An Interview with Executive Director Steve Edge
on the 30th Anniversary of the Rogue Folk Club
May, 2017 - Part I
Local journalist Tony Montague sat down with Steve Edge for a lengthy interview encompassing the three decades of the Rogue Folk Club, and even further back than that! Here's how it all went ....
THE EARLY DAYS IN THE UK
TONY MONTAGUE: So, Steve, I wanted to ask first of all about how you got into folk music, roots music. I don't think it was always the music that you were listening to.
STEVE EDGE: No, it wasn't. When I started to listen to music, there wasn't very much on the radio and we didn't have a record collection, we didn't have a record player until I was quite old, and we had an album of Acker Bilk and Chris Barber. That was the first LP we had, and then we got some other stuff. We got a Django Reinhardt and a Lionel Hampton LP and Dave would buy Shadows singles, because he played bass in a Shadows cover band in England -- me brother, he's a little older than I am -- and then when Radio Luxembourg started up, I used to listen to them. After eight o'clock, it went from French classical to English pop music and it was great, Sam Costa would come on at eight o'clock and he'd play the Beatles and Billy J. Kramer and that sort of stuff, very old stuff, and then Pirate Radio came out and I remember first hearing Amazing Grace played on slide guitar and that blew my mind and hearing John Fahey on John Peel's show. Just incredible.
And I didn't really recognize it was folk music as such. And then there were albums coming out like samplers which had Taj Mahal and The Byrds and Dylan and all sorts of stuff on them, and, you know, this was people I hadn't really heard of. We'd only listen to what your friends had got because there was nothing on the radio, and then when pirate radios were all shut down I went right into a big snit about that, then Peel came along with Top Gear on BBC and you'd hear everything. And the thing with Peel was that there were no boundaries in music and I agree with that whole-heartedly. You would hear stuff that you would never have heard anywhere else. That's where I first heard Fairport Convention, and that made an impression. Even though they weren't my favourite band.
Traffic was probably my favourite band in the '60s, and they obviously had a lot of references to English folk music, particularly John Barleycorn, and the instrumentation, there was a lot of stuff in there, it combined jazz and R & B as well, which is – to me, as it should be. But then I went to college and at that point I'd become completely disinterested in pop music and rock music and so I was listening to a lot of Duke Ellington, and when I went to college, there was nobody else listening to that, so I was a bit of a loner. And then I moved into a flat with a bunch of other students and listened to all kinds of music.
TONY MONTAGUE: This is where?
STEVE EDGE: In Stafford. And I used to live in a 20-storey block and there was four or six flats on each floor and you would just sort of gravitate to different places to either do some studying or more likely to have a drink and a meal and play records. So you'd hear a lot of different things and I ended up sharing a place with a guy from Sierra Leone and a guy from Turkey at one point, which made me aware of other cultures, which is interesting. But at college, I ended up sharing a house with three or four of us all together. One was a real, dyed-in-the-wool folkie from Clitheroe in Lancashire and he was a real fan of Fairport and all that sort of stuff, so I heard a lot more of them.
I heard this band called the JSD Band out of Scotland and then somebody said, "Well, you should join the Entertainments Committee," or the Ents Committee, as it was called, and so I did that. I was there from '72 to '76, and in '74 or 75, we brought Bob Marley and The Wailers into Stafford. They had a nice auditorium. Bunny Wailer, it was his only tour out of Jamaica because he froze his ass off, he hated it. So Bob and Peter Tosh and -- I'd never heard anything like that before. It was just mind-blowing. It was just like, "What the heck is this?" You know. But it was real. And so that made a big impression.
We brought the JSD Band in a couple of times and they just filled the dance floor, everybody went mad, and they would combine Woody Guthrie songs with some old-time stuff, a lot of Celtic fiddle, and it was great fun. And we also had the good fortune of booking Joanne Kelly, a blues guitarist from England who was one of the most respected blues players in North America, the old black blues guys would say "this woman's got it," but she died, very sadly, at a quite early age, I think a brain haemorrhage, around about the same time, maybe a bit after, Sandy Denny.
But after I left college, I was not interested in folk music again, didn't hear any of it, you know. My friends were all into different stuff and I was in Birmingham when the two-tone movement started and UB40 and Rock Against Racism and all this kind of stuff and I thought, "Well, this is great," and it never really occurred to me that this was essentially folk music, but it's in a different dress.
COMING TO CANADA
I came to Canada because I was pissed off with Thatcher having been elected, that was the most depressing thing that ever happened to me, so I came to Canada on a cross-Canada trip. My cousins live in Nova Scotia and I went to visit them. So me and a buddy came over and a good friend from work said, "You should go on a train," he was a real railway enthusiast, "You gotta go on the train. Go ride across the country. Just sit on the train for four days and see the country," he says, "It's the best way to do it." "Okay, fine, we'll do that." So we started in Halifax and we ended up in Vancouver and we had a couple of days here. We staggered off the train and there was a hotel across the street and we just staggered into the hotel, slept off the train journey a bit, and then walked down into Gastown and it was just like, "Wow, this is a complete other world. I love it." So I thought, "Well, I'm going to do this again."
So the next year we did the same trip and spent a week in Vancouver and I thought, "All right, I'm moving here." Because I was a trade union shop steward in England, white collar trade union, and I was on a collision course with the government. We were on lots of protests and all kinds of stuff and it was just -- I was going to end up in jail or dead.
TONY MONTAGUE: Do you know what? It's just so similar to me. I was here as a student, but I stayed for the very same reasons, because I thought I was -- to go back, I'd get into serious trouble.
STEVE EDGE: Yeah, I was definitely going to be in trouble, because I was a union leader, I worked for a Quaker company in England where the two things you did when you joined the company was you became a shareholder and you became a member of the union. Fantastic! You get both sides and you can't -- you know, you have to play both sides, and it's brilliant. Very, very interesting. They're not together any more, that company, they went under. American company originally, Kalamazoo Business Systems. Fantastic place to work, but it got to the point where I couldn't go any further, and I wanted to get out of England because of the Thatcher thing and the collision course and I applied for Canadian citizenship and I got it and then the following week, Weldwood, which is a lumber company, were recruiting in England, so I went down to Canary Wharf and had an interview and they hired me and they paid for a shit load of stuff to be moved over, including my vast LP collection, which was in the thousands that point. There was no way I could have brought it over and they paid for it, so it was great. A year later they laid me off, because there was an economic downturn in '82. Great, so now I start looking for work. I got a job at Cominco, a mining company, and I was there for four years.
TONY MONTAGUE: Where?
STEVE EDGE: Right downtown, just where the Pacific Press building is now. I lived in North Van, so I'd get the Seabus in to work and then -- I used flextime to the best of my ability. I didn't really like anybody else that worked there, so I'd come in at ten o'clock and I'd work 'til eight, nine o'clock at night and then I'd go up to the Railway Club and have a pint and see what band was playing and then I'd go home on the Seabus and make my way in to work at ten o'clock the next day. And I thought I was doing pretty well, but then they had another economic downturn and management just decreed that I was out. So at that point I'd been reporting directly to the financial director of the company, inventing a programming language so that he could pull reports out -- this is a bit digressing, but – you know, he was really steamed when I got laid off, but he didn't have any say in it. The decision had already been made. Now, this is '86, and so I'd just bought a day pass for Expo.
Let me back-step just a bit -- In '85, I was still at Cominco. I went to the Railway Club in the spring of '85. In the same week, somebody sent me a tape of the first Pogues LP, another friend sent me a Richard Thompson tape, which had "Hand of Kindness" and "Shoot Out the Lights" on it and I hadn't heard it before. ... I’d seen Richard at the Cultch on the same guy's recommendation, I didn't really know him. I've got the tape of the show. Roy Forbes gave it to me years later.
Anyway, the Railway Club. Barney Bentall's on the bill. I thought, "Well, I've heard of him. He's supposed to be pretty good." And opening was this band called Spirit of the West. Never heard of them. And as soon as they started playing, I was immediately transported back to Stafford and the JSD Band, because there was a blend of songs and instrumentals, Celtic stuff, and it was great, foot-stomping stuff. The crowd was all for it, they were doing crazy things like "General Guinness” -- just brilliant, you know. I was completely sort of gob-smacked by this.
THE RADIO SHOW
CiTR Radio went onto the FM dial, I think in '83, and I started to listen to them, because there was bugger all else on the radio to listen to, and then they started printing play lists and you could pick them up at Phantasmagoria. You remember that store on Granville Street? It's between Georgia and Robson. It's not there now. Ellie O'Day used to work there. Great store, really nice. So they'd give you these play sheets for what's playing at CITR and I thought, "Wow, this is great," and then at the bottom of the page, they started to say, "Well, do you want to train as a radio DJ?" So I joined CITR and did all the training and did all the demo tapes and stuff. And they said, "Well, the only vacancy we've got on the air is a folk show."
That week I got to see Spirit of the West and heard the Pogues and Richard Thompson and I thought, "You know, I could do that." So I did the radio show on the strength of that and I started it on the -- it was actually the 1st of June, 1985, and it was three days after Heysel, which is the European Cup final between Liverpool and Juventus, where the Liverpool fans murdered 39 Juventus fans by pushing a wall over and it crushed them. And Billy Bragg played that night at the Town Pump, and he said, "This is a really bad day to be English," because everybody was -- there was knives out for the English. The Juventus fans still feel the same way.
I remember that, because it was just three days before my first radio show and I did it -- it was an hour and a half on a Saturday morning and it was the most exhilarating experience I'd ever felt, you know, there I was with a turntable, a backpack full of LPs and I'm cueing up these records, playing the old promo carts, like an 8-track with all the programme promos on it and stuff, and there was a lot of humour in those promos in the early days, there was some great talents at CITR, and it was great fun.
STEVE EDGE: So that got me into it and I'd been doing that for a year, then Cominco laid me off, but I'd already bought the day pass for Expo, for the world's fair. So I spent, like every day from April to October, six months of the world's fair. And the previous summer, in '85, if you look now by the Science World, across the street where the railway tracks used to run, there's a building -- I'm not sure how many sides it is, but it's got a glass roof and sort of an open-sided greenhouse kind of thing. That was a stage before Expo and during Expo. There were two, there was another one further up the side, but that one is still there, and that's where I first saw Spirit of the West and that's where I first met Margaret as well.
In that particular gazebo, which is still there, but it's not being used for anything, I've got a load of recordings which I did on my ghetto blaster just into the microphone of Spirit of the West, the first trio, and all this kind of stuff, and so that was all under way. So I was already doing the radio show and I was interested in what Spirit of the West was up to and then I got laid off.
And around about the same time, the computer programming languages went from eight-bit programming to 16, which meant that all of the languages changed, and it was like being dropped into a foreign country with a different alphabet. It was -- "What the bloody hell is going on?" And I became unemployable overnight, almost, and I thought I'd got a job at Pacific Press, I was on the short list. They turned me down. And I thought I'd got a job at Woodward’s after that and they turned me down as well, and so I was stranded. And then I went to BCIT to try and learn this 16-bit stuff and I just floundered. So I ended up just not having a job. But I still had the day pass for Expo, and we'd got visitors coming over from overseas, parents, me brother and all kinds of people, so there was no reason to do any work, because I'd got a fairly good severance package from Cominco and I got a day pass to go and see music every day and be thoroughly entertained and enthralled by the world coming to Vancouver.
Probably the most influential things that happened there was that I got brow-beaten almost literally by Noel Dinn, the late drummer of Figgy Duff, to present a concert with Figgy Duff. His rationale was "We've got work. All of a sudden, after Expo's finished, we're not going to have any work and I don't like that idea, so we've gotta find somebody to put on a show. It's gotta be you, because we don't know anybody else. You've got a radio show, you've got some contacts. You're going to do it." Okay.
TONY MONTAGUE: Oh, wow.
THE BIRTH OF THE ROGUE FOLK CLUB
STEVE EDGE: So we ended up doing two shows with Figgy Duff at the Cultch at the beginning of '87. Both sold out. It was great, great fun. I remember Brent Gibson, the late director of the Cultch, said the hardest job he ever had was trying to take a bell jar full of Screech off a Newfoundlander at the Cultch.
TONY MONTAGUE: I know – I was there. Did I tell you about that incident? I mean that was the guy I was with. That was Paul from the Suffering Gaels, right? Paul Keating. That was a weird incident. He puked. He puked over the balcony. And then what he did is because they were obviously going to throw him out, he did the only thing -- he was a bit like somebody running into the church and running up to the altar, he ran right up in front of the band and started dancing like crazy. Everybody went bonkers and nobody could come in and haul him off because he was so popular.
STEVE EDGE: Excellent. We put those shows on. I remember getting a speeding ticket on Terminal because I had to rent drums and gear from Long & McQuade, which used to be on 4th Avenue right close to Granville Island, and it took me about four or five journeys in me Toyota Tercel to bring all of the gear from the Cultch and back again, and the last trip, I got a speeding ticket because I was just pedal to the metal. Anyway, so I do remember that very well.
But the other thing that happened at Expo is that a certain Gary Cristall, who was running the Folklife pavilion -- which had incredible stuff. First time I saw Ian Tyson and saw a lot of different people there, saw Shari Ulrich there for the first time, all kinds of stuff, but -- and there was some great music in there, but he absolutely, steadfastly refused to book Spirit of the West, because he said, you know, "If I want a Celtic band, I'll bring one in from Ireland or Newfoundland or Scotland or whatever," and he's like, "There's the point," there's his appreciation out the window. He had no idea what they were about and he just dismissed them. Anyway, what happened at Folklife was that Connie Kaldor was getting shitloads of work at Expo. She did the Saskatchewan Pavilion, she did Folklife, and one day she said, "Right, Spirit of the West can't get into Folklife, they're my backing band for this show." So Connie brought Spirit of the West in as her band, sang a couple of songs and left them to it. So I thought, "I like this woman. This is good. I like this. This is very -- not to put too fine a point on it -- "This is very rogue."
And it was that summer that -- you see, what happened at Expo again was the B.C. government had to change the licensing laws because the bars were all closed on a Sunday and there's no way you can have a world’s fair when you shut the bars one day a week.
Janet Forsyth, wonderful woman, Bob Williams' daughter, ran the Savoy and the Railway Club in those days and she knew Spirit of the West, she was their manager for a while. We would often go to the Savoy and I remember Geoff brought the Battlefield Band to play the Savoy one year and I was there for that one, recorded that show into the ghetto blaster. It was fantastic, what a great night. The Tannahill Weavers came in and did another show.
So then Janet said to me one day, she said, "After Expo," she says ... “programme Sundays.” They'd never done it before. "You can have any Sunday you want at the Savoy and put some folk music in it." Okay? So again, you know, we'd drummed up a lot of contacts during Expo and not just from that, but also from Geoff and from Jim McLaughlin in Edmonton, his buddy is Roddy Campbell (later of Penguin Eggs magazine). We did a show with Dougie McLean and then we did the Figgy Duff stuff and then we did Vin Garbutt and that was at the Savoy and Janet was so happy with that show, she was just laughing her head off, she brought her mum and dad down to hear him in the 2nd set, because it was just ridiculous. We had Willie P. Bennett play there and I remember going to the Classical Joint. Remember that place?
TONY MONTAGUE: Yeah.
STEVE EDGE: Stephen Fearing was at the Classical Joint and (James) Keelaghan came to town with him for the first time. They did the open mic there and Willie P. Bennett dropped in and their jaws hit the floor. I didn't know who he was. He ended up staying at our house. He was talking on the phone all night. I said, "Is this an expensive call?" He said, "No, I'm paying for it." So -- ... because he was talking all night with his wife back home in Ontario. Interesting man. We had a lot of people stay at our place in the early days ...
We had a load of bands that we could put on there, and then the Savoy got sold, so that put the kibosh on things. That was in the spring of '88 and so we had to find somewhere else. And of course the Railway Club was the obvious choice, because Janet ran that as well. There was the very famous instance of the Sunday Umbrella Band, which had Dave Marshall and Daniel Lapp –
TONY MONTAGUE: That's right. I was in the Sunday Umbrella Band.
STEVE EDGE: Loreena McKennitt was at the Railway Club and there must have been 200 people there that night. It was insane, I mean there were only 50 people who could see the stage at the Railway at the best of times, but the rest of the room was just jammed! And it was crazy! She just had Brian Hughes and maybe a bass player with her, but it was fantastic! What a great show that was. But you couldn't do that, you know, it was just too small. So we gravitated to a couple different places. Richard Flohil was her manager and he said, "You can have Loreena McKennitt until you fuck up." We did two nights with her at the ANZA Club and nobody came, and so that was it, we didn't hear back from Loreena after that.
TONY MONTAGUE: That's a good quote.
STEVE EDGE: That's a good one. Anyway, that was a sad thing, in the summer of '88.