Rod started going to Gloucester Folk Song Club when it was at the Rickneld Centre in the late 1960s. It soon moved to The Ship Inn, on the Quay, where he sang his first song – Off to Sea Once More – it’s still a favourite.
He and I got together at the Sidmouth Folk Festival in 1970, which now seems a frighteningly long time ago.
He first gained an interest in shanties and sea songs when we were at the Ship and a group called The Quayside Shantymen was formed to start the weekly club sessions. We took over running the club in about 1972 and ran it for nearly thirty years; first at The Ship, then The Midland and Royal, the India House and finally The East End Tavern. Over the years Rod welcomed most of the famous folk singers from Britain and Ireland who were our guests.
I guess I fell in love with the voice, and I still love listening to his wide range of songs and tunes. At first he sang either unaccompanied or with guitar, but eventually he took up English Concertina and more recently Chromatic button accordion. A truly multi-talented musician, he also plays melodeon, mandolin, mandola and banjo. I’ve bought him a new instrument most years; for this special 75th birthday he’s getting a piano accordion, so expect to see that in the near future - when he is satisfied he can play it well. We’ll have been together for 50 years next year, although we did wait 43 years before we got married, so we have quite a houseful of instruments.
With a very powerful and wonderfully melodic voice, Rod sings traditional and contemporary folk songs, sea shanties and forebitters, blues and does the occasional monologue.
As well as solo singing, Rod founded the shanty group the Gloucester Diamonds with his great friend, the late, Andrew Taylor. Over the past 40 years the Diamonds line up has changed several times but always with Rod leading the group.
The Folk Club had moved to The Midland and Royal when he started playing concertina. Rod and Dickie Major formed a Ceilidh band, along with Roly Alcock, and others. Ceilidhs soon became a regular part of life. They still are, playing with Norma Mills and Mark Wallace in the band Bees Knees keeps him busy on many Friday and Saturday evenings.
Rod was also a founder member of The City of Gloucester Mummers, started in 1969. They performed the Gloucester Play outside Gloucester Cathedral every Boxing Day as well as other local plays from Bisley, Painswick and Broadway in their original villages. Although they passed their plays on to the Gloucestershire Morris Men’s Mummers side a few years ago, Rod will be playing Robin Hood, in the Gloucester Play, again this year – for the 50th time! I guess his line, “For forty or fifty years I lived in a wood,” is appropriate.
Rod has sung and played at folk festivals all over the country, and was a founder member of the Upton on Severn Folk festival which celebrated its 3oth birthday this year with a very successful festival. He is well-known not only as a singer and musician but also as a Compere, one who is much appreciated by artists and audiences for always keeping events running to time.
What of the future? Many more years of singing playing and enjoying folk music.
As Rod often says – ‘Music is my life - it is what I am…’
Gill Bowmer 2019