Folk friends’ paths to cross again

MEMORIES ... Patricia Saunders with her Ralph McTell memorabilia and, inset, Pat Williams as she was in her singing days.

MEMORIES ... Patricia Saunders with her Ralph McTell memorabilia and, inset, Pat Williams as she was in her singing days.

A FORMER folk singer from South Tyneside is to come face to face with a performer she helped on the road to fame more than 40 years ago.

It all started in a small folk club in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, early in 1970, when a budding singer-songwriter ambled into the Compasses Folk Club.

Young Ralph McTell’s performance entranced his audience that night – including club owner Pat Willans.

She was so taken by the Streets of London singer’s talent she organised and promoted a concert by him at the massive Fairfield Hall in Croydon.

The venue bosses warned that it would be folly to book the unknown McTell.

But Pat – herself often compared to American folk legend Joan Baez – set about a massive publicity campaign, and a huge 6,000 people ended up buying tickets for the gig.

It proved a pivotal moment in McTell’s burgeoning career. In the succeeding years, the two have met on only a handful of occasions.

And on Wednesday the pair’s paths will cross again when McTell performs at The Customs House in South Shields.

A lot has changed in the subsequent 40-odd years.

Pat’s once-dark locks are now white and she is no longer known by her sixties and seventies stage name.

Now Patricia Saunders, she looks back fondly on her part in McTell’s career success.

Mother-of-five Mrs Saunders, 77, of Robinson Gardens, Whitburn, said: “I remember Ralph came into my folk club and sat on a cushion on the floor.

“I can’t remember what he sang, Streets of London may have been among them.

He was absolutely fantastic and we gave him a fiver – a lot of performers sang for nothing in those days.

“I said I would organise a concert for him. He was taken aback.

“I was told that we would lose money on him because he was an unknown, but we ended up selling 6,000 tickets. They were astonished.”

Mrs Saunders went on to promote a number of concerts by such stars as Julie Felix, Tom Paxton and Kenny Ball and His Jazzmen.

She also performed on BBC Radio and even once entertained prisoners at Lewes Prison in Sussex.

Moving to the North East a few years ago, she worked for a time on the region’s God Channel.

Today, she takes life at a more leisurely pace and rarely performs, but retains fond memories of her folk-performing days.

She added: “I’ll be in the front row at the Customs House next week.

“It’s nice to think Ralph might not be famous today without that concert all those years ago.

“I’m thrilled to have played a part in his success. He remains a lovely singer.”

Twitter: @ShieldsGazPaul




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