‘He left a lot to learn by’: tributes to JJ Dunne after Barnet organiser dies aged 62

JJ Dunne plays guitar
JJ Dunne performing at Barnet Folk Club

JJ Dunne, the popular organiser of ­Barnet Folk Club and a well-known face at Cecil Sharp House where he worked, has died suddenly aged 62. JJ had run Barnet for several years and celebrated its 30th anniversary last year.

His widow, Jenny Dunne, said: “He was all about featuring ‘local heroes’ plus a number of artists such as Dorten Yonder, Steve ­Turner, Mark Harrison, Fil Campbell, Shambolica, Pete Morton, James Findlay, Jimmy Lee plus many more.”

JJ loved Irish folk music in particular, having grown up listening to Dubliners songs “which his dad always played loudly after coming home from the pub”, Jenny said.

He started helping Mary English organise Barnet Folk Club and started running it when Mary moved to Bath. He was pleased that he had a listening audience who appreciated the music, meaning it was totally unplugged.

Jenny said: “He prided himself on the entrance being free but ‘you need to pay to get out’, ie a bucket collection so you could pay what you could afford, with all the money going to the performers.”

Several Barnet regulars and Cecil Sharp House colleagues performed at his funeral. Clarke Camilleri said: “JJ was inspiring. We shared a similar passion and drive in wanting to promote folk music to the masses. While on shifts at Cecil Sharp House we would share our admiration for different folk performers who had first helped us fall in love with the music.

“From attending his folk club in High Barnet you could see he lived for times like this, bringing people together through folk music. He left a lot to learn by, but I’ll miss him nevertheless.”

Colleague Steve Turnbull called him “an incredibly warm, welcoming and fatherly individual with a cracking personality. He always made me feel extremely welcome both at his folk club and at Cecil Sharp House.”

And the band Dorten Yonder, who met at Barnet, said: “Organising a folk club requires enthusiasm, persistence and good humour: fortunately JJ had all of these in spades.

“He was never seen without a huge smile; he had his own style, and what most shone through was a great love of the music. Evenings at Barnet always ended with a rousing version of Whiskey In The Jar, accompanied by all the guest artists – some fine lineups made up his various backing bands.”

He and Jenny met on a blind date in 1977, married in 1981 and had two children, Molly and Daisy. They shared a love of music and regularly went to gigs together, right up to June Tabor and Oysterband at the Union Chapel just days before JJ’s death.
Barnet Folk Club’s future is uncertain.

JJ Dunne, born 16 November 1957; died 22 ­November 2019

This article appeared in Folk London 306, April-May 2020