Roland Walls, 1954-2019. A tribute from the Black Swan Folk Club, York

ROLAND Walls, who has died from Motor Neurone Disease, has been the focus and inspiration for live folk and roots related music in and around the city of York for the past 40 years.

Neither musician nor performer, he dedicated his spare time to encouraging, supporting and promoting a huge variety of music events.

Since the early 1980s, Roland was the sole organiser of the Black Swan Folk Club in York. The club, established in the early 1970s, is one of the longest running in the UK.

His superb organisation and meticulous attention to detail resulted in the BBC Folk Club of the Year accolade in 2009. In 2016 it was voted Best Small Music Venue in a poll conducted by the Yorkshire Gig Guide.

York Press:

Roland Walls at the Black Swan Inn, Peasholme Green, York, home of the Black Swan Folk Club. Here he is pictured, in 2002, with the group Atlantic Crossing

There can hardly be a touring musician on the national folk music circuit who hasn’t at some time in the past 40 years made an appearance at the Black Swan Folk Club.

Since 2001, Roland was also the key figure behind the Black Swan Folk Club’s promotion of larger-scale concerts at the National Centre for Early Music, in Walmgate.

Higher-profile artists who couldn’t be accommodated at the Black Swan were able to appear in the city at a larger venue. Those artists have included Patrick Street, Kate Rusby, June Tabor, Martin Simpson, Martin Carthy and many more.

Roland always encouraged new and upcoming young artists, allowing them to demonstrate their emerging talent and, some years ago, he initiated an annual Young Performers Night to further this aim.

York Press:

EARLY STEPS: Eliza Carthy played the Black Swan Folk Club in her nascent folk days at the invitation of Roland Walls

Kate Rusby. Eliza Carthy and Jim Moray are among the list of established folk performers who played the club at the start of their careers.

Under Roland’s guidance, the folk club has supported many local community events, including the York Residents’ Festival, providing an afternoon and evening of folk music every year in January, free to all York residents.

The club also inaugurated the annual City of York Folk Weekend, which recently completed its 17th year. This extremely popular free folk festival is now well established as a major event in the Yorkshire music calendar and has become something of a magnet for tourists.

Roland's efforts were recently recognised by way of a "Special Mention" during the ceremony at the 2018 York Culture Awards and he also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Yorkshire Gig Guide last October.

He has ensured that the Black Swan Folk Club supported local and wider charities by holding special events. The club has made regular donations to York Against Cancer, St Leonard’s Hospice and, more recently, to the Motor Neurone Disease Association.

York Press:

Roland Walls: "A true champion of all music related to folk traditions and cultures"

Born into a North Yorkshire farming family and a Cambridge graduate, Roland’s commitment to serving the community was evident in his professional life as a librarian at the main York City Library and later, until retirement, as a senior regional manager in Northallerton.

In 2010 he was diagnosed with cancer. Even during the most difficult periods of treatment, and during his convalescence, he continued to be the driving force behind all the events organised by the Black Swan Folk Club.

Since the beginning of 2018, his health began to deteriorate due to the onset of Motor Neurone Disease. Selflessly supported by his long-term partner Sue, Roland continued to advise and plan for future events at the folk club, the National Centre for Early Music and other venues in the City of York right up until his demise.

He was a true champion of all music related to folk traditions and cultures which he tirelessly supported and encouraged.

Tribute by Chris Euesden

Only one question for... Chris Euesden, York music promoter, folk musician and record label boss

What will be the Black Swan Folk Club’s future in the wake of Roland Walls’s death?

“We are, of course, going to carry on at the Black Swan Folk Club and with associated events at the National Centre for Early Music and the Crescent Club, but in his organisational capacity Roland will be an extremely hard act to follow. We’re all going to miss him so very much.

“The first upcoming event to raise money for the Motor Neurone Disease Association and to honour Roland will be at the Black Swan Inn on August 8, with the Black Swan house band Ramshackle, featuring Stan Graham, Eddie Affleck, Phil Cerny, Chris Euesden and Judith Haswell, and special guests Paul Culkin, Alex O’Neil, Matt Ranson and Elaine Wallace.

York Press:

FUNDRAISER: Martin Carthy, playing for the Motor Neurone Disease Association

Then, on September 24, we have Martin Carthy and Wizz Jones, who Roland brought to the Black Swan many times, at the Crescent Club, off Blossom Street.”

For more than 50 years, Carthy, of Robin Hood’s Bay, has been one of folk music’s greatest innovators, whether solo or in partnerships with Steeleye Span, Dave Swarbrick, his wife Norma Waterson or daughter Eliza Carthy.

Jones began his musical career at 17 leading a country and skiffle band in his home town of Croydon; once busked across Europe with budding blues singer Rod Stewart, and then developed his distinctive acoustic guitar style.

He has played the Black Swan a  dozen times, and although officially semi-retired, he did not hesitate to offer his services for September’s 7.30pm event.

Tickets cost £20 via Tickets for August 8 cost £9 from or £10 on the door; students half price.