In 1963 three lads from Stalybridge formed a folk group. They used to sing an old Scottish folk song, ‘the three Crows’, so for want of a better idea, they decided to name the group after the song.
For Arthur Howard, Fran Delaney and John Vale this began an entertainment career spanning 50 years, ending in 2013.
The lads had been playing together on and off since their school days. They all went to St Peter’s R.C. school together, and were in the cubs and scout movements. Their friendship got even closer when Arthur married John’s cousin and Fran married John’s sister-in-law.
Apart from playing together and being related the lads remained good friends throughout. Arthur was the lead singer with a fantastic voice, a memory for words and a great story teller. He didn’t play an instrument but he put beat in on the tambourine. Fran played guitar and mandolin, sang, harmonized and told jokes. His mandolin playing and joke telling were legendary; he even, at times, had requests to repeat jokes! John was the quiet one who played guitar, sang, harmonized and tried to stop Fran running away with the arrangements.
Their early bookings were around Stalybridge in the folk clubs, pubs and working men’s clubs. One of their first gigs was at the Cobden Liberal Club, now long gone, on Grosvenor Street, Stalybridge. The organizer put the group in the ‘forthcoming attractions’ as “The Owls”. When it was pointed out he said he knew it was some sort of bird.
The group started playing regularly at the Junction Inn in Mottram and this went on for 17 years. After this they did a regular night at the Broadoak pub in Ashton for 4 years. The bookings gradually spread further afield as far as Lancaster, Shropshire and Yorkshire and included an appearance at the Rose of Tralee festival in Ireland in 1978. That was a week long visit when Arthur and Fran were supposed to be back at their jobs ( they were both teachers ) for the last two days. They blamed loss of memory due to the Guinness!
About the same time the group produced their first album “Three Crows at the Junction” which was recorded live at their regular fortnightly Venue. This was followed by a second album “Inn Songs” at the same place. Both these shows were recorded by David Cook, a friend of theirs.
In the 1980’s they started an annual Christmas appearance at Tameside Theatre which carried on for five years, during which they produced an album with some songs live in the theatre and some in a studio. The shows coincided with the beginning of the pantomime season so the theatre staff made the most of using props from the panto’s in the background. This included one appearance where the lads stepped out of a tardis at the introduction.
A third album was recorded in 1988 to celebrate the silver jubilee, of course called “Three Crows 25 Years On”. This was followed at thirty years by “The Three Crows Still Going”.
In 1999 Fran died suddenly. Arthur and John didn’t play after Fran’s death for two years but then they decided to try again; first with Alan Mayall as the third member and then Alan Sellers. During all the years of playing the lads had been backed on the bass regularly by Paul Kempster who Arthur originally taught at St Damian’s school.
The “new” Three Crows carried on playing and each year did a concert in aid of their chosen charity at the Jubilee Hall in Dukinfield. The last concert was their “Fifty Years Anniversary Concert”. The concert was recorded and a CD produced with all the proceeds going to Macmillan Cancer Support, Willow Wood Hospice and St Mary’s R.C. Church, Dukinfield have benefitted from these shows.
Shortly after this in 2013 Arthur died. The remaining two members decided not to carry on and so it brought to an end a remarkable era.