A Potted Biography
Pete Castle was born in Ashford, Kent in 1947 so by birth he’s a Man of Kent. He started playing guitar around age 15 inspired by the Shadows but with the advent of the 60s ‘Merseybeat’ boom he moved through pop to R&B and blues with various local bands.
At first he was a lead guitarist but when their singer left Pete volunteered to stand in “until we can find a proper singer”. He found he could do it and enjoyed it and has been doing it ever since. In 1965 Pete went to Bretton Hall College of Education near Wakefield where he met his wife Sue and folk music. After college he did floor spots and the odd local booking in clubs around Holland (Lincolnshire), singing a mixture of traditional, contemporary and original songs. Pete and Sue 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.
By that time 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…”
In July Pete took the plunge and gave up his teaching job to go on the road full time. He also released his first album, a cassette for VFM called ‘Tales of the Land & Songs of the Sea’, which sold in places like Boots and Woolworths and did a lot of to get his name known in places he hadn’t visited.
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 was central to his work from then on.
After travelling all around England Pete embarked on his first Scottish tour – Milnathort, Aberdeen, Dundee, St Andrews, Linlithgow and Edinburgh etc. Festivals included Poynton, Chippenham, Berkshire, Cotswold, Ilam, Broadstairs…
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.
In 1982 Pete recorded his first vinyl LP ‘Rambling Robin’ at Nigel Pegrum’s Milton Keynes studio with accompanists Jez Lowe and Rob Whalley on fiddle and in 1985 Dingles records 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. He did club gigs all over the country and in 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.
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. There was a cassette album of their work – Two Tongues One Voice (now deleted).
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 which led to a whole new range of influences and a change of direction.
Pete led the band in a community play – ‘West End Best End’. He was enthused by the form which influenced his future work.
Pete continued to play at folk clubs and festivals all over the country, including the National Garden Festival at Gateshead, but was now also billing himself as a storyteller. He also started doing longer term community work inspired by the community play mentioned above. These included: The Tale of a Village in Bassingham Lincs; the start of an annual series of workshops in Kent/Sussex schools with Bing Lyle, and later Keith Kendrick. (These continued for about 15 years!); and the Mountsorrel Community Play – Nowt Else To Do – for which Pete wrote both the script and the songs, led the band and acted!
During this period Pete recorded prolifically – mainly cassettes on his own label: Fiddles & Harps & Drums (stories); The Broken Pledge (daughter Lucy’s solo fiddle album);The Cottage By the Shore; One Morning By Chance; Something to Tell ’em (a live recording at Roy Harris’ Tales at the Tiger storyelling club); The Derby Ram (with Derrick Hale, Keith Kendrick and Roy Harris – still available on CD) and The Keys of Canterbury – the first of three sets of Kentish material.
POPELUC! By now Pete’s daughter Lucy was reading music at City University, London and had been researching Romanian folk music for a Ph.D. She had spent a lot of time in Romania. In August when she and her mentor, Ioan Pop, wanted to do a short tour in the UK they invited Pete to be the 3rd member of the standard Maramures trio 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, clubs at Banbury, Tonbridge, Reading, Ashington, Upton, and many more. The group was a hitand recorded a session for Folk on 2 and their first album,cassette‘Maramures et Cetera’ which was immediately pirated in Romania!
In 1995 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 which 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. Even English Folk Music!
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.
There was a new solo album on CD – ‘False Waters’, Pete’s most successful recording to that date. It was followed in 1999 by Mearcstapa – English music with a European accent, which built on the experience of playing with Popeluc.
Pete took over as editor of Facts & Fiction, the only independent storytelling magazine in the UK (probably the world!)
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. Club and festival work continued including Dursley Folk Club and Chippenham Folk Festival which took him back to where he had started! There were several big projects: The Jenny & the Frame & the Mule was a Lottery funded scheme based around Cromford Mill and the cotton industry; a Reminiscence Project for Nottingham Playhouse based around Raymond Brigg’s story of Ethel & Ernest which climaxed in half a dozen very successful performances; storytelling 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; ‘The Children of the Mills’, a multi-media arts project for the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.
At the end of 2004 Pete and Sue moved from Derby into the Derwent Valley, into a mill worker’s house in Belper.
continued the varied pattern, the usual mix of folk clubs, story events, local groups and larger scale things—regular events like Stories in the Park at Wicksteed and being folk tutor for WMA Summer School, and Northamptonshire Touring Arts. Generally it was a busy period.
The surprise of 2005 was 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. The following year they did just a couple of gigs but for personal reasons there won’t be any more.
2007 saw the first Facts & Fiction Annual Storytelling Workshop which Pete co-hosted with storyteller Rob Parkinson in Tunbridge Wells. He did similar workshops with other storytellers in other parts of the country for the next five or six years before feeling that it was enough.
2008 included 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.
2009 and 2010 were good Festival years: Holmfirth, Wadebridge, Broadstairs, Whitby, and his regular stint at Tenterden of course.
2007 Pete in America
One of the biggest events in Pete’s career was in 2007 when he was chosen as a representative of his birth county, Kent, at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC. It is a two-week free festival on the Central Mall in Washington to which they get about 1 million visitors every year. Each year there is a different theme and different communities from within USA and chosen countries take part. The theme in 2007 was the Roots of Virginia so Pete was performing alongside all kinds of craftspeople and folk artists from both sides of the Atlantic. As he played at the Opening Ceremony he can claim to be the first English performer to appear there!
Pete Castle, Author! Pete was asked by The History Press to write the Derbyshire book in their county Folk Tales series. He followed it two years later with Nottinghamshire and has since contributed to several other of their publications.
2012 to Present
In 2012 Pete started receiving his pension and decided to slow down! He didn’t want to retire but just to limit what he does. He continues to be pretty busy singing and telling at clubs, festival, community events and all the usual things. The main difference is that he’s not travelling so much, although he will consider offers from anywhere! And he doesn’t do every bit of work which is on offer—he is able to pick and choose and do the ones he fancies. A nice place to be!
Much of the work is regular, annual events and/or local.
He is also doing a lot more writing—another book: Where Dragons Soar: animal folk tales of the British Isles which was nominated for a prize in USA, some articles for Living Tradition magazine and a Blog.
Hopefully this situation will continue for years to come…