Mike Harding comes to Barton Ropery Hall on May 16th for an evening of poetry. He’s been a star of the folk music scene for nearly fifty years so it seemed like a good idea to take a quick look back at his career.
Mike Harding is one of those people who are rightfully hailed as national treasures. He’s a singer, songwriter, poet, raconteur and radio presenter and for many years he was the voice of British folk.
Born in Manchester, in 1944, into a working class Irish Catholic family. His father died returning from a bombing raid over Germany four weeks before he was born. During his early years Mike developed a love for music, playing in skiffle and rock bands in the 60s. He has fond memories of sharing the bill with The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Hollies, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders and the late Eric Spanner and the Rhythmaires.
Among his early musical influences, Mike lists Lonnie Donegan, Jesse Fuller and Lancashire folk singer, the late Harry Boardman.
After a chequered early career as dustman, bus conductor, road digger and carpet fitter, Mike took a degree in Education, paying his way by working at night in Folk Clubs. Finally, the lure of the bright lights proved too much and he became a full time entertainer.
His success as a live entertainer began in 1967 when, during a gig at Leeds University with The Edison Bell Spasm Band, he began to tell jokes to fill in the awkward pauses while the band tuned up. The patter became part of the act and when the jokes dried up he delved into his store of real-life stories for which he has become famous.
In 1975 the record The Rochdale Cowboy flung him from folk music into the mainstream of live entertainment with his own regular TV series and radio work that continues to this day. He also began a 20 year succession of concert tours with his unique mix of comedy and music, visiting virtually every major venue in the country as well as tours to Australia, Hong Kong and the Middle East. Over the same period he made over 20 albums which still notch up impressive sales to his legion of committed fans.
By the mid nineties Mike had largely abandoned public performances to concentrate on writing and broadcasting, and to indulge his love of fell walking and fly fishing. He’s since earned widespread acclaim for both the quality and breadth of his work with over 40 books and plays published.
His writing has ranged from comedy to church architecture, from poetry to play writing, from short stories to novels and, unsurprisingly, from fell walking to a manual for fishermen on how to tie flies, with many of the books illustrated with his own photographs.
For 15 years he presented his highly-praised Folk, Roots and Acoustic Music programme on BBC Radio Two, establishing a regular evening audience of a million listeners until he was replaced as presenter two years ago because “the BBC wanted the music to be more in tune with Radio 2’s daytime output.”
Now he presents his own Mike Harding’s Folk Show on the internet, where he’s built an audience of over 250,000 through live transmissions on Sunday teatime and subsequent podcasts. To listen click on http://www.mikehardingfolkshow.com
A further change in his pattern of work came four years ago when he was enthused by an ad hoc performance in a village hall near his home in the Yorkshire Dales and decided it was time to go back on the road. With some trepidation a try out stand up tour of arts centres and little theatres was arranged. Publicity was limited but the outcome surpassed all expectations with sell out audiences and virtually all venues asking for a second night before the tour had even started.
Since then Mike has undertaken three more tours to increasingly bigger venues with much the same packed house response, proving that his fans had certainly not forgotten him.
He’s not abandoned his writing either with a new play, Coming In On A Wing And A Prayer inspired in part by the death of his father in a Lancaster bomber. The play has attracted the attention of leading theatre impresario, Bill Kenwright and is currently under consideration for a national tour.
Other recent publications include The VW Camper Van – A Biography and a new collection of his poems (his fourth) under the title Connemara Cantos. In fact, it is his poetry that has become the main focus of Mike’s public appearances in recent months. Last year he undertook a series of visits to literary and arts festivals in Swaledale, Worcester, Stratford, Morley, Thame and the Shetlands with the aim of bringing his poetry to a wider audience.
This in turn has prompted his next tour entitled An Evening Of Poetry With Mike Harding, which will be visiting arts centres and little theatres across the North of England in May.
Although born and raised in Manchester, Mike’s lived in the Yorkshire Dales for the past 44 years – a lot longer than he lived in Lancashire. The move, in 1971, was prompted by his love of fell walking, fly fishing and the countryside in general.
With the Dales as his base, Mike walked and cycled and photographed and lived among the farming community. He became President of The Ramblers for a 3 year term and is now a lifetime Vice President. He is in constant demand to speak on environmental and ecological issues and has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
And he’s even been known to admit that there are times when he wishes he’d been born a Yorkshireman.
Words by Geoff Sargieson
This feature is taken from The Peoples Issue 33 Web Edition