Most of my songs are about places and people. In 1967 we spent a week in Moor End farmhouse (left), high on a hill above Wharfedale, overlooking the villages of Kettlewell and Starbotton. We were working with a group of talented teenagers from Buttershaw Youth Club in Bradford, and their visionary leader Trevor Sharpe. Moor End had no running water and no electricity. We sang and played music into the candlelit night, just like folk used to do. Songs inspired by that magical sojourn appeared on later recordings - The Hanged Man on Mr Fox, and The Wild Man of the Hills on Ancient Maps. This is where it all began, in a remote Wharfedale farmhouse.
Jackie Beresford of Buckden, Wharfedale, playing the accordion, with his son Peter on fiddle - around 1967. Jackie was, among other things, a village dance musician, taxi driver, and barman at the Buck Inn. He is one of the characters mentioned in the song The Gipsy, on the Mr Fox album of the same name. Also featured in The Gipsy is Richard Alderson, better known as Neddy Dick, a farmer from Keld in Swaledale, playing his invention the harmonium and bells. He has his own song, The Ballad of Neddy Dick, on the first Mr Fox album.
After the breakup of Mr Fox in 1972 I teamed up with the late Nick Strutt, to make two albums - Bob Pegg & Nick Strutt (1973), and, the following year, The Shipbuilder. King Dog, from our first album, was inspired by the experience of a couple of friends from Lancashire who were driving along a country lane near Colne one evening. From behind a high hedge, a creature with the body of a lion and the head of a bearded man briefly jumped onto the roof of their car. When they stopped in the next village they discovered that paintwork on the vehicle's roof was deeply scored, as if huge claws had ripped into it. The image is by Joseph Swindells Pegg. As a songwriter, part of me has always been drawn to weird themes. H P Source, written for Mr Fox and broadcast on the John Peel Show in 1972, is a tribute to the writings of
H P Lovecraft, while The Shipbuilder is a Gothic horror story of seduction and revenge, which extends over both sides of an LP record.
In 1975 I was commissioned by the Ilkley Literature Festival to write a piece that would be performed in concert. The result was Bones, a song cycle which follows the hallucinatory thoughts of a Viking who has been mortally wounded in battle on the East Yorkshire coast. The festival's director wasn't best pleased when I invited along a bunch of Bradford folk singers - together with their noisy fans - to share the platform. But George Macbeth, poetry producer for Radio 3, was in the audience; he liked the piece and broadcast it in the autumn, in the interval of a Proms concert. A studio recording of Bones was made in the early 80s, but the tapes were lost. The image of Odin's Ravens is by John Hodkinson.
This is John Hodkinson's cover art for the single The Werewolf of Old Chapeltown, which was released in 1978 on the Full Moon label, thanks to the patronage of Ian "Inky" Gibbs of Huddersfield. The song hoped to capture the atmosphere of the Chapeltown/Harehills area of Leeds where I had lived in the mid-70s:
As night rolls in across the trees of Potternewton Park
As the lamps come up on the Avenue, and the scrapyard watchdogs bark
As women paint their faces and prepare to face the dark
A greasy yellow moon begins to rise.
The Werewolf... became a Melody Maker Single of the Year, Sounds Single of the Week, and The Guardian's Obscure Single of the Month.
The photograph is of the Colden Valley, to the west of the hilltop village of Heptonstall in Calderdale. It was taken around 1890. To the right, just out of the picture, is Lumb Bank, the farmhouse where Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath lived in the early years of their marriage. When I went to work there, as an oral historian, in 1977, Lumb Bank was a creative writing centre, the northern base of the Arvon Foundation. A couple of years later I was commissioned by the Hebden Bridge Arts Festival to compose and perform a sequence of songs based on the memories I'd gathered from the Colden Valley area, memories of earlier times when the textile mills and non-conformist chapels were in full swing. The Calderdale Songs were premiered in 1979, and were recorded for the CD The Last Wolf, first released in 1996.
The Stone Head is one of the six Calderdale Songs. Set in the gable end of a house in Hainworth, a high village overlooking Keighley, is a carved stone head. It's the god of the place. Each weekday someone brings the head an offering, though nothing will appease it. On Tuesday it's a cobbler "with hands as rough as toads", bearing the gift of an iron-shod clog. But the head rejects the clog and, when night comes, it's destroyed by lightning. The inspiration was this local Victorian postcard of a lightning-struck boot. The wearer lost his foot.
Although I ceased performing regularly in folk clubs around 1983, I did continue to write songs: for theatre companies, community plays, and for my own storytelling shows. Recently I've started again, for the enjoyment and the challenge, and spurred on by the support of folk like Lynda Hardcastle and Alan Rose, who are performing material that I wrote many years ago. One of my most recent songs (2019) is called The Banks of Upper Wharfedale. I wrote it for Trevor Sharpe to commemorate our longstanding friendship and his love of the Yorkshire Dales. Here's the first verse. To the right is Trevor's watercolour Christmas card of the Lonely Tree:
On the banks of Upper Wharfedale, beneath the lonely tree
There was me and Jack and William - we were called The Buckden Three
We'd perch upon the boulders, laugh and laik about
And go swimming in the river with the grayling and the trout...