Updated June 2016Ian Campbell vocal, guitar
The Ian Campbell Folk Group are the most well known and respected folk music group to come out of Birmingham. Ian Campbell was born June 10, 1933 in Aberdeen, Scotland and his family moved to Birmingham in 1946. He formed the 'Clarion Skiffle Group' in the mid 1950s along with his sister Lorna who was also their singer. They were later joined by guitarist Dave Phillips and banjo player Gordon McCulloch, and by 1958 were known as 'The Ian Campbell Four'.
By 1960, Gordon McCulloch had been replaced by John Dunkerley and the group was also joined by violinist Dave Swarbrick (born April 5, 1941 in London). Now known as "The Ian Campbell Folk Five" they became well known on the local folk music scene and played regularly around Birmingham. The group became resident at the 'Jug of Punch' folk night held at The Crown Pub on Station Street. It was there where they played on a live recording that was released as 'Ceilidh At The Crown' in 1962.
This extended-player (EP) recorded by Bill Leader and issued on the Topic label certainly captured the group's sound and did much to promote them at the time. The record's back cover notes proclaimed; "On this record we have tried to capture the atmosphere on a Tuesday night at the Crown in Birmingham. The resident singers are the Ian Campbell Folk Group whose blending of harmonic arrangements, instrumental accompaniment, and the traditional style of singing is unrivalled in Britain at the moment."
The group usually played locally during the week and travelled to more distant gigs on the weekend. Ian Campbell who worked as an engraver in Birmingham's jewellery quarter recalled; "By '63 we were working so hard as a group that I was the only one who managed to retain my job. All the rest of the group were constantly losing their jobs because they were leaving on Friday lunchtime and not coming back until Monday or Tuesday." The following year, the group was signed to Transatlantic Records who released their first album entitled 'This Is The Ian Campbell Folk Group'. At around this time, Dave Phillips left and was replaced by Brian Clark.
In March of 1965 the group even managed to get a hit single with their rendition of Bob Dylan's 'The Times They Are A-Changin'. Along with more touring and television appearances, the Ian Campbell Group soon established themselves as a highly proficient live act who became well known as much for their instrumental abilities as for Ian Campbell's developing talent as a songwriter. The US hit group 'Simon and Garfunkel' included a cover of Ian's 'The Sun Is Burning' on their first album.
The group's major strength however, lay in their live performances where the line-up was often supplemented by top session musicians. The Ian Campbell Folk Group played most of the major festivals in the country including the Edinburgh Festival, and the Newport Folk Festival. They also performed at The Royal Albert Hall in London.
A major regular venue for the Ian Campbell Folk Group in Birmingham was the 'Jug O' Punch' folk club located at the back of Digbeth Civic Hall. The Campbell family ran the club themselves with it soon becoming one of the most significant venues for folk music in the country. Folk groups from far and wide travelled there to perform but the Ian Campbell Folk Group were always the main attraction.
In 1966, Dave Swarbrick left to become a major player in the British folk scene. He later joined the well known group 'Fairport Convention' with whom he gained a reputation as the best fiddle player in the UK. Bass player Dave Pegg from the Birmingham group The Uglys and The Exception joined the Ian Campbell Group in 1967 and a few years later would also leave to become a pivotal member of Fairport Convention.
Despite further personnel changes, the Ian Campbell Folk Group continued to tour and release records throughout the 1960s and 1970s although tragically, John Dunkerley died of Hodgkinsons disease in 1977 at only 35 years old. The Ian Campbell Folk Group finally disbanded in the late 1970s but their status in folk music circles has continued to increase since then as one of the earliest significant British folk groups to perform traditional and original material during the folk revival of the 1960s.
Ian Campbell began a new career in television as a presenter and producer though he continued performing sporadically as a folk singer during the following decades. Two of his sons Ali and Robin are founding members of Birmingham's acclaimed and internationally successful reggae/pop group UB40 who went on to sell more than 70 million records. When Ian was honored at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in February 2012, he joked to the audience that his sons' first record outsold all the recordings he had ever made in his entire career!
Ian Campbell passed away at the age of 79 on November 24, 2012 (see BrumBeat Ian Campbell feature story by clicking HERE). Dave Swarbrick suffered for years with emphysema before passing away on June 3, 2016 at age 75.
Copyright © John R Woodhouse
(highest UK chart position in brackets)
Extended Players (EPs):
Sources: 'The Guinness Book of British Hit Singles' 5th edition 1985; Archive material from Topic and Transatlantic Records; 'Tapestry of Delights' book by Vernon Joynson; 'Brum Rocked!' and 'Brum Rocked On!' books by Laurie Hornsby 2003; 'The Independent' Ian Campbell Obituary by Ken Hunt 2012.