetwood.

Here are my nautical forebears in their naval days, my grandfather Paddy Whelan on the left, and my dad John Whelan on the right in his HMS Impregnable cap:


Me, however, I prefer to keep my feet on dry land, thank you very much, which is perhaps why the nickname ‘The Doxy’, given to me by some of my writing friends when I took a visiting group of writers to the Lancaster Maritime Festival and ruthlessly subjected them to sea shanties, is perhaps an appropriate one. Docks, yes! Open sea, no thanks!

A doxy, of course, is a name given to a woman who plies her feminine wares on the docks, as illustrated aptly by a song I love to sing with my friend Ross, the Banks of Newfoundland:

And round the docks, curled around in flocks,

Those pretty girls do stand.

Saying, “It’s snugger wi’ me, than it is at sea,

On the Banks of Newfoundland.”

I can certainly recall several notable occasions when I have lurked at the docks with a bunch of salty seadogs and balladeers of the sea. Over the years Fleetwood has attracted visits from the occasional tall ship, and shantymen (and women) have inexorably flocked to those ships like shoals of herring into a trawlerman’s net. Yours truly, The Doxy, has flocked along with them. After all, these particular ships were safely moored in the dock, not out on the ocean wave!

Here are a series of mementos from one such visit: a folk concert on board the Winston Churchill in 1984. I still have a ticket for this event. It was in aid of Fleetwood lifeboat, an extremely worthy cause. The £2.50 entrance fee seems outlandishly good value in this day and age, especially as it covered hotpot and red cabbage as well!

Here I am, all young and doxilicious, playing under a tarpaulin on deck with Fylde supergroup, Thistle. I was a founder member of this band, who have gone on (since I left!) to be hugely popular, with an enormously enthusiastic local following. The handsome young man in the cap is Mike Hayes, another founder member who is still with the band even after all these years:

Mike Hayes and Bev Whelan.

Mike Hayes and Bev Whelan.

The rest of Thistle can be seen below! Malcolm Shellard was the singer back then. A lovely man who I consider to be one of my best friends in the universe, even though we hardly ever see or hear from each other these days. My brother Kevin Whelan is playing the fiddle, and Bernie Brewin (the only one in this photo still with the band today) is on the bass.

Malcolm Shellard, Kevin Whelan and Bernie Brewin

Malcolm Shellard, Kevin Whelan and Bernie Brewin

I have already mentioned my good friend Ross Campbell, so here he is, no doubt entertaining the assembled with songs of decks being scrubbed and a good old lick of the cat:

Ross Campbell

Ross Campbell

This is Ian Woods, a well known and highly respected shanty singer from Suffolk:

Ian Woods

Ian Woods

This is the sort of sordid shenanigans that occurred as the night progressed and everyone got into the rum and ship’s biscuits. A bit of hornpipe action on deck!

Look at the state of his feet, that deck needs a good scrub!

Look at the state of his feet, that deck needs a good scrub with holy stone and sand!

And here is a photo of a different event. It is another folk concert on a tall ship moored in Fleetwood, this time on board the Malcolm Miller, circa 1986. The band was called Thingummyjig, and the members were (left to right) Andy Murphy on uilleann pipes, me on concertina, Penny Towers on vocals, Bob Singleton on bass, and my brother Rick Whelan on guitar. It was the first band I had ever been in where all the band members were roughly my age; up to that point I’d always been the baby:

Andy Murphy, Bev Whelan, Penny Towers, Bob Singleton and Rick Whelan, AKA Thingummyjig.

Andy Murphy, Bev Whelan, Penny Towers, Bob Singleton and Rick Whelan, AKA Thingummyjig.

I’m going to leave this post with some recent seafaring music, in a thoroughly modern style. One of my favourite bands of current times is The Sail Pattern, whose music I regard as joy personified. I can never fail to see them perform live and come away thoroughly uplifted, as well as hoarse from having given my shanty harmonies a good workout. And I have to add that not only are they fantastic musicians, but a nicer bunch of lads you could never hope to meet.

Here they are singing ‘Farewell and Adieu to you Spanish Ladies’ in their unique style:


Walking the Wyre

Luke Kelly

Luke Kelly

One of the reasons I started up this blog was to document some of my musical memories, in the hope that others who were there at the time (and maybe those who were not!) will also find it of interest. Here, therefore, is an account of a sponsored walk by Fylde folkies in 1984, and also a video of an earlier walk that took place in 1972 and helped inspire it.

In January 1984, Luke Kelly, the great singer with The Dubliners, died after a long period of ill health following operations to remove a brain tumour. He was only 44 years old.

Following Luke’s death, a bunch of folkies from the Fylde went on a sponsored walk to raise money for the charity set up in his name, the Luke Kelly Brain Trust Fund.

I still have a copy of the press photo taken as we set off on our 20 mile trek. Leading off are Jim Smith on guitar, Kevin Whelan on fiddle, myself – oh so young and slim! – on whistle, and Andy Murphy on guitar. Following behind I see Peter, Jutta Isenberg (organiser of the walk), Ross Campbell, and further back Dick Gillingham and Dave Pearce. Who else can you recognise? Help me put names to faces in the comments!


I can’t remember how much we raised, but it was an enjoyable (and exhausting!) event. We took a circular route, starting and ending up in Fleetwood via Shard Bridge and Knott End. It was a really sunny day, and the countryside was beautiful. I remember pausing for a few tunes and pints in a riverside pub somewhere along the route, I forget exactly where, but it was very welcome at that point in time!

I think our walk followed part of the same route as the famous Wyre Walk, which had taken place 12 years earlier and ended up being the precursor to the Fylde Folk Festival. I wasn’t on that earlier walk, as I was only eight years old in 1972, so my knowledge of it comes mainly through listening to people talk about it so fondly, even after all these years. It has become somewhat of a Fylde legend, passed down through generations of folkies, and was a definite inspiration for the walk we did for Luke Kelly in 1984.

Here is a video of the 1972 Wyre Walk. It is a lot of fun to watch, especially to see all those glimpses of younger incarnations of veteran Fylde folkies like Ian Gartside, as well as Alan and Christine Bell and their son Alistair as a tiny toddler. Also it’s very moving to see some of the lovely ones who have left us, including the narrator of the video, Brian Osborne, who was a member of the Taverner’s folk group and a good friend with whom I played quite a bit of music in the 1980s. Also, right at the end there is a fleeting glimpse of ‘Big’ Pete Rodger, also of the Taverners, not only ‘big’ in stature, but also a big personality and big hearted as well:

Doing the Time Warp Again at Langdale Festival

The Whelan Family playing at The Lane Ends (AKA The Rag) in Blackpool, 1979. Dottie is on the left playing mandolin.

When I was growing up in Blackpool, my mum had two of the downstairs internal walls of our house removed. She did so because it was getting impossible to fit everyone in for the afterhours sessions, which took place at least twice a week in our living room after we all finished playing in the local pub. The house nearly fell down, because a supporting wall got demolished. But after a real builder came to sort out the mess, we were soon playing and singing again until the early hours, except now with more elbow room.

If it was a school night, I had to get up and out of the house the next morning regardless. And I might not get much sleep the next night either, because by the age of fourteen I was playing gigs at least four or five nights a week with my folk band, Thistledown. It was a wild and unusual childhood, for sure, with both its good and not-so-good moments. But at least it wasn’t, in any sense, boring!

Thistledown in 1979. Left to Right: Mike Allen, Kevin Whelan, Bev Whelan, Malcolm Shellard, Mike Hayes

The music at those wild sessions in my mother’s house was thoroughly eclectic. Jigs and reels, country songs, bluegrass, soft rock and folk songs of every kind; the repertoire depended entirely on who turned up. And turn up they did, in their dozens. My mum had a plaque put up beside the front door, proclaiming to the world what we were all about (as if the constant music blasting out of the windows wasn’t already a clue): ‘Musicians’ Homestead’. The sign is still there and my mum Dottie, bless her heart, still goes out to play at more gigs and sessions than I do, despite her lack of mobility.

I think, perhaps, that my unusual upbringing is one reason I feel so very much at home at the Langdale Charity Folk Festival, which my sons and I (as well as other members of my family and many old friends) attended last weekend. Langdale is every bit as eclectic as those wild all-nighters in Dottie’s front room, and every bit as much ribald fun, especially during the early hours in the resident’s bar. It even has some of the same people who used to stagger back over the road from The Rag to the Homestead in the good old days, which sort of gives the impression that Blackpool has taken over the Lake District, saucy jokes and all.

One of the most wonderful things about the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, where the festival is held, is that it never changes. I was a regular visitor at the ODG for several years in the eighties until I moved away, and I didn’t go back to Langdale for more than twenty years. When I did, for the 20th anniversary festival (oddly my first ever Langdale Festival, despite my long-ago association with the place), I was delighted to see that the ODG looked exactly the same as it had on my last visit. Same decor, same fantastic fiddle-playing landlord, some of the same staff and patrons, and definitely the same sense of fun. It was like going through a time warp.

Eoin playing in the session

Langdale Festival is held twice a year (in May and September), and since 2008 I have not missed a single festival. Every time I go, nostalgia juxtaposes itself uncannily with the present, to create a little oasis out of time, defined by music, fun, friendship and family. It’s the place in the universe where I feel most at ease, both musically and socially; like coming home.

I also feel like I’ve come full-circle. My older boy Eoin, who is thirteen, performed at Langdale in concert on his harp last weekend, and really enjoyed playing guitar in the late-night residents’ bar sessions. Needless to say, I can’t help but see the parallels with a wee lass all those years ago, who did something similar on the flute.

Here’s a clip of Eoin playing harp last weekend, along with me on flute, Ross Campbell on concertina, and Mike Allen on fiddle: