Some months before I left Belfast I met Joan Baez in her dressing room at the Ulster Hall. I knew where the dressing room was because I’d met Donovan there earlier that year. Van was there also and Donovan’s side-kick Gypsy Dave. On that occasion Van and Donovan jammed “Memphis Tennessee”. Van played harmonica and shared vocals. Donovan did a flat pick B7 shape up to E7 resolving in A. So I knew where the dressing room was and since I hadn’t got a ticket I decided that I’d have to get there by some other route.
The dressing room was above the stage door at the back of the Ulster Hall , on Linenhall Street. A gaggle of autograph hunters were loitering there, waiting for Joan to exit at the end of the concert. They were rather surprised when I scaled the drainpipe up onto the window ledge about twenty feet above. My mate Sam Wilson followed until we were both squatting on the ledge. (I shudder when I think of it now.) Joan’s secretary Susan Robinson, a beautiful blond Californian woman, was startled and then alarmed. “Be careful!” Once I had her attention I explained through the glass that I was a folksinger and I needed to meet Joan. She said that Joan was still on stage for the first half of her performance. “That’s alright” I said “I can wait.” When she realised that I was on a mission she promised that if we scaled safely back down she would come and fetch us. We did and she did. “Murph! Sammy!” she called over the expectant crowd when the doorman had pushed open the door. “This way” she said and the crowd begged for permission to follow.
Susan Robinson was a wonderful human being. Even her scolding was gentle. She made us tea and we chatted amicably while we waited for Joan to finish her first set. Suddenly the door opened and in came Joan, her mother and members of the famous McPeake Family. Susan introduced us and explained how we came to be there. Joan was extremely gracious and good humoured about the gatecrash. I told her about my songs and my civil disobedience; I had recently been arrested on a CND demo, lying down in the middle of the main thoroughfare at the City Hall. I received two years probation for this. Joan was impressed at my commitment. She told me that she had been at the rally in Trafalgar Square and would have joined the direct action protest except that she had concert commitments to fulfill and didn’t want to disappoint her audience. She gave me her address and asked me to send her some of my songs for a book of protest songs that she was compiling. When I asked for her autograph she drew me a little flower. I never did get round to sending those songs.
I chatted with Joan’s mother, a small sweet Quaker woman. I was beginning to discover the Quaker commitment to peace and I found it very inspirational. The break was over. Joan had us escorted to seats in the balcony. We shook hands and went to enjoy the magnificence of her voice and guitar weave magic in the crowded auditorium. I met Joan Baez again in the mid-’90s and she recalled the occasion.