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Roland Walls - 1954 – 2019

Roland Walls, who has died from Motor Neurone Disease, has been the focus and inspiration for live folk and roots related music in and around the city of York for the last 40 years. Neither musician nor performer, he dedicated his spare time to encouraging, supporting and promoting a huge variety of music events.

Since the early 1980s, Roland was the sole organiser of the Black Swan Folk Club in York. The club established in the early seventies is one of the longest running in the UK. His superb organisation and meticulous attention to detail resulted in the BBC Folk Club of the Year accolade in 2009. In 2016, the club was voted Best Small Music Venue in a poll conducted by the Yorkshire Gig Guide.

There can hardly be a touring musician on the national folk music circuit who hasn’t at some time in the last 40 years made an appearance at the Black Swan Folk Club. Since 2001, Roland was also the key figure behind the Black Swan Folk Club’s promotion of larger scale concerts at the National Centre for Early Music. Higher profile artists who couldn’t be accommodated at the Black Swan were able to appear in the city at a larger venue. Those artists have included Patrick Street, Kate Rusby, June Tabor, Martin Simpson, Martin Carthy and many more.

Roland always encouraged new and upcoming young artists, allowing them to demonstrate their emerging talent, and some years ago he initiated an annual Young Performers Night to further this aim. Kate Rusby, Eliza Carthy and Jim Moray are among the list of established folk performers who played the club at the start of their careers. Under Roland’s guidance the folk club has supported many local community events including the York Residents’ Festival, providing an afternoon and evening of folk music every year in January, free to all York residents, and to inaugurate the annual City of York Folk Weekend, which recently completed its 17th year. This extremely popular free folk festival is now well established as a major event in the Yorkshire music calendar and has become something of a magnet for tourists.

His efforts were recently recognised by way of a ‘Special Mention’ during the ceremony at the York Culture Awards for 2018 and he also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Yorkshire Gig Guide last October.

He has ensured that the Black Swan Folk Club supported local and wider charities by holding special events. The club has made regular donations to York Against Cancer, St Leonard’s Hospice, and more recently to the Motor Neurone Disease Association.

Born into a North Yorkshire farming family and a Cambridge graduate, Roland’s commitment to serving the community was evident in his professional life as a librarian at the main York City Library and later, until retirement, as a senior regional manager in Northallerton.

In 2010 he was diagnosed with cancer. Even during the most difficult periods of treatment, and during his convalescence, he continued to be the driving force behind all the events organised by the Black Swan Folk Club. Since the beginning of 2018 his health began to deteriorate due to the onset of motor neurone disease. Selflessly supported by his long-term partner Sue, Roland continued to advise and plan for future events at the folk club, the National Centre for Early Music and other venues in the City of York right up until his demise. He was a true champion of all music related to folk traditions and cultures, which he tirelessly supported and encouraged.

Chris Euesden & Stan Graham