I was born and brought up in North London. Educated at Silver Street Infant School, Silver Street Junior School and Silver Street Secondary Modern School. (The words consistency & loyalty come to mind). On leaving school I served, what was called a verbal apprenticeship, (not worth the paper it was written on) with a local engineering firm. It was about that time that I became hooked on jazz and used to frequent the various jazz clubs in and around London.
At 18, I was called to serve my Queen and Country. (national service) I did 2 years in the Royal Marines. During training at Lympstone I earned my Marksman’s badge and was awarded the squad shooting medal. (they even managed to get my number wrong) Much to everyone’s amusement there was a bloke in our squad from Mousehole, Ben John - little did I realize that I would also become a resident of Mousehole for a time. After a spell at Bickleigh I spent the rest of my time abroad in Malta, Libya and Cyprus with 40 Commando. (for 2 years of my life I was CofE) I enjoyed my time in the marines and when my two years came to an end I did consider signing on - the prospects were tempting but I couldn’t bring myself to committ 5 years of my life to such a total lack of freedom.
I got a job as an electric shaver technician at Remmington Rand, (It was there that I grew a beard) working in the heart of London. The Skiffle craze was abound and I got caught up in it - I started on the ukulele, then progressed on to the guitar, learning the statutory three chords and I was invited to join a Skiffle group. At the first rehearsal it became apparent that none of the others were prepared to sing, so by default I became the lead singer. I frequented the Skiffle Cellar (later to become Les Cousins) the Barrelhouse and Blues club, at the Round House, Wardour St. just over the road from the Two I’s coffee bar, the Princess Louise, at Holborn, and a clutch of folk clubs in and around London, I eventually saw the influential Rambling Jack Elliot - it was he who inspired me to greater things.
I did a spell at repairing typewriters, but things started to turn a little sour and when a friend suggested fishing in Cornwall, although I knew nothing about fishing - or Cornwall come to that, it sounded good to me.
"Came down to Cornwall early one year, me mate, me guitar and me, to earn a fortune, lead an open air life rocking on the rolling sea".
Three of us came down and bought a boat, The Merlyn, from Mousehole, but only Bill and I moved down at that point. ( Ted came down later - much later) Our attempts at fishing kept Newlyn amused for months, but I must say that they eventually accepted us and I am ever grateful for the way we were looked after. I wouldn‘t have survived on my own without Chuggie... John Eddie and the like.
"Me mate got married and I was left alone to rock on the rolling sea".
I fished for several years, hand lining for mackerel and crewing on bigger boats, pilchard driving and long lining, and I was a divers boatman for a while. I was fishing with a mate, Ian ‘Andy’ Childs, and we used to frequent a cafe. The proprietor was a fellow called Harry Graves. He took a shine to us and when we ordered our meals he would shout down to the kitchen "Two meals for the fishermen". That was his way assuring that we had generous helpings. So we became known as Ian the Fisherman, and John the Fisherman. In no time at all it was abbreviated to John the fish. A name that has served me well over the yeas. All this time I was doing a bit of singing at parties and barbecues and the like.
Harry Graves opened up his cellar, it became known as ‘The Graveyard‘, and I used to sing there. Another meeting place where we would go on a Saturday night and sing was the Turk’s Head. It was a very small pub and got very crowded, so Peter, the publican, opened up his cellar and that became the place to go.top
One night, on the way to the Ship Inn, in Mousehole, we saw a large boat moored just outside the harbour. It turned out to be the Falcon, an ex Fleetwood Pilot Cutter. 100 years old and 100 feet long. George, the skipper, had sailed single-handed down from Scotland and was now looking for a crew to sail to the Bahamas to hire her out for charter. By the end of the night we had all signed up - all four of us. Next day we went down to Penzance Harbour and shipped on board. We spent the next month or so getting to know the boat, the skipper, and having lots of farewell parties. Every time George said "We’ll have a look tomorrow", we would have a party and next morning no one, including George, was fit to sail round the harbour, let alone the Bahamas. When at last we did go, we sailed into a storm and lost the mainmast just a hundred miles from Land’ End. We limped back and then there was a series of welcome home parties.
The poor old Falcon hung around Penzance for a while, then up to Falmouth, and then to St. Germans. I guess we were lucky for a year or so later she broke up off Plymouth with a loss of life. The planks were said to be rotten.
Pictured left is the dejected crew, minus George McGuffie, the skipper. standing; Mike Richards, Tony Hole, Mike Carr, Tim Knight. kneeling; Chris Tyler, me.top
Someone offered us a pottery for the sort of sum we could afford. None of us knew anything about pottery, but why should a little thing like that deter us? I thought it might be a good idea to get to know what we might be letting ourselves in for so I signed up at Penzance Art School for lessons. We never bought the pottery but I stayed at the Art School for two years.
Tim Knight played in a local rock group, ‘Ricky and the Layabouts’. They introduced me to Tell Mann, a country & western singer. We worked on a few thing together and then went out as John & Tell. At one of our gigs we were approached by J. Ian Todd and John Wood and asked if we would do a residency at their proposed folk club at The Count House, Botallack. They intended opening every night of the week for the Summer - "would we do it?" - That‘s commitment. Could we do it? It would mean me giving up fishing - I agreed. Tell was a little more reluctant. For me it would mean realising a long forgotten ambition of being a professional folk singer.
And so it was - The Counthouse was a very successful club. It spawned many a club in the county, and up country, and became internationally famous. (It became that famous that the National Trust now own it). In the late 60s Cornwall became a Mecca for folkies. (I counted 16 folk clubs in Cornwall at one time - and several of them opened 2-3-4 or more nights a week.) We made an EP, "Singing at the Counthouse", and an LP, "More Singing at the Counthouse". I teamed up with Brenda Wootton and we worked together for 6 years singing at clubs and festivals all over the country and at the first Lorient Festival in France. Much to everyone‘s dismay Ian Todd decided to close The Counthouse. Much to everyones delight Brenda opened the Pipers Folk Club at St. Buryan. Pipers spent some time in Lamorna, then moved back to The Counthouse, Penzance, Tremcrom and Hayle before it finally fizzled out.
One of the joys of singing at the Count House was seeing the spectacular sunsets. I went to there recently to see Michael Chapman on his annual pilgrimage. Apart from the fact that you now sit facing the wrong way, and there are no nets, it was a great evening and Michael was on top form. The sunset ‘rose‘ to the occasion and brought everything to a standstill. And then, just to round off the day, I saw a glow worm on the way back to the car.
Another club, inspired by the Counthouse, to gain fame was the Folk Cottage, at Mitchell. amount the residents were The Famous Jug Band, Clive Palmer, Pete Stanley & Wizz Jones and Ralph McTell. It went on to become the New Folk Cottage, Rose, Perranporth and then ended it‘s days in Truro. Brenda and I went our separate ways. I worked solo and did several extensive tours of Germany and Holland with Alex Atterson. I made a solo album, ‘Ceolocanth’, but, having got married, I wanted to spend less time away from home. The opportunity arose for me to have a stall in the Pannier Market in Truro. I had been working with leather for some time so I took the plunge and another chapter opened up before me.top
Working in the market opened new doors. It was a good social experience and I was kept in touch with all that was going on in the county. You met just about everybody in the market at one time or another. There was a wonderful camaraderie there. It was whilst I was there that Tabitha Lucy, daughter no. 1 was born. Then came Merrick. When he was just over 4 months old we all went down to Penzance for a Radio Cornwall folk evening. When we arrived we found that Merrick was dead. A passing ambulance crew were on the spot very quickly and tried to resuscitate him but, after what seemed ages, they took Merrick, Carrie and I to hospital where they pronounced him dead on arrival.
As you can imagine, the next few days, if not weeks, both
and I went
around in a daze. But, I must say, the kindness, generosity and support that
we received was almost overwhelming. One source of comfort came from the
Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths,
the cot death research and support
group. Carrie has been involved with them ever since. I offered myself as a
befriender but took on a different role. I joined the
and later became a founder member of
Two years after that, Hannah Josie, daughter no. 2, came along.
It was while I was in the market that I was booked to sing an the Poynton Folk Festival. There I saw a 62 year old bloke clogdancing. That was Sam Sherry.
He moved like a dream. I thought if he can dance like that at his age there's hope for me yet. I must have a go. Back in Cornwall where do I get Clogs? I managed to find a clog sole supply - the top is made of leather - I can do that. Where do I learn clogdancing? I met up with a group of like minded people and we formed Carnkie Cloggers. Talk about the blind leading the blind. We managed to get enough together to do a few booking but it soon became apparent that we weren‘t quite as like-minded as was first thought. That saw the birth of Truro Dandy Clog. We went to workshops all over the country to learn and we once again met Sam Sherry. It was then that I discovered that he had been dancing all his life. He was the youngest of a family of professional dancers. We managed to get him to do a workshop in Truro.
"If only I could get up that little bit higher I could see what they're up to".(Photo courtesy of H&B Graeme).
By now, I was making, and selling clogs and Sam asked me to make him a pair. Wow! We still keep in touch. (Sadly, Sam died in the May of 2001. It is a great loss to the folk fraternity).top
The lease on the market site ran out and all sorts of negotiations took place. The upshot was that we were all asked to sign a 52 year lease. I foresaw all sorts of problems. so I pulled out.
I signed up for an Enterprise Allowance Scheme as a clog maker and called the business Dandy Clogs. I worked from home and took my clogs to folk festivals and clog workshops. The freedom from the market allowed for other things. I did a City & Guilds course for adult education which I enjoyed very much. I was invited to teach leathercraft at Truro School. I taught there for a number of years. An anomaly arose when, as a family, we decides to take the plunge and become vegetarians. All of the leather that I was using was a by-product of the meat industry. How do I justify that? Well, over time Carrie insisted that my work-shop be converted into bedroom’s for the girls and it became smaller and smaller and more difficult to work so I stopped leather work altogether. Subsequently, J Croggan and Son Limited ceased trading after over 200 years. It was from there that I got so much help and all my leather. Another chapter closes.
When Radio Cornwall was launched in 1983, Stephen Hall (the West Penwith - Mazy Day - Golowan one) was appointed "Folk Correspondent" and he produced and presented the programme ‘Cornwall Folk‘. After a couple of years he decided to ‘move on‘ and asked me if I would step in. I jumped at the chance but was terrified of all the buttons, knobs sliders that were involved. But I worked with Steve for several weeks so that the changeover was seamless (I like to think). I have been doing that now for close on 18 years, until it was decided to drop all the '####specialist music' programmes. see Fish on Folk
In 1991 I was awarded the prestigious Charlie Bate Memorial Award made by John Webb
clogs I made for Sheila Rowe
Carrie had to produce a quarterly newsletter for FSID, and David, our nextdoor neighbour, who worked with computers, managed to get her a word processor. She typed the text on to a floppy and I took it next door and David turned it into the finished product. I was fascinated by the procedure and soon became hooked. We had to get a computer. As David was moving away that was the only excuse needed. So, when Cornwall Humanists. needed a newsletter editor I jumped at the chance. We have two computers now and I’ve even completed a thirteen week course on ‘Building and Maintaining Your Own Computer‘.
As the folk clubs down here dwindled I was singing less frequently. (At the height of the folk boom, in the Summer, I was singing every night of the week.) The less I sang, the more I forgot the words ’til, in the end, it got so embarrassing that I gave up. I gave my guitar to Tabitha and quietly retired. With a view to encouraging my daughter to sing, we enrolled in one of Sue Farmer’s ‘Singing for Fun‘ classes. At the end of the course there was nowhere to go so, when she asked for help to run a community choir, I found a new role.
Spring 2003 I had to give up the choir due to pressure on my time. Where does it go? The more I give up the less time I seem to have. I had bookings for weddings and namings coming in at a rapid rate and my Summer week ends were getting tied up. I could hardly find the time to go to the local clubs.
I’ve been an engineer, a soldier, a fisherman, a folk singer, a leathercraftsman, a broadcaster, a ‘Humanist vicar‘ and I still can‘t make up my mind what I want to do when I grow up. top contact me