I wrote an article for AUK in February 2020 regarding the Norths Staffs ‘Up in Arms’ venue – or Biddulph Folk Club as it once was. This was part of a series of articles about supporting local small scale settings. In this instance, I made reference to the man behind the whole venture – though there are many others involved – Craig Pickering. Very sad to say, Craig died of Cancer on the 4th of February. This was a condition he had for some time although in our conversations he did tend to downplay his situation. This is what I wrote in February before everything was put on hold,
‘Before I ever spoke to Craig I felt I had the measure of the man who limited his introductions to “Great artist or band / Lucky to have them here / Give them a big hand”. Not one of those who once with a microphone in hand needs to be crowbarred away. Everything is focused on the act and not the promoter.
If you need further proof of his approach then the free bar at the last gig before Christmas (2019) and the warm round of applause for his last years work later in the evening speak for themselves. He is clearly well-liked, refreshingly self-deprecating and the feeling is almost that of a family gathering. Craig is quick to pay tribute to the band of helpers (they know who they are) who help keep the show on the road’.
I came to know Craig more as I interviewed him about the history of the venue for the original article, and as he helped set me up with a couple of interview opportunities. Having thus started to get to know him I am now never going to get the opportunity to further that process, which feels like a very big loss.
Although I knew it initially as a folk club, there were always plenty of americana acts on display. You may rightly say what’s the difference, but having spent some wonderful times in the seventies in a more traditional folk club I can say that actually there could be a huge difference – especially then. The venue is now advertised as ‘Roots Folk and Americana’. Whatever, it’s great!
I have been lucky enough to see Slaid Cleaves on a number of occasions as well as Rod Picott, Diana Jones, Birds of Chicago, Hot Club of Cowtown (who I know were one of Craig’s very favourite promotions), Richard Shindell and Andrew Combs – and they were only some of the highlights. Being blunt I never quite knew how Craig managed to attract such quality players to such a small venue as the old Biddulph Arms Pub ( ‘Up in Arms’ referred to upstairs at the Biddulph Arms – though it has since closed). Being able to use the local Town Hall and St. Lawrence’s Church must have helped, but despite that there were, I believe, times when he took the financial hit. In terms of reputation, I was aware on one occasion that there were audience members present from London. Word can and does, get around!
Over the last year, Craig struggled with trying to keep the show going and there were a number of false starts with yet another during the last few weeks. It would be great if the music continued and went from strength to strength and I am sure Craig would have loved that to be the case. There seems to be a very loyal fan-base, so I don’t have too many worries.
I am aware there have been many tributes and messages and on a personal note, I would like to say thanks to Craig for being instrumental in so much excellent and enjoyable music that gave me, and others, so much. It was a pleasure to meet such a likeable man.