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Mick Softley (Michael Softley, born 1941, in South Woodford, Essex) is a British singer/songwriter and guitarist. A figurehead during the British folk scene, Softley set up his own folk club, released three albums and has been known to work with Mac MacLeod , Donovanand Maddy Prior. Donovan even covered two of Softley's songs (Goldwatch Blues & The War Drags On) on his early albums.Read More...
Born to Irish parents from County Cork, Softley first took up trombone in school and became interested in traditional jazz. He was later persuaded to become a singer by one of his school teachers, and this led to him listening to Big Bill Broonzy and promptly changed his attitude to music, to the extent of him buying a mail-order guitar and some tutorial books and teaching himself to play. By 1959, Mick Softley had left his job and home and spent time travelling around Europe on his motorbike. Ending up in Paris, he came into the company of musicians such as Clive Palmer , Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Wizz Jones . Here he improved his guitar skills and spent time busking with friends until his return to England in the early 1960s. Setting up a folk club at The Spinning Wheel in Hemel Hempstead. He became well respected amongst his peers due to the truly bohemian nature of his life during the previous six years.
His folk club was shut down by the police after only a year, however, for "various reasons", and Softley began singing in The Cock, a pub in St Albans, where he met a young Donovan Leitch, singing together on many occasions (He later cited Softley as a "major influence"). Donovan was soon snapped up by a record label and shot to stardom, but this enabled him to bring Softley to the attention of producers and record companies. He then worked with Peter Eden and Geoff Stephens, and his debut album Songs For Swinging Survivors , which was a purely folk record. The album featured only Softley and his acoustic guitar, and includes the songs The War Drags On, (Covered by Donovan on his 'Universal Soldier' EP), and Softley's own interpretations of Billie Holiday's 'Strange Fruit', and Woody Guthrie's 'The Plains of the Buffalo'. Softley does not look back on this time favourably claiming during production he had gone "through a lot of hells and no heavens, a terrifying amount of personal pain" to the extent that he quit the music business for over four years. During this time, he returned to life on the road until late 1967. Due to contractual issues he never received any royalties in the later years.
After his absence, Softley returned with an electric group Soft Cloud, Loud Earth the group was soon trimmed down to a duo consisting of Softley and Mac MacLeod called Soft Cloud. They only performed a few times before they split up and Softley went on to pursue a solo career. Meeting Donovan again, he was persuaded to record for a second time. This time Terry Cox was onboard for production and Softley claimed that "everybody all along the line was really good. Totally different to what I'd been through five years before - No-one was trying to make a fast penny out of me, and they were prepared to let me do everything exactly how I wanted to". Softley recorded three albums during this period, which have a much different tone to the first albums, notably due to the variety of instruments and styles showcased on these albums, from upbeat rock (Can You Hear me Now? and folk (Goldwatch Blues) to eastern-inspired sitar pieces (Love Colours) and skiffle (Ragtime Mama).
voiding capitalising on the opportunity of stardom, Softley continued to travel and play for free, preferring to watch people enjoy his music than make money. He moved to County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland in 1984, eventually settling in Enniskillen where he still lives. He writes poetry and is a well recognised character in the town. He also performs occasionally at the Belfast Folk Festival.
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