I come from a musical family. One grandmother was into performing in musicals and the other was a musician in her Irish family's ceilidh band.
My mother was a semi-professional singer specalising in Irish ballads, and I can count quite a few of my relatives who were or are regular performers.
I developed an interest in folk music while at school in Sunderland during the 1960s, and remember having a lunchtime 'folk' club which involved only a bunch of sixth-formers listening to a teacher's folk music records.
Then while at Hartlepool College of Art I used to go regularly to Hartlepool Folk Club in the Market Hotel (every pub in Hartlepool was a 'hotel' then), and saw the likes of the Fureys, Jake Thackray and Maddy Prior a few times. My first public performance was there, but sadly it was a bit embarrassing, because it was a nice bit of harmony singing leading into a foul-mouthed rugby song. I cringe at that memory still.
We then move on via art college in Wolverhampton, where I used to go to the college folk club most weeks, and where I saw a Ralph McTell concert on my 21st birthday. About five years later I moved to South Warwickshire and again frequented local folk clubs, but it wasn't until 1983 that I started performing in some of the regular folk sessions that were (and still are) popular in these parts. The area being the spiritual home of morris dancing meant that there were a lot of fiddles and melodeons playing a lot of traditional music.
So I acquired a singing partner, with whom I did (and still do) harmony singing, and after ten years we made an album, then a collaborative album with the regulars at a folk session we all attended a few years later.
In 2005 I was involved with the Hartlepool United fans' "Poolie Pride" project, in which a CD single was recorded (as "the Monkeyhangerz") and was sold only in three shops in the Hartlepool area, yet managed to reach no. 24 in the pop charts, raising £10,000 for charity in the process. I sang the Hartlepool Monkey Song on the CD and not only got to perform it 6 times in one evening (in the aisles of the Asda store in Hartlepool, would you believe?), but also got to meet the writer of the song, Alan Wilkinson.
That exciting few months led to a creative interlude in which I home-recorded a couple of albums, one of some favourite songs, and the other of some new songs I'd recently written.
Then a change in circumstances turned a two-minute walk to work into a 90-minute drive for a few years, which severely limited the time available for writing and recording. But then, after escaping the travelling, I came back to it with a vengeance, and BOMBARDED was the result. Three years later another album of self-penned songs, BILLS, escaped, and enough songs for another album or two have since gone on the pile.
In 2016 I joined a couple of friends to practise and occasionally perform together under the name "Tobias", which is an acronym for "Three Old Buggers in a Shed", referring to our practice venue, a humble garden shed (think "Last of the Summer Wine" rather than "Battlefield Band", however!)
Being based in the Cotswolds, and tending to sing in quaint old pubs, I often find myself singing to tourists, particularly Americans, who are very appreciative audiences, and they've never heard of the Hartlepool Monkey, which helps when I sing them the aforementioned song about it. However, more than 20 years of being pushed off the end of a guitar and stopped by a rope is now taking its toll on poor Hartley's neck!
Back to top