A POTTED BIOGRAPHY
her Living Tradition article about Pete Castle
Genevieve Tudor described him as “one of those people who seems to have
been ‘always there’.” Well, always is a bit of an
exaggeration but he’s been around for a while! In
2008 he celebrated 30 years on the road as a professional!
Here are some of the highlights from his career to date
Background: Pete Castle was born in Ashford, Kent (so he’s a Man of Kent) in 1947. He started playing guitar around age 15 inspired by the Shadows but with the 60s Merseybeat boom he travelled from pop to R&B and, after forming a band himself, volunteered to sing “until we can find a proper singer”. In 1965 Pete went to Bretton Hall College of Education near Wakefield where he met his wife Sue and folk music. After college he started doing floor spots and the odd local booking, singing a mixture of traditional, contemporary and original songs around south Lincolnshire. They moved to Nottingham in 1971 where they organised folk clubs (Arnold and Carlton); and then on to Luton where Pete was a main organiser of the Luton Folk Festival from 1976 to 82. He was gradually getting gigs further afield and had settled on an almost exclusively traditional repertoire. In October 1977, just prior to going pro, Dursley folk club said “Rapidly becoming an essential contributor to the revival he combines an exciting guitar style with a fine voice...”
1978 In July Pete took the plunge and gave up his teaching job to go on the road full time. Two of the first gigs were at the Eastbourne International Folk Festival and Loughborough Folk Festival ‘Fringe’. He also released his first album, a cassette for VFM ‘Tales of the Land & Songs of the Sea’ which sold in places like Boots and Woolworths and did a lot of good in getting the name known in places he hadn’t visited.
1979 Pete released the follow up cassette ‘The Hard Times of Old England’. In Feb. he appeared on the BBC (East) TV programme Daly on a Tuesday with guitarist Bryan Daly. At the suggestion of a club organiser/headteacher in Brighton Pete started working with children in schools, something which has been central to his work ever since.
1980 After travelling all around England Pete embarked on his first Scottish tour - Milnathort, Aberdeen, Dundee, St Andrews, Linlithgow and Edinburgh etc. He continued to promote concerts in Luton - one landmark event teamed Hot Vultures with a local gospel choir, the Consolers, which possibly influenced the whole development of World Music! Clubs and Festivals included Poynton, Chippenham, Berkshire, Cotswold, Ilam, Broadstairs…
1981 Having done a lot of work on local (Bedfordshire) songs and customs Pete collaborated with Luton Museum on a cassette album of ‘Bedfordshire Folk Songs’. Also featured were Pete’s wife Sue, Bill Prince and trad. singer Margery (Mum) Johnstone. In Dec the new ILR station Chiltern Radio went on air with Pete in the folk presenter’s chair. He continued to do the job until moving to Derby in 1987. For Christmas Pete compiled a panto/shadow puppet show with some well known mates - Dick & Sue Miles and Jez Lowe. They were booked to do a short tour but half way through snow set in marooning Dick and Sue in deepest Suffolk and Jez in Sheffield so Pete had to do the last couple of dates alone!
1982 Gigging around - places like Reading, Cambridge, Washingborough, Totton, Bury, Beeston, Maidstone, Croydon, Coalville, Hartlepool, York, Dingles (London), Portland... and recorded his first vinyl LP ‘Rambling Robin’ at Nigel Pegrum’s Milton Keynes studio. Accompanists were Jez Lowe and Rob Whalley on fiddle. It went down very well with fans but critics considered it a bit ‘safe’.
1983 lots of clubs and festivals; also concerts for Ethiopia, the Probation Service and the Unemployed. (Pete has always been involved with local community events.) He was called a ‘veteran’ for the first time (by Orpington folk club). Only yesterday he was ‘a fresh new face’!
1984 Did the first of several stints at Avril Dankworth Youth Music Camps ‘teaching’ folk music to young people; also folk classes for Beds. Education and the WEA.
1985 Dingles released Pete’s ‘Punks Delight’ LP (with Rob Whalley and Trevor James). The standout track was Audrey Smith’s song David Oliwarle. Reviews were positive but Pete now considers it his least successful album. 1985-6 gigs include visits to: Long Wittenham, Boston, Linslade, Bristol, Twynham, Salford, Chalfont St Giles, Ware, Faversham, Bishop Stortford, Cullercoats, St Albans, Hitchin. Pete also started a club of his own at Eaton Bray nr Dunstable which attempted to be a bit different. Guests included Mark T, Gill & Bernard Blackwell and storyteller Hugh Lupton—Pete’s introduction to storytelling.
1986/7 Pete worked with Bengali singer and musician Aroti Biswas. Their paths kept crossing at various local events so they tried for a fusion of their English and Bengali styles. It was just beginning to gel when Aroti was diagnosed with cancer. They did some local performances and recorded for Chiltern Radio. Aroti died a couple of years later having said that it was their music which had enabled her to hang on so long. Pete was at Glasgow Folk Festival (“everywhere packed out” he noted) and Harrow International Festival (“everywhere empty”). At Easter 1987 Pete and Sue moved to Derby.
1988/9 Pete led the band in a community play - ‘West End Best End’. He was enthused by the form which influenced his future work. To complement the increasing amount of schools work he put together a cassette of songs ‘Open the Door & Let Us In’ and so his Steel Carpet Music label was born. Every album since has been on Steel Carpet. He followed it up with ‘One Morning by Chance’ - two tracks with Aroti being particular praised. The session at which they were recorded was the last time they played together before her death. Pete’s daughter Lucy was also to the fore with her outstanding fiddle playing.
1990 Pete at the Stanford in the Vale and Felixstowe folk festivals and also the National Garden Festival at Gateshead. By now he was also telling stories and, billed as ‘the Magic Carpet Story Co.’ he and Lucy were joined by old friend Ann Fairbairn for Buxton Festival. He put together a cassette of stories ‘Fiddles & Harps & Drums’ and in 1991 Lucy recorded her solo album ‘The Broken Pledge’.
1991 Rosie Cross (ex-Pyewacket) now working as an arts officer in Lincolnshire invited Pete to do a community project at Bassingham. It took the best part of a year in dribs and drabs and involved all kinds of people in making songs about the village. The end result was an album - ‘The Tale of a Village’, and a sell out concert. In the autumn Pete teamed up with Bing Lyle for the first time to do a series of schools workshops in Sussex. They were highly successful and they continued to work together for many years.
1992 saw ‘The Cottage By The Shore’ album which again, was well received. Accompanists included Lucy and Bing and there was an electric version of the Ballad of Mr Leakey from the Bassingham project; also one story - Willie’s Lady. The same year Pete featured on a live storytelling album recorded at Roy Harris’s ‘Tales at the Tiger Club’. When Roy moved to Cardiff Pete took over the club moving it to Derby where it ran successfully for about a year before losing the venue. Pete appeared at the following years Festival at the Edge and from then on his work became 50/50 song and story.
1993 More travelling all over the country and another album (Pete enjoys recording!) - ‘The Derby Ram’, a compilation with Keith Kendrick, Roy Harris and Derrick Hale. (Now available on CD and Steel Carpet’s best seller!) Also the Mountsorrel Community Play - ‘Nowt Else To Do’ for which Pete directed the music, wrote the songs and the script and even acted! It was a major piece of work and possibly the one thing of which he’s most proud, partly because of all the challenges involved.
1994 saw more recording: Pete released his radio sessions with Aroti Biswas as ‘Two Tongues One Voice’ and, with a whole gang of ex-pat Men of Kent including Bing, Andy Turner and the late Ron Spicer, the first of two compilations of Kentish songs - ‘The Keys of Canterbury’ (‘apples, cherries, hops and women’ was to come in 1998).
And then came POPELUC! Pete’s daughter Lucy was reading music at City University and had been researching Romanian folk music for a Ph.D. She had spent a lot of time in Romania. When she and her mentor, Ioan Pop, wanted to do a short tour in the UK in August they invited Pete to be the 3rd member so he had to quickly master the Maramures drum - the doba. The ‘short’ tour was a huge success and lasted until January! Venues included Broadstairs and Crawley Festivals, Spilsby Theatre, Banbury, Tonbridge, Reading, Ashington, Upton, amongst many more. The group was a hit and recorded a session for Folk on 2 and their first album, a cassette ‘Maramures et Cetera’ which was immediately pirated in Romania!
1995: back to solo work and a new album on CD - ‘False Waters’, Pete’s most successful recording to that date. Then Popica returned for the second Popeluc tour which took them all over the country and into Scotland. Their music took a huge step forward.
They toured again in June/July1996 and released ‘Blue Dor’, recorded at the end of the previous tour. Pete is still very proud of that album and it continues to sell. At the end Lucy returned to Romania and Pete and Sue followed later for her wedding to Ioan Hotea. It was a huge folklore event broadcast on Romanian radio and TV but sadly the marriage didn’t last. The peasant community of Maramures had a huge influence on Pete and taught him a lot about folk music.
1997 saw the final full Popeluc tour—30 gigs in 32 days, highlights being at the Weald & Downland Museum and Cecil Sharp House, the weirdest being the Dracula Centenary Celebrations in Whitby. It was all captured on video.
Solo, Pete continued to work in folk clubs, storytelling venues and in the wider community. Between 1996-8 he was Artist in Residence in Shropshire schools and for the next couple of years he also did the Redcar & Cleveland Schools Folk Festival and taught folk music at Millfield Village of Education.
2000. A new century and a big step forward for Pete’s reputation. His ‘Mearcstapa’ CD was an immediate hit, was played on Radio 3, led to an interview in Living Tradition and garnered praise from all quarters.
2001 saw another community project based around Cromford Mill and a Lottery funded album of songs and stories inspired by the site and the cotton industry. It was far simpler and more mainstream than Mearcstapa but got just as good reviews. Gig-wise 2001/2 were probably Pete’s busiest ever - folk clubs, schools, libraries, festivals, story clubs, and a wide range of events with the general public.
2002 The interesting thing was a Reminiscence Project for
Nottingham Playhouse which climaxed in half a dozen very successful performances.
A busy summer saw him back at Chippenham Festival and Dursley folk club which
seemed to bring the story full circle.
2003 had a really good mix of work in all the forms and in a whole variety of venues from folk clubs to schools, WIs to festivals including Chippenham, Caversham, Billingham and Tenterden. Two major pieces of work were for an Education Action Zone in the St Anns area of Nottingham (tough!) and storytelling inspired by paintings at the Djanogly Gallery at Nottingham University.
2004 followed the same kind of varied pattern, the highlight being 'The Children of the Mills', a multi-media arts project for the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. Pete and a team of other artists worked with children from six schools to put together a huge multi-part drama/song/dance performance which took place simultaneously on three sites!
At the end of the year Pete and Sue moved into the Derwent Valley, into a mill worker's house in Belper.
2005 continued the varied pattern, the usual mix of folk clubs, story events, local groups and larger scale things—regular events like Wicksteed Stories in the Park and being folk tutor for WMA Summer School which he’d done for about 6 years. The surprise of the year was a the ‘Popeluc Reunion Tour’, put together at very short notice and the first time they’d played together since 1997. It all gelled and was enjoyed by all. They did just a couple of gigs in 2006 but due to personal developments there won’t be any more.
2006 at the Y-Theatre, Leicester
2006 was a strange year in that all kinds of ’big’ things happened but Pete somehow missed out on the regular ’bread and butter’ gigs.
2007 This year saw the first Facts & Fiction Annual Storytelling Workshop which Pete co-hosted with storyteller Rob Parkinson in Tunbridge Wells. Since then he’s taken it to Birdsedge in W.Yorks and Stroud in Glos. For the first 6 months of the year, at the request of the management, Pete ran a series of folk nights at the Queens Head in Belper. It didn’t really take off though so Pete decided not to continue after the summer. Whereas work in the previous year was thin everything happened in 07 but the highlight of the year was obviously participating in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC. (See link on left.)
2008 Two lots of recording: for Pete’s solo CD ‘Poor Old Horse’ and for the 3rd Kent compilation ‘Oyster Girls & Hovelling Boys’ both of which turned out very well. There was a lot of good work of every kind sprinkled throughout the year including some for Northamptonshire Touring Arts—a village hall touring scheme which Pete continues to do. The only ‘down’ was that the poor summer weather took the gloss off some good outdoor gigs.
2009 Lots of work including Northants Village Hall touring; story workshop in Stroud; Holmfirth and Wadebridge Folk Festivals etc
2010 F&F story workshop at Cirencester; Bradford schools; Broadstairs, Whitby and Tenterden Festivals; plus all the usual little bits but the main thing was the publication by The History Press of Pete's Derbyshire Folk Tales book.
2011 Lots of varied small scale gigs plus Sting in the Tale storytelling festival in Dorset, Trad en Fete at Les Grange Rouge nr Louhans in France, a day at the Elgar Museum, Worcester.
2012 A workshop at the Society for Storytelling Annual Gathering at Chester; Links With Lit at Barnstaple Fringe Theatrefest; several storywalks... Pete's second book for The History Press was published – Nottinghamshire Folk Tales. It was also the year that Pete started receiving his pension! He doesn't aim to retire but will be picking and choosing the work he does – seeing what comes in rather than chasing it.
2013 A lot of Nottinghamshire gigs plugging the Notts Folk Tales book; Story walks at Wirksworth; Tenterden Folk Festival and Folkestone Folk Club; schools in Loughborough; the SE London Historical Society etc amongst other low profile local things.
2014 As above plus Topic Folk Club, Bradford; Build a Band for Belper Arts Festival; Discovery Days concert with Keith Kendrick and Sylvia Needham again (every year for about 10 years now!); Alison Uttley Christmas Show.
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