"Pioneers of alternative comedy before the term became fashionable" - Guinness Encyclopaedia of Popular Music
"Interesting and original" - Melody Maker
Jelly performed an estimated 1500 gigs, sharing concert bills with top names such as Victoria Wood, Fairport Convention, Bert Jansch and Stephane Grappelli, as well as headlining in their own right. Clive's ukulele playing was the inspiration for the founding of The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.
Clive met Derek Pearce in 1970 at Nottingham Art College which in those days had a thriving folk club, packed to the rafters every week. Clive and Derek were regular solo performers but got on well and teamed up as a duo. (All right - Derek and Clive Live? - yeah yeah, we've heard the joke many times! In fact they were known as Harvey and Pearce.) From the outset they played whatever they felt like, straying well beyond the usual "folk" repertoire, and response was good. So the college offered them a paid gig! "What are you going to call yourselves?" asked the Social Sec. Off the top of his head Derek replied, "Roaring Jelly", the title of an Irish jig he was fond of. Clive nodded approval, so Roaring Jelly it was. For that first paid gig they drafted in bass player Mick Hennessy, of established Derby folk group The Druids. Hiring Mick was intended as a one-off for that first gig, but the combo worked so well he stayed for the second gig, and the third . . . and in fact for the next sixteen years Roaring Jelly were Derek Pearce (vocals, multi-instrumental), Clive Harvey (vocals, guitar, ukulele) and Mick Hennessy (vocals, double bass). A saying attributed variously to Louis Armstrong, Lead Belly or Big Bill Broonzy was:
"All music is folk music, I never heard no hoss sing."
This "anything goes" philosophy was rare on the British folk scene at the time and unwelcome in some quarters, but Jelly applied it gleefully. They embraced skiffle, rock'n'roll, pop, country, reggae, music hall, even disco - in fact any style they fancied, all played on their acoustic "folk" instruments. They weren't afraid to take the piss out of hallowed folk songs either, producing outrageous parodies such as Clive's bizarre version of "Lord Randall". Soon they were writing nearly all their own material, mostly comic. Nowadays it would be called alternative comedy, but the term wasn't really known then. It didn't go down well with the purists. Some folk clubs wouldn't book them, but there were plenty of others that would - and audiences loved them. Jelly were playing to packed houses and in 1975 were invited to play Sidmouth Festival, the UK's oldest, biggest and most revered traditional folk festival, in a bold move by then-director Keith Glover. They went down a storm, opening the door to a national following. In 1981 the demands of gigging finally forced them to give up their day jobs to go fully pro. Radio and TV exposure, including Chris Tarrant's legendary Tiswas, helped them spread beyond the folk circuit and into touring abroad, as far afield as Hong Kong. They broke up in 1985 ("exhausted") but reformed for a final tour in the summer of '87. Although Roaring Jelly never became a household name the band were ahead of their time, achieved something of a cult status and are fondly remembered by many.
Adam Conway, 2010
Enjoy "Valerie Wilkins" - possibly RJ's most popular song - on Youtube.
- 71 - Formed in Nottingham, briefly a duo then a trio, local Midlands gigs
- 75 - Sidmouth Festival, springboard to nationwide gigging
- 77 - "Roaring Jelly's Golden Grates", first album, Free Reed label
- 78 - This is... Roaring Jelly, first TV appearance, BBC Midlands
- 79 - Roaring Jelly's Christmas Trifle, BBC Midlands TV special
- 80 - Christmas Trifle repeated nationally on BBC2
- 80 - Topped a UK folk club poll as best crowd-pullers
- 81 - Turned pro, second album "In The Roar", Topic label
- 83 - Took Cambridge Festival by storm, upstaging famous headliners (oops!)
- 83 - Appeared on Chris Tarrant's legendary kids TV show Tiswas
- 85 - "Farewell" gig at Derby Assembly Rooms
- 87 - Reformed for final tour, last ever gig (aptly) Sidmouth Festival
- 2012 - "Valerie Wilkins" chosen by Mike Harding as one of his 12 favourite tracks on his BBC Radio 2 show. It remains the most requested comic song in the show's 15-year history