Most musicians harbour fond memories of particular events, occasions or friendships that spurred their early careers on, irrespective of whether they had ambitions of going “pro” or had set themselves somewhat more modest goals. To many Rhodie musicians the Rhodesian Folk Association occupies this space in their minds. The Association evolved through the efforts of Ray and Lesley Griffin who had established themselves on the Salisbury folk scene in the late 60’s. By 1971, when the idea of creating the Association arrived, they were playing regularly on the lawns of the Beverly Rocks Motel. The informal setting, the convenient location and, naturally, the outstanding music soon witnessed growing crowds attending these events.
One of the catalysts to the creation of the Association was the Motel manager at the time, George Neam. At one of their regular lawn sessions he remarked to the Griffins that they were “making such a racket” that they might like to move indoors to the “Green Room”, the hotel’s function room. Seizing the initiative, Ray and Lesley took George at his word and had soon occupied the “Green Room”! And so arrived the dawn of what was arguably to become the country’s longest running and most widely recognised folk club. Indeed, the Association has passed into folklore for what it represented to local musicians, with many of the country’s most worthy musical talents paying homage to the role it played in their subsequent success.
At the outset the club held its performances on Sunday nights and rarely did less than 150 music fans and performers assemble. A small entry fee was collected at the door, the proceeds going to the running of the Association. Lesley Griffin, in her dual roles of Secretary and Treasurer, was extremely professional in ensuring that all performances were legally compliant insisting, for instance, that copyrights were paid on all the material performed. In addition, all performers were registered as such with the appropriate office. During the war years the club would facilitate the visits of artists to the bush areas to entertainment the forces. They also raised funds for needy causes such as the St Giles Rehabilitation Centre.
Others who were intimately involved in the establishment of the club were artists and folk such as the late Clem Tholet and his wife, Jean, the late Dave Wenden and Rick Fenner who was present at the outset and provided useful encouragement and support. Apart from those already mentioned, other musicians included (and this list is by no means complete):
- Paddy Rocks
- Zig Zagoria (an excellent classical guitarist)
- Barry Graham (who accompanied Zig on flute)
- Tony Bird (who wrote all his own material and was an outstanding talent)
- Bruce Barbour
- Iris Jones
- Sheila Dawson
- Stewart Dawson (no relation to Sheila)
- Sheila Taylor
- Jo Sheridan
- Marietta and Dava Borrill (sisters who performed individually)
On occasion visiting artists and celebrities would make guest appearances much to the appreciation of the dedicated membership. Such artists included:
- Bill Clifton
- Jeremy Taylor
- Spike Milligan
- Ruby Murray
And it wasn’t only the “grown ups” who were having all the fun, either! One of the regular, and highly popular, attractions on the bill was a school mbira band made up of children from the ages of six to twelve. The youthful emsemble were paid Z$30.00 for their efforts, no small amount in those days and was a gratefully accepted addition to school funds.
Then there were “groupies” and “roadies”, those good folk who just like being around musicians and bands even if they don’t perform themselves. Regular faces in this area included Ed Young, Frank Farrarh, Al Harper (who eventually took over looking after the club’s funds) and John Coats Palgrave who was passionate about recording every session held.
Having established such a prominent position on the Rhodie music scene, it wasn’t long before Rhodesia Television roped the club’s members into performing “on the box”. Its members also participated in backing roles to other artists, one of the most notable being the recording of Clem Tholet’s “Rhodesians Never Die”. A musical summit was reached when the Association was given a weekly programme on radio to showcase its talents, this series running for three fourteen week periods.
In 1977 the Griffins’ relocated to Malawi when Ray was transferred there by his employers. This effectively ended their close and active ties with the Association. The organisation, however, continued to run for a number of years after their departure until its eventual dissolution for reasons unknown.
With their move to Malawi, Ray and Lesley continued their involvement in folk music and established themselves on the local scene in Blantyre and, subsequently, Lagos when they duly moved there. In 1984 they relocated again, this time to the United Kingdom where they ran their own business for many years, as well as running a pub for seven years. They regularly held gigs at their pub for folk and jazz functions. Their active playing days came to an end with the move to the United Kingdom but they continue to reflect on their days with the Rhodesian Folk Music Association with much pride and pleasure!