Before his massive success, Paul Simon spent some time working on the UK folk circuit. Courtesy Wiltshire County Council.
A letter written by singer-songwriter Paul Simon asking for work at a Swindon folk club has been found among a vast archive of material acquired by the Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office.
The material comes from the archive of the Swindon Folk Singers Club and contains a wealth of press cuttings, song lyrics and letters, detailing the history of the club from its foundation in 1960 to the present day.
"It is rare to find such a comprehensive archive from a provincial folk club," explained Wiltshire County Council archivist Steve Hobbs. "The archive is a fascinating piece of social history, which shows the links between folk music and protest. For example, the club staged benefits for both CND and the Support the Miners campaign in the 1980s."
But among the more intriguing items is a letter penned by the soon-to-be world famous singer-songwriter, Paul Simon.
Wiltshire County Archivist Steve Hobbs made the discovery. Courtesy Wiltshire County Council.
Addressed to club owner Ted Poole, Paul Simon’s letter is dated June 12 1964 and asks for work as part of a tour of west country folk clubs. Based in Britain at the time, Simon is thought to have written some of his best-known songs here including Homeward Bound, reputedly written at a railway station in Liverpool.
In his letter, he wrote: "I record for Columbia Records in the States and will cut my first LP for Topic Records over here. I would appreciate any work that you could give me between the first week of August and the first week of September."
He lists venues he’d already played at in London, the Roundhouse, the Troubadour and the Black Horse, and states that his fee would be seven pounds, plus expenses. A few years later, songs such as Homeward Bound, Bridge Over Troubled Water and The Sound of Silence would sell in their millions and see him play to thousands alongside Art Garfunkel.
But back in 1964 a small folk club in Swindon would have done the job. The Swindon Folk Singers Club was founded in 1960 by Ted and Ivy Poole, growing out of the folk protest and peace movement of the 1950s and 1960s. It started in a cellar beneath the Communist Party's Swindon branch.
As the contents of the archive shows it was among the most important folk venues in the south west. There is a huge volume of material, including correspondence with artists, newspaper cuttings about the club, publicity material, lyrics of songs and folk record company catalogues.
In a very respectful tone, the singer wrote: "I would appreciate any work that you could give me between the first week of August and the first week of September." Courtesy Wiltshire County Council.
It also shows how the club played host to a number of prominent names in the British folk scene, including Ewan MacColl, father of late singer Kirsty MacColl.
There is also a letter dated 1966 from Adge Cutler, who died in 1974 but whose backing band The Wurzels went on to enjoy chart success. In his letter, Adge says: "I sing all West Country songs, usually unaccompanied although I can provide accompaniment if required."
Among the songs he mentions are such colourful sounding ditties as The Champion Dung Spreader and Drink Up Thy Cider George.
The archive is available for the public to view at the Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office in Trowbridge.