Pete Davies – The Story So Far
Born in Bolsover in Derbyshire, Pete Davies has spent over forty years singing throughout the UK, Europe and Australia.
Davies Family Mythology
Davies family mythology has it that I could sing before I could talk and that my first words were based on Frankie Vaughan’s 1956 version of “Green Door”. Whatever the truth in this, it is true that I have always loved singing. From my days at Bolsover Junior School, through to me leaving William Rhodes Secondary School in Chesterfield, I was always a member of the choir even though it was not considered cool to take part in such an un-masculine pursuit. I have fond memories of singing in Bolsover Parish Church at Christmas in I think 1964 and later of being in a performance of Benjamin Britten’s, “St. Nicolas” in Chesterfield’s famous Crooked Spire. I remember it being challenging and great fun to sing but not great fun to listen to!
However, in the early 60s the Beatles, the Searchers, the Hollies, the Stones, the Kinks etc were the real deal for me and I set my sights on becoming a pop star. This idea was confirmed when I was taken to my first pop concert as an 11th birthday treat by family friends Ann and David Charlesworth. The stars were my heroes, The Searchers, and from that night onwards my dream was to own a guitar. That Christmas Santa brought me my 1st guitar – a 2nd hand electric Hofner Club 40 which I kept until about 1973 when I gave it away, to I think Roy Sherrif, a good friend from my college years. (In 2009 I saw one for sale in a music shop in Denmark Street, London for £2350.00 – can I have it back Roy!)
The Dylan Effect
For the next couple of years I “played” with the guitar – I didn’t know how to tune it, had no lessons – it was basically a toy. Then came Dylan – the real catalyst in getting me started – I was obsessed by him. (Still am!). I pestered my mum and dad to get me a cheap steel strung acoustic guitar, learned how to tune it, found a music book with chord charts and songs like “My Grandfather’s Clock”, and then took the traditional route of spending the next few months in my bedroom strumming chords to any tune in the book that I knew until my fingers bled. Getting the chords and learning “Blowing in the Wind” was a major break through for me and being part of a guitar club with a few like-minded souls at school helped us all to share what little knowledge we had. Donovan’s “Colours” was another early favourite that we could all strum along to and many years later I was really pleased to be invited to do the support spot for him at Middlesbrough Town Hall.
Discovering Folk Clubs
In the late 60s I made my 1st visit to a folk club, the Queen’s Park Hotel in Chesterfield. What a revelation it was. You could just turn up with a guitar and perform with no audition. I think I made two further exploratory visits before I plucked up the courage to take my guitar with me and asked if I could do a floor spot. The organiser Graham Blankley said, “No problem.” I’d expected at least a grilling about what kind of songs I did, where else had I played etc., but that was the great thing about folk clubs – anyone was encouraged to have a go and so began my 40 odd years of performing. Nice one Graham!
Pretty soon I’d met the Cryan family, who broadened my interests by introducing me to all sorts of great records by folk performers including The Waterson’s, The Young Tradition and The Incredible String Band. Within a few months I was performing with them as well as on my own and we got paid 50p each to do the support slot most weeks at the club and also to appear at Chesterfield Civic Theatre (now the Pomegranate Theatre) on the same bill as Mike Harding, Muckram Wakes and Dave Turner. At about the same time we also performed at a free festival at Durham University in Dunhelm House going on immediately before Super Tramp. We were terrible and in fact changed our name after the gig from Senior Fishbone to Welkins Ring – great names eh? You had to be there.
The John Martyn Effect
To my Dylan obsession I added the late great John Martyn (another continuing obsession!) following the release of the magnificent “Stormbringer” in 1970. Over the years I saw him do some of the best gigs ever. Perhaps the best was in a small pub room in the King’s Head, Allendale that only held a hundred or so people. The landlord, Jim Semens, invited me to stay back after the gig to have a drink and a chat with John and to ask him whether I could include his song, “Sweet Little Mystery” on “The Witness” CD which I was about to start recording. The early signs for approval were not good; John had been drinking all day and it was with some trepidation that I asked him whether he’d mind if I recorded it. He jumped up and said, “ You f….. what!? You f….. what!?”; picked me up in a bear hug, swung me round and said, “ It would be a f…… honour mate, a f……. honour!” Result! One of the most memorable moments in my life.
In 1972 I left home to begin a teacher-training course at Margaret McMillan College in Bradford. The three years I spent there were magical. I loved my Geography course, the teaching practices and the new group of friends I met. But just as important was the opportunity offered to get involved in a great social life. The college had fantastic student union facilities for a relatively small number of students and a very active social calendar. Sunday nights were Folk at Macs run by Julian Rowe in the crypt bar and the country’s top folk performers appeared each week. In the first couple of months I remember seeing Dick Gaughan and Aly Bain, Tony Capstick, Mike Harding and Vin Garbutt. When Julian moved on to take up a teaching post John Hart (great whistle, melodeon, guitar player and singer) and I took over running the club, booking big name acts including Planxty. Great days!
Real Work and Teesside
1975 saw me take up my 1st teaching post in Teesside. I remained in education until the end of 2011 and in the last 20 years become a headteacher of 3 very different schools. Since 1975 I have continued to perform at different venues throughout the country though during my time as a headteacher I had to severely limit where I played as my main priority had to be my school.
Back in the 70s I first met Vin Garbutt and he has been a great friend and an inspiration ever since. I have been lucky to have supported him at gigs locally and in Australia. Get a copy of his film “Vin Garbutt, Teesside Troubadour” – it’s a beaut! Other notables very active on Teesside in the 70s were Pete Betts (mate of Vin’s and a great songwriter); Peter Bond – another tremendous songwriter and big influence on me – I’d love to see him performing again; and Eddie Walker – a brilliant ragtime performer; and the mighty Wilson Family.
Now that my teaching days are over I’m really excited to be able to devote much more time to my music. I’m busy writing songs again and have begun to record my next album – hopefully to be released before the end of 2012. I’m also excited about doing more gigs both at home and abroad. Keep an eye open in your area – it will be good to see you!