Pete Sadler was the reason I started the ‘Searching for the Old Folk Rebels’ blog and research project. On reading ‘Singing from the Floor’ by JP Bean, among other contemporary sources on the folk boom of the 1960s, I was struck by the people and places who were missing and who were, in less celebrated ways perhaps, pivotal to the scene. Pete was a folk music impresario, accomplished guitarist, rock and blues journalist, playwright and horror script writer, nuclear engineer and Rolls Royce mechanic. Each are rare careers for many, let alone in combination, but this was all in a life’s work for 73 year old Pete Sadler. Yet there is sadness and plenty of regrets as he tells his tale, although thankfully this is leavened with much sweary humour too. Pete feels that he missed the musical boat on more than one occasion. Yet he was at the heart of things during two pivotal moments in British musical history.
So where did it all begin Pete?
“My earliest experience with folk music was almost disastrous,” he says. The music teacher at grammar school made the class listen to ‘Wraggle Taggle Gypsies’ and ‘Green Grow the Rushes Oh’ sung by Joan Sutherland and Donald Peers. They were fine singers but they weren’t actually of the people. They were the BBC Third Programme - posh. If you can imagine Pavarotti singing ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ you get an idea of what it was like.”
This was the 1950s. Pete was converted to rock n’ roll in 1955 when, barely 11 years of age, he first heard Bill Haley’s ‘Rock around the Clock’. He was hooked but a little young to be a Ted. His Mum had to take him to see the film ‘Blackboard Jungle’ (which featured 'Rock Around the Clock'). “Even though I was quite tall, they wouldn’t let me in. I don’t think my mother was impressed with the film.” This was the time of slashed cinema seats. “There was trouble everywhere it played,” Pete says. “And all this for one song played three times. I watched it again a few years ago and it was terrible, but at the time it was a musical revolution.”
Pete discovered some other pivotal songs thanks to his Dad, who was shipping master at Tilbury. “He would bring home American LPs from sailors - Indians, Pakistanis, Lascars - who would be signed off to go on land for lodgings but were always in debt and had to sell what they had to pay their board." Or they died and their effects were sold on, Pete notes ruefully. Pete Sadler got his first guitar this way. This 'cello guitar', three quarter size, cost his Dad 7/6. It was, he says, “a terrible thing to learn on; very hard action, very high up, but you learnt the basics. I wasn’t a five minute wonder. I was really into the guitar (though)…”
At Gravesend Grammar School, which Pete attended from 1955, he met a couple of lads, Mick Turner and Norman King who, like him, were trying to learn guitar. “The first tune I learnt was Bert Weedon's version of Arthur Smith’s ‘Guitar Boogie Shuffle’ and then Bill Justis’ ‘Raunchy’. We were all using the Bert Weedon book, ‘Play in a Day’. I got quite captivated by him. People said ‘Bert Weedon’s no good,’ but he was still playing concerts in his late 70s! I also loved Duane Eddy’s guitar sound. He was (and is) an accomplished player, though not outstanding. Eddy, Les Paul and Hank Marvin, they all had one thing in common - their sound. It’s like a fingerprint…you’d know them anywhere. I was always interested in how Duane he got that sound, and once he admitted some clever techy had modified it – just like someone did for Hendrix years later.”
Pete and his schoolmates later tried out the skiffle craze, mucking around with a tea chest and a washboard. Skiffle was alright, says Pete, but soon got stupid. ‘Does Your Chewing Gum Lose its Flavour Overnight’ didn’t impress a young man fired up by rock n’ roll. They moved to on to doing Shadows (neé The Drifters) and Duane Eddy instrumentals, and US rock n’ roll covers.
It was hard to find any access to popular music in the media in those days, says Pete. “There wasn’t much music on the telly until ‘65 Special’, and then Jack Goode did ‘Oh Boy’. This, he says, was a revelation because it was live bands one after the other in different parts of the studio.
Many schoolboys in the day had a paper round. Pete had two, and a grocery round to boot. His paper round gave him early morning access to the weekly music papers, hot off the press. Disc, Melody Maker and The New Musical Express; he’d read them all from cover to cover and then, eventually, put them through somebody’s door. “This was the only information we had about bands,” he says. “Even if some of it was inaccurate, it’s all there was.”
This was the days before Radio Luxembourg. “The American Forces Network Radio could be picked up on the crystal set,” says Pete, and on the BBC Light Programme (the Radio 2 precursor) on Sunday mornings there was ‘Easy Beat’ with Brian Matthew. “People were doing cover versions of stuff you knew from the Melody Maker Hit Parade. Then you could hear the original on the headphones (in the record shops). We used to spend all f*****g day …listening to these songs. In fact they used to get pissed off with us because we’d never buy anything.”
I asked if Pete was trying to pick up rock n’ roll riffs. “I was trying to play guitar,” he says emphatically, “and was copying what they were doing, I didn’t have a very good for ear for music, so I was miles out at times. I was only about 11 or 12.”
In an account reminiscent of what some renowned lads in Liverpool and down the road in Dartford were doing a little later, Pete recalls that the local docks were how he and other boys got access to black American music. Blues LPs would enter the house, played on their tiny record player, he remembers. I heard acoustic players like Leadbelly, Mississippi John Hurt, the Reverend Gary Davies.
These players, and later on other blues performers like John Lee Hooker and Big Bill Broonzy, as well as Weedon, Eddy, and Chet Atkins, were to prove very influential on Pete. “I didn’t know what to make of Leadbelly at first,” he admits. “His was the first folk record I ever heard.” This was ‘In the Pines’, the B side of ‘Goodnight Irene’. In 1958, at the age of 14, Pete had saved enough from his newspaper and grocery round earnings to buy his first LP, for 38/6, ‘The “Chirping” Crickets’ (Buddy Holly). Before that he had been buying ‘78s by Little Richard, Buddy Holly and Carl Perkins.
Pete and his school pals would take a mile and a half detour from school down Harmer Street, Gravesend to the music shop, which, as was typical in those days, Pete says, was mostly selling sheet music but sold a few guitars as well. “We would eye up a white Hofner Club 40 in the window, just like the guys in ‘Wayne’s World’ drooling over the Fender. I carried on with my guitar and saved and saved, and eventually, in about 1959, I got a Hofner Committee from Selmer’s in Charing Cross Road. I played it non-stop. It was an electric acoustic arch-top. It was beautiful, ingrained with mother of pearl. Dreadful sound.”
|Pete at 15|
Funnily enough, says Pete, “My school friend Willy had a sister who was going out with a singer, some posh kid from Dartford called Jagger. He had a band and they were totally sh**. They were playing US Rn'B, Muddy Waters covers and the like, and we were playing Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochrane, and other real rock n’ roll. Having never heard of Muddy Waters, I was interested in what they were doing, so I suggested we meet them. My friend said no - he couldn’t stand Jagger, and said they aren’t going to do much anyway. I often wonder if we had (met them) we might have hung on to their coat tails ….and life might have been very different.”
“By 1960 I thought the music had died,” says Pete in a nod to Don Mclean. Elvis had joined the army; many of the greats had died in the air or on the road: Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, Gene Vincent. Little Richard had re-joined the Church. “Aside from Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, the freshness of rock n’ roll gave way to pop mediocrity,” he says.
In fact 1960 definitely was the year the music died for Pete because at 16 he and his mates had to leave school. “We all worked in different factories, having been farmed out … on different apprenticeships. I met a guy, Tony, whose friend played sax part time for Joe Loss who was performing at Hammersmith Palais. I went along. I didn’t really like the music but I thought the band were incredible; the noise, a live brass band.”
Pete’s friend Tony knew a couple of lads from a council estate in Dartford who also had guitars, and who were looking for a rhythm guitarist, which Pete was playing then. ‘The Boys’ were formed. “We did very well,” says Pete, playing evenings and weekend gigs at youth clubs and parties. In early January 1963 they had done well enough to get an audition with Pye Records. The record company’s A&R man asked if they were from Liverpool. No, they said. He stuck on the song ‘Please Please Me’. Can you do this, he asked. “What is it?” they asked. “That was it, dismissed,” says Pete.
‘The Boys’ had gone through many different incarnations as a rock n’ roll act, but had worked really hard at being a success. “We really thought we were going to make it big and be able to chuck in the factory apprenticeship, but it wasn’t to be” says Pete. “Rock n’ roll had hit the buffers, but then the Beatles dropped like a bomb on us, he said. “ ‘If you’re not from Liverpool, we can’t use you’ was the stock response from record deals and gigs everywhere.” After that body blow the band folded.
Pete began discovering different music after ‘The Boys’ went their separate ways. One of his mates had been saving up and had bought himself a Mini with a radio. Listening to Radio Luxembourg on the car radio, Pete was transformed. He hadn’t really noticed Dylan before, but somehow ‘She Belongs to Me’ made a big impact. Nasal-voiced, but he had something, says Pete.
Folk-inflected pop was beginning to take off. The Byrds’ interpretation of Pete Seeger’s ‘Turn Turn Turn’ made a similar impact on Pete. It was through so-called folk rock that he became more susceptible to contemporary folk music too. Paul Simon was looked down on a bit, Pete remembers, as he had by then fully embraced pop. Pete remembers going to venues like Les Cousins in Greek Street in London when a then unknown Paul Simon was playing the London clubs. Simon would sing and play from the back in order to upstage the performers, Pete recalls. “ ‘Get up on stage yourself or f**k off’ is what we should have said to him,” says Pete.
1965 was a watershed at work too. Pete and the other band members had continued their respective apprenticeships until the companies they worked for made them redundant. It was cheaper for them to get rid of us and to take on new apprentices rather than pay us a proper wage, Pete observes. He wanted to continue his engineering studies, having had a motorbike accident in 1965, and, not having sat his exams, was obliged to re-sit the whole year. Needing another apprenticeship with paid day-release college options, the Atomic Energy Research facility in Harwell, Oxfordshire beckoned.
He stayed in a government hostel, Rush Common House, in Abingdon where Harwell workers were housed. One day Pete was playing his Hofner in his tiny room when a guy called Alan Smith overheard. Alan wanted to introduce him to a guitarist friend of his, Dusty Jeans, who played at the local folk club.
“I never knew much about him (Dusty), even though I played with him for two and a half years, but he was a good straight, steady guitarist, with good backing chords, a ….strong singer (who) could do it without instrumentation… acapella. I was impressed with that. I said well I’ve only got this guitar and I played along, followed the chords at the top end, and we played ‘Whisky in The Jar’. Smithy said, ‘Well, that sounds good.’ We did a bit of blues; Chuck Berry; Carl Perkins’ country stuff, (however) I didn’t like Hank Williams, (it was) droning and morbid.
Jean Iliffe the receptionist at the hostel, and her partner John, a technician at one of the nuclear facilities, also ran the Rusty Rails folk club. After Beeching’s axe had swung through a large swathe of the country’s rail infrastructure, Abingdon’s railway station was closed. The Rusty Rails, which was held in the back room of the Railway pub located on one of the railway platforms, took its name from the tracks' faded glory.
|Pete plays mandolin|
Dusty and Pete would play as a duo, Pete was still playing his Hofner, “very unsuitable for folk,” he says. So Pete eventually went up to London and got a 12-string and began working up what, for younger fans of this burgeoning genre, were the trendy folk tunes of the era. Pete, like many other budding folk guitarists, schooled himself in the finger-picking technique that both folk and blues players had for years been using, albeit differently until the jumbo acoustic guitar with steel strings was introduced to the folk scene. A work colleague played Pete a record of blues legend Big Bill Broonzy. “It was eye opening. I went to town, learning everything I could, finger-style, to the extent that I found it difficult to revert to the plectrum.”
Pete learnt the method in about three months, which is going some, ensuring among other things that he could played Davy Graham’s ‘Anji’. “It was a standard,” he says, although he wasn’t sure it was folk, noting Graham’s jazz and blues stylings. Pete would also play Bert Jansch’s ‘Needle of Death’, which would prove popular among younger people, alongside more traditional material. Pete admired John Renbourne, Davy Graham and ….. Jimi Hendrix.
But there was no rock n’ roll in Abingdon, he notes. “We did look for it! It was Dylan, Phil Ochs, Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger, and even some poppish stuff like Ralph McTell that was wanted,” he recalls. “The students liked Dylan, John Renbourne and The Byrds (if they played Dylan), whereas the traditionalists would appreciate Dave and Toni Arthur, the Dubliners and Alex Campbell, for example.”
For some students the imagined purity of folk was an attractive counterpart to their developing anti-war politics, just as many of the students who marched to Aldermaston in the late 1950s believed British jazz was a purer form of music than commercial American rock n’ roll. Aside from the students, Pete believes that many of the folk fans and musicians who frequented the Rusty Rails either worked at Harwell or at one of the other nuclear establishments, or were trainee teachers. He doesn’t recall a demonstration at any of the local atomic facilities, or even in the student redoubt of Oxford.
In 1966 John and Jean split up and went their separate ways: she to a hotel chain in Yorkshire, he to Barrow in Furness. So Pete and Dusty took the club over. “Alan said we can do it, I thought f**k, but we did it. It wasn’t much, you just took money on the door, hired singers; and if you’re stuck for a guest then you just invite anybody who was there to come up and sing for free.
“When we took over the reins, it was very traditional, with little time for guitars. It was finger-in-your-ear music with maybe a squeeze box or two, but the rise of contemporary folk and the departure of some of the older generation…broadened the range of folk styles that were played,” says Pete.
|(L-R) Pete, Dusty and Alan|
The Rusty Rails had been a reasonably popular venue presenting guest musicians every two months. Initially there was drop-off in attendance because under Pete and Dusty the venue was considered less pure in folk terms by the purists. However, with the expansion of the area, they were being inundated with people who were, says Pete, literally queuing up to play. “At the same time we raised enough money to out on name acts every two weeks instead. We would play as a duo, and I provided a ‘backing track’ to Dusty or to those who got up and sung from the floor, whether on guitar, banjo or dulcimer.” The performers were paid a percentage of the door or via the traditional bucket.
(Hear a recording of Pete from this period by clicking on this link )
(Hear a recording of Pete from this period by clicking on this link )
Les Parker, who worked at one of the nuclear sites, used to come to the club, Pete recalls, and sing songs like ‘The Leaving of Liverpool’ and Ewan MacColl’s ‘The Shoals of Herring’. “We also put on Davy Graham, and Toni and Dave Arthur (see this blog's July 2017 entry) among other big name folk acts.” According to Pete, “Davy Graham was fresh out of rehab and wasn’t very good. Toni had a wonderful voice, while Dave Arthur too had a good, clear voice and was an accomplished guitarist.”
Pete says that the finest guitar player he ever saw was Doc Watson, the celebrated flat-picking and finger-picking bluegrass player who in the 1960s was beloved of folk fans too. “Brian Jones,” he notes, “made the observation that when Hendrix came to London, he had never seen so many guitarists crying. Well it was like that for me when I saw Doc Watson.”
Pete notes that there was one other folk venue in Abingdon, the Mousehole in Market Street, but it wasn’t anything like as popular as his venue. He and Dusty had a virtual monopoly on the local scene. When Dave and Toni performed at the Rails they invited Pete and Dusty to stay at their house in Lewisham, as many folk musicians of the day did, and together they performed at venues in south London. At Dave and Toni’s place in London Pete recalls hearing and playing with Bill Boazman, who had just released an EP. “I copied Bill,” Pete cheerfully admits. “He also did ‘Lullaby of Birdland’ by George Shearing; now that’s not folk!” Pete notes that there was quite a lot of imaginative interpretation and reinterpretation during this period of tunes that didn’t originate in the folk world, which for him made a nonsense of those who tried to enforce a rigid orthodoxy.
“On one occasion,” recalls Pete, “we went down to Shepton Mallet in Somerset, drove for two and a half hours to get down there, got home at 2am after a load of booze, and then got up for work at 7am. It was an experience…it was nice to get paid but we would do these gigs because we enjoyed it.” Or rather, they usually enjoyed it. On one occasion he and Dusty played on a house boat for an Oxford University student party. A very rich and very young aristocrat was hosting it. “They were as high as kites. Weed, drinking.” I said to Dusty, ‘Would they notice if we f****d off?’ When Pete went to the bathroom he found one of the undergraduates having intercourse with a young woman who was vomiting into the toilet. He and Dusty were just about to get off the boat when a load of plain clothes and uniformed police turned up. His lordship was alerted with the shout, ‘Charles, coppers!’ Pete recalls that the young aristocrat then swiftly intercepted the police on the gangplank, saying, ‘Do you know who I am?’ Just like that, the police were gone, said Pete.
Pete and Dusty played in folk venues in Didcot, Wantage, Newbury and throughout Oxfordshire and Berkshire, partly to check out what other clubs were up to. One of the greatest gigs he ever saw was Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick at a folk club in Wantage in 1967. Swarb was already coming to prominence playing with the Ian Campbell Group, and before long would playing a leading role in Fairport Convention’s innovative melding of folk and rock, spawning prog-folk, along with The Pentangle and the Incredible String Band.
The Oxfordshire and Berkshire area was alive with folk music and with those who brought more contemporary elements to the mix. “This seemed to be a big area for traditional music,” Pete remembers. “If you had an acoustic guitar you were labelled folk. I think (the definition) depends on what you sing about.” But using an electric guitar somehow wasn’t folk, he says. “They would say that isn’t pure, but what’s pure, an acoustic guitar isn’t pure.
“F*****g hell, Blondel used to walk around in Sherwood Forest playing a lute. Or is folk sea shanties? But black slaves sung acapella; the call and response, the real roots of the blues.” In later years Pete would write a degree thesis on the roots of the blues. “People weren’t just singing ‘I woke up this morning’ straight off the boat! Some slaves were sent to Latin American and their blues became Latin music.”
The weirdest gig Pete ever did was at The White Hart pub in Reading, in a folk club run, he says, by a bloke called Sid. “Before we went on, a fireman called Mark did instrumental Renbourne material like ‘Judy’ and was very popular, they loved him. We played a number and there was total silence. It was dead. It was the same after the next one. In the end I said to Dusty just keep going, segue way, don’t explain anything about the songs, just keep going. We had to do that because of the stony silence. You know what folk clubs are normally like, you get somebody telling you all about the song. It takes 10 minutes to tell you about it and two minutes to sing it. I never liked that, but I used to say ‘This is so and so; it’s about a bloke who died.’ At this gig Dusty was ready to quit halfway through a song, he was really getting angry. As we finished I said to Dusty ‘I think we are in the s**t here. Let’s just grab our guitars and go.’ And then the audience got to their feet and applauded like mad. I thought this is the weirdest thing I have ever, ever experienced. For the encore we did ‘Whisky in the Jar’, a traditional number, later popularised by Thin Lizzy, that every folkie knew at that time, and an acoustic cover of The Animals’ take on ‘House of the Rising Sun’.”
It was Sid who in 1967 suggested to Pete and Dusty that they do a tour of Israeli kibbutzim. “He said this means you’ll both be turning professional.” Still in their early ‘20s, they were obviously highly excited. “The Six Day War broke out just after we’d handed in our notices at Harwell, and so we had to ask for our jobs back! I thought f**k that, there is no way I’m going out there with that going on, no way.”
This knocked Pete for six. “It was a setback. I’d bitten the bullet. It was a big thing to do to pack your job in, even though there was quite a lot of work in the factories and elsewhere. I thought, it had gone, the moment had gone. I lost interest in all music after that….I didn’t realise how much I’d enjoyed it until it was over.”
He and Dusty did start playing again after that, but somehow, once again, the music had died. By the end of 1967 Dusty announced he was leaving the job at Harwell, and by March 1968 Pete had departed the area too.The duo’s swansong had been a folk concert at Oxford Town Hall in early 1968, headlined by Alex Campbell and Johnny Silvo. “Alex Campbell was a funny bloke. We saw him backstage. Totally drunk. We were the first on. We did two songs and we were off. People were still taking their seats when we finished.” Looking back Pete agrees though that this gig was “a big affair.” Folk was coming out of the clubs and on to, literally, a bigger stage. The Oxford Town Hall was packed for a gig that, while featuring relatively traditional performers like Campbell, also had Silvo whose contemporaries, including Pete, crossed genres.
Folk at this time was entering the rock mainstream. “We just got on with it. I should have been looking at the bigger picture, I suppose, but we played what we played. You liked what you did and then it fizzled out.”
It’s hard to appreciate 50 years on, but groups like The Pentangle, The Incredible String Band and Fairport Convention were incredibly hip at the time. Their impact had been felt in some of the acoustic material played at the Rusty Rails, but, looking back, Pete thinks he had been quite isolated from some of the wider musical trends. That said, within a couple of years of Pete and Dusty quitting the Rusty Rails, the folk explosion was dead. Folk-rock had already morphed into prog-folk, but by the turn of the decade the mainstream fascination with folk had more or less passed, and rock had become decidedly heavier. In retrospect Pete and Dusty were ahead of the game by quitting folk as early as 1968.
They had run the Rusty Rails for less than three years, but, says Pete, “it was probably the best period of my life. I enjoyed doing something I was proficient at, and being with like-minded people, good crowds. Life in general was less stressful than it is now. I enjoyed this part of my life, more than the rock n’ roll years.”
Dusty would eventually go back to playing in Abingdon, and (once again) got his old job back. “I got a job up in Derby as an engineer at the Rolls Royce plant. I took my guitar with me, but I just didn’t seem to have any motivation.”
He hadn’t completely cut the connection though, and remembers checking out a folk club called Peasemouldia, which was held at The Grandstand Hotel in Derby. “I went down; they were playing some of the same stuff, but it was different. It was a big, big hall, and very brightly lit. There was a three piece playing there called the Lonesome Travellers: Doug Porter, Graham Cooper and Steve Rostron. They were good, doing stuff that Dusty and I did. There was also a country & western, Jim Reeves-type, singer, Jack Hudson, who I think is still performing. This (c&w) stuff didn’t inspire me. In this club there were lots of people, lots of noise; nobody was actually listening to any of it. It was a bit weird.”
Pete was told of another folk club in Nottingham, held in a pub with an apocryphal name, ‘The Trip to Jerusalem’. He checked out folk clubs in Derby and Nottinghamshire, he says, but “I thought that’s not me anymore.” He remembers seeing some “finger in the ear” singers at one particular folk club and thinking “It doesn’t change…it just doesn’t change.”
Pete stresses that he’s always been into all kinds of music, and wanted a change of musical direction. He didn’t want to get stuck in a folk rut. “Having said that, in 1968 and 1969 I didn’t do anything.” Around 1970 Pete and a mate started searching for music around the pubs in Derby and further afield. They soon discovered plenty of it. Prog-rock was starting up, recalls Pete, and so was heavy metal. Given the heavy industry of the Midlands, this wasn’t surprising. “When I worked at Rolls Royce there was a guy, an electrician called Mark, who was a part time roadie for Girls School, a heavy metal girls band…he knew everybody. I got into it and we went to see Minas Tirith, who took their name from Lord of the Rings; very heavy progressive rock; they used to do 15 minute songs, influenced by The Enid, who came up to one of the local clubs.
“I decided to started sending reviews to the local paper the Derby Evening Telegraph because it was (up to that point) all about a (single) jazz band ('Tony’s Cronies') who had a whole page of reviews every week. Then I found out that the music editor of the paper was the drummer in that jazz band!
“I would say (to the newspaper), ‘I’m going to a big festival, do you want me to review it?’ I reviewed Dylan at the Birmingham NEC. Pete got interested in punk too. “I thought in 1976 and 1977 that it was a breath of fresh air. I liked Supertramp and Pink Floyd, but then you come back to the basics. I thought the Pistols were a great band. I didn’t go in for all the gobbing though. I went to see the bands that played in Derby and would write about them for the Derby Evening Telegraph.
“BBC Radio Derby under Terry Christian had a youth programme, ‘Barbed Wireless’, a mix of speech and music. I said to Terry ‘I do this stuff for the Derby Evening Telegraph, why can’t I do something on the radio for the local bands, they’re trying hard. They’re not going to be the Eagles,’ I said, ‘but (give them a chance).’ Christian, and the programme’s presenters were OK with it, and so for few years from 1981 Pete did a weekly broadcast about a local or visiting band. He hadn’t given up the day job at Rolls Royce though.
“I did the same thing (as on the newspaper), reviewing every week the performances I’d seen over the past seven days, including major bands at the Assembly Rooms and at the annual Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donnington. This progressed to another two slots on which I played and discussed ‘The Blues Through History’ and another playing and reviewing the latest heavy metal records that had been sent to the radio station.”
Pete often went backstage at the Assembly Rooms or Donnington to interview people like Ritchie Blackmore, Scott Gorham of Thin Lizzy, Ronnie James Dio (singing with a revamped Black Sabbath), and blues guitarist Dave Kelly. At Donnington he interviewed a member of Twisted Sister who was so completely out of his head that their manager had to keep intervening to fill in the blanks.
“I’m a great fan of heavy metal being loud, theatrical and raw, just as punk had been in the ‘70s. It was the most popular genre in the Midlands, with more venues than any other type of music.”
Pete didn’t abandon playing guitar completely, however, nor the ambition to make it big. He says that in 1979 he “got so totally fed up with everything” that he went to the Wigmore Hall in London to audition for the hard rock band, UFO. They were looking for a replacement for guitarist Michael Schenker! What was I thinking? I go in there and there are a load of 16, 17, 18 year olds. And so I go up to the desk to sign in, and they said, ‘”So who have you brought?’ I replied, ‘Myself!…..Forget it,’ I said. It opened my eyes a bit that all these kids had already been in so many bands. While I’d been doing all this stuff down the (narrow) tunnel of folk music and journalism, a whole music industry had blossomed into hundreds of branches. I thought (Pete) you’ve really dipped out.”
However, says Pete, he still used to teach a few people a few tricks informally, and have a bit of a jam from time to time. In the early ‘80s a budding recording engineer, Martin Fisher, was trying to record stuff, Pete recalls. “He had watched (how it was done at) live gigs …and worked it out. He said ‘I’ve got a friend, Karen Smith, who can sing.’” Pete remembers that she sang his song ‘Martha’s Vineyard’ right off the bat. “I played some of the backing and hummed it a bit for her. I laid down the rhythm track and she sang it. I put down the bass and the lead guitar on top of all of that. It wasn’t going to go anywhere but (we enjoyed it). She did it in one take.” Pete explains that the song’s title “was about Teddy Kennedy driving off the bridge in Chappaquiddick and leaving that girl to die. F*****g coward.”
In 1986, at the age of 42, Pete took the risky decision to quit Rolls Royce and attend Trent Polytechnic to do an Arts & Drama degree. Then two years later BBC Radio Derby cancelled the ‘Barbed Wireless’ show. It had won two Sony awards.” Pete enjoyed being a broadcast music journalist, but sadly didn’t have the newspaper to fall back on either as that reverted back to doing just jazz reviews.
“The BBC did invite me to do something for Radio 1,” recalls Pete. “It was when Tommy Vance was going on holiday. They said, ‘Would you come and do the ‘Friday Night Rock Show’ for two weeks, but they took Ian Gillan instead; went for a celebrity.
“It was,” observes Pete ruefully, “another could have been moment! There have been more ‘could have been moments’ than moments,” he jests.
During his studies Pete wrote a “comedic drama” based on life on the shop floor in one of the factories in which he had previously worked. It was called ‘At the End of the Day’ and was broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Afternoon Theatre’ slot in February 1989. Pete and a relatively long term collaborator, Andy, entered a short film, ‘Out of the Blue’, to a Channel 4 competition ‘Showreel 88’. It reached the final. Pete and Andy also collaborated on writing sketches for Radio 4’s ‘Week Ending’ and Channel 4’s ‘Spitting Image’, but, sadly, without success.
In 1990, after Pete had moved to London, they wrote a full length screenplay called ‘Mirror, Mirror’, which was about Islamist terrorists attacking the London Marathon after bombing the World Trade Centre. Given that the World Trade Centre had first had an attack on it in 1993, long before Al-Qaida was heard of, this was far-sighted indeed. It was, says Pete, centred on a doppelganger hero and villain. “Julian Krainin, a co-producer of the movie ‘Quiz Show’, read it and was impressed but didn’t take us up on it,” he says.
Pete and Andy lost touch until about 2012 when they decided to write horror screenplays. “But, again, no success at even getting stuff read, let alone bought. I have to admit I have almost given up with it,” says Pete sadly.
|Pete playing in 2018|
Pete Sadler has now retired from the music profession, although he still dispenses advice and insights to budding musicians and would-be music historians. He plays guitar more sporadically these days but keeps an impressive collection and remains very much a music enthusiast. Pete sounds sad at times about the “might have beens”, of which there have been several in his career. However Pete’s biggest regret is not having kept a diary to enable a clearer recall of exactly what happened, when, and by whom. He hopes that readers of this interview can fill in some of the inevitable blanks in this retelling.
Pete Sadler played with some of the great names in the British folk scene, and, more importantly, gave a platform to the established and not so established in the worlds of folk and of heavy rock. We thank you Pete.
Pete Sadler played with some of the great names in the British folk scene, and, more importantly, gave a platform to the established and not so established in the worlds of folk and of heavy rock. We thank you Pete.