Mudcat Café message #4028271 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #167165   Message #4028271
Posted By: Vic Smith
14-Jan-20 - 10:10 AM
Thread Name: 2020 Obit.Hylda Sims - Skiffle pioneer 13 Jan
Subject: Obit.Hylda Sims - Skiffle pioneer 13 Jan
Dave Arthur writes: -
Sad news. An old friend from the early days of skiffle and folk music died yesterday. Hylda Sims died in Norwich on January 13 after fighting a losing battle with cancer. Probably her last performance was just a few weeks ago with her group the City Ramblers Revival at the final night of the Poetry Cafe's Fourth Friday on 22 November 2019. A wonderful mix of music and poetry Hylda had hosted since 2005 and where I and Rattle On the Stovepipe had the pleasure of performing many times over the years.
Hylda and her, then, husband, Russell Quaye, ran what was, for me, as a very young teenager, the most interesting and exciting skiffle group/spasm band, of the 1950s, the City Ramblers. Never as famous to the general public as the Vipers, but with a wider repertoire of folk, blues, skiffle, jazz, cockney songs, played with more skill and dash than most other skiffle groups of the time. They also set up and ran the, again for me, most important and iconic Soho music venue of the time, the Skiffle Cellar in Greek Street, down whose dark, steep stairs, I trecked from the age of fourteen till it closed in 1958. Everybody on the folk, skiffle, blues scene, seems to have played down there at some point, especially American artists passing through London, such as Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Derroll Adams and many more. Following the end of the brief, but hugely influential, skiffle 'boom' (so many famous 'pop' and rhythm and blues performers of the '60s onwards came through the musical nursery that was skiffle) Hylda and Russell split up and went their own musical and career ways. Russell, a fine artist, taught special needs chidren for many years before his death. Hylda studied Russian at Hull University, when Philip Larkin was still librarian,following in the footsteps of another ex-skiffler, John Pilgrim (who had also been a founder member of the Ramblers before joining Wally Whyton, and others in the chart-topping Vipers Skiffle Group). Hylda developed her writing skills and became a respected pubished poet, she also wrote for musical theatre; the subject often been her life and experiences in South London. I had the pleasure many years ago of playing banjo in her musical story based life and love in Peckham Rye. She wrote biographies, one special favoutite of mine , covered her time at A.S.Neil's, somewhat anarchic, and way before it's time philosophically, famous alternative Summerhill School in Suffolk, where she came under the influence of such Marxist intellectuals as A.L.Morton, author of the groundbreaking Marxist 'A People's History of England'. On leaving Summerhill and coming down to London, and before she fell in love with, and ran off with, skiffler Russell, Hylda sang in John Hasted's CPGB inspired London Youth Choir, a breeding ground for several future well known successful folk singers and folk groups. Along with several folk singers at various times from the '60s Hylda kept the wolf from the door by dressing as a wench' and singing folksongs, including the inevitable 'Greesleeves' for tourist in the Elizabethen Room in London. With Russell, and subsequently, Hylda was always surrounded by young people, who invariably found a bed and a meal in her house in Croxted Road, Dulwich. It was always a place to play music, discuss politics (Left Wing), eat communal meals, get your head down for however long it took for you to get yourself sorted out. Decades ago she was jointly inspirational in setting up a commune in Yorkshire, where a row of empty workers cottages were bought up and renovated by families and friends seeking an alternative lifestyle. Hylda's history of the experiment, which is still continuing, was just in it's final stages before her untimely death. She had never been in hospital before in all her eight plus decades! Sad though her death is, it's not unexpected at that sort of age, and the consolation, if consolation there is, is that Hylda drained the cup of life in so many ways, and throughout that life has encouraged, befriended, inspired, countless musicians, writers, poets, and others. She was writing and performing music on stage right up to the end. With one or two exception, she represented the end of an era, when young people, 'teenagers', emerging from the grim, grey, days of post-war Britain, found a voice and ways through music, art, poetry, writing, drinking, love-making, fashion designing, photography, the occasional dope smoking, etc., opened up a whole new world which burst onto the world stage in the 'swinging sixties' when anything seemed possible, and Britain was a vibrant, exciting place to be, a place where ability, and inspiration, began to mean more than being born into money and privilege. Hylda believed in all that, I hope her dreams aren't shattered by present day politics, self greed and incipient xenophobia. All of which were anathema to her. I and many, many,more will miss her chirpy voice down the phone, her enthusiasm for life, her friendship and, not least, her music, which ran through her like BRIGHTON through a stick of rock. I was fortunate enough to see her in hospital four days ago, and as her guitar was in the corner of her hospital room, I played a few of her old songs for her. Although her eyes were closed and she could barely speak, she obviously listened to the songs and finally, through dry lips she managed to whisper a request - for the Outlandish Knight.
I couldn't remember all the words but her family sitting around the bed found versions on the cell phones ad played Kate Rusby's version. Although it's o consolation her family have been able to be with her most of the time through Hylda's last days.
Love and thanks Hylda for the many fond, musical, poetic and literary memories.
P.S. Last year Hylda wrote me an essay on her memories of Soho in her youth, as a contribution to my book on the history of Soho in the 1950s and early '60s, which will be entitled Shangri-Soho-La. Hopefully, some time this year, when I get the book finished, you'll be able to read her memoire of that exciting time