Left to right: Malcolm Shellard, Colette Harding, Tony Lamb, Louis Crouan, Stuart Hanlon
The opening of Christ’s College in September 1964 was a special day – the first Catholic co-educational teacher training college. In the evening on that first day some students socialised in the green common room, others visited the local hostelry, the Halfway House. I was one of the latter. On my return I heard singing and laughter coming from the common room. A group of students were entertaining with mainly Irish folk songs. I asked if I could join them with my guitar.
That evening prompted me to establish a folk club in the College – informal evenings of songs and stories. Then followed organised concerts with the Spinners folk group and the Leesiders from Liverpool, the Johnny McEvoy duo and the Wolfe Tones from Ireland. The lecture hall was packed for these events with students from the college and visitors from S. Katharine’s and Notre Dame.
A request came from the local Bishop Eton parish for a group to entertain at a social event. I persuaded Tim Kilbride and Colette Harding, the Joan Baez of the College, to join me. Hence the beginning of a folk group. Requests from other parishes followed. I asked Malcolm Shellard, renowned for his rendition of ‘Zoological Gardens’ and Tony Lamb for his Liverpool songs, in particular, ‘You’re a Mucky Kid’, to join us. Initially, we called ourselves ‘Folk Fiveways’, named after the local Fiveways area in Childwall. Tim became more involved in student affairs and was elected Student President and left us. He was replaced by Louis Crouan with his autoharp. Father Jim said we should call ourselves The Chiroes (derived from the Greek ‘Chiro’ for Christ). We adapted it to Keyroes, sounded a bit more ‘folksy’.
For a time that was the nucleus of the group with occasional appearances at concerts from Cathy Gilligan and Virginia Dungey. Towards the end of 1967, Colette and Louis then left us and we needed an additional instrumentalist. I came across Charlie O’Reilly at the Liverpool Irish Centre. He added a welcome improvement to our guitar accompaniment.
The next few years saw the group perform at many venues in the Merseyside area, notably the Liverpool Irish Centre as the ‘warm-up’ group for Johnny McEvoy, The Pattersons and others. We also accompanied some modern hymns at the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. As our reputation grew we were booked further afield in the Midlands, Yorkshire, Ireland and Austria. We also passed the audition for Hughie Green’s TV show, ‘Opportunity Knocks’. Frank Lewis, a local folk enthusiast wrote two songs for us, ‘A Double Thick Marmalade Butty’ and ‘Wellies’, both featured on the album.
Over the years some former students and more recently Hope Alumni have asked for any recording of our music. We did record one tape which was very basic but it did capture the general sound we produced. This has now been transmitted to CD and gives a good flavour of our sound and songs. Communication and participation with an audience was a feature of folk music in the 60’s and audiences frequently commented on that aspect of our performances, in particular Tony’s Liverpool humour.
Returning to my native Yorkshire I joined Sean Gilligan (former student) and his band ‘Dale Country’. We still perform occasionally as a trio for country and ceilidh dances. Malcolm Shellard joined the Thistle folk group in Blackpool. Tony retired and Charlie O’Reilly sadly died at a very early age.
We hope the folk club at Christ’s College from 1964-67, and the Keyroes folk group laid a foundation for future students’ interests in the folk tradition.
by Stuart Hanlon