Giff's Biog

Email - derek@derekgifford.co.uk

Derek Gifford - a brief history

Derek developed a love of singing from his early experiences in his school choir. Later while working as an Ordnance Surveyor he also worked as a part-time youth club leader, singing mostly contemporary folk songs with the young people. This experience developed his interest in folk song and eventually led to a new career in teaching.


Mercator the Map Man



Pete and Chris Coe

 from the album "Open the Door and Let Us In" 1972


Derek first discovered the English tradition at the Drover’s Arms Folk Club in Birmingham in the late 1960s. It was here he met some of the people that were to influence his already developing traditional style  such as Pete and Chris Coe, Mick Bramich and Paul Ryan. 

When the O. S. posted Derek to Malvern, Worcestershire at the end of the 60s it wasn’t long before he became a resident at the Ledbury Folk Club (as well as continuing to be a resident at the Drover’s Arms) and became a founder member of the Silurian Morrismen.



Silurian Morrismen


He moved to Lancashire in 1970 to train as a teacher.

In his early days in the North West Derek was involved with the College folk club and joined the Southport Swords, where he made some long standing friendships.


Southport Swords -mid 70's

Derek's on the left with his back to camera.


The Dicconson Arms


Having completed his teaching qualification, he became a resident of the Knowle Brow Folk Club in Skelmersdale with his teaching colleague John McAlister. Having formed as a duo at this club, Derek and John moved on to found the, now legendary, Dicconson Arms Folk Club at the aptly named Dangerous Corner, Wrightington. During the late 70s and early 80s this Friday night club became one of the foremost folk venues in the North-West, hosting national guest appearances. Many were people not so well known in the area at the time such as Johnny Collins, Roy Harris, Isobel Sutherland and Dick Miles.



It was also at this time that John Meadows, a mandolin player, guitarist and singer, joined Derek and John ‘Mac’ to form the group ‘Titanic‘. They worked all over the north for a while, later continuing as a duo when John ‘Mac’ left the group due to family commitments.



John McAlister



Leyland Morris Men - 1890s


Meanwhile Derek moved to Leyland in 1977 and became a member of the Leyland Morrismen.


As is often the case, the brewery decided that the folk club room at the Dicconson was to become a restaurant and the club had to go! Unfortunately, ‘Titanic’ went down with it!





Mark Dowding


After a break of about 12 months and a house move to Mawdesley, Derek opened the Yarrow Valley Folk Club with some of the residents from the Dicconson Arms including Mark Dowding who, from his initial appearances at the Dicconson, has now become a well known performer in his own right. The new club started at The Black Bull, Mawdesley and then moved to The Grapes in Croston. Although this club had some memorable nights with top line artists such as The MacCalmans and the Wilson Family it began to decline and the club closed. This, at least, gave Derek more time to concentrate on developing his, now national, reputation as a solo artist. This also meant that his morris dancing days were numbered!



Derek completed his first ‘on the road’ tour in the north-east during the Autumn half-term holiday in 1981. His school holidays gave him opportunities for both touring and making new friends in the folk clubs around the country. It also gave him time to do some birding in the areas he visited!



Derek doing some birding




Derek’s first solo recording was with Fellside in 1987, called ‘Wine, Birds and Song’ which reflects Derek’s main interests!


At about this time Derek met Bury poet Keith Scowcroft. Derek has set many of Keith’s poems to music and the cassette ‘When All Men Sing’ was released in 1989 through Fellside. This was a collection of 11 Scowcroft/Gifford compositions. The title song  has become something of a folk ‘standard’ having been recorded by a number of well known national artists and is being sung across the world much to the delight of both Derek and ’Scowie’! Pleasingly other songs in the repertoire have also been taken up by others. A few years ago at the National Folk Festival someone entered the Traditional Singers’ competition with the Walling Song announcing it as traditional. Thus Derek and Scowie now rank among the best ‘traditional’ song writers!




Another cassette, the last one on the Fellside label, called ‘A Mixed Case’ was released in 1992. The shanty set on this recording was described in Folk Roots as ‘a cut above the run of the mill’ - faint praise indeed!
The 1990s was a period of consolidation and development. Following his early retirement from teaching Derek’s first singing trip to Australia in 1998 gave him some international recognition. He could now go on tour without having to wait for the school holidays to start.




Chris Harvey (Top) in his role with the 

"Mrs Ackroyd Band"


By then he had also become well known as a maritime song specialist, largely due to his annual appearances at the Lancaster Maritime Festival, and he released the last of his cassettes, ‘Mainly Maritime’, to rapturous reviews. This was Derek’s first recording at Chris Harvey’s Cock Robin Music studios, where Derek has recorded the rest of his albums to date.
Due to customer demand, that same year saw ‘When All Men Sing’ re-released on CD with four extra Scowcroft/Gifford compositions added to the original 11 songs.   

Customers demanding "When All Men Sing + 4"!




In 2001 Derek released another recording with a maritime theme  ‘Sailing By’ which received very favourable reviews and continues to sell well.


The Millennium saw Derek developing new projects and, in 2001, he became a guitar tutor and Board member of Folkus, the folk arts organisation of the North-West chaired by Alan Bell. As a result he has developed guitar courses for beginner and intermediate standard players. He continues to tutor for Folkus on a regular basis. 





Early in the Millennium Derek also joined forces with Geoff Higginbottom and Keith Kendrick to form the group ‘Three Sheets to the Wind’ specialising (obviously!) in maritime material. Although they can’t perform together as often as they’d like due to their other commitments in the music scene, they can be seen from time to time at various clubs and festivals throughout the country. They have released a CD  “All ‘Tide’ Up” (pun intended!) which has been a hit  among shanty aficionados.



Over the last few years Derek has gone back into schools (voluntarily!) to teach multi-cultural folk song specialising in calypso and Antipodean songs and to teach the pupils about our traditional sea songs and shanties.







Derek’s recording, ‘Sunny Corners’, was issued in 2005 and contains a mixture of traditional and contemporary songs mostly land based.



Apart from enjoying music in general, Derek’s other great interest is bird-watching (or ‘birding’) and he has developed three shows called ‘Birds in Folk Song’, ‘More Birds in Folk Song’ and 'Even More Birds in Folk Song' which combine his two major interests. These have been popular with both wildlife groups and folk audiences. As a result in 2006 he brought out a compilation CD from his previous recordings featuring the songs performed in the shows. This is called, appropriately, ‘Birds in Folk Song’ and makes a pleasant memento of the shows.





Because of his teaching background Derek finds it relatively easy to adapt to different types of audiences and is able to take the music out to groups other than those primarily involved with folk music. He does this through these talks and shows which include ‘A Brief History of Sea Songs’, ‘British Sea Shanties’ and ‘The Natural History of Folk Song’. He’s even written a workshop on his other instrument, the bowed psaltery.


One of Derek's most recent recordings is a collection of Lancashire songs to celebrate the forty years he has been residing in the county.



Derek's latest recording is from the Wild Goose Recording Studio and is entitled "Songs From The Past...Into The Future. Details of this and all of Derek's recordings can be found under the "Recordings" link at the top of this page.




Whether accompanying himself on guitar or bowed psaltery or singing unaccompanied Derek’s enthusiasm becomes contagious. Relaxed and confident, with chorus songs a speciality, Derek’s humorous approach will soon have any audience singing along.