Ryder Round Folk

During the dark, war-torn days of 1943, in the small north country town of Ormskirk on the beleaguered island of Albion, an event occurred which was later to send reverberations - in a twelve string sort of way - around the folk world.

Ormskirk was, and indeed still is, a semi-rural settlement five leagues from the treacle mines, jam buttie factories and scouse plantations of Liverpool. It is three leagues from the ukeleleland birthplace of George Formby and surrounded by som of the finest "dialect" producing areas of a dynamic and creative county culture - Lancashire - forgive me if I'm a little biased.

It is exactly the sort of area into which a dissident satirical guitarist with a hyperactive thumb and a way with words, might be born.

. . . And so it happened - to Mr and Mrs Bolan - a son. Bernard Bolan was born into a war ravaged world he has little recollection of.

He started school at the age of three, first with his mother - a teacher returning to the workforce in those days of trial and austerity just after the war - later he braved the world alone. No mention of a twelve strung guitar - not yet.

His mother and older sister sang and played the piano. Father and young Bernard joined in. Bernard's party piece at the age of eight was Vilia, Oh Vilia, from the Merry Widow(He'll get me for this).

Fine tuned by education, driven by ambition and excited by music, he became a lawyer, a singer, a songwriter, a musician - and older. He proved his courage by working in the legal department of a large glass company - known locally as the leg and arm shop - and by singing around the folk clubs of the north of England.

Then in the late sixties, he was gripped by the wanderlust (or was it the canteen rissoles?) He set his sights on the land of golden adventure and, with a head full of songs only he can sing and a fist full of chords only he can play, he arrived in Australia in 1969.

Bernard Bolan's first encounter with the folk scene, in Sydney, was not promising. He was told by an organisational 'notable' of the time, "I don't think this north of England stuff will go down here." But, with a few modifications, it did and has continued to do so, with remarkable success, ever since.

To identify the musical influences that helped create the Bernard Bolan we now know we must consider the works of Noel Coward, Gilbert and Sullivan, George Formby, Flanders and Swan, Tom Lehrer and Jake Thackeray, and augment these musical thrusts with the native wit of his home county and focus them with the stimulation of his new country.

Bernard Bolan's songs are essentially of 'the time and place'. They are chronicles of urban adventure and mis-adventure. From the nautical fantasies of the water-borne commuter on the Rose Bay Ferry to the hysterical adventures on The Toorak Tram. From the nostalgia of the Old Number Ten to a cry from the heart of an oppressed businessman in Send the City Sunshine. They hold a mirror up to life, capture humour and pathos and add to the musical tapestry of the folk culture.

I first encountered Bernard Bolan in the Elizabeth Folk Club in Sydney in 1970. The 'Liz' at that time was presided over by Mike Eves, a fine singer of traditional songs and the best folk club organiser I've ever met.

Since that time Bernard has performed in most parts of Australia at folk clubs large and small, at many, if not most, festivals; at the Sydney Conservatorium and at the Sydney Opera House. He has made many television and radio appearances including live performances - keep listening you will hear more of Bernard Bolan.

- Dermott Ryder