How far he has travelled!

Nailsea Town Council is delighted to have been involved in a Black History event at Nailsea Tithe Barn on Saturday 28 October 2023. We supported Nailsea Folk Club in association with the Racial Equality Network North Somerset and North Somerset Council at an event to showcase the life and work of Johnny Mars. Johnny is an American blues harmonica player, singer, filmmaker and songwriter, now living in Taunton, Somerset.

The night was opened by Ian Noah, of the North Somerset BME Network, a charity organisation which has been running for more than thirteen years supporting and promoting BME/BAME communities across North Somerset . Ian welcomed and introduced Sharon Foster, High Sheriff of the County and City of Bristol. Sharon talked about Black History Month and the experience of Black people in Britain today. She showed her passion for the opportunities and education of children and young people. She talked about her work to fearlessly champion the rights of women and Black members at local, regional, and national levels, ensuring their perspectives are heard and valued.

Then, Johnny Mars, explored the history of the blues and the experience and struggle of black people in America. Johnny is one of the finest harmonica players in the world and is a life-long innovator and trend setter in sound technology and playing style. Described as the ‘Hendrix of the Harmonica’ Johnny shared his talent for music, telling us about his life and long career. He told us about his work with Magic Sam, Earl Hooker, B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, Jesse Fuller, Spencer Davis, Ian Gillan, Do-Re-Mi, Bananarama and Michael Roach, to name a few.

Johnny has had an amazing life. He was raised in a sharecropping family and given his first harmonica at age nine. His family lived in various places around the South, including North Carolina, Georgia and Florida, experiencing the effects of racial segregation. He told the audience about his experience of cotton picking at a young age and how cotton has thorns, which tear the skin when the cotton is picked.

When Johnny’s mother died in 1958, the older family members settled in Florida, while Johnny and his younger brother went to live in New Paltz, New York State. Living in New York was a massively different experience to his life in the Southern America states. After he graduated from high school, Johnny played club shows around New York and recorded with his band ‘Burning Bush’ for Mercury Records, and from there his career developed.

Ben Kushner, the Nailsea Town Councillor who organised the evening said

‘I would like to give a big shout out to Dave Francis of the Nailsea Folk Club and his team for doing a brilliant job running the event and helping to make it a great success. Special thanks should also go to Ian Noah, Chair of Racial Equality North Somerset, and Sharon Foster, High Sheriff of Bristol who both helped to make the evening go so well’

David Francis who runs Nailsea Folk Club says

‘we were delighted to hold this Black History Month event at the Tithe Barn in Nailsea. The Nailsea Folk Club has a strong reputation for our concert programme which features top names from around the world. Over the years the club has become a family of linked activities and projects which develop and change over time. We hold most of our concerts in Nailsea Tithe Barn and more traditional folk club nights, including feature nights, at the Ring O’ Bells in Nailsea which has a lively atmosphere. The Nailsea Folk Club welcomes new members. If you are interested in our events or joining the club please see our website or contact us on or call me on 01275 540231 or mobile 07757 505551. I will be delighted to talk to you’