Sandy Still

Rod Hall

Allen Miller

Jim Jack


The Middle Years - Part 2: Touring, Radio and Making Records

The end of 1978 saw Fourum release their first LP, recorded in a small studio in Redcar, Side 1 contained traditional songs, and Allen’s new songs were on Side 2.  By the following year Fourum had found a new recording studio and producer, Terry Gavaghan, who had great empathy with the group and understood the style of music they wanted to produce. The album contained seven new Dales songs as well as some traditional songs, and was named after the last song, Gunnerside Gill - Remembered, one that is still sung in folk clubs today.

That same year saw Fourum invited to represent Darlington at the Amiens Music Festival in France, where they gained an even greater following. They also gave their first concert at the Darlington Civic Theatre to a sell-out audience of six hundred.

Early  in 1980 Fourum became the resident folk group and compères at the Darlington Arts Centre Folk Club. This regular weekly session meant that they increased their folk repertoire enormously . They retained this position for just over a year until pressure of other concerts forced them to relinquish it. It was no surprise when they were invited back to Amiens for their annual Festival and then were invited to give a series of concerts in Wensleydale over a long weekend at  a festival in Askrigg. There were also two more sell-out concerts at the Civic Theatre.

In Autumn they were entered by Darlington as an act in the “Northern Lights” competition which Radio Cleveland was organising over their listening area. Fourum performed The Swaledale Song and won the Darlington section. They then had to compete against the section winners of all the other towns. They were voted best act overall and were invited to appear at the Club Fiesta Stockton in the winners’ night. They also were awarded their own Christmas Day radio show, on which they invited their favourite guest singers to appear. Towards the end of that same year, by popular demand, Fourum released their first album solely of Dales songs, appropriately entitled Singing The Dales.

1981 was another year packed with concerts, occasionally as many as three a week. They were featured several times on Radio Tees and were named by them Local Folk Group of the Year. At the end of the year Fourum re-recorded The Drummer Boy of Richmond, this time using all 48 tracks available in the studio, and released this as a Christmas single. It was well-received and even played by Terry Wogan on his Radio 2 breakfast show - after which he commented “That was a pleasant little song, wasn’t it, by the FOURUM - spelled F-O-U-R-U-M!” Enquiries and letters from different parts of the country resulted, many repeating Terry Wogan’s words. Needless to say none of the group heard it - they were all teaching at the time! By the end of January in 1982 the song had climbed to No.10 in the local charts!

Fourum  - The Middle Years

The Middle Years - Part 3: Farewell - or not? - and a national TV spot

By 1983 Fourum were playing regularly and their Dales album Singing the Dales had proved such a great success that more copies had to be made, both of albums and cassettes. in March Fourum gave another sell-out concert at the Civic Theatre. Then in May Jim was promoted to a Deputy Headship - wonderful news! - except that the post was on the other side of the country, in Kendal! It looked as though this was the end of Fourum. Jim was such an integral part of the group that the idea of continuing without him was unthinkable. A Farewell Concert was arranged at the Civic Theatre for the next month - which again sold out.. In fact Fourum gave a number of Farewell concerts in the next couple of months.

In September Jim moved over to Kendal - and within two months arranged a Fourum concert in his new school, to raise funds for a development project! It was realised that the distance was not quite so great as had been thought and that perhaps the group could still perform the odd concert, meeting halfway in the Dales.  One popular venue was the Spring End Guest house, not far from Gunnerside. Fourum would meet up there for a Friday night concert in the lounge, on occasional dark winter months, entertaining guests and walkers from around the world with their stories and songs of The Dales.,

At the end of the year Tyne Tees Television contacted the group as they were going to be filming an edition of Highway with Harry Secombe in Richmond, and they wanted Fourum to sing The Drummer Boy of Richmond as part of the show. This would be filmed in Richmond Castle. This meant re-recording the song for the broadcast (they would be miming to it on TV) and a weekend was arranged for this. They all managed to get a day off work for the filming and turned up at Richmond Castle on a very cold winter’s morning for the shoot. When the programme went out on national TV in February of 1984 the song proved a great success and letters arrived from different parts of the country, from Scotland down to the Channel Isles, asking where they could get copies of this song. In one evening Fourum’s fan base had widened to include the whole country!

The group carried on over the next six years, performing a few concerts a year. They even recorded a Live Concert in 1987 back at Hummersknott School -  which gave people the chance to hear not just the Dales songs, but many of the other traditional favourites the audiences loved - as well as the humourous introductions and links between songs., which have always been part of the evening.

The Middle Years - Part 4: Together again - and more news songs

In 1994 work brought Jim back to the area - this time to Richmond. This meant that Fourum could return to concerts on a regular basis again. Allen was so thrilled that he immediately had a new lease of life in his song writing, and in no time at all there was enough material for a new album, though this would only be in cassette format. The Dales Revisited was released in 1995, with  a guest, Greg Pullen, adding strings to some of the numbers.

Allen’s son, Gus, who had just started a Music Technology course at York, also acted as assistant producer, in addition to adding a number of instruments by way of a synthesiser. Even the producer, Terry Gavaghan, got in on the act by playing electric guitar on a couple of tracks. There was just a general air of excitement. Fourum were back!

The Middle Years - Part 1: The perfect blend at last!

In January of 1978 Sandy Still (French) joined the staff. Sandy already had a long history of singing in folk bands, as well as playing guitar, mandolin and banjo, and his reputation preceded him. He was immediately integrated into Fourum, replacing Malcolm Dawson, who had been promoted to a post outside the area. In fact Sandy’s first appearance with Fourum was on December 2nd 1977 - a whole month before he officially joined the school staff!  The balance of the group was now established. At the same time Allen wrote a song, Old Time Tramp, on a similar theme to Ralph McTell’s Streets of London, which was instantly added to the repertoire. After reading Barry Hines’ novel The Gamekeeper, set in the Yorkshire Dales, he was inspired to pen another song of the same name. Allen had a natural affinity with the subject matter as he was already acquainted with a gamekeeper living in Ivelet, near Gunnerside. The Gamekeeper was immediately inserted into the programme and the realisation dawned on Allen that the material for songs was lying in his own “back garden”, as it were, as he spent many a weekend exploring Swaledale, always beginning with a drive from Darlington down to Richmond.

In April of 1978 Allen wrote The Swaledale Song, describing such a journey up the dale and, at the same time, going back in time. The song was an instant “hit “and the audiences clearly wanted more of the same. He started to research the area in more detail and found a wealth of ideas for songs, based on events, characters and legends. (Farewell to) The Old Gang, The Corpse Way and Isabella Beaufort followed in quick succession. Yet it wasn’t just the words and music of one individual which made the songs special - it was the way Fourum arranged, played and sang them which made them memorable, with each and every group member making his own invaluable contribution.

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