New Earswick Folk Hall will be going Back to the Sixties on Saturday. MATT CLARK recalls the glory days when Procol Harum and Pink Floyd played there.

WHAT would Joseph have said? Rowntree that is; founder of York’s model village at New Earswick and guardian of his employees’ morals. Probably quite a lot, had he been alive in 1967, when an upcoming beat combo came to play at his estate’s Folk Hall. They were called Procol Harum and had just catapulted from obscurity to number one – yes, with that song.

It proved an inspired booking. The band had been signed up a year before as just another Saturday night act for the Hall’s Tin Chicken Club. At the time they were called The Paramounts, but four days before the gig, Whiter Shade Of Pale was on top of the charts and overnight, Procol Harum had become the hottest property in swinging England.

“I was just that bit younger than the people the club was catering for,” says Gary Hall, who lived nearby.

“I was aware that Procol Harum was number one and we came to listen to them from outside. I remember riding my bike up to where the link road is now and seeing people queuing from there to get in.”

It wasn’t the only precocious talent to feature on the bill. The Move appeared on the brink of their heyday, rumour has it Ike and Tina Turner were booked in and Pink Floyd also played in all their loon-panted, psychedelic glory, complete with that famous kaleidoscopic oil projector light show.

Word is a local teacher looked into his pupil’s eyes the day after for any signs of nocturnal indulgence in recreational substances.

It was a far cry from the hall’s original purpose as a temperance inn, so dubbed by the teetotal chocolate barons, but those heady days are set to return to the Folk Hall on Saturday with echoes of The Bop, a weekly dance where you could “bop for a bob,” while Geoff Bunce spinned the latest grooves from the Hit Parade.

Back to the Sixties is Gary’s brainchild. He was inspired to become a DJ as a 16 year old at discos in the hall and reckons it’s high time to bring them back.

“We used to come to the bop and found out they had paid a lot of money for their equipment,” he says. “I thought I could build that cheaper and I did.

“Anyway, there wasn’t really any mobile disco equipment available in those days, you made your own stuff. There wasn’t even a Comet in York. I had to go to Leeds to buy my chassis decks.”

In those pioneering days Gary’s first sound system cost £700, amazing, when you consider he was earning £11 a week.

Even more remarkable, he says something similar today would cost a mere £250 – and that’s in folding money, not relative value.

Gary has since been turning the tables on a regular basis and at the weekend he promises a return to the heady days of flower power, flowers in the rain and Watney’s Red Barrel – though you’ll be pleased to know you won’t have to drink the stuff. “It will be a chance to relive those great days on record,” he says. “We will also have live music from Lionel Patterson direct from the USA – other side of Acomb!”

And what days they were. As Gary recalls, York’s nightlife in the 60s and 70s was vibrant.

“The big night club was Cat’s Whiskers in Fishergate. I used to DJ there occasionally. Then down the alley was Heartbeat, a small disco that played soul music and in Lady Peckett’s Yard another club called Hypnotique.

“We also had Old World in Stonegate, Jack and Jill’s in Bootham, Brummells at Middlethorpe Hall and Intercom at Stonebow House. Good times.” Not forgetting, of course, Neal Guppy’s Enterprise Club, at Dixon’s Yard in Walmgate.

York Press:

Saturday’s event will rekindle a long tradition of entertainment at the Folk Hall. Completed in 1907 it soon became the social hub of the village.

Naturally it was used for worship in the Quaker village, but also as a meeting place for groups such as the Girl’s Club, as we can see in a picture from 1917 which shows young women engaged in a variety of occupations including knitting, sewing, drawing and practising first aid.

The hall was also home to the New Earswick Dramatic Society, a camera club and angling team. Another function was to continue the tradition of adult education, to which the Rowntrees were committed, and as a place that reflected the interests of residents, as the photograph of men playing snooker illustrates.

Music became a feature at the Folk Hall during the 1940s and 1950s when an 18-piece band played every Saturday evening for some 250 dancers.

But for Gary the Sixties was the special decade.

“For me everything changed in 1962 with the mouth organ on Love Me Do by the Beatles,” he says. “Until then everything had come from America. This was different and it paved the way for British music. I still have to pinch myself to think Syd Barrett once stood on this stage in New Earswick.”

The Folk Hall’s a venue with a pedigree; one that has every right to call itself the Cavern of York and unlike the Liverpool original, it’s still standing. Best make your way there for a proper bop on Saturday night, then.

• Back to the ‘Sixties will be held from 8pm until midnight on Saturday at the Folk Hall, New Earswick, with a fully licensed bar. Tickets cost £5 and are available in advance from the Folk Hall (phone 01904 769621) or on the door.