What got you interested in music ? ‘I’ve always been interested in music. My mam used to be singing all of the time so I know the chorus’ to thousands of songs. I’ve got a vague memory of when I was very small and my parents had the radio on. Glen Miller’s String of Pearls came on. I was just mezmerised by it. Music always moved me. Not necessarily folk music because that came later’.
When did you first pick up an instrument ? ‘When I was 10 year old my brother Gerard and I got guitars for Christmas. We, and I use the term loosly, rehearsed for a few hours. My Nanna and Granda were over for Christmas dinner and Ged and I came flying downstairs with this song we had just written. We played it and Granda said ’That’s just the kind of noise to set my head off’ ha ha’.
What type of background did you have ? ‘Both sides of the family had Irish connections and my uncle from Ireland was a Malodian player. My Nanna was from County Mayo and any Irish music would get her up dancing. Her sister Bridget played harmonica so there was a bit of music in the family’.
What venues did you play ? ‘With my brother Ged and a few friends we played a school concert in St Josephs in Hebburn. I was a rock fan of Zeppelin and Genesis but got into folk when I was around 17. That led onto playing the sessions in folk clubs like The Viking pub in Jarrow with Ed Pickford and Mick Elliott. Also further afield in Sunderland and Newcastle. I was a singer playing a bit guitar. It was English folk at first but then the Irish and Scottish really captured my imagination. Then we used to go all over the country for sessions. Scotland and into the Shetlands, that was the early 70’s’.
What other bands were around at that time ? ‘Hedgehog Pie and The Doonans would play The Cricketers in Bill Quay. We’d see Northern Front who were great and very funny with it. George Welsh who is still kicking about, a realy good friend of mine. We used to go and see a few bands from Scotland who were and still are an influence on me, like The Bothy Band who changed my life ! The came over from Ireland to Blackfriars in Newcastle in 1975 they were absolutely incredibe, playing rock music on Irish instruments. I was blown away. It was the first time I’d heard a Bouzouki guitar played and had to get one. My first was an 8 string ballback. Originally they were a ballback guitar from Greece and Turkey. Because the ballback didn’t sit comfortably in yer stomach you had to hold it in a certain way. But now you can get a flat backed from Ireland. Musicians like Christy Moore brought it back from Greece and Johnny Moynihan used it for the Irish folk band Planxty’.
What are you doing now in music ? ‘I play in two bands. The Deadly Erneast Ceilidh band who I’ve been with for 30 years. We used to play regular but not as much now. Also play in the folk band Lowp with Iain Gelston on bagpipes, Stephen Pratt on flute and whistles, Peter Brown on fiddle and David Harrison on mandola and mandolin. I sing, play guitar and bouzouki. I also produce a Folk show on Hive Radio on a Saturday morning. I’ve done that for 4 years, when it was first based in Bede’s World in Jarrow. I talk about and play all types of folk music, our audience are mostly UK, USA and worldwide as it’s internet based. The definition of folk music has massivly broadened so I do like to listen to what other people are doing. I also work alongside Diane Gray at Community Arts Project North East. We are always looking for new programmes and would like anyone with an idea for a programme to get in touch with Hive radio’.
What does music mean to you ? ‘When things are getting stressfull or hectic it keeps me grounded. It helps focus on the good things in life and you can really loose yourself in it. I try to play something everyday and I’m a terrible collector of instruments, guitars, bouzoukis haha …drives my wife mad ! Really I just love music’.
Interview by Gary Alikivi May 2018.
For further information contact http://www.capne.org
Trevor Sewell, Still Got the Blues, 21st June 2017.
Tony Wilson, For Folks Sake, 10th May 2018.