Maybe you don't expect to find an oasis of culture in what many outside the county regard as a bit of a cultural "Vulgaria". But like all stereotypes, this would be plainly wrong. Essex is as rich and wonderful a county as any, with its good and bad points just like any other. And The Jingling Gate Folk Club definitely is one of its most delightful highlights.
Founded over thirty years ago by Mick Spooner and Pete Hamlyn, aka semi-pro folk duo Mick & Pete, The Jingling Gate Folk Club is still ably run by them with the capable help and support of their better halves. The Jingling Gate meets on the first Saturday of the month (except January) around 8pm, nowadays at the Pitsea Leisure Centre, Pitsea. Admission is more than modest, it's a positive bargain. Most nights are singarounds, but occasionally a special guest performer is still arranged.
Some things you can always be certain of at The Jingling Gate. The warmest, friendliest welcome anywhere, and a jolly good time. Whether you come to give a few songs or just to listen, you're always made welcome. Be warned though, things may prove infectious. Many first started singing folk songs at The Jingling Gate! Mick Spooner and Pete Hamlyn are two of the nicest, friendliest men you could hope to meet, and if you need any help or encouragement, they'll certainly be happy to oblige.
Tonight was a typical evening at The Jingling Gate Folk Club. People started trickling in around 8pm, while Mick & Pete still had a little practice. By half past, everybody had arrived and the friendly chatting and mixing stopped to let the proceedings get underway.
The irrepressible Mick & Pete kicked things off with a performance that was utterly captivating and enthralling. Renowned throughout Essex, they are seasoned performers whose voices blend beautifully. Mick Spooner's is particularly booming, with a power and projection that is very rare indeed in someone who never received any formal voice training. Both Mick & Pete are not short on sensitivity and expressiveness, either. Their diction is excellent, and they spin a good yarn to keep you fascinated.
Long-time Jingling Gate regular, Bob Cash
The Jingling Gate's most senior and long-time regular, Bob Cash, is another gem of a human being. He gave some enchanting renditions of a few old time songs that took everybody back to a time they couldn't even remember first-hand yet instantly felt nostalgic for.
Jon Hare is another regular. A big, tall man, strong yet gentle, a sensitive soul that poured out through his very attractive voice and a couple of beautiful songs rendered expressively and passionately.
Other regulars Keith, Sue, Ray Clark, Bill, and John Clark took their turns and gave wonderfully expressive renditions of their selected songs. The standard at The Jingling Gate is generally very high indeed, though thankfully this never becomes intimidating, and so people 'have a go'. It takes a good bit of courage for a non-professional to stand up in front of a crowd, only feet away, even when most of the crowd are friends or at least well known to everybody. Yes, even at The Jingling Gate this is so, but it never stops anybody, even if one or two people may be a little nervous they go and do their thing and do the best they can. Kudos to them all! After all, this is what folk music is about.
By about 10pm, it was time for a much needed short break of some fifteen or twenty minutes to top up at the bar and refresh those throats. Especially given that this was a still very balmy early September's evening that had followed a surprisingly hot day.
Strong yet sensitive - Jon Hare
Keith, another Jingling Gate regular
The life and soul of any singalong -