Miles Wootton -  1934 - 2019

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 15:08
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During the 1960s, 70s and 80s, Miles wrote, sang and recorded countless songs still popular in folk clubs. They mocked all kinds of follies, even those of folk itself.  A fine guitarist and a wry observer of life, he blended music hall, cabaret and folk song in a distinctive way: Ewan MacColl said he “had the common touch” and Peggy Seeger calls him one of her “favourites of the ironic, sarcastic, humorous writers of iconic folk songs.” She said, “I recently sang his Hippies And Beatniks parodying Gypsy Davy: it brought the house down. Goodbye, Miles… you gave me miles of pleasure and laughter - Peggy.”

Although Miles wrote serious songs and poems, he is best known for comic songs such as The Jogger’s Song (co-written with Fred Wedlock), The Gnome and Early One Evening. “Coming from a music-hall family, I went for the cheap laughs,” he said. He was resident at the Stanford and Springfield folk clubs in Brighton and teaching allowed him to write and perform - which “helped put bread on the table” - in clubs throughout southern England, from the Singers Club and the Troubadour in London to the Count House in Cornwall, recording two LPs, Sunday Supplement World (1975) and The Great Fish Finger Disaster (1980), and one CD, The Least Worst Of Miles Wootton (2007).

Miles was brought up in Sussex, his father a viola player in BBC orchestras, his mother a former Tiller girl. Studying at Jesus College, Oxford, he joined the Heritage Society, the university folk club, and had guitar lessons in London with Len, father of the famous John Williams.

In London, after university, he taught, organised FolkWest 4 in Chiswick, and began writing and singing what he called his “silly songs”. He met Valerie and in 1965 they married and moved to Brighton, where he lived, taught, wrote and sang for the rest of his life.

Paul Wilson, now director of Wren Music, was someone he taught. He writes, “Miles had a consistently inclusive, accepting and positive approach to singing, guitar playing and songwriting. His gentle satirical writing was a perfect fit with the era, tackling subjects as diverse as the evils of capitalism, holidays, amateur dramatics, city gents and bad pubs.”

A number of his songs entered the folk tradition. Some were recorded by his friend Allan Taylor, others by singers including Françoise Hardy, Cyril Tawney and Martin Carthy. Without his knowledge a punk band hijacked and distorted Skinheads, his song satirising punk violence. It became, to his disgust, an Oi! anthem. He wrote and performed for BBC Radio Brighton (later Radio Sussex), contributed to BBC Radio 4’s satirical Week Ending and had occasional articles published in the Guardian.

Valerie died in 1982. Miles retired from teaching on health grounds in 1989. He died in Hove on 9th February 2019 and is survived by his daughters, Kate and Poppy, and grandson, Enzo.  He loved watching the birds and the foxes in his wildlife garden. He leaves many good friends and many good songs.

John Pole