Photos supplied by Emma & Mike Barber, photo credit Kelly Woods
by Damien Barber
The folk music scene is complex and diverse and for it to thrive there needs not only to be venues, audiences, singers and musicians but also enthusiasts who bring all of these together, facilitators or perhaps curators, and to me Geoff Roberts was one of the best.
I’ve considered Geoff a good friend for a couple of decades at least. My first memories are from singarounds in Acle back in the early 90s, sessions that ultimately became Geoff’s infamous ‘Flying Folk club’. To the untrained eye these nights might seem like they happened organically, natural occurrences, and in some ways they did, but not without a lot of work from Geoff.
Once a month singers and musicians from all over Norfolk and beyond would descend on the locals of a country pub and play, sing and make merry, and more often than not (with a few notable exceptions) those locals enjoyed it. These nights were special, partly because of their perceived spontaneity, but also because they involved real everyday people, not just folkies. They weren’t held in the safety of function rooms, village halls or venues but usually in the main bars of, sometimes rowdy, rural pubs. They reminded me of how folk music nights might once have been in the days when it was normal for Norfolk, and that is a rare thing these days.
However random or organic these nights might have felt though, they weren’t, they were expertly coordinated and curated by Geoff, the driving force behind them. Geoff was a quiet but confident organiser and MC, often in chaotic circumstances, but a casual observer wouldn’t realise that anyone was even ‘in charge’, and that was Geoff’s charm. He never seemed to want any recognition for what he did, in fact he often looked awkward whenever I tried to thank him and would quickly dismiss it, but I suspect he understood how valuable his contribution was for so many people.
I never heard Geoff sing, I don’t know if he did, but he did play the melodeon. He would probably be the first to admit that he was no virtuoso, but it didn’t matter, he was always so humble that you could only ever enjoy his playing. He could usually be seen accompanying my dad, Mike, one of his best friends, and along with a bit of bird spotting they formed one of the most entertaining unprofessional double acts on the Norfolk folk scene. Neither of them ever seemed to know what the other was doing, at least not at the same time, and I’m sure I even remember Geoff once playing an entirely different tune to Mike’s song, but despite the chaos, it was authentic, engaging and ultimately entertaining.
Enthusiastic, positive, funny, supportive and kind are words that come to mind as I write this but I suspect he was a great deal more too.
I will miss the Flying Folk Club with Geoff at the helm and I will miss Geoff, but he has given me some wonderful memories and for that I am grateful, the world has been much more interesting and entertaining because of him. Thank you, Geoff.
Damien Barber, March 2021