SWINDON’S folk music scene is grieving the loss of one of the genre’s greatest pioneers in the town and the man they all admired not only for his innate talent but his incorrigible optimism.
Mervyn Penny, of Shrivenham, died at his home on Tuesday, just two months after celebrating his 90th birthday surrounded by friends and family.
The born performer, who up until a few years ago was still busking on Swindon’s streets to spread his love of folk to the masses, was still rousing the crowds on stage four days before his passing.
The former Royal Military College of Science engineer formed The White Horse Folk Club in Highworth in 1974, which he led for 14 years. Although he relinquished the band’s reins, he never missed a rehearsal and even found the time to join another folk group in Lechlade.
Not content to play several instruments – including guitar, accordion, ukulele and piano – he was known to craft his own.
The son of an organist and choir singer, music was his birthright. Mervyn, however, was far from attentive during piano lessons with his mother, preferring a less academic approach. He mostly picked things up as he practised on his own.
The father-of-two performed at several international folk festivals including the great Eisteddfod at Llangollen, winning awards on several occasions. In 2012, he recorded a song entitled The Village Man, a copy of which is lodged in the Vaughan Williams Library at Cecil Sharp House, the headquarters of the English Folk Dance and Song Society.
Despite heart problems and his deteriorating health over the last two years, Mervyn, who also dabbled in photography and built or adapted nearly every piece of furniture in his own home, carried on almost as normal.
His granddaughter Hannah Penny, 22, said: “There was no challenge too large for granddad. He always had a project on the go, whether it was building a modification for his mobility scooter, preparing his next setlist, doing some framing for a friend or learning poems that even a young man would struggle to remember.
“What I will remember most about my granddad was his gentle heart.
“He was so proud of our family, especially his daughters, Marion and Therese, who he loved very much.
“You can’t talk about Mervyn without talking about Margaret, who was by his side for over 60 years. Grandma took care of granddad so well when he was poorly and would have done anything for him. No one will miss him more than grandma.”
Her mother Therese, 56, added: “He lived life absolutely to the full. Over the last couple of years he had been quite unwell but he didn’t let that stop him.
“He never let anything get in his way. He was enormously busy but he always had time for everybody.”
His friend of more than 30 years and fellow band member at The White Horse Folk Club, Derrick Beer, paid tribute to the determined man who never failed to impress and inspire anyone who crossed his path.
“It is hard to capture in words the depth of sadness that is felt by all who have ever been associated with The White Horse Folk Club,” said Derrick, of Highworth.
“As he would have wished, he was singing and playing right up until the end.
“Indeed, he gave the last of his inimitable performances at Riverfolk at Lechlade last Friday evening, staying until 11pm and declining the offer of going home earlier if he felt tired.
“You get out of life what you put into it and nobody did this better than Mervyn.”
Mervyn leaves two daughters Therese, 56, and Marion, 53, wife Margaret, 83, three grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.