St Michaels Street Folk Evening History
Traffic gives way to music and dancing on the first Wednesday in July each year when St Michaels Street, St Albans is closed from 8pm to 10pm and the street is filled with dancers, musicians and spectators. It started in 1988, as part of the new two yearly St Albans Art Festival. Initially, the local residents association and the St Michael's and Kingsbury Society were less than enthusiastic about the plan, but the first evening was a success. It was decided to repeat it the following year and it has been held annually in July ever since. It has become firmly established in the local calendar, with the involvement of local residents, the primary school, St Michaels Church and the church bell ringers. The St Michael's and Kingsbury Society is a keen supporter along with the Six Bells. Amazingly, we are usually lucky with the weather.
Originally St Michael's Street had four pubs, a legacy from the era when it was the centre of the medieval manor of Kingsbury, and each hosted singing and music. Problems arose when the Black Lion closed, meaning that a new venue was need for the Swan Vesta, Social Club, whose anglo-cuban sounds had become established in the pub's car park. We approached St Michael's Church which invited them to play in its churchyard and this is now a highly successful extension to the festive area. This means that St Michael's bell ringers are unable to hold their usual Wednesday practice, but they now ring from 7.15pm until 8.00pm as an overture to the evening. The Swan Vestas make sure that they get rounds of applause, an unusual experience for ringers.
Disappointingly, a further pub, the Blue Anchor, closed so a new venue was needed for the singing by the Redbourn Folk Club. After a further search, club members now sing in the garden of Kingsbury Manor. The closure of two pubs did not lead to a shortage of refreshments, as St Albans Brewers and St Michael's PTA stepped in to run bars in the churchyard and the lower school playground. The Six bells also has food and a bar in the car park. The future of the Rose and Crown is uncertain at the moment but hopefully the Ver Players ukuleles group will still be able to perform there in the car park. The All Stars play at the Six Bells with a great lineup from the folk world.
Local dance groups are always keen to dance in St Michael's Street and display a wide range of traditions along with pupils from St Michael's School doing maypole dances in their lower school playground. There is border morris from Wicket Brood, Cotswold dances from St Albans Morris and Phoenix Morris, North West dances from and Whitethorn Morris and Appalachian stepping by Tappalachian and a variety of dances from New Moon Morris. There is also Scottish dances by Caper Ceilidh Dance School and Irish dances by the Louise Walsh Irish Dancers.