Stan Robertson was a Fifer who became a larger than life presence in the Ayrshire town of Irvine when he moved initially to nearby Craigie village with his family in 1965. A Burns enthusiast and a lifelong advocate for folk music, Stan quickly realised that the folk music sessions that took place in various different pubs in the town were an asset that might benefit from coming together into a club.
So, in October 1966, Stan and a group of local enthusiasts formed the Eglington Folk Club, which ran in the Eglinton Hotel every Wednesday and quickly became a thriving attraction. Queues from the Eglington up to the local post office, numbering over a hundred people, were not unknown. The following year, building on the club’s success, Stan started Marymass Folk Festival.
Later, having switched from youth worker to become deputy head of leisure and recreation with Cunninghame District Council, he was responsible for naming a new leisure complex by Irvine harbour the Magnum Centre. For years, however, Stan remained synonymous with the folk club, which not only offered many local people their first taste of live music, but also gave many musicians one of their early gigs on the road to national and international prominence.
Billy Connolly, who was paid the princely sum of £25, Rab Noakes, Hamish Imlach, Danny Kyle and Titch Frier were among the bill toppers during the 1960s and as the club’s reputation grew approaches from international names brought attractions including the Breton group An Triskell to Irvine.
Like most long-running musical enterprises, the club hasn’t been without its problems. The Eglinton Hotel was sold to a developer and eventually turned into flats, prompting a series of moves to different venues including the Grange Hotel, the Redburn Hotel, the Turf Hotel and the Golf Hotel, which had formerly been the Grange Hotel, before the club, having long since changed its name to Irvine Folk Club, settled into its current home, Vineburgh Community Centre.
Audience numbers have also gone through different phases and a visit from the late Jean Redpath stands out as not being the club’s finest hour in terms of public support, but the club has always persevered through lean times and is proud of its record of having run continuously since its first night.
A change from weekly to fortnightly meetings has benefited the club, as has the Vineburgh Community Centre’s policy of letting customers bring their own bottles into the premises. The money that club members save from not handing over bar prices generally goes towards the raffle, a feature that most folk clubs need to remain afloat.
The club’s current secretary and treasurer, Joyce Hodge has been a member for forty-eight years and brings a similar dedication to the club that Stan Robertson showed until his death in 2002. Joyce puts the club’s longevity down to presenting a consistently high standard of performers, continually trying to attract a younger following to complement its members’ loyalty and offering musicians a decent guarantee set against a generous share of ticket sales that will fairly reflect their ability to attract an audience.
Irvine Folk Club, she says, is not out to make money but to survive and serve the music and the local community, a service it continues to provide as new generations of performers continue to emerge.