Hats off to the Sharp’s Folk Club crowd for keeping a light burning in the darkness

Amanda MacLean
Amanda MacLean sings at Sharp’s online

As far as I know, Sharp’s was one of the first London clubs to get a virtual lockdown session going. Sharp’s in Isolation – the Lockdown Singaround! was up and running officially by the end of March, so we only missed a couple of weeks.

I hadn’t been a regular at Sharp’s for ages, but the club was still important to me – it’s where I cut my teeth as a solo singer – so I offered to run the club as a Zoom session.

I couldn’t bear the thought of everyone just disappearing into their homes for months and Tuesday nights turning into a big, fearful blank. Especially for the regulars who have gone every week, not just for years, but for decades.

That first session was quite moving. It was a huge relief, in what felt like a very dark time, to have – almost miraculously – the warmth and light of hearing and seeing each other sing. I don’t think I was the only one who came close to tears.

It’s been a challenge getting everyone set up on Zoom – it’s a new technology for all of us, and it doesn’t come easily to everyone. I’ve been sending out links to training videos and tips to help people get on board, and doing a bit of coaching over the phone. But there are still a few missing faces that I’d dearly love to see.

‘A favourite moment was when John White’s Where Did You Get That Hat? saw us fishing hats out of our assorted cupboards’

However, one of the best things is being joined by friends (old and new) from around the world – every week we’ve got one or two people who used to go to Sharp’s, or always wanted to, but live too far away – now they can join us wherever they are.

It’s not the same as the real-life club, of course. I’d had visions of everyone joining together in rousing choruses as they do in real life. But because of the time delays, online singing together is an excruciatingly painful auditory experience.

While each singer takes their turn, everyone else has to go on mute. Unless we’re singing Happy Birthday! It’s a song that’s routinely murdered across the globe in any case, so we don’t mind.

One of the key things is the social contact, though, so we’re not on mute all the time – there’s plenty of banter between songs, and the chat is fun too, though a bit distracting sometimes.

A favourite moment was when John White’s rendering of the music hall song Where Did You Get That Hat? saw half of us fishing hats out of our assorted cupboards under the stairs.

We’d discovered one of the advantages of having a folk club in your living room – plus it takes no time to get home to bed, and there’s no queue for the bar or the loos.

Still, I think we’re all looking forward to when the lockdown is over and we’re back in the basement bar at Cecil Sharp House.

All the sessions are recorded (though you can opt out if you’re feeling shy) and go up on YouTube – the Sharp’s in Isolation playlist may be rough and ready but it’s a great record of the club’s characters and songs, and the times we’re living in too.

This article appeared in Folk London 307, June-July 2020