50 years of Dunfermline’s Howff remembered by Barbara Dickson

The Howff in Dunfermline played a part in singer Barbara Dickson's career
The Howff in Dunfermline played a part in singer Barbara Dickson's career
Share this article

Dunfermline Folk Club is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its beginnings as the former air raid shelter turned music venue, The Howff.

In 1961 Dunfermline was about to experience what has become known as the folk revival.

Dunfermline Folk Club The Howff circa 1970'comp from Gifford Lind.'7.10.11

Dunfermline Folk Club The Howff circa 1970'comp from Gifford Lind.'7.10.11

Radio 1 hadn’t started yet, and Radio Luxemburg was responsible for beaming in young people’s music which was seldom heard on any of the BBC’s programmes. Jazz, folk and pop musicians were part of an underground movement not altogether approved of by the establishment of the time. Through the efforts of local local music enthusiasts John Watt, Jack Beck and others, Dunfermline became involved in this underground world when a new music venue opened in a cellar in Chalmers Street, and became the home of the Dunfermline Howff Folksong Club.

The Howff - as it came to be known - was in the basement of a chemist’s shop which had been an air raid shelter during the war.

Jack Beck recalls: “Once we’d converted the props holding up the roof into benches and generally cleaned and tidied the place it finally opened in October. The place held about 80 people at a push – a severe push! So many turned up for the opening of the folk club it had to be repeated the following night.”

The Howff became the place to be, and the club thrived on a commitment to support new acts alongside the carriers of traditional song such as Jimmy MacBeath from Portsoy, Hamish Henderson, Jeanie Robertson, the Stewarts of Blair and local shepherd Willie Scott.

In 1962 Josh MacRae appeared. He had already had a top ten hit with Ewan MacVicar’s ‘Talking Army Blues’ and in 1962 was at number one with ‘Messing About on the River’. Archie Fisher became a regular performer, appearing six times with his sister Ray, and 12 times solo. The club also hosted nights with Bert Jansch, The Corrie Folk Four, Robin Williamson, Mike Heron, Hamish Imlach , Matt McGinn, Alex Campbell, The McCalmans, The Tregullion, Rab Noakes, John Watt, Jack Beck, Barbara Dickson, Humblebums, Clutha and many more.

Barbara Dickson attended nights at the Howff, and describes the unique atmosphere that it created.

She said: “I went to the Howff in Chalmers Street and loved the atmosphere. A cellar, late night, coffee to drink - very sophisticated for the time. As Jack Beck says, it really developed out of the jazz scene and the bohemian vibe was similar. It was all very grown up and you could smoke!”

Barbara performed with Jack Beck at the Howff, and one of her first performances as a solo artist was in the Cellar. The Howff played a significant part in the development of her singing career.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the start of the Dunfermline Folksong Club, the current club has organised an exhibition of photographs that give a window into the kind of place it was. Local artist Ian Moir has mounted a number of striking images, and also created a painting to remember the Dunfermline Howff Folksong Club.

The exhibition opening will be from 2.30pm till 5.00pm on 15 October in Canmore House beside the Alhambra Theatre.

The exhibition will be open from 10.00am to 4,00pm from 16 to 23 October.

The Dunfermline Folk Club is grateful to Fife Council and the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust for the support they have provided to make this event happen.