Monday, February 20, 2017

Paddy Prescott - Organiser of the Lanchester Polytech Folk Club, Coventry

Paddy Prescott and his brother at the Lanch Poly in Coventry 1970's

The following memories of  Paddy Prescott come from William Arnold, son of Ben Arnold, of which more is written on this blog as a Coventry folk club organiser and pioneer in the 1960's. William shared accommodation with Paddy at one stage.

"Paddy is and was a fascinating character and a genuine person. I was introduced by Paddy to Irish music sessions at the Four Provinces Club which tended to be rather republican and a bit off putting for non Irish. Chapelfields, with its many pubs, was the setting for various Sunday dinner time sessions. Remember this was when pubs religiously shut early on Sundays. A long running one was at the Nursery Tavern, Lord Street where Dave Bennett was a stalwart, amazing every one with the volume of his repertoire and his amazing skill and dexterity producing rhythm, bass, treble and harmony lines in perfect time with only 10 digits. A genuine virtuoso, he was never tempted to go even semi-professional, even though his skills equalled and exceeded many name musicians. Think Chet Atkins and Les Paul his material was mostly western Swing and Ragtime music. Rod Felton would sometimes appear and I am always grateful to him for the support he gave me when I needed it after too much to drink!


In the 80's Paddy lived in Alma Street and worked as bar cellar man in the Foresters Arms pub, just over the road, which was run by Sid a character in his own right and a folk enthusiast. It was in the back room here that Paddy held court on Wednesdays for his nondenominational folk sessions. A group of friends and associates, yet not exclusive. Occasionally people just popped in and we'd always make them feel welcome. Lenny was a regular ,he had converted to Roman Catholicism and would occasionally lament the passing of his wild youth and poor taste, maintaining that the only real music worth bothering with was Blue Grass and Appalachian Mountain music and Rod Felton was also commonly in attendance and the hard core of Coventry folkies and they'd often continued until early morning at Paddy's miniscule bedsit. Most of the other residents had probably attended as well. Alma street had houses only on one side and they had all been gradually bought up by Paddy's landlord, not being a thoroughfare, occasionally he would hold street parties for his tenants, complete with music and dancing in the street!

Never one to take himself too seriously Paddy used half jokingly describe himself as an anarcho-syndicalist with Trotskyite leanings. he could of been described as a skinhead,outlaw biker / irish folksinger with attitudes! I first met him in 1978 when we shared a 2 up 2 down in St George's Road, Coventry, with his two cats, Trotsky and Durutti! 

As well as being External Affairs Officer at the Lanch Poly Tech, he was acting Entertainments Officer as the incumbent was not up to the job of hiring bands etc. In this role his greatest regret was turning down Dire Straits at £1000 as it was too expensive, just before they released Sultans of Swing. Strongly individual, he was not concerned that people laughed behind his back when at his parties he'd play the Trojan Story double LP and show off his skinhead and stomp dancing! This was not cool then but not too much later when the Specials and Selecter became Three Minute Heroes and every student it seemed had to know one, they stopped laughing. 

Lachester Poly Union building Coventry


Whether or not Paddy originated the Lanch Folk Club or not, he certainly gave it vigour and manage to attract large audiences both student and locals (unfortunately though I never paid to get in, and I can't remember who i saw there or even what night it was held!).

It was held in the infamous downstairs bar of the Poly, where plastic glasses sat on desk type tables and the walls displayed murals from the 60's of scenes from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (these were painted over just before Lord of the Rings became cool again with the release of the filmic version). The admission was a modest fee and allowed for well known folk groups / artists every other week and each week local folk impresarios and floor singers with Paddy doing the comparing and launching into one of his unaccompanied songs to get things going.

The accent was always on entertainment and many a student who had attended out of curiosity was converted to the cause despite his student providence and Paddy had managed to become integrated into the differing folk scenes that were going on in Coventry, particularly those that had carried on from the 60's, when coventry was a strong centre of Britain's new folkscene. Despite being the son of Ben Arnold, who was one of the movers and shakers of the 60's folk scene, it was Paddy that introduced me to the late 70's Coventry folk scene where i would meet people such as Rod Felton, Lenny, Gib Tod and others who considered me Ben's Son. 

Paddys enthusiasm for folk music stemmed from his enthusiasm for Irish culture, being irish by birth and happily adopted by a family of Norwich Catholics (he served as an altar boy in Norwich Cathedral) and wishing to establish an identity he mixed with the Irish diaspora acquiring, by osmosis, a non regional English / Irish accent that became stronger the drunker he became! Singing unaccompanied, sometimes adopting a Norfolk accent for songs like 3 score and ten, a good example of folk songs with strong choruses that the audience could sing along to (and its 3 score and 10 boys and men were lost from Grimsby town from Yarmouth down to Scarborough many hundreds more were drowned. Of fishing smacks and trawlers etc etc)


Unconcerned about trivialities like what is or isn't folk; for Paddy, folk music was a social and community activity and only really bothered about hushing the audience when it might discourage newcomers to performing. Apart from the Lanch Folk Club, Paddy was well known and liked in the many Coventry folk sessions. He was a stalwart at the Dyers Arms backroom sessions and introduced me to them (incidentally Pauline Black's description is pretty much as I remember it. I can't remember ever seeing her there, which is not surprising, as I haven't the faintest idea of what she looks like!

Paddy eventually moved to Bolton to be with his girlfriend Belinda Moore, who used to be Julian Bell's girlfriend of Hot Snax (Snacks) and left the Coventry Folk Scene a little bit duller. That's about it for Paddy.

William Arnold 2016




1 comment:

  1. This has brought back great memories. Loved Paddy's renditions of Barratt's Privateers (best chorus ever!) and the infamous Yarmouth Town.

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