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Allan Block - Old Time Fiddler and leather craftsman - Died Oct 23, 2013 aged 90

Allan's music says it all. Allan spoke through his music and Bill Spence has unearthed a video taken 30 years ago of a session at Old Songs. So many special moments only exist in our memories, but this type of recording is a gift to the future. A written tribute from Pete heywood is below.

Allan Block, Died Oct 23, 2013 aged 90.

Allan Block was one of the early American visitors to the folk clubs in the mid seventies, I first met him at the Kilmarnock Folk Club. There were three of them travelling, Allan, George Wilson and Nancy McDowell. One of the things which sticks in my mind was the ease with which they all switched between fiddle, banjo and guitar. That level of proficiency, coupled with the seductive flow of their Old Time music, made us quickly realise that we were witnessing something really special.

I next met Allan at the Old Songs Festival in Albany, northern New York state. Old Songs is a festival with a strong relationship with the UK folk scene. It is organised by Andy and Bill Spence, (of Fennigs All Star String Band fame if you check out the notes on one of Ali Anderson’s early LPs). George Wilson is still playing his fiddle at Old Songs and Allan Block was a regular with his leather stall. Like his early days in New York – more about that later – his leather stall appeared to be as much a venue for an informal session as it was to display his wares. I’m sure Allan discovered what others have, that if you stay long enough in one place at a festival, then over time you meet everyone.

Allan was a self-taught sandal maker who made sandals and music in his Greenwich Village shop, which became a hub of folk music during the 1950s and ’60s. His store, the Allan Block Sandal Shop was just a few minutes’ walk from Washington Square Park and from the Folklore Center, where perpetual musical performances, both impromptu and planned, made Greenwich Village the centre of the American folk revival. His shop was a destination for aspiring musicians like John Sebastian and Bob Dylan and he was always ready to pick up a fiddle and jam with visiting folkies – of which there were many including Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Doc Watson.

His sandals, were groundbreaking footwear, fashionwise, bought by the actress Faye Dunaway and musicians including Joan Baez. He continued his leather work over the course of his life and in addition to sandals, he made belts, handbags, guitar straps and other items.

Allan spoke through his music and Bill Spence has unearthed a video taken 30 years ago of a session at Old Songs. So many special moments only exist in our memories, but this type of recording is a gift to the future.

Pete Heywood