The Folk Club


Friday nights in Singapore in the late 60s there was only one place to be – The Anopheles Inn at the Hygiene and Malaria Control Unit (HMCU) on Ayer Rajah Road.  Friday night was folk night and, since the HMCU was only over the road from 8 Int Coy, it was a popular destination for the livers in and the pads.

The club was run by Johnny Collins, a Sgt in the RAMC (pathologist if my memory is correct). Below is an extract from a radio interview Johnny gave in 1998:  

Then, in 1967, I went back to Singapore. There were already three really well established folk clubs - RAF Changi, RAF Seletar and RAF Tengah - so I started one on the south side of the island at the Anophel Inn, named after the anopheline mosquito, because it was at a Field Hygene Unit. We had people like Pam Ayres sing there and Tom Lewis, who was then a submariner. We met every Friday night and it really was quite popular with people coming from all over.

The evening would start with a few chorus songs from the Club’s own quartet – Johnny Collins, Stan ( an RE draughtsman), a Jock called Mack, whose speciality was Matt McGinn’s “Manyura Manya, and Nicki Kennedy, who sounded like Joan Baez. The quartet would then perform individually, or as duos, and introduce guest stars as they appeared, before coming back together to finish the night with a rousing series of chorus songs.  Some of the best artistes from the other folk clubs were regulars on a Friday night ensuring a great night of music.  One of these, already mentioned by Johnny was Tom Lewis.  I first remember Tom and his wife at the club singing the definitive version of John Denver’s ‘Leaving on a jet plane’, although Tom himself was better known for the songs of fellow submariner Cyril Tawney, such as ‘Diesel and shale’.

It was Johnny Collins who first introduced me to the music of the Watersons – ‘Three Score and Ten’, ‘Dido Bendigo’, ‘All for me grog’; Ewan McColl  – ‘Dirty old town’, ‘Thirty foot trailer’, ‘Shoals of herring’; and Cyril Tawney  – ‘Sally free and easy’, ‘Sammy’s bar’, ‘Chicken on a raft’.

Stan, who did not appear to own a pair of socks, or at least was not seen to wear any, except at Dave Wakelam’s 21st when he wore a pair of odd socks – was an enigma.  He would sing the comedy songs of Playboy cartoonist Shel Silverstein (I’m being eaten by a boa constrictor) and music hall favourites such as ‘Down below’ but his forte was playing the guitar.  He was so good that when he left the army in 69/70 he went to Madrid to undertake a 6 year course on classical guitar.  When asked how he was going to support himself through this course, he declared he had got a job playing flamenco guitar in a Madrid club in the evenings.

By the time the resident quartet returned to the stage later in the evening, ample supplies of amber liquid had lubricated the throats of the audience and they were all too ready to help out on the choruses of classic folk songs ‘Wild Rover’, ‘Leaving of Liverpool’ ‘Holy ground’, before the final anthem of every Friday night ‘Will ye go lassie go’.

Individuals had their own favourite songs – Brian Unsworth’s was Tom Paxton’s ‘Bottle of wine’ – Pete Palmer’s was the Dubliner’s ‘Johnny McEldoo’; Colin ‘Noddy’ Jones’ was Tom Paxton’s ‘LBJ; and Dave Wakelam had a soft spot for ‘In me Liverpool home’.

Although every Friday night was a treat, there was one Friday night that was extra special.   It seemed all the best acts from the other clubs had decided that this was to be the night and were in attendance.  Also HMS Eagle was in port and their own folk group, The Guinness Grenadiers’ came along.   In appearance and sound they were the Dubliners.   The OC of the HMCU made occasional appearances at the folk club and was here tonight. In his spare time he was a musical agent.  He stood at the bar with three south American looking men, listening to the performances.  He called Johnny Collins over and had a few words.  Johnny went on stage to announce that ‘in the audience tonight we have the original Trio Los Paraguayos and they would like to perform for you’.   The trio went on stage and performed a few songs with borrowed guitars to tremendous applause.  As they came off stage they spoke to the OC who had a few more words with Johnny before he left with trio.  Johnny announced that the trio so enjoyed being able to play their own folk music that they would like to come back and play some more, but they were due on stage at the Hotel Singapura in a few minutes, however, the OC had granted an extension to the bar and they would return.  This fantastic night continued and, sure enough, an hour later the trio returned in full stage costume and with their own instruments, including the harp, and brought the evening to a fitting conclusion as the sun rose over Ayer Rajah road.

One of the regular features was a raffle when the prize was usually a highly desirable recently released LP.  One Friday night the LP was ‘The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem Live at the Carnegie Hall’ which to Dave Peaks’ disgust, Dave Wakelam won, would not part with, and still has! 

Many an interest in folk music was born in that club.

Dave Peaks [SDWS Historian]

Foot Notes:

Johnny Collins - When Johnny Collins left the army he became the chief lab technician at Watford hospital but his true love remained folk singing, building up a good following on his website Johnny Collins – Pedlar of Songs, and at numerous folk clubs and shanty festivals around the world.   He and his wife attended the SDWS reunion in Leeds where he was happy to perform for us and reminisce on those days at the Anopheles Inn.  Sadly Johnny died on 6 July 2009 whilst appearing at the Tall Ships Concert in Gdansk, Poland.

Tom Lewis - When Tom Lewis left the navy he emigrated to Canada where he now has a successful folk career – his website is: