Mike was born in Urmston near Manchester in 1953 and started playing music in the early 1970s when he saw Bob Cross (Rebec) playing at local clubs and decided that he'd like to get up on stage and play rather than sit in the audience and listen. He had a chance conversation with Bob at the bar in Poynton Folk Centre and soon joined Rebec, initially having to borrow Bob's tenor recorder to rehearse. Mike played for many years with the band and was an ever present at folk clubs, folk and Early Music festivals and theatre as well as TV and radio appearances. A highlight was playing support to Bert Jansch at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester in the 1980s. Also, Rebec, along with Kathryn Tickell represented England at a festival in Budapest, Hungary in 1990 organised by Magyar Radio and the state airline Malev.
A big step in a wider appreciation of folk music was striking up a friendship in the early 1970s with Toni and Chris Hicks who produced the local Manchester Folk Guide. Mike started to review records and concerts and write articles and the magazine was later changed to include the North West as a whole and was renamed the North West Folk Guide. After the demise of the magazine Mike was part of the launch team for the folk magazine BUZZ along with Tim Beasant, Trevor Stone and editor Millie Chadband. Mike is still good friends with Toni who still performs under the name Toni Bunnell.
Then there was Mike, the folk club organiser in the 1980s. He ran the Briton's Protection (Manchester) and Seymour (Chorlton) folk clubs which enjoyed many years success with guests including Martin Carthy, John Kirkpatrick, Dave Swarbrick and Simon Nicol, Dave Burland, Jez Lowe, Ossian, Dick Gaughan, Brass Monkey, and Nic Jones for whom Mike acted as agent.
About the same time Mike danced with Gorton Morris Men which is where he met long time friends Keith Hancock, Ash Latham, Chris Cole, Tony Nyland, Barrie Billinge, Matt Fahey and many others.
In addition to Mike's involvement with Corvus he also plays with the ceilidh bands Madcap which he co-founded in 1984 and Maggoty www.maggoty.co.uk which he also co-founded in 2012. This was after the short lived Hong Kong Kay-Lee Company which also included Keith Hancock, Tony Nyland and Jamie Knowles. Keith was later to be a regular melodeon dep with Madcap until his move to Thailand. Mike is now Keith's agent, organising his tours when he revisits England which he does once or twice a year.
Mike is also a member of Radnor, www.radnorband.com a band formed in 2012 by ex-Purple Gang singer/songwriter Joe Beard. Radnor were formed initially to perform Joe's gothic meisterpiece Legends of the Edge and Mike was brought in to do the narration for this eighty minute long, multi-media show. Radnor have now developed a "non-Edge" repertoire and are available for folk club, festival and arts centre performances. Material includes old Purple Gang material such as Granny Takes a Trip, Auntie Monica, Goodbye Sally Green and others. Also featuring are more recent songs written by Joe and some from his days with Trevor Crozier with whom he enjoyed a brief but productive spell in the 1970s.
After many years playing with Rebec www.rebecmusic.com and more recently with Corvus and the ceilidh bands, Mike has decided to try his hand at solo gigs and has already completed a few. The reperetoire for this brave venture is mainly gleaned from his solo album Sol Invictus available from the Epona Records shop at www.eponarecords.com Mike's first album boasts a number of session musicians including Maartin Allcock (ex-Jethro Tull and Fairport Convention), Bram Taylor, Fiona Simpson, Phil Davenport, Mickey Van Gelder, Bill Pook, Rebecca Millington and Bailey Sisters Shelley Rainey and Karen Dyson.
Traditional songs such as Long Lankin, Bonny at Morn, The Shearing, The Snows that Melt the Soonest contrast with the 1920s Button up your Overcoat and more recent songs such as Little Piecer and the Tom Yates classic Bide Awhile. Added to this there is a range of instrumental pieces played on recorders, crumhorns, tin whistle, bowed psaltery, and a variety of bagpipes from England, Germany, Spain, Bulgaria and Hungary. Mike accompanies his singing on guitar, Appalachian dulcimer, ukulele and melodeon. So, a varied night guaranteed!
Another of Mike's ventures is the record label Epona Records. www.eponarecords.comThe label was set up initially to release the Corvus album but other CDs have been added to the catalogue including the re-release of Keith Hancock'c first LP and four albums by the late Tom Yates who was such a favourite in the North West and who went on to co-write with the late Duncan Brown. Epona has also re-released on CD "How Do You Do?" by Tom Shepley's Band and "Standard Settings" by Pat Knowles.
May 2017 saw the Gobefest festival in Albert Square in Manchester; a festival of music and dance from Hungary and Transylvania. It was here that Mike met the singer and instrumentalist Ildiko Csige from Debrecen in the east of Hungary. Very soon they met up and rehearsed a set comprising traditional Hungarian and English songs and instrumentals using the Hungarian instruments citeras (zithers), utogardon (a percussion instrument that looks like a ranshackle 'cello!), tekeros (hurdy-gurdies), duda (Hungarian bagpipes) and furulyas (wooden whistles) as well as the more well known guitar, Appalachian dulcimer, recorders, bowed psaltery, glockenspiel and various percussion. Already they have become experienced working in folk clubs, concerts, schools and at events for the Hungarian community. They played twice in Hull in 2017 as part of the city's City of Culture celebrations. Ildiko is well known in her native Hungary and sings with a clear and pure voice as well as her musical skills on the citera, tekero and utogardon. They are currently recording their first album for Epona Records.
Get in touch for details of availability etc at email@example.com
1985 Songs From The Levenshulme Triangle Geoff Higginbottom (vocals and bodhran. Also artwork for cassette insert.)
1987Flowers Tomorrow Geoff Higginbotham (photography for LP cover)
1989More Than Pounds and Pence Geoff Higginbottom (Artwork for cassette insert)
19?? Northwich Folk Club Cassette Various artists (Madcap)
2000 Winter in Lancashire John Constantine (recorder)
2009 gloves of the skin of a fish Corvus
2013 Sol Invictus Mike Billington
2015 Legends of The Edge King's Ranson (narration)
2014 Ayres that Meads and Pastures Fill Rebec
2016 Photograph/Eyes of Antwerp Blue Radnor
2016 Imbolc Mike Billington
2017 shoes of the skin of a bird Corvus (for release 2017)
2017Gaudete Ildiko Csige and Michael Billington (5 track CD)