HISTORY OF THE MILKMAID
The Milkmaid Folk Club started its life at the Milkmaid Tavern in Willingham in October 1996. The club was opened by the wonderful Dave Burland and continued for three very successful years with memorable evenings with the likes of Martin Carthy, John Renbourn, Alan Taylor,Last Nights Fun, Kate Rusby, Rory McCleod, Anam, Craobh Rua,Vin Garbutt,etc etc. Singers nights were popular (Rory McCleod and Paul Downes turning up on different nights for a floor spot) magic days indeed. Sadly the pub didn’t have the success the folk club enjoyed and with lots of sadness Jane and I sold it de-licensed to a travel agency.
For the next eighteen months The Milkmaid came out on several occasions at the Cambridge Folk Festival where we ran and organised a floor singers stage at the Coldhams Common Campsite. This stage is similar to the Club Tent where attendees of the festival can book a fifteen minute spot and perform to an audience. We regularly play to five or six hundred people a night Thursday to Sunday. See you there this year?
We also managed a pub in North Norfolk and had the odd folk evening before buying the lease on the Railway at Wymondham Norfolk, having turned down a tenancy with Adnams for the famous Eels Foot at East Bridge Leiston.
The folk club in its new home was again a great success with lots of big names weekly. Saturday and occasional Wednesday nights were concert nights, weekly Sunday lunch sessions (thirty players plus audience sometimes) and Monday was Open Mic.
Dave Swarbrick telephoned me and booked a gig for himself and Martin Carthy. Unfortunately we closed before they played. Another case of Folk great, Pub crap. As a pub we couldn’t make it work so we ended up in Bury St Edmunds totally finished with the pub game, apart from as a punter. We both got jobs in the charity sector, me with West Suffolk Headway as a care-assistant, where one day in 2003 I suggested in order to fund raise we have a folk day with local performers playing all day and an evening concert with professionals. A great day was had at The Rising Sun with music and local Morris dancers all day culminating with an evening concert featuring Andy Wall, Jane Walden, Derek Brimstone, Wiz Jones and John Renbourn.
After the success of the first folk day I was persuaded to start a regular folk club as a fund raising exercise for Headway. We had a good year (2004) at the West Bury Social Club and raised £3400 for the charity. Unfortunately the management committee of W.S. Headway felt they couldn’t underwrite the clubs expenses so we’d have to close.
Then up stepped several club members who each pledged £50 each to keep the club going. This money was put into a separate account to be used in an emergency. I’m pleased to say that we never touched it and after a year was offered back to the donors.
We moved to the Royal British Legion Club (2005) in Guildhall Street Bury and had eighteen wonderful months there before sadly they went into liquidation and closed.
The Constitutional Club further up the road in Guildhall Street came to our rescue and offered us their comfortable facilities for which we have been extreemly grateful. We have been there for 21 months now.
Since The Milkmaid has been in Bury St Edmunds we’ve enjoyed seing the likes of Peggy Seeger, Waterson:Carthy, The Watersons, Martin and Swarb, John Renbourn and lots of other top folk stars and that is going to continue.
I am encouraged by the support the club has had and because of that I have formed The Milkmaid Folk Arts Centre Community Interest Company with Steve Martin.
The intention is to have Bury St Edmunds the folk music,song and dance capital of East Anglia.
There’s a great folk tradition in Suffolk and the likes of The Milkmaid, Everyman and Waveney plus the session pubs can keep the music (and dance) alive.
At the end of the day though, it’s you that will keep it going by coming along, joining in, or simply just being there.
Keep on folking - Terry Walden