LAST week’s article traced the Topic’s progress from 1958 to the start of the pandemic and consequent lockdown from March 2020. Since the Topic’s core activities involve gathering large numbers of people in small rooms and then propelling potentially-lethal infectious droplets at them, we certainly had to close.

After a couple of months we got going again as best we could, with professional artists giving live streamed concerts via Facebook, and singers and musicians evenings via Zoom. (I wonder what founder Alex Eaton would have made of that sentence back in 1956.)Zoom is not an ideal medium, but it enables former members who’d moved away, and indeed people from all over the country, to take part.

Live events restarted in November 2021 in yet another new venue: Groove Pad in Shipley. Our initial programme has concentrated on local artists. But gradually we’re getting back to something like our previous scope, with national figures like Jez Lowe due in June. Audiences have been reasonable, though it’s clear some of our previous regulars still prefer to avoid large gatherings.

Reader John's previous articles on the Topic Folk Club here:

But we’ll keep going as long as there are musicians wanting to perform, an audience to come and listen, people to run the club, and a venue to host it. Our operations are on a smaller scale than they once were, with current audiences averaging around 30 rather than the 100-plus figures sometimes seen in the 1980s. And audiences are getting older, with many having been inspired by the folk-revival of the 1960s and 70s. Despite there being plenty of excellent young musicians on the circuit (as illustrated), it hasn’t been easy to attract younger audiences to folk clubs like the Topic.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Bella Gaffney at the Topic Folk Club earlier this year Bella Gaffney at the Topic Folk Club earlier this year

So, what is a Folk club? As one analytical wit observed, there are two problems with that phrase. One is the word ‘folk’: the other is the word ‘club’. A ‘Club’ might, to some, imply exclusivity; that you have to be a member, or possess certain musical skills. No.

Anyone can come. Anyone can join in. Membership is available, but not compulsory; it’s only £5 for a year and gives you £1 off the entry charge on booked-guest nights. Mostly, it enables us to have a constitution, a bank account, and a structure to manage our operations. But that’s all.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Henry Parker on stage at the Groove Pad Henry Parker on stage at the Groove Pad

The word ‘Folk’ can mean different things to different people, not all positive. Dictionary definitions usually refer to a nation’s traditional music and song, implying that it’s all historical and esoteric: milkmaids, blacksmiths and hey nonny-nonny choruses. For others, it may conjure images of angry young men with guitars protesting about things.

However, though both strands would be included, the scope of what you might hear in a typical folk club today is much broader.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Still a warm welcome at the Topic Still a warm welcome at the Topic

Reflecting this, some clubs, including the Topic, now avoid using the word ‘folk’, preferring ‘acoustic’ or ‘live’. Our singers and musicians evenings could even be described as ‘open mic’ - but with everyone listening.

Probably the most commonly-booked guest today would be a solo singer-songwriter, performing their own material, with their own (sometimes humorous) take on the modern world. Love, life, relationships, work, social conditions, war, peace, history...anything really. Or it could be a duo, or a small band singing in close harmony. The week after, a virtuoso instrumentalist playing tunes as well as songs. Then someone singing a selection of covers, or some traditional ballads.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Otra - Tony Charnock and Rahel Guzelian - performing at Groove Pad Otra - Tony Charnock and Rahel Guzelian - performing at Groove Pad

And though the most common instrument is the guitar, professional performers play all sorts: fiddles and whistles, melodeons and banjos, keyboards and percussion. Some songs are sung a cappella (voice only). Others present a specific genre, such as Americana, or the Scottish and Irish traditions. You might even hear the odd poem or story. We offer a varied programme.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: A floor-spot from Nigel Garry Broadbent A floor-spot from Nigel Garry Broadbent

But some features are constant. Whoever’s on, the music will be live. There’s something uniquely satisfying about a live performance - so much more rewarding than a recording. And the music will be played on acoustic instruments, even if sometimes amplified. But most of all, the songs will have meaning. They may tell a story, or make a social comment, or analyse a relationship. Songs designed to be listened to and understood, not just heard. We provide concerts, where the audience sits quietly and listens (choruses and laughter excepted), rather than background music that people can chat over.

The Topic is a place for anyone to come and listen to quality songs and music performed live on guest nights. Or, whatever your standard, to sing and play for others on singers and musicians nights. You’ll get encouragement; even advice if you want it. Or you can share ideas, chord structures, or song-writing tips.

When Alex Eaton held that first meeting in September 1956, his aim was to set up a Bradford branch of the Workers’ Music Association, to encourage ordinary people ‘to engage in the composition and performance of music...which expresses the ideals and aims of humankind...’.

The Topic, which grew from that beginning 66 years ago, is still making a pretty good job of doing precisely that. And you could be part of it.

To find out more, our website - - shows our current Shipley location and our weekly programme (Thursdays). Or you can find us on Facebook. We’d love to see you; to play or sing, or even just listen.