IN THE late Fifties, skiffle performers like Lonnie Donnegan, Wally Whyton and John Hasted, helped to spawn skiffle's successor: the folk-club network which covered Britain from the early Sixties. Martin Winsor was a prime mover, a front-liner at John Hasted's 44 Club (44 Gerrard Street, Soho, London) and he went on, in 1963, to run the Troubadour Folk Club in Earl's Court with the late Redd Sullivan.
For British and foreign performers, the Troubadour on a Saturday was an obligatory stop. This ate into Winsor's and Sullivan's singing time. But on some less busy Tuesday nights, Winsor would do a diverse set - London songs, a sea shanty, one of his own settings of Kipling's 'Soldiers' Songs', a faultlessly sung Scottish traditional ballad - all delivered in a rich, sonorous, baritone voice that was the envy of many a comparable singer. Winsor also used his gift of mimicry and well-captured regional accents. His impressions of a jazz trumpet were unbelievable. And as a patter man and raconteur, he had few equals.
The dominant powers in the English Folk Dance and Song Society viewed the club movement as a bit common and Winsor as brash and too outspoken. It was therefore all the more extraordinary that he became a member of one of the society's councils, the British Federation of Folk Clubs. For many years he worked tirelessly for the federation. Also for the society, he directed the Loughborough folk festival for several years in the Seventies. He pursued an adventurous policy of choosing performers from different backgrounds and styles that gave the festival a sparkle and energy which reflected his own.
Winsor's life was greatly enhanced by his singing partnership with Jeannie Steel, whom he met in 1962 and later married. Virtually unknown in their own country, the couple toured western Europe many times, where they were an enormous success.
The record industry treated him poorly. There is little of that handsome voice on disc or tape - a couple of early LPs with Redd Sullivan and others, a tape with Jeannie Steel, a track here and there. Jeannie and Martin ran 'Nightride' for London's Capital Radio; while the Spinners thought well enough of him to let him host their thriving Liverpool club when they were on tour.
Martin Winsor was a great talker. Ideas and opinions, most of them sensible, poured out of him. He loved an argument and a stimulating discussion, and he would not readily accept those with pomp to puncture or pretentiousness to prick. Everything he said was straight from the shoulder. A lot of it found its way into the columns I was writing for Melody Maker and New Musical Express (with the highly colourful language edited out).
Fund-raising, conversation, organising festivals - none of these detracted in any way from Martin Winsor's ability as an entertainer. He was that par excellence. Less noticed, perhaps, than many less talented people, but a prince of good fellows, and a giant of the folk scene.
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