The Willows Folk Club is a weekly club presenting a broad range of folk & acoustic music, and meets every Wednesday in the function room of Arundel Football Club, Mill Road, Arundel, in West Sussex, UK.
The club was founded in 1972 and has been running constantly since that time, with its commitment to promoting folk music in its broadest sense being consistent throughout.
Stylistically, the club prides itself on its diversity, and is known for showcasing traditional & contemporary folk, Celtic music, singer-songwriters, bluegrass, Americana, acoustic blues & ragtime, skiffle, and even occasionally acoustic (“hot club” style) jazz, old favourites from the 1950s & 1960s played in an acoustic fashion, and more besides!
The excellent function room of Arundel Football Club has been the Willows’ home since the end of 2005, and the club boasts many great facilities, including a well stocked bar, full disabled access (including disabled toilet), and is easy to find and access. For more information, see our Where To Find Us page.
A POTTED HISTORY
Jim LeeThe Willows began life in October 1972, when local folk stalwart Jim Lee was approached by Arundel Cricket Club to set up a
folk club to meet in their pavilion. Folk music at the time was extremely popular, with many folk artists enjoying chart success, and so folk clubs were considered by many venues to be a great source of potential revenue. The club proved to be a great hit, attracting many fine local and national musicians, and built up a strong reputation as one of the best places to play on the folk scene in Sussex.
Jim Lee has always been an accomplished and sought-after musician, and when outside touring commitments forced him to give up the running of the club, it was taken over by Mal Simms and Rick Willings, who at the time were playing with Pied Merlin, one of the most successful folk bands ever to grace the South Coast. Mal & Rick ran the club together very successfully for a couple of years before, once again, outside commitments dictated that they had to relinquish the reins.
Bill and Jean HedgesIn 1975 began arguably the most successful period of the club’s life, when it was taken on by Bill & Jean Hedges. Bill & Jean had previously manned the door for Mal & Rick whilst they had MC’ed the evenings, and so they were a logical choice to take it over. Under Bill & Jean’s stewardship of the club, many of the most famous names on the UK folk scene could be seen performing there – artists such as Vin Garbutt and Allan Taylor were regular guests, legendary duo Show of Hands played one of their first Sussex gigs there, and even the late, great Sandy Denny once popped in to play a rare solo gig at the Willows!
Under Bill & Jean, the Willows in Arundel became a local institution, regularly pulling in huge crowds for the many fantastic guest nights they used to enjoy. Unfortunately, in the early 1990s, Jean passed away, with Bill also passing away shortly thereafter, and the club once again needed a fresh pair of hands to lead it on into the new decade. Enter singer-songwriter Jerry Page, a longstanding regular performer at the club, who, together with his wife Lynne, took over the club and ran it for roughly a year or so before heading off to other musical projects.
After Jerry & Lynne’s tenure as organisers ended, the club once again was in danger of closing, and so in stepped Eddie Ferrier – Eddie had been the barman at the Willows every Wednesday throughout the club’s life, and such was his passion for the club that he took it over rather than see it close. Eddie kept the club ticking over “behind the scenes” whilst the MC-ing duties were handled by Willows regulars Bob Walker, Mike Nicholson and the late Roger Courtney.
Unfortunately the mid-1990s proved to be a bit of a struggle for the Willows, and in the early stages of 1997 the club actually closed after 25 years of providing top quality folk music.
Disappointed at the club’s closure, a committee of individuals, headed by former resident performers Andrew Perry (at the time well known for his membership of well regarded acoustic trio Panhandle Conspiracy) and Frank Regester, worked hard to set the club up again, this time taking it in a slightly more eclectic direction than previously. The Willows Acoustic Music Club opened in the summer of 1997, and continued in that format until the following year, when it was decided to take the club back to its “folkier” roots, and the club was again re-christened, this time as “The Famous Willows Folk Club”, a name designed to herald a new chapter in the club’s life whilst still acknowledging its longstanding heritage.
The Famous Willows Folk Club continued to be run by a committee, still headed by Frank Regester but this time joined by the driving force of Mark Williams, for a number of years, bringing many of the folk scene’s very finest acts to the club’s stage, including Dave Swarbrick, Huw & Tony Williams, and many others. The members of the committee worked hard to again establish the Willows as one of the leading venues for folk music in Sussex, earning the club praise from artists and fellow venue organisers alike for its bold and cutting edge programming.
Chris DavisAt the end of 2001, several members of the committee had to stand down due to outside pressures, and once again the club was in danger of closure. Stepping into the breach this time was then-19-year-old Chris Davis and his family – Chris had previously earned a place on the committee through his passion and enthusiasm for the club (at age 17 he was heralded as the youngest folk club MC in the country), and despite his young age seemed to many a natural choice to take the club over.
Since that time the club has continued to go from strength to strength, attracting high audience numbers not just to the many fine guest nights that the Willows has hosted (including performances by Julie Felix, The Tannahill Weavers, Eric Bogle, and other leading lights) but also for the club’s Come All Ye – Open Stage Nights, which have been a staple of the Willows for over a decade and long provided a forum for local acoustic singers & musicians to try their hand in front of an audience.
At the end of 2005, the Willows was forced to relocate to new premises for the first time in its history (having previously been located at Arundel Cricket Club for a staggering 33 years!). Since the end of 2005, the Willows had been proud to be associated with Arundel Football Club, the venue it now calls home and one of the most popular venues in Sussex.
For almost four decades, the Willows Folk Club has worked hard to maintain its place at the heart of folk & acoustic music in Sussex. Obviously it’s never possible to predict the future, but the club continues to enjoy a good amount of success and everyone involved with the club hopes that she will continue to thrive for many years to come.