This week on the Secret Library we hear from Karen Downham, Library Officer at the Central Library. Although most music events are cancelled at the moment, Karen gives us a fascinating look back to an event that took place in the 1980s – explaining, along the way, how The Rolling Stones’ 1982 European Tour caused a Princess Diana lookalike to journey from Great Yarmouth to Leeds…
The Leeds Folk Festival was held for just two consecutive years on September of 1982 and 1983, in Temple Newsam Park. It was given the go-ahead by Leeds Leisure Services committee in 1981, and was planned to be one of the largest in Britain, rivalling the Cambridge Folk Festival. The Leeds festival was organised by Leeds Leisure Services, Tykes Association of Folk Clubs, the English Folk Dance & Song Society, and the recording label Celtic Music. Sponsorship came from Leeds City Council and Radio Aire. It was hoped to surpass the one at Cambridge, especially after the recent successful concert by The Rolling Stones at Roundhay Park on 25th July 1982. A 15-acre campsite was planned for 2,500 people, with around 3,500 day visitors expected. There were two main stages and a craft fair, and weekend tickets came at a price of £12. The Tykes Folk Convention ran alongside, with separate weekend ticket price of £6.
The 1982 event took place on 10th – 12th September, with a slow start on the Friday night but with attendance numbers improving on the Saturday and Sunday. Total attendance over the weekend was around 4,000. Yorkshire Television filmed extensively over the weekend, and a short 30 minute clip of film is held at the Yorkshire Film Archive http://www.yorkshirefilmarchive.com/film/leeds-folk-festival. The headline acts were The Fureys, Davey Arthur, Maddy Prior Band, Moving Hearts, Richard Thompson, and Clannad.
The first Leeds Folk festival was hailed as a great success artistically, but financially it made a loss of £22,000. This loss was offset by the £60,000 profit from the Rolling Stones concert, split equally between the Music and Parks departments. The remaining £8,000 in the Music department was used to fund various community arts programmes.
The 1983 event was held on the 9th-11th of September, despite the £22,000 loss of the previous year, with hopes to make the event self-financing, and aiming for crowd numbers of 6-7,000 people. The line-up had many top folk acts booked, including: Battlefield Band, Paul Brady, Stockton’s Wing, Dick Gaughan, Vin Garbutt, Runrig, Martin Simpson, John Martyn, Pyewackett, Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames, Moving Hearts, The Doonan Family, and Leeds man Jon Strong.
However, although the music is reported to have been excellent, and much enjoyed by those in attendance, it was the unpredictability of the British weather that held sway. The weekend was very wet and windy, and there were problems with power failures caused in part by the wet weather. Rain also caused damage to many of the exhibits in the Craft Fair.
Unfortunately the festival did not run again, presumably due to financial problems after making a large loss for the second year running. There has been much debate over whether the plans were too ambitious, but for the two years that the festival was held, it hosted some of the biggest and most influential names in folk music, some of whom are still performing and can still command large audiences.
Yorkshire Post (9th October 1981), ‘City approves plan for big folk festival’
Yorkshire Evening Post (11th Sept 1982), ‘Low-key start to music treat’
Yorkshire Evening Post (19th August 1982), ‘Leeds tunes up for folk first’
Yorkshire Evening Post (13th Sept 1982), ‘A three-day story of Leeds Folk’
Yorkshire Evening Post (18th Sept 1982), ‘The ‘folksy’ success leaves a £20,000 bill to pay’
Yorkshire Evening Post (7th January 1983), ‘£22,000 in the red – but folk festival goes on’
Yorkshire Evening Post (31st August 1983), ‘Stage is set for festival No.2’
Yorkshire Evening Post (9th Sept 1983), ‘It’s all go for folk festival’
Yorkshire Post (10th Sept 1983), ‘Leeds Folk Festival, Temple Newsam Park’
Yorkshire Evening Post (10th Sept 1983), ‘All a-singin’ in the rain-o…Real dampener – but folk goes on’
Yorkshire Evening Post (12th Sept 1983), ‘It’s a wet one for the folkies’
Yorkshire Post (12th Sept 1983) ‘Hardy folk’
(1982) 1st Leeds Folk Festival 1982, Sept 1-12 Temple Newsam Park – programme. Leeds Local & Family History Library at LP 790.79 L517.
Poster for the Leeds Folk Festival (1983) Available at https://picclick.co.uk/VINTAGE-FOLK-FESTIVAL-POSTER-LEEDS-September-1983-Temple-153127959649.html#&gid=1&pid=1 [Accessed 2nd October 2019]