LAST week’s article covered the founding of the Topic in 1956, and its growth over the first two years.

This week covers the next 60 years, taking us almost to the present day, involving 15 different venues, over 3,200 club nights, well over a thousand booked guests, at least the same again of floor singers, and hundreds of people who’ve given their own time and energy doing all those things that keep any club going.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Chris Newman and Maire ni Chathasaigh at The Peel in 1992

Chris Newman and Maire ni Chathasaigh at The Peel in 1992 

In 1957 the Topic moved from Albion Court to Unity Hall on Rawson Square, staying for about five years, with a six-month interlude at the Fox and Goose. In late 1963 we moved to the Sun Inn, on Sunbridge Road. By now, a pattern had become established which continues to this day: weekly evenings with a booked guest alternating with ‘singers and musicians’ nights, where anyone can sing or play for everyone else. It was a pattern followed by many other folk clubs, founded and inspired by the Topic’s example.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The Oyster Band at Topic’s 25th anniversary celebration at The Star, 1981

The Oyster Band at Topic’s 25th anniversary celebration at The Star, 1981

By 1967, we’d had so many big names. The Spinners, from Liverpool; Martin Carthy and Lou Killen, taking nine hours to travel from London by Lambretta; the Incredible String Band, Peggy Seeger, Bert Jansch; and Roger Sutcliffe, who has played at least once every year since 1967. Then the Sun closed; and 1969 saw the Topic flit between four different venues, culminating in the Star on Westgate where it was to stay for 22 years.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Topic Folk Club

Topic members present a cheque to the Lord Mayor's Appeal in 1982

For many, this was the Topic’s heyday. Billy Connolly, Mike Harding, Maddie Prior, Christie Moore, Leon Rosselson, Anne Briggs, Vin Garbutt, Roy Bailey, Strawhead, the Oyster Band, Harvey Andrews, Jez Lowe, Ashley Hutchings, Janet Russell, Dick Gaughan, the Kipper Family, the Watersons... some of them many times.These were supplemented by weekend-long mega-events to mark our 20th (1976), 30th and 40th anniversaries, involving several bands and musicians, often in outside venues.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Mike, Lorna and Lal Waterson at the Topic’s 21st anniversary, The Star, 1977. Pic: Brian Lawton

Mike, Lorna and Lal Waterson at the Topic’s 21st anniversary, The Star, 1977. Pic: Brian Lawton

Attendances at normal club nights were regularly into three figures; though even in those years there were concerns that the Topic was no longer attracting the next generation of younger people. It was a shock to some when the committee decided to move, first to the Peel Hotel (where the possibility of the club closing was actually mooted); and then (1995) to the Melborn on White Abbey Road: run by Irish music enthusiast ‘Brother’ Eamonn. We were to stay here until it closed in 2005.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: MC Barbara Wright: a floor spot with The Spinners at The Star, 1984

MC Barbara Wright: a floor spot with The Spinners at The Star, 1984 

On to the Cock and Bottle, arguably Bradford’s oldest pub. A nice room, but a difficult venue for many. Then in 2008 to the Irish Club for over five years, with an even better room, until it closed. Then Glyde House opposite the ice rink, for many the ideal venue - but in 2019 it suddenly closed too. At short notice to the Merchant Bar in Little Germany, until the pandemic closed everything for over a year.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The Phil Langran band

The Phil Langran Band at the Topic 

So how has the Topic changed and developed since 1960? In terms of our programme structure, not much. We’re always trying to give opportunities to the best performers in the broad field of acoustic music. While also helping young aspirants gain their first foot on the performance ladder, and giving the grandees of the genre one further opportunity to show that they’ve still got what it takes. And in between, giving competent local amateurs an opportunity to do what they can for each other.

Compared with other clubs in the Bradford area, we’ve managed, over the past 30 years, to have a higher proportion of ‘booked guest’ evenings than singers and musicians nights, giving more opportunities to the professionals who rely on clubs like ours for their livelihood.

And we’ve also probably involved more people in running the club. Alex Eaton is no longer with us (though he paid a visit in the early 2000s); but nor is anyone else from the early years. Many similar clubs are still run by those who started them maybe 40 years ago. In contrast, the Topic has had several new generations taking responsibility for choosing and booking the guests (14 different people since 1974); looking after the money (six since 1972); organising publicity, staffing the door, acting as MC, serving as club chair and secretary ...altogether, into the hundreds.

No-one on the present committee was involved in the Topic’s management before its 45th anniversary. That’s one of our strengths. If someone leaves, there’s always someone to take over.

Just a few of the many names who deserve recognition: Alex Eaton had the drive to get the Topic started; and whose political connections (Hasted and McColl) were instrumental in getting it established. Paul Tattersall was active throughout the first 30 years. Trevor Charnock, ditto in the 70s and 80s (and for his painstaking historical research since). Philomena Hingston for taking it on when others thought it should close; and long-serving Treasurer David Robey, who commuted to meetings from Halifax by bus for almost a quarter of a century. And to the many more, who deserve their share of the credit, many thanks.

Next week we’ll examine the Topic as it is now, and what its future might hold. We’re still here! Our website - - shows our current Shipley location and our weekly programme, on Thursdays. We’d love to see you; to play or sing, or even just listen.