In those days, all roads on a Sunday night led to Granny's Folk Club. Something of a movable feast, it operated variously from the ballrooms at the posh but faded Queens Hotel, the slightly down at heel Carlton and - for the purposes of this story - the lovely old Plough Hotel.
For younger readers, this building stood where the High Street entrance to the Regent Arcade now is. During the re-development there were half-arsed efforts to preserve its Georgian facade, but the crumbling structure partially collapsed. The architects eventually gave up on preservation and sent in the big, clanky, yellow machine with a large metal ball on the end of a huge, swinging chain. The rest is history.
So, let's take a trip back in time to the Plough. Through the polished mahogany and brass revolving doors, up the sweeping staircase to the bar with its beaten copper-topped tables, and down the dodgy beer-stained steps to the old ballroom. Filled with the aroma of Old Holborn, stale Wadworths 6X and the murmur of 200 or so people in low volume conversation. When your eyes become accustomed to the gloom you could see a small dimly-lit stage - and possibly even enjoy listening to the floor spots before the 'turn' came on.
The route from dressing room to auditorium wasn't far. In fact, pre-performance, acts would dump their gear behind a screen in a corridor and adjourn to the nearest bar stools. Sometimes there would be a pile of fiddle cases or the odd guitar propped against the wainscotting. It was here, one winter's night, my mate Jonny and I were smoking and drinking in a dark corner, very close to a taciturn and broody looking Jake Thackray. Due to perform later that evening, he'd glanced across a few times while nursing a pint. "He's coming over!" said Jon. No flicker of a smile. Just a jerk of the head in the direction of the clutter behind us. "Lads. Mind the instruments."
Others proved more affable. Dave Cousins, front man and founder member of The Strawbs, had enjoyed much chart success with his band. They'd even wavered into progressive rock, but this was a period when - perhaps way ahead of his time - he'd returned to his acoustic roots. The tour which brought him to Cheltenham saw him accompanied simply by a bass player; I want to say it was Danny Thompson, but I can't be sure of that.
This was only a year or two after Sandy Denny had died. Little more than a decade prior to this night, the original Strawbs trio had hooked up with rising folk star Sandy Denny, and they recorded their first album together. By pure coincidence, my pal Wigger and I had recently visited Woolworth's record department and there - in the reduced rack - were a few copies of said debut album. It featured the very first recorded version of one of the most celebrated folk songs of all time, Sandy Denny's "Who Knows Where The Time Goes." The album was produced in Copenhagen, using very basic equipment. Dave Cousins was charged with finding a UK record label to release the album, but by the time he had done so Sandy's solo career had soared. She moved on to work on her own and with friends, before famously linking up with Fairport Convention - taking the classic song with her. The rest is history.
Before the gig, our small contingent was in its usual bar side setting, when we were surprisingly joined by a very friendly Mr Cousins. This was good for me, as I wrote a music column for the local weekly newspaper at the time. I'd even phoned The Strawbs' agent asking if I could do an interview… a very bold step for me as I was a timid young hack at the time. While out at lunch, the telephonist (yes, we had them in those days), took a message for me. "Someone rang from a phone box for you - a Dave Cousins. He said he'll try again." Yeah, right, I thought. Yet another prank call form one of my work mates.
So, rather nervously, I introduced myself to the great DC. "Hmm? Who? Ah, yes - hello, I rang you last week - sorry I didn't get chance to call back." Bugger. But no harm done, as he was there in front of me and willing to chat. Wigger chipped in - as he was wont to do (and still is). "I bought a copy of that album you did with Sandy Denny in Woollies on Friday." Mr Cousins nearly choked on his ale. "No!! I haven't got a copy of that one!" he said, more than a little excitedly. "Have they got any left? If I give you the money could you see if your could get me one? Only I've got to go straight back to Devon tonight."
Now, as it happened, Wigger was himself travelling to Devon - with tent and girlfriend packed into his Ford Anglia - the following weekend. An address was written on a scrap of paper scrounged from Alison behind the bar, and a shiny 50 pence piece was entrusted into our care. Mercifully, Woollies still had several copies shrunk wrapped in the 'remaindered' section and one was duly hand-delivered to Mr Cousins. Who, from memory, lived in a converted school house near the town of Colyton.
I wonder if he remembers the incident himself? I bet it's worth more than 50p now! It was all a very long time ago. Indeed, who knows where the time goes?