Friday, 15 May 2020

'The Road Less Travelled' - a new EP by Tom Cole

Tom Cole’s ‘The Road Less Travelled’ is a showcase of some his newest self-penned material plus reworkings of a couple of songs that have been part of his gigs for several years. Tom is increasingly and deservedly well-known on the live acoustic music scene of Hastings and surrounding towns, and this new EP serves as an excellent showcase of what he can do.

I feel conflicted though in my responses on listening to it as I have heard him perform these songs either live (as in a bar) or live virtual (as in Covid-19). In some cases, I think they sound truer in those settings. In others the studio fleshes out the performances, bringing out the musical core of a number that can sometimes be lost when played solo in a pub setting. I had a similar feeling about his last EP, ‘Ramblin’ Man’.

This EP’s flagship song is ‘Sure (The Road Less Travelled)’. It kicks off the disc and provides a kind of mission statement of what Tom’s art is all about. The road that seems ‘sure’, the one it’s supposedly safe to take because it’s straight and true, in life and in music, is for ‘fools’. Tom prefers to plough a range of furrows. In consequence his music is an eclectic celebration of roots music, of Americana; call it what you will. When I first played the disc’s version of this number, I worried that the accomplished violinist that accompanies Tom on most of the EP (Henry Bristow, the EP’s producer) was here maybe sounding just a bit twee. Then I listened again and got a better appreciation of how he rounds off Tom’s understated but effective vocals and his country-style guitar picking.

The acid test for me though was how a studio reworking of ‘In My Time of Dyin’' would sound. I’ve long believed that Tom should release a live version of his interpretation of this Blues/Gospel standard as, solo and exposed, he’s always conveyed the emotional power at the heart of the song. What’s more, solo voice and acoustic guitar are wholly in this song’s tradition, and it’s precisely how another great interpreter of this African-American classic, Bob Dylan, chose to do it. To be honest, I still think the jury’s out on which method comes out best. However, this studio version preserves the raw power of Tom’s interpretation while adding a darker fiddle sound, a touch of keyboard, background vocals and some subtle vocal effects, to build a soundscape that’s highly atmospheric but without drowning the song’s central message: in the end we are alone, unless we have faith.

‘Push Me Out to Sea’ is a very personal song by Tom, written in tribute to his late father, who had worked as a fisherman off the Hastings coast. It’s simple and effective, with Henry’s fiddle and backing vocal adding an extra layer without obscuring the heartfelt sentiment. I imagine that the two of them doing this live is a crowd-pleaser indeed. 

‘Old True Lover’ already has the air of an old classic, a lament for the bittersweet pain of love, the eternal message of songs the world over. ‘Think On You a While’ takes Tom’s sound back to basics: he accompanies himself, simply, on harmonica on a song that just doesn’t need anything more. ‘Long Way Home’ concludes the set in a rare up-tempo fashion. It’s a reinterpretation of one of his own songs that a few years ago he performed in the studio, with accompaniment, for a Hastings Friendship Group CD, 'The Circle of Trust'. This interpretation, featuring fiddle and keyboards, brings out the song’s undeniable catchiness even more effectively, and gives a sense of what The Tom Cole Band, his occasional musical vehicle, sounds like live.

In keeping with the times we’re living through, ‘The Road Less Travelled’ EP had its showcase live on Facebook just under a week ago. It can be heard in its entirety via Tom Cole’s website and can be purchased here via Bandcamp.

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Ian Dobson: a folk voice for half a century

by Neil Partrick

Ian Dobson has been a folk music performer, gig organiser and sound engineer for more than half a century. While for much of his professional career Ian was by day a teacher, by night he was the singer in several notable folk groups. For much of the 1970s and early ‘80s Ian also co-ran a Sussex folk club that hosted both major league and up and coming acts. When he and the late folk musician John Towner took over The Black Horse folk club in Telham near Battle, it became a focal point for both the burgeoning Hastings music scene and a venue for some of the biggest names in British and Irish folk music.

As well as having made his own important musical contribution via The Mariners, The Telham Tinkers and Titus, Ian Dobson takes a scholarly interest in the way that ‘folk’ has been politically and culturally appropriated. As an undergraduate in the mid-1970s Ian wrote a thesis on ‘The Origins and Development of the Folk Clubs in Britain’. Among the carefully constructed interviews with folk club organisers and performers in the files that Ian kindly lent me, I almost expected to find one that the then Manchester Polytechnic student had conducted with himself. He could easily and deservedly have written himself into his own academic script.
Ian Dobson & Karen Towner at The Black Horse in October 2019

Talking to Ian (and Karen Towner, wife of John Towner) in The Black Horse I got a strong sense what it would have been like for John and Ian when the folk club functioned out of a small room that now houses the pub’s dining section. Ian, on vocals and harmonica, John Towner on vocals, autoharp, whistle and guitar, Ted Bishop on vocals, banjo and guitar, Geoff Marchant on guitar and vocals, George Copeland on bass, and, from time to time, Garry Blakeley and John Burgess, both on fiddle, constituted The Mariners: the musical heart of the Black Horse folk club. The Mariners were all accomplished musicians and renowned for their excellent harmonies. Between songs, Ian and John's banter kept the audience entertained.

Ian first got involved in The Black Horse folk club in 1970 when he and John, with the rest of The Mariners, took it over from Mick Marchant and John Goldsmith, a singing duo who, says Ian, played trad material and some Kingston Trio songs. The Mariners often played a Saturday night residence, while Ian Dobson and John Towner also handled the Black Horse folk club’s administration, initially charging a 20p admission fee. John Towner was, in effect, ‘club chairman and I,’ says Ian, was ‘his lieutenant.’ Together they booked various acts to play at the club, including some that went on to acquire legendary status in the folk world and beyond, such as June Tabor, Martin Carthy, The Dransfields, and folk comedian and regular TV performer Jake Thackray. Proximity to Hastings meant that the seaside musical mecca was a supply line for both acts and punters, but the Telham club was by no means restricted to the local metropolis.

Guitarist Davey Graham once played at The Black Horse in Telham, recalls Ian, noting how ‘detached’ the revered musician was. ‘He wasn’t interested in entertaining the audience,’ Ian remembers. It was as if he just wanted to work out his raga-influenced material. Irish music legend Christy Moore played at The Black Horse too. ‘He turned up in a cloud of dust,’ said Ian, describing the renowned singer’s late arrival outside the pub. ‘He was always late….. He (Christy) got out of his car, looking like a navvy. He was quite gutty due to beer drinking,’ Ian remembers. When an audience member heckled ‘that stomach should be on a woman,’ Christy replied, “Well it was on a woman last night. Make something out of that!”’ Ian notes that Christy Moore could be ‘rollicking one minute and then could entirely still the audience the next.’ Audiences could be very noisy at The Black Horse, like other folk venues, Ian remembers. An amiable group of young farmers would for example prop up the bar and shout out requests, but they could politely be asked to keep it down when the mood required it. Ian remembers that certain performers, such as Martin Carthy, would command total attention anyway; others were designed to be more of a good time act.

Ian was no folk novice. Growing up in Scotland, what in England was being referred to as ‘folk music’ was part of the cultural scenery up there, he says. He remembers witnessing his first ‘proper’, paying, folk gig in 1967: Dave and Toni Arthur performing at a youth club in nearby Hollington. That same year Ian joined the armed forces. As luck would have it, the UK Government's decision in 1969 to deploy troops in Northern Ireland in response to Protestant violence against the Catholic community saw a 22-year-old Ian deployed, armed and in uniform, on the streets of Ulster. Although a member of the Royal Green Jackets, the young Ian had not expected to be ‘pulling Irishmen out of their cars.’

Ian was already singing at this point, and found that knowing The Clancy Brothers, The Dubliners and other Irish material actually proved popular with his English comrades. He learned some Irish songs in Dungannon from singer Roy Weir. Perhaps it was because there were 12 Protestant Englishmen to a room in a small barracks holding 120 squaddies that Ian and others’ private performances went down so well. Ian notes the additional irony that The Clancys, The Dubliners and Alex Campbell were hugely influential on many budding English folk musicians during this period. He also notes that some of the 'Irish' songs had simply been reimagined as such. Ian’s theory is that ‘The Wild Rover’, for example, which the Dubliners almost made their own, was originally ‘collected’ from East Anglia at a time when there were many, often well-educated, Irishmen working in England as labourers, says Ian. Luke Kelly (the lead signer) probably picked it up over here and taught the song to the rest of The Dubliners, says Ian.

Ian has little time for the folk world’s obsession with what’s ‘traditional’, and expresses exasperation with ‘all this nonsense’; this imagined ‘traditional’ purity about songs that, as he puts it, somebody at some point wrote! They didn’t come out of nowhere, he asserts, so what does it mean to be labelled ‘traditional’ he asks rhetorically. Often the songs that were ‘collected’ (or expropriated) were the cleaned-up, polite versions of what had been already been constantly reworked rural songs. Renowned English folk anthologist Cecil Sharpe, Ian points out, collected what in the end were ‘respectable songs’ sung by performers that the local vicar had probably had nicely presented to him. This was the ‘folk process’, he says with some irony. The aural tradition, highly subjective in itself, then became fairly meaningless in an age of records and then cassettes; audio recording became the chief way of passing on the so-called tradition, Ian argues. 'Many folk songs are also real poetry,' Ian asserts. ‘ “The last that I heard he was in Montreal, where he died of a broken heart…” That to me is beautiful,’ Ian says (quoting the song 'Willie Moore').

Returning to England after having unexpectedly honing his singing voice in Northern Ireland, Ian connected with John Towner and, having taken over the folk club in Telham, they performed as The Mariners throughout the south. In 1973 The Mariners (including Ian and John) decamped to the Bexhill pub, The York, after disagreeing with The Black Horse landlady’s plans for an all-weekend venue that relegated the folk spots to a Sunday night. Confining the folk club to the night before Monday morning was never going to fly.

At The York pub in Bexhill amongst others, Ian and John booked singer, guitarist and fiddle player Nic Jones to perform. Since those days Jones has acquired something of a cult status, and is held in an almost tragic light because of being seriously injured in a car crash in the early 1980s. At the time Ian and John hadn’t been able to raise enough from the gig at The York to pay Nic the agreed fee. Jones, kindly and principled, refused to take more than £5, even though he had come all the way from Yorkshire for the performance and had to drive back that night. Ian can’t remember if they ever resolved that issue to everyone’s satisfaction.

While Nic Jones was obviously prepared to travel, Ian notes that there were many established northern acts who didn’t need to come south. People like The Watersons didn’t come south, aside from Norma, says Ian. Many of the ‘northern’ folk comedians such as Mike Harding, Paul Brady and Peter Bellamy (the founder of The Young Tradition), Ian saw at Manchester Polytechnic having booked them for the folk club there.

Folk gigs were only staged at The York pub in Bexhill for a few months. Emblematic of the difference in outlook was the fact that one day the landlord covered the entire pub in tin foil. ‘For acoustic effect?’ I wondered. No, a corny attempt at creating a disco look, clarified Ian.
Ian and John then got involved in running The Hayloft folk club at Fairlight Cove Hotel (near Hastings). ‘We had Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger perform in 1974,’ Ian recalls. ‘They were terribly serious,’ he says disparagingly. In keeping with MacColl’s politics, they were ‘very prescriptive.’ They laid down conditions about their exact requirements in terms of their set, its precise length etc.

Remembering this led Ian to reflect on the politics of folk. There was, it seems, an unspoken English nationalism behind the desire for something that was, somehow, ‘purely’ English. Ian noted that, in parallel with the Irish nationalism of many Irish folk artists with whom budding English folk musicians like Ian were enamoured, there was the desire for something ‘authentic’, as opposed to what he calls the imported ‘shoo wop baby’ of American pop. Ian also notes though that the overtly political message of the kind that MacColl promoted never took off in Hastings and the surrounding area. In fact Ian wasn't keen on just how prescriptive the whole ethos of Ewan MacColl and his ‘Singers Club’ was. You were barred from singing songs perceived as not belonging to your native culture, he remembers. (MacColl’s musical national exclusivism is also discussed in my profile of Dave Arthur).

MacColl himself was an invention though, asserts Ian, noting that his real name was Jimmy Miller and that he was very much a man of his native Salford and not of the Scotland of his parents that MacColl later adopted as his own. In addition to being a renowned songwriter, MacColl was a playwright and an intellect. ‘He was a bright guy, but a liar,’ says Ian. Ian pointedly noted that MacColl deserted from the army in the war. ‘This somehow, irrationally, annoyed me,’ says Ian. ‘My father had fought throughout the war; he (MacColl) had deserted after a few months.’ Ian had of course served in the army himself and was literally (albeit for just three months) born into army life in Germany.

In a different, and from Ian’s perspective more enjoyable, vein, The Mariners opened for the Orange Blossom Special at The Hayloft in December 1973. The Hayloft's impressive roster during this period also included Julie Felix and John and Sue Kirkpatrick. (John Kirkpatrick was later a member of Steeleye Span and was good friends with founder member Martin Carthy). Ian and John were running The Hayloft in tandem with The Black Horse, each venue drawing good crowds. Eventually John Towner returned to performing at The Black Horse in Telham. Among other performers resident at The Black Horse at the time was the guitarist and mandolin player Johnnie Winch (the one-time musical sparring partner of Kelvin Message). Ian told me that Johnnie was, last he’d heard, living in Germany. (I’ve since been told anonymously that Johnnie’s doing blues shows in Germany and is in fine voice.)

From 1975-77 Ian had been a student at Manchester Polytechnic and had run the folk club there, in addition to performing in Sussex at weekends and in the holidays. Ian went back to singing at The Black Horse when The Hayloft folded in 1976. Ian enjoyed the contrasting folk styles of the performers they put on at both The Hayloft and The Black Horse. The Young Tradition, whose more modern approach to performing folk, says Ian, provided a striking contrast with Rottingdean celebrities, The Copper Family, despite singing much of the same material.

It might be wondered why musicians like Ian and John were putting so much into running, and performing at, local folk venues. It was a question that, as a Manchester Poly undergraduate in the mid-1970s, Ian put to others doing precisely that at venues up and down the country. One respondent said they ran a folk club ‘for the money’, which was presumably not meant seriously. Many, perhaps unsurprisingly, emphasised their love and commitment to the music. In a folk club you could see big names ‘up close and personal,’ said Ian. ‘You could buy them a drink. Maybe they’d even buy you a drink!’ All the respondents to Ian’s questionnaires noted the same trends that dominated the folk clubs with which they were familiar: from an early 1960s revival popularised by American protest singers like Dylan and British ‘politicals’ like MacColl, to the late 1960s/early 70s all-pervasive trend of singer-songwriters, to folk comics from the mid-‘70s.

In 1975 EMI released a Mariners’ album to cash in on the folk boom. It was not immodestly titled, ‘The Best of Folk’ and had ‘Streets of London’ and ‘Dirty Ol’ Town’ (pre The Pogues’ cover) emblazoned across the sleeve. EMI initially released the record it via Fanfare Records, and then on the ubiquitous EMI budget imprint ‘MFP’. Some may sneer at the latter, but this helped to ensure that around 50,000 copies of the album got sold.

The front cover of The Mariners' EMI-released 'Best of Folk' album (Copyright EMI)

By the time The Mariners had stopped gigging at the end of the ‘70s they had spawned three popular spin-offs: The Telham Tinkers, Plum Duff and Brian Boru. Ian Dobson formed The Telham Tinkers with himself on vocals and harmonica, Ted Bishop on banjo and ‘portable organ’, Pete Tichener on guitar, mandolin and double bass, and Geoff Hutchinson on vocals and guitar. A periodic inclusion was the young Garry Blakeley, who subsequently became a renowned fiddler, including with Steeleye Span. Plum Duff featured John Towner together with Reg Marchant on guitar and mandolin, Tony Davis on guitar and banjo, Colin Baldwin on bass guitar, and Phil Ratcliffe on guitar. (Paul Manktalow was a member for a while too). Brian Boru consisted of the Sedgewick brothers: Peter on guitar and vocals and Paul on uilleann pipes and whistle, and the redoubtable Garry Blakeley on fiddle.
Brian Boru: Garry Blakeley, Paul Sedgewick (foreground) & Peter Sedgewick (right). (Picture taken from the back cover of the 'Folk at the Black Horse' LP, Eron Records. Copyright Eron Enterprises)

‘Our roadie told us that he “knew a kid who plays a bit of fiddle,”’ remembers Ian. Garry Blakeley was 15 at the time. They asked him to play along to a tune. By the third verse he was musically ‘decorating it,’ says Ian. An uncle from Ireland had taught him mandolin. Gary has for many years featured in ‘A Feast of Fiddles’. He’s chosen to remain round here, says Ian, although he’s had his share of playing in the big league too, having toured with Christy Moore among others. Pete Tichner eventually left for Australia, teaming up with Eric Bogle and also, says Ian, successfully performing as a solo act. Pete was replaced in The Telham Tinkers by Russ Haywood on guitar and Ron Cleave on bass. Ian adds that around this time he was also running a series of gigs and providing PA at Mr Cherry's, a large bar on Hastings seafront.

Some of the musicians who performed in the bands spawned by The Mariners would later embrace a folk-rock orientated sound of the kind that Fairport Convention had pioneered from the late '60s and of which Steeleye Span became one of the biggest exemplars. To Ian’s mind ‘folk-rock’ of this kind was serious. It was utilised by musical scholars of the folk tradition like Martin Carthy who at the same time weren’t afraid of using electric amplification to literally and metaphorically reach a larger audience, often with well-established English folk material. American folk-rock, as pioneered in the mid-‘60s by The Byrds is for Ian an inferior breed, largely encompassing ‘folkish’ styles in an essentially rock format.

The Black Horse in Telham had provided Ian and John with a base for playing residencies whilst they could also bring in other acts to perform such a role, enabling them to gig elsewhere in England and, sometimes, abroad. By the late ‘70s the three Mariners’ spin-offs were playing at different venues every week. Ian calculates that the Telham Tinkers played approximately 250 gigs from 1978 to 1984, many of them on the London and Chichester circuit as well as a short English tour.

The Telham Tinkers. L-R: Geoff Hutchinson, Ian Dobson, Pete Tichener and Ted Bishop. (Picture taken from the back cover of the 'Folk at the Black Horse' LP, Eron Records. Copyright Eron Enterprises)

The Telham Tinkers, Plum Duff and Brian Boru were all managed by Ron Milner. A Kent tax inspector by day, Ron was a folk impresario who not only helped organise gigs but put money and effort into the release of at least a couple of dozen different albums by English folk acts. These included LPs featuring the three bands, whether as a compilation of all of them (‘Folk at The Black Horse’, Eron) or in their own right e.g. The Telham Tinkers’ ‘Marrowbones’ (Eron 1980) and 'Hot in Alice Springs' (Eron 031, 1981). Both of these Telham Tinkers' albums were produced by Paul Dengate who later formed the local folk-rock band Better Days (who also included some members of Mariners' spin-offs). Limited pressings - Ian estimates that a few thousand each were produced - these LPs could (like the home-produced CDs that accompany almost every pub gig today) be sold at a live spot or used to promote the act. Fhir a Bhata (‘The Boatman’), from The Telham Tinkers' 'Marrowbones', is a fine example of the beautiful harmonies and exquisite musical accompaniment that had also characterised The Mariners. It can be heard here.

The Telham Tinkers (from the back cover shot of their LP 'Marrowbones', released on Eron records 1980. Copyright Eron Enterprises). From L-R, Geoff Hutchinson, Ted Bishop, Ian Dobson and Pete Titchener.

Plum Duff (outside The Black Horse); L-R Tony Davis, Colin Baldwin, John Towner, Reg Marchant and Phil Ratcliffe. (Picture taken from the back cover of the 'Folk at the Black Horse' LP, Eron Records. Copyright Eron Enterprises)

Although Ron Milner never gave up his day job, he took the promotion of the Telham Tinkers, Plum Duff and Brian Boru very seriously, says Ian. Ron also ran a folk club in a candle-lit deconsecrated church in Sandwich in Kent. This led to the tongue-twisting ‘Folk In Sandwich’ LP, Ian wryly recalls. The wife of Davey Graham, Holly Gwynne Graham, was managed by Ron and she ended up featuring on the Sandwich club LP too.

Cover of the 'Folk at the Black Horse' LP, circa 1978, Eron Records. Copyright Eron Enterprises 

Ian remembers The Telham Tinkers depping for Brian Boru (named after the former High King of Ireland after all) at a major Irish music venue in London. Ambrose Donahue was the renowned folk agent who organised it. Ian describes it as one of the worst musical experiences of his life. Large, burly Irishmen understandably didn’t take too kindly to a bunch of Englishmen singing them a mix of Irish and American songs. A strange epilogue to his army duties in Northern Ireland perhaps. He remembers the vibe being one of ‘take your money and go’ and that they all felt lucky to have got out in one piece. Although he ruefully recalls that perhaps his attempts at humour may not have helped the situation: ‘Here’s a song by Bob Dylan when he was a young Irishman,’ was apparently one of Ian’s attempts at lightening the mood.

By the turn of the 1980s, the interest in the folk music scene had definitely begun to wane. Ian and Karen put it down to the changes that were already being wrought in the latter ‘70s. Whether it was because of the toughening up of controls on drink driving, the birth of punk that made folk clubs decidedly out of fashion, or the inevitable ageing of those who had become family-orientated folk musicians, there were less punters coming through the doors at The Black Horse and other folk venues. The Telham club continued as weekly event until 1983, Ian and Karen note, while the re-opened Hayloft was to close a year later. In a tragic aside emphasising the fickle nature of ‘popular’ music, Ian notes that Peter Bellamy committed suicide in 1991 because he couldn’t get enough work.

Despite the demise of a number of local folk clubs, Ian and John were as active as ever. In 1980 Ian, Ian’s wife Clare and John formed ‘Titus’. They took their name from a local miscreant Titus Oates. Titus started out performing largely as an acapella trio, Ian says, until Ron Cleave, the guitar and accordion player, joined in 1981, adding instrumental and harmonising depth. Ian notes: 'We were (always) hot on harmonies.’ 

No prisoners of tradition, Titus were as equally adept at covering Bruce Springsteen numbers as they were 16th century folk ballads. In the nature of the folk scene things could be quite informal. Ian remembers one gig where Clare had forgotten her recorder. Martin Carthy was there. In the absence of Clare being able to sound a tuning note, Ian turned to Martin. ‘Give us an E,’ Ian remembers saying to him.
Titus (Mark 2), with John Towner (left), Ron Cleave, Ian Dobson and Clare Dobson

Ian expresses sadness but understanding that, after 20 years of loyal service to Titus, in 2002 Ron Cleave retired to the West Country. Mick Mepham, a ‘local rock God’ as Ian cheekily describes him, showed an interest in performing ‘a different kind of music.’ Says Ian, Mick would write songs for the band in a folk style with singable choruses that the audience seemed to appreciate.

Sadly John Towner, Karen’s husband, who had been struggling with ill health for some time, died in 2010. Alan Marshall, whom Ian describes as an excellent guitarist and harmoniser, stepped in almost straight away. Ian’s wife Claire was to die just two years later. Despite suffering from cancer she played a Titus gig only two weeks before she passed away. After Claire died, Titus became a three-piece. In 2014 Steve Cook (a former Better Days member) joined on fiddle, broadening the band's instrumental capability.

In the early days of Titus it had simply been about the enjoyment of playing. ‘There wasn’t the need for the gigs so much at this point,’ said Karen. Titus did though do residencies at The Black Horse in the early days, and at the 1066 Folk Club in Battle. They also performed at social clubs, festivals, political events and PTAs as well as the more regular pub gigs. Ian remembers that Mick Mepham, their main guitarist, moved away to Lincoln but, incredibly, still insisted on carrying on because he was an integral part of the band. This Mick did for two years until he got married and prepared to move to France. However, said Ian, he was still thinking of commuting for gigs! This though marked the end of Titus, and in the spring of 2019, after a career that had spanned nearly 40 years and roughly 500 gigs, they bowed out with a gig at The Jenny Lind pub in Hastings.

Ian and John had also started up the Black Horse Music Festival in 1987, which was held in the pub garden and raised money each year for St Michael’s Hospice. It began when Pete Thomasett, who had been one of the resident musicians at the Black Horse, persuaded the landlord Eddie Dunford to have a reunion gig. Roughly 250 people turned up, including the original founders of The Black Horse folk club, Mick Marchant and John Goldsmith.

‘It was so good that we decided to do it again,’ but we resolved to move it into the pub garden next time, says Ian. ‘Every year it got bigger and bigger; there were bits of Fairport Convention; the Blockheads (minus Ian Dury) played one year.’ It was called ‘The Biggest Little Festival in Britain’, remembers Karen. The musicians performed on the back of trailer, with hay-bails on either side. Friday was blues night; Saturday was the folk night. They had begun purely as a folk festival with Morris dancers, the whole bit. However, remembered Ian, ‘[V]ery soon we realised that we couldn’t sustain this as just a folk festival and got some blues acts.’ There were also some local folk-rock acts such as ‘Better Days’ and ‘The Tabs’ (formerly known as ‘The Tabloid Attitudes’). The Mariners reformed for the festival; Titus were a regular feature. By the 1990s the Black Horse music festival, with a bigger stage and more powerful sound system, had incorporated World Music, although when a Zimbabwean musician’s plane wouldn’t take off from Harare this caused some major panic for Ian, John and the other festival organisers back in Telham. The Black Horse music festival ran for 20 years on the late May bank holiday (at this time Ian would also run the PA for the Jack in the Green Festival in Hastings each May Day weekend).
The 1996 line-up

The folk element of The Black Horse festival did shrink over time, Ian and Karen concede. Of the former Black Horse resident performers, only some had still survived after all. ‘We did book bigger and bigger folk acts though,’ remembers Karen. Among these were Pete Knight, Steeleye Span’s fiddler, while Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy performed one year. Leon Rosselson played a couple of times. A huge name in the ‘60s folk scene, Alex Campbell, performed too. Folk comics were also on the bill, as they had been when the folk club was running regularly. Stan Arnold, who wrote comedy songs, was a ‘beautiful picker’ says Ian, and interspersed his songs with funny chat. ‘Mr Gladstone’s Bag’ (Dave and Allen Seally) did a set; Brighton comedian (and Jasper Carrot chum) Alan White; and Jeremy Taylor, a public schoolboy kicked out of South Africa for political agitation. In one of his songs Taylor invented the term ‘jobsworth’, says Ian.

The last Black Horse music festival was held in 2009 and, in addition to Titus, its set-list included Abdul-Qader Sadoon from Congo, a Midlands-based Bhangra act, and a number of young local folk and rock-orientated acts. Karen stresses that The Black Horse would still hold the occasional folk night in the old folk club room, with Ian and John (until his untimely death) very much involved. The last Black Horse folk gig was a Christmas charity event in 2016 for St Michael's Hospice.

Ian Dobson is rightly pleased to have played a major role in the promotion and performance of folk and other music in the local area, and to have given The Black Horse and other venues a national, even international platform in the process. Here’s to you Ian.

Ian back at The Black Horse
Please note that, except where comments are clearly attributed to Ian Dobson or Karen Towner, the opinions contained in this article are entirely those of the author.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Tom Cole live at The King's Head in Battle

I have raved about this singer-songwriter before and will no doubt do so again. Tom Cole recently played to a mostly disinterested bunch of revellers and eaters in The King’s Head pub in Battle in East Sussex. You had to strain a bit to hear Tom, who sings confidently but was only accompanied by himself on acoustic guitar. But if you got up close (by propping up the bar nearest to him, as we did), there were thrills aplenty.

The first part of his two-set show had some intended crowd-pleasers: ‘Cecilia’ (Simon and Garfunkel) for example, and more surprisingly, the excellent ‘Piano Man’ by Billy Joel. Tom’s performance of the Joel song was doubly ironic as it's about the kind of gig that Tom would have been playing if the punters were more interested (or drunk enough), while the song’s knowing take on what it’s like to be the man behind the mic applies whether people are ‘in the mood for a melody’ or not.

Mr Cole is a deft purveyor of Americana but without the preciousness that some performers of the 'genre' give out (especially when they’re from the UK-side of the pond). He includes pre-'Americana' Americana in his repertoire, on this occasion including a nice take on ‘Early Morning Rain’ by the God-like genius that is Gordon Lightfoot (a Canadian). Tom went on to splice a Dylan number with one of his own songs. I cannot read the notes I scrawled the morning after, but I think the Dylan song was ‘Tomorrow is a Long Time’. Regardless, Tom’s part blended well with His Bobness.

To cover a song by the tortured Jackson C Frank - ‘Blues Runs The Game’ - emphasises Tom’s confidence and musical maturity. ‘Ramblin’ Man’ is the title track of Tom's EP of self-penned songs (on sale via his website This was my first hearing and it came across well. However, like all of the EP versions, it benefits from a deft fiddle accompaniment.

He did a stellar cover of a Townes Van Zandt song whose title I cannot remember either. (Suggestions on a postcard please). My friend and me were impressed enough that Tom would cover an artist whose songs deal in pain without having to shout about his suffering. The fact that Tom did one so well was a wonderful bonus.

One of the best things I have ever heard Tom do is ‘In My Time of Dyin’’, which he performs closer to its original Gospel-style than Led Zeppelin shooting their bolt all over it. This was the undoubted highlight of the night (as it was the first time I saw him play). I don’t know if he’s considered getting the tapes rolling for a live release of this and other numbers, but he certainly should.

‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken’ isn’t perhaps an obvious choice for the beery boys of Battle, but its time-honoured folk protest verities have their place. By this point the ale was kicking in with me too and we (I think) danced a bit to something Tom played before his finale: ‘Oh Lord Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz’ (co-written, and made famous, by Janis Joplin). This did engage the revellers from the other side of the bar. Or at least one of them. A lady stepped up, grabbed the mic and performed a more than passable interpretation. (I hope she doesn't mind me including this shot (below) of her enjoying the applause). 

Way to go Tom Cole. And hats off to The King’s Head in Battle for hosting this talented performer.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Alan King: Hardship Lane in Hastings

I’ve never had a guitar lesson in my life, said Alan King, as he spent two hours musically extrapolating on western and Indian music and the links between them. Friday night’s gig at the Electric Palace Cinema (EPC) in Hastings was supposed to be by ‘Hardship Lane’, a raga exploration by Alan and other musicians schooled, like him, in folk, blues, jazz and rock (In fact quite a lot like the last time Alan played at the EPC with his band, The Prisonaires, (as reviewed on this site).

Having felt ill, demotivated and, he confessed, wanting to pass the gig on to another act, on the night Alan pulled it together. That said, the evening didn’t go as it would had Alan had the preferred anonymity of being one of several musicians on stage. It looked like he was winging it when he began by digressing into talking about such early guitar influences as Roy Buchanan. Less predictably perhaps he also talked about Nils Lofgren, Neil Young’s drunken sparring partner on the infamous ‘Tonite’s The Night’ tour: a major influence on an impressionable young Alan.

His point was to not only emphasise guitarists who can perform under the influence, but those whose playing is raga-like. Another muse, Davy Graham, who Alan played with in the 1990s, was recalled for his technique and for a recklessness than both inspired and destroyed his musical career. One story, part-apocryphal maybe, was of Davy taking £20 in advance for a guitar lesson, then sticking on an Indian classical record and handing the student a guitar before exiting quickly to score some smack.

Before Alan got much further in telling a personal guitar history that spans some 50 years of western music, a member of the audience piped up and asked Alan if he knew Bert Weedon. Not satisfied by Alan’s response, the man, who’d plainly been enjoying some pre-gig refreshment, asked if Alan actually knew his stuff. Wilfully absurd, this provocative question produced a first rate version of ‘Guitar Boogie Shuffle’, making me wonder if this semi-heckler was hired in. (The man later declared that he’d been at The Prisonaires’ EPC gig three months earlier and, as a guitarist himself, had been seriously inspired by it). The number of people attending this gig was no more than at the last EPC Prisonaires one; in fact less if you count all those who were on the stage last time. However there were more middle-aged, bevied up, males this time around. This could be fun; the Bert Weedon enthusiast had a drole humour that usually made his interjections entertaining.

Alan observed that import restrictions amidst an economic crisis in Britain had made it impossible to get hold of American rock n’ roll records like those of Bert Weedon, so the Americans got around the problem by launching London Records to sell their product into the British market via a company that was also registered in the UK (In the ‘60s this same American label sold records by UK bands like the Rolling Stones into the US market).

Davy never liked Bert Jansch’s version of ‘Anji’, Alan said; it was too fast. Alan proceeded to play a version that was somewhere between the two but a copy of neither. He later wondered if he’d missed something musically by not being close to the dark side as substance users like Davy Graham. Bert Jansch was scary, said Alan; he could be off his head but then play some totally obscure 15th century tune.

Alan is an intuitive player; you cannot teach guitar, he says. When I went to the local grammar school, he said, there were maybe two guitarists (including himself) out of 2,000 kids. Now there’ll be a thousand and they’re all having lessons. Alan said he started out playing a plastic four-string ‘Beatles guitar’ his dad had bought him, but at around 10 years of age his father gave him the same acoustic guitar he was using at this gig.

Alan goes to open mic nights in Hastings. Young guys get up and there's a wonderful tension and atmosphere about those first early appearances. One year later it's over, they've been schooled in a certain way and all the emotion has gone out of it, he says. 

Alan started to get more impatient voices from the back but he carried on in his studiedly relaxed but didactic mode. For my part I enjoyed listening to Dr King both talk and play, either way he's a piece of living musical history (a description he'll probably hate). He even dismissively commented on digital guitar tuners. You don’t always want to be in tune, all ending up sounding the same, he says. “It's got to be wrong to be right.” Goebbels would have said that the A string has to be tuned to 440 Hz, Alan observed.

So who's your favourite guitarist, shouted the Bert Weedon fan. Paco de Lucia …maybe, said Alan. Talking about guitar maestros encouraged Alan to go to the inevitable subject of Jimi Hendrix. He spoke of his particular affection for the album ‘Electric Ladyland’. If Hendrix had had the equipment we have..., Alan started to say. The point though, Alan corrected himself, was that Hendrix had all the equipment he needed. Hendrix was a blues man and always played in the five note Pentatonic Scale; the black notes on a keyboard as Alan put it, dismissing the importance of even this knowledge. Alan proceeded to play a version of Hendrix’ ‘Little Wing’ that was tasteful, mannered, and beautiful.

He then started talking about the musicians that really excite him. Fred Frith, who he said played in a “south London Marxist collective experimental jazz band” …. Henry Cow. What were they like, asked the Bert Weedon fan. F***ing unbelievably incredible, was Alan’s pithy reply.
Neil Young has this thing where he is not quite in tune, Alan said, and that way you can bend it in tune. You should show some imagination in your playing, Alan said.

He noted however that Neil Young admitted that ‘The Needle and the Damage Done’ was a rip-off of Bert Jansch’s idea on ‘Needle of Death’, while on ‘Ambulance Blues’ Neil Young appropriated Jansch’s tune too. This can cut both ways though, as Alan revealed by demonstrating how Pink Floyd’s ‘Breathe’ is a close copy of Neil Young’s ‘Down by the River’.

He then talked about songwriters he likes before playing a Carole King tune. Another favourite of his is Junior Kimbrough, a name lost on almost everybody in the room – and this was a fairly informed audience. Kimbrough was a one chord ‘country’ performer, said Alan, emphasising that it isn’t all about being a (taught) virtuoso. Charlie Feathers (a friend of Junior’s) was the rockabilly “real deal”, never mind Elvis, who screwed him over, said Alan. Feathers lived and worked right next door to Sam Phillips’ Sun Studio in Memphis, he said, but didn’t get a break there. Feathers was threatening; “he was evil.”

Alan also mentioned how much he admired the songwriter Alan Hull. “Who?” asked the guy at the back. He was in Lindisfarne, Alan explained, who later became a “cabaret band”. He talked about the beauty of a folk tune Alan Hull did when they played together, ‘She Moves Through the Fair’. Are you going to play it then, asked the bloke. Alan declined, to some sweary but good humoured frustration. Before taking a comfort break, Alan commented that when he was touring in Ireland a few years ago, he walked into a bar and was told that because it was ‘Holy Hour’ they couldn't serve him. However he was offered a drink while he waited.

It's well known that Alan helped Bert Jansch to resume his career when he had more or less abandoned performing altogether. In the Gents we talked about Alan and Bert’s musical collaboration (which included Alan producing and recording Bert's celebrated 'Live at the 12 Bar'). I asked whether they worked up ragas together, and, not immodestly, Alan said that he had got Bert into playing them in the first place. This was the early 1990s after a long and mostly fallow period in Bert’s career. Bert had had a drinking problem and a big cocaine addiction, said Alan. There were times in the ‘80s when Bert Jansch was not together enough to be in The Pentangle line-ups even if he’d wanted to. Without Bert, John Renbourne and Jacqui McShee, Pentangle didn’t make any sense, said Alan. Gerry Conlon (ex-Fotheringay), who Alan calls a 'click drummer', someone who just plays in time, was going out with Jacqui; so he got the drummer’s gig. How can you hope to replace a jazzer like Terry Cox with a click drummer, he asked. Back on stage Alan said that John Lennon said that Ringo wasn't a very good drummer, but all the great drummers Alan has met, including Billy Cobham, said that Ringo was the best. He played in a few big bands, noted the guy at the back.

Alan’s raga infatuation started when he went to collect an Indian takeaway and heard this incredible music playing in the background. He’s been obsessed with playing ragas for more than ten years. Alan normally likes to play ragas for three hours, but reassured this EPC audience that he wouldn’t being doing that tonight. The great thing about ragas, he said, is that if you come at them from a blues, jazz or flamenco tradition you can understand them; likewise raga can inform these western musical traditions.

In the ‘80s Alan said he practically lived at The Marquee Club. He also had a photography business and used to shoot artists for their album covers, including on one occasion Bruce Springsteen. Alan was living in Hackney at the time, which back then was like 1950s Warsaw, he observed.

Alan mentioned that he worked with Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, later of ‘Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out’ fame. Mortimer, an old school friend of Alan's, was practising as a lawyer; “at which he was sh*t,” said Alan. However Mortimer was also into comedy. For a year Alan pestered him to come and perform at an open mic night in Deptford, which eventually Mortimer did. Alan then wrote material for Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer when they were into what he describes as Dadaist, situationist, humour. I liked Vic because, like me, he had a northern accent, recalls Alan. I set up a gig for them with BBC bigwigs who just wanted formulaic stuff. The rest is history, he says. Vic used to eschew the celebrity circuit but he soon embraced it; he became insufferable, said Alan.

Partly out of frustration with the organisational and financial side of band gigs, Alan said off stage that tonight was going to be his last. What about more solo spots, I asked. I don't want to be up in lights on my own, he said, I have never enjoyed that. A highly accomplished guitarist with so much to teach players and fans alike about the evolution of western music, but who eschews personal attention. Alan says though that he’ll probably still attend a few gigs in Hastings pubs, and maybe he’ll join in occasionally at some open mic nights.

Before playing us out, Alan digressed about going into a bar in Sweden one night, desperate for a drink after having just finished playing a gig. Suddenly somebody rushed in urging him to come around the corner because “someone just like Stevie Ray Vaughan was playing; he's even got the hat.” “He’s even got the hat,” Alan repeated to emphasise his contempt for the superficial side of the business. He never liked Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “boogie-woogie stuff,” he said, but his subtler, jazz, playing was sublime. Two of these tunes, ‘Riviera Paradise’ and ‘Lenny’, were fused together by Alan in a wonderful, virtuoso performance; the effort and concentration etched across his face. He was working very hard; fingers flying across the frets.

Let’s hope we can catch him around Hastings in a pub somewhere if he ever feels like showing some other musicians a few tricks. 

Thursday, 19 July 2018

American music legend plays Whatlington Village Hall

Award-winning American acoustic musician and song-writer Doug MacLeod stayed in the tiny East Sussex village of Crowhurst on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. This 70-something survivor of child sexual abuse discovered as a young man that music could save his mortal soul and went on to found a one-man musical ministry to heal us all. Doug was staying at Nina’s “Woodside” B&B in Old Forewood Lane before giving an intimate gig in Whatlington Village Hall, the new venue for Mrs Yarrington’s Music Club, the best platform for acoustic music in the south-east of England.

Doug played at Mrs Yarrington’s back in 2016 (click here for my review of that gig). In fact it made such an impression on him that on Tuesday night he went straight back to the same venue (at The Senlac Inn in Battle), sat in the bar, and wondered where his punters might be. He made it to the new venue in time however, bringing much needed relief after the opening act, Song Box Band. While this Brighton pop-folk duo impressed with their in-sync guitar playing, the singer's musings on Mediterranean holidays and other anodyne middle-class preoccupations grated.

When Doug began his song sermons, there was an almost palpable sense of excitement as an audience that was mostly familiar with the man readied themselves to get healed. He did not disappoint. Having heard some of his blues-based gospel before, I had an idea of what to expect, but songs familiar, and ones I had not had the privilege of hearing him sing live before, were equally compelling.

Among the stand-out songs were ‘Who’s Driving This Bus?’, a musical musing on the interests that may lay behind our elected leaders, with a nod to John Lee Hooker in Doug’s phenomenal guitar playing done in his professed “gumbo” style. Another musical acknowledgment was made by Doug when introducing a song that almost stole the show, and whose title went something like “(I Believe That) The Sun is Gonna’ Shine”. It was, said Doug, a song influenced by the celebrated black bluesman (and long-time muse), Tampa Red. You had to fight back the tears when hearing a tale of hoped for redemption that came straight out of Doug’s backstory. It was truly one of the most extraordinary vocal performances I’ve heard in nearly 40 years of attending gigs.

This man is an acknowledged master of his particular art; he just played in a village hall up the road from where I live. His landlady came to the gig and joked that she’ll be putting his sheets on e bay. She hadn’t heard of him before Tuesday but knew that, somehow, she had a star staying in her guest house. If you want to be similarly blessed, make sure you check him out the next time Mrs Yarrington’s puts this huge performer on a tiny stage.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

The Prisonaires Live at the Electric Palace Hastings

“Is this a supergroup?” asked a friend of mine as we took our places last night in the third row of this tiny, historic, yet barely half-full Hastings cinema. If about 250 years of combined experience playing with some of the most important western musicians of the 20th Century fits the bill, then The Prisonaires are definitely a supergroup. While not household names, any blues, jazz-rock, folk, or rock enthusiast will understand that these gentlemen were pivotal to some of the most ground-breaking music of the 1960s and '70s. Yet there were plenty of empty seats in a venue that only has 48 of them.

Acoustic guitarist and leader of the band, Alan King commented wryly that scheduling a gig during an international football tournament is always a disaster. But can it be that south-coast music buffs preferred staying at home to watch telly in the hope that Argentina would defeat the French, than attending a gig of this quality? When The Prisonaires finished their set a member of the audience stood up and shouted that it was the finest gig he’d seen in Hastings in years. It was one of the finest gigs I’ve seen anywhere in years.

Alan (left) with Bobby Valentino (fiddle), Les Morgan (drums) and Tony Reeves (right,bass)

Musical impresario, Alan King was a doyen of the famed 12 Bar Club, the ‘60s Soho music venue that gives the name to Dr King’s ‘12 Bar Music’, the platform for this and for some forthcoming Electric Palace gigs. King told me outside the Gents – the Electric Palace is so small that the toilets are never far away – that he is lucky enough to have played with his favourite guitarists, Davy Graham and Bert Jansch, and his favourite singer, Miller Anderson. For many years King also played with his favourite songwriter, Alan Hull (of Lindisfarne).

The aura of Graham and Jansch hung over proceedings as King opened the set riffing on the rite of passage folk guitar tune, ‘Anji’. What the advance publicity promised would be a hybrid of The Pentangle and Can, “with a touch of Miles Davis’” jazz-rock-funk fusion, was underway. ‘Anji’ went from sounding like The Pentangle were performing it, to something with a lot more attitude. Almost like Fairport Convention’s ‘A Sailor’s Life’, but lifted beyond even that wonderfully free-flowing, folk-jazz hybrid  However I couldn’t detect the influence of Can on this or on any of the other tunes The Prisonaires performed last night. It was undoubtedly an eclectic set though, and The Prisonaires have certainly embraced Can’s determination to kick against the musical pricks.

What happened on ‘Anji’, and throughout the gig, was a superannuated jam session without the tedium that that would normally imply. Each number, often only loosely based on professed connections to an original tune, has a distinct concept behind it that’s usually conceived of and initially worked up by Alan King. It might be a radical reworking of a known tune or the fusing of diverse tunes and elements together – the second number was inspired by ‘Sketches of Spain’ era Miles but went all over the place. King communicates with some band members via SoundCloud (“or just by text”, grinned guitarist Paul Baverstock). Rehearsals are live. Some band members, like the audience, may be hearing a number for the first time. To carry this off you need musicians of a very high calibre and, as importantly, imagination.

Alongside King in this endeavour last night were virtuoso fiddle player Bobby Valentino, who at 64 is one of the youngest in the band. Valentino was in The Fabulous Poodles, worked extensively with The Men They Couldn’t Hang, and has played with Dylan, Knopfler and Petty. He is part Stephane Grappelli, part Jean-Luc Ponty, but is mostly just himself. 

Bobby Valentino

On electric lead guitar was Paul Baverstock. Paul, who also spoke to me outside the Gents, said that he was in the celebrated London band that nearly made it big in the early ‘80s, A Bigger Splash. Their first single, ‘I Don’t Believe A Word’, was produced by Sting who also, with Eddie Reader, sung harmonies on it. It made it to the influential BBC Radio 1 review programme, ‘Roundtable’, but had the misfortune of being followed by Prince’s ‘Kiss’ which, Alan said, blew everything else out of the water that week (or pretty much that decade). Last night Paul’s impressive pedal effects assisted him in alternating between a blues-inflected rock guitar sound that often echoed Dave Gilmour, and being a Hammond organ virtuoso. Paul was loud for a small venue but was darned good. 

To his right in the all-star line-up was Tony Reeves. Tony has a strong jazz feel to his impressive electric bass playing; hardly surprising given that he was founder member of fusion band Colosseum and later joined Curved Air. Like Alan, Tony started out on the folk circuit. He’s on Davy Graham’s first two albums. A few years later he joined John Mayall’s celebrated Bluesbreakers, along with Mick Taylor who a few months later replaced Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones. Reeves has also played with, and produced, John Martyn and is the bassist on a Sandy Denny LP. By contrast, as a Pye Records’ plugger in the mid-60s, Tony promoted, and then played on, Tony Hatch’s ‘Sounds Orchestral’.

Les (drums), Tony (bass) and Paul (guitar)
In the centre of the stage, and often, my friend observed, making sure that the whole thing held together, was drummer Les Morgan (who’s performed with leading UK blues artists Alexis Korner and Jo-Anne Kelly, and with singer Chris Farlow). Les isn’t musically ostentatious like Paul, but, as good drummers often do, provides backbone (and flair) when some of the showmen occasionally threatened to take proceedings off on too conflicting a set of tangents. Alan King told me that the band also normally features Mike Paice (a Jools Holland sparring partner) on sax and harmonica, who, to King’s surprise given the unusual combination of instruments, gels successfully with violinist Valentino.

Among the most interesting musical adventures of the night was a number influenced by Miles Davis’ darker funk-fusion phase that also informed its title, ‘It’s About That Voodoo Time’; and a latin jazz excursion based on a number by jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell. In something of a preview of his own forthcoming set at The Electric Palace on 21 September, King took the band on a further musical diversion: ragas. He found suitable accompaniment from Valentino, before Reeves and Baverstock somehow worked out their place in the evolving mix. The Prisonaires' ‘raga rock’ is wholly its own thing, and has been a decade-long musical preoccupation for King. No easy nod here to George Harrison, The Byrds or even L. Shankar. The September gig by Dr King, possibly accompanied by some other members of The Prisonaires, will be well worth seeing.

(Listen to 'It's About That (Voodoo) Time' by clicking on this Soundcloud link)

Getting in tune? Les, Alan & Paul

The closing number was introduced by Alan as a fusion of two pivotal Jimmy Webb songs: - “the greatest anti-war song ever written”, ‘Galveston’, and the “greatest love song ever written”, ‘By The Time I Get to Phoenix’ – but without the words! This was an extraordinary musical idea successfully realised: you could hear the trace elements of both Webb classics in the heady mix.  

On a sweaty night out in Hastings some thirty odd people had experienced a real treat, and they rightly gave the band a rapturous response. Cries for an encore were understandably resisted though as the band, tired and thirsty, had done what they set out to do – whether Can were in the house or not.   

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Regrets, I’ve had a few - The musical life and times of Pete Sadler

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 (neĆ© 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  )

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.