Fireside Stories (Hebden Bridge Circa 1971-1974)
Today the valley town of Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire is world-renowned as something of a bohemian backwater. It wasn’t like this back in the late 1960s and the early 1970s, when a disparate selection of radicals, drop-outs, heads, musicians, artists and writers started to be attracted to the Calder Valley. Local lad and future poet laureate Ted Hughes called the area “the fouled nest of industrialisation”.
Over time, those seeds of radicalism and collectivism ensured Hebden Bridge evolved into a place where people could be themselves and all shades of individual oddness not only tolerated but actively encouraged. But back at the turn of the dreary 1970s it remained a monochrome world defined by its unforgiving surrounding landscapes, where the old gritstone over-dwellings were stained with soot and rain lashed down for weeks.
It was here that Trevor Beales, who was born in 1953, grew up, and from where he drew musical and lyrical inspiration.
Perhaps it was this dual nationality heritage, unusual in the valley’s largely white working class population at the time, that gave the teenager Trevor Beale’s music an outsider’s perspective. The discovery of Bob Dylan, Django Reinhardt, The Byrds and James Taylor at a young age, lead to him picking up a guitar at the age of ten, and he was soon writing his own originals and performing them at local (though often remote) folk clubs and pubs.
Recorded in the attic of the family home at Ivy Bank in Charlestown on the verdant wooded slopes at the edge of Hebden Bridge between 1971 and 1974, these early recordings are collected here for the first time and mark Trevor Beales long-overdue solo debut.
In these songs is a suffer-no-fools sense of realism that is defiantly Northern, yet also expresses a worldliness that belies Beales’ young years, whilst also showcasing an inherent storyteller’s ear for narrative. Here is a postcard from the past at that crucial musical period of transition, when the idealistic exponents of the 1960s emerged into an austere new decade that was to be shaped by strikes, rising unemployment and economic upheaval.
Two aspects of this music make it remarkable: Beales’ natural ability showcases a sophisticated guitar-picking style that was leagues ahead of many of his (older, more recognised) contemporaries. This is music that can confidently hold its own with pioneers such as Davey Graham, Michael Chapman, Dave Evans, Bert Jansch and Jackson C Frank, as influenced by jazz, blues and steel guitar as any of the old songbook classics from ancient Albion.
Secondly, his lyrics are a far cry from either the naïve bedroom scribblings of a teenager who has barely left his upland home, nor do they fall foul of the type of lazy cliches and sub-Tolkien imagery that was still in abundance in the early 1970s. Most remarkably the earliest songs here were laid down less than a year after he left school (an unearthed report written by his headteacher on July 3rd 1970 noted he had “a considerable ability and interest in music”, though his education ended abruptly when he simply walked out of a science lesson one sunny day while at sixth form, never to return).
Trevor’s music is grounded in reality – his reality. ‘Then I’ll Take You Home’, for example, considers the Guru Marajai, who encouraged his acolytes to give over their worldly possessions, yet who drove a Rolls Royce and lived like a playboy. Unsurprisingly, this latest in a long line of spiritual charlatans found several followers in Hebden Bridge, and Beales casts a disdainful eye over the growing popularity for such false prophets.
With its ancient narratives and propensity for myth-making, folk has certainly produced it’s fair share of cult figures who have enjoyed rediscovery or career resurgence and with this debut compilation of home recordings, rescued from cassette tapes, Trevor Beales might just be the latest addition. Certainly he was the real deal.
Crucially, Beales' music is never jaded or cynical, but instead possesses a poet’s ear, a strong sense of self and some sound critical faculties. And much of it recorded at an age when he could neither vote nor order a pint of heavy.
Trevor Beales died suddenly and unexpectedly on March 29th 1987, aged 33. He left behind Christine and their young child Lydia.
STAFF COMMENTSBarry says: Another wonderful collection of folk from the ever-brilliant Basin Rock here. One of my favourite LP's from earlier this year was the stunning Andrew Tuttle LP, and though this shares similar instrumental leanings, it's from significantly closer to home, focusing on the early 70's in the Calder Valley.
1. Marion Belle
2. Tell Me Now
3. Dance Of The Mermaids
4. City Lights
5. The Old Soldier
6. Sunlight On The Table
8. The Prisoner
10. Then I'll Take You Home
11. Ocean Of Tears
12. Fireside Story