The Rollright Stones were a folk song and dance band, short-lived but successful. And a lot of fun to play in!
We were based in the Banbury area and gigged in the UK and Belgium between 1978 and 1980.
Adderbury Village Morris dancer Bryan Sheppard played anglo concertina and melodeon and sang. Bryan was also the band's caller for our folk dance (ceilidh) gigs, for which he had his own inimitable and cheeky style. Calling "Change your partners!" just as the room was plunged into total darkness... that sort of thing.
Bryan did some solo morris jigs, too, as part of our act. The Bacca Pipes Jig involved Bryan dancing over and around a pair of old-fashioned clay pipes, as in the picture on the right. Full of bravado, he would offer to buy the whole audience a drink if he made a mistake whilst dancing, and broke the fragile pipes. But he never did. The pipes were not fragile at all. I made them from coathanger wire, wood and a lot of filler.
Chris (Christine) Sheppard — Bryan's then wife — was on vocals and percussion, and also did some clog dancing. We made up an amplified clogboard for her by fixing a contact mic to the bottom of a wooden platform. Chris is dancing on her electric clogboard in the photo on the left.
Pete Kenna (like me, ex-Worcester Brawles, played guitar, glockenspiel, and accordian. I played fiddle, flute, recorders of various sizes, several tin whistles, and sang.
We had a few friends as guest musicians from time to time, too. One of these was fellow fiddler Chris Leslie (nowadays, a member of Fairport Convention) who played bass for us once or twice at dance gigs.
The Rollright Stones started by doing floor spots at Banbury's 'Prince of Wales' Folk Club (now defunct) and grew rapidly from there. In the short time that the group existed, we did lots of gigs, of all kinds.
Some gigs were unforgettably hard work, like one bitingly cold outdoor set that we played at Moulton near Northants. Chris sang wearing a fur coat, I recall. Other gigs were better forgotten: at the Civil Service Sports and Social Club in Bicester, the audience had almost entirely left by our second or third song. But they rushed back in and began dancing once we had been paid off by the organiser ("It was a mistake, we shouldn't have booked you.") and the juke box restarted.
Most, however, were a lot of fun, like The Lacock and Chippenham Folk Festival in May 1979. We also played on a haywagon which wobbled ceaselessly, and in a Fire Station, and in some up-market marquees for a party by the river at Henley-on-Thames (plenty of fizz there...). The Rollright Stones also played at the Mid-Wales Hospital (now closed; originally the 'Brecon and Radnor Joint Counties Lunatic Asylum') in Talgarth, Wales (curiously, only a short distance from where I now live). While we were playing for a dance, one of the patients got up on stage with us and joined in. We began to dissuade him, but someone who worked there said "I'd let him play if I were you. He's in here because he's killed three people already".
Also fun (if nerve-racking at the time) was supporting Fairport Convention at very short notice — a couple of hours — because the pre-booked support band couldn't play. The gig was at Banbury's now-vanished Winter Gardens (sadly missed: it had a bar named 'The Inn Within' which was a favourite haunt of the local hardened drinkers). My Geordie friend Tony Charlton had driven to Banbury for the Fairport gig: he was astounded when I said that I was playing. And I learned something too. Fairport had the words to some of their songs written out in big letters on large sheets of paper, which were then taped to the stage. "So even my heroes forget the words to songs sometimes", I realised...
We also really enjoyed playing in Belgium. First at the Poechenelles bar in Brussels, which was not far from the Mannikin Pis fountain. We played in a cellar bar with puppets dangling from the ceiling (see the pic on the left) which could get tangled up with my bow if I wasn't careful. Later, we played at other small venues in Belgium; at about this time, Pete discovered the Belgian taste of mayonnaise on frites, which broadened his horizons and eventually changed his life (he now has a house in the Netherlands). And following one Brussels gig, Brian got so drunk that he climbed in underneath, rather than above, the rubber sheets which were the lowest layer on all the beds in our rather seedy and unsalubrious hotel. Yuk!
When The Rollright Stones played a support spot at Fairport's Farewell Concert in Cropredy, Oxfordshire, on 4 August 1979, it was meant to be Fairport's final gig. Fairport subsequently reformed, however, and are still playing together now. (Jo and I will be going to hear them at Fairport Cropredy 2020, 41 years since I played there!)
Anyway, the Rollright Stones got some very nice reviews from playing this Cropredy gig. Folk Roots magazine described The Rollrights as:
"... a really dazzling little folk group who were the first bright spark of the afternoon, with a programme that was varied, in content as well as dynamics, and representative of the best that the folk scene has to offer at a grassroots level...".
And the Melody Maker music newspaper reported that:
"... a group called the Rollright Stones brought the crowd to its feet with some lively concertina-based music".
We didn't really "bring the crowd to its feet", though. Well, not exactly. The band had been given some free tickets, I gave these away to my friends on condition that, when the Rollright Stones were playing, they scattered themselves amongst the crowd and yelled loudly. It seems to have worked.
The Rollright Stones were offered several gigs as a result of playing at Cropredy, including some festival gigs abroad. Things were looking good for the band, but we split up not long afterwards. Our last gig was at Aldershot Army Camp, I think.
Bryan went off to The Hookey Band. See the next page for what I did!
Next: Mortlock and Underwood
PS Some of my photos of the Fairport Farewell Concert at Cropredy in 1979 were used in this 2017 documentary about Fairport Convention's 50th anniversary. I'm glad they were useful to somebody!
PPS And how about this video of Cropredy 1979? The Rollright Stones are at the end of the video