A POTTED BIOGRAPHY

In 2003 PETE CASTLE celebrated 25 years on the road.
Here are some of the highlights from those first 25 years as a professional performer:

Background: Pete Castle was born in Ashford, Kent (so he’s a Man of Kent) in 1947. He started playing guitar around age 15 at the height of the 60s Merseybeat boom and, after forming a band himself, volunteered to sing ‘until they could find a proper singer’. Introduced to folk music at college 1965. Semi-pro experience from about 1970 - floor spots; the odd local booking; organising folk clubs in Nottingham; and then the Luton Folk Festival from 1976 to 82; then gigs further afield. In October 1977, just prior to going pro, Dursley folk club says “Rapidly becoming an essential contributor to the revival he combines an exciting guitar style with a fine voice...”

And then...

July 1978 takes the plunge and gives up his teaching job to go ‘on the road’. Two of the first gigs were at the Eastbourne International Folk Festival and Loughborough Folk Festival ‘Fringe’. Releases 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 Releases the follow up ‘The Hard Times of Old England’. Feb 1979 appears on BBC (East) TV prog. Daly on a Tuesday with guitarist Bryan Daly. At the suggestion of a club organiser/headteacher in Brighton Pete starts working with children in schools, libraries etc, something which has been central to his work ever since.

1980 After travelling all around England Pete embarks on his first Scottish tour - Milnathort, Aberdeen, Dundee, St Andrews, Linlithgow and Edinburgh etc.  Continues to promote concerts in Luton - one landmark event teamed Hot Vultures with the Consolers, a local gospel choir. Clubs and Festivals include Poynton, Chippenham, Berkshire, Cotswold, Ilam, Broadstairs...

1981 Having done a lot of work on local (Bedfordshire) songs and customs Pete collaborates with Luton Museum on a cassette album of ‘Bedfordshire Folk Songs’. Also featured are Pete’s wife Sue, Bill Prince and trad. singer Margery (Mum) Johnstone.  Dec 1981 Chiltern Radio goes on air with Pete in the folk presenter’s chair. He continues to do the job until moving to Derby in 1987. Christmas 1981 Pete does a panto/shadow puppet show with some mates - Dick & Sue Miles and Jez Lowe.  They undertake a short tour but half way through snow sets in, they are stranded and Pete has to do several dates alone!

1982 Gigging around - Reading, Cambridge, Washingborough, Totton, Bury, Beeston, Maidstone, Croydon, Coalville, Hartlepool, York, Dingles (London), Portland... Records first LP ‘Rambling Robin’ at Nigel Pegrum’s Milton Keynes studio. Accompanists are Jez Lowe and Rob Whalley on fiddle. It goes down very well with fans but critics consider it a bit ‘safe’.

1983 lots of clubs and festivals; also things like Peace concerts, a concert for Ethiopia, performances for the Probation Service and the Unemployed.  Is called a ‘veteran’ for the first time (by Orpington folk club) Only yesterday he was ‘a fresh new face’!

1984 Does the first of several stints at Avril Dankworth Youth Music Camps ‘teaching’ folk music to young people; also runs folk classes for Beds. Education and the WEA.

1985 Dingles release Pete’s album ‘Punks Delight’ (with Rob Whalley and Trevor James). Standout track is Audrey Smith’s song David Oliwarle. Reviews are 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 starts a club of his own at Eaton Bray nr Dunstable which attempts to be a bit different. Guests included Mark T, Gill & Bernard Blackwell and storyteller Hugh Lupton.

1986/7 Pete works with Bengali singer and musician Aroti Biswas. They try for a fusion of English and Bengali styles which is just beginning to gel when Aroti is diagnosed with cancer but they do some local performances and record for Chiltern Radio. Pete is at Glasgow Folk Festival (“everywhere packed out” he notes) and Harrow International Festival (“everywhere empty”). Pete and Sue move to Derby.

1988 Pete leads the band in a community play - ‘West End Best End’. He is enthused by the form and it influences his future work. To complement the increasing amount of schools work he puts together a cassette of songs ‘Open the Door & Let Us In’ and so his Steel Carpet Music label is born. Every album since is on Steel Carpet. He follows it up with ‘One Morning by Chance’ - two tracks with Aroti are particular praised. The session at which they were recorded was the last time they played together before her death. Pete’s daughter Lucy is also to the fore with her outstanding fiddle playing.

1990 Pete does the Stanford in the Vale and Felixstowe folk festivals and also the National Garden Festival at Gateshead. By now he is also telling stories. Billed as ‘the Magic Carpet Story Co.’ he and Lucy are joined by old friend Ann Fairbairn for Buxton Festival. He puts together a cassette of stories ‘Fiddles & Harps & Drums’ and in 1991 Lucy records her solo album ‘The Broken Pledge’.

1991 Rosie Cross invites Pete to do a community project at Bassingham, Lincs. It takes best part of a year in dribs and drabs and involves all kinds of people in making songs about the village. The end result is an album - ‘The Tale of a Village’, and a sell out concert. In the autumn Pete is teamed up with Bing Lyle for the first time to do a series of schools workshops in Sussex. It is highly successful and they continue to work together to the present.

1992 sees ‘The Cottage By The Shore’ album which again, is well received. Accompanists include Lucy and Bing and there is an electric version of the Ballad of Mr Leakey from the Bassingham project. There’s also one story - Willie’s Lady. The same year Pete features on a live storytelling album recorded at Roy Harris’ ‘Tales at the Tiger Club’. When Roy moves to Cardiff Pete takes over the club and, after a while, moves it to Derby where it runs successfully for about a year before losing the venue. Pete appears at the following years Festival at theEdge and from here on his work becomes 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.) Also the Mountsorrel Community Play - ‘Nowt Else To Do’ for which Pete directs the music, writes the songs and the script and even acts! It’s a major piece of work and possibly the one thing of which he’s most proud, partly because of all the challenges involved.

1994 sees more recording: Pete releases his radio sessions with Aroti Biswas as ‘Two Tongues One Voice’  and, with a whole gang of ex-pat Men of Kent inc. Bing 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 comes POPELUC! Pete’s daughter Lucy had been researching Romanian folk music and had spent a lot of time there. When she and her mentor Ioan Pop want to do a short tour in UK in August they invite Pete to be 3rd member so he has to quickly master the Maramures drum - the doba. The short tour is a huge success and lasts until January! Venues inc. Broadstair and Crawley Festivals, Spilsby Theatre, Banbury, Tonbridge, Reading, Ashington, Upton, amongst man more. The group is a hit  and record a session for Folk on 2 and their first album ‘Maramures et Cetera’ is immediately pirated in Romania!

In 1995 it’s back to solo work and a new album on CD - ‘False Waters’, which is his most successful recording to that date. Then Popica returns for the second Popeluc tour which takes them all over the country and into Scotland. Their music takes a huge step forward.

They tour again in June/July1996 and release ‘Blue Dor’, recorded at the end of the previous tour. Pete is still very proud of that album and it continues to sell well. At the end Lucy returns to Romania and Pete and Sue follow for her wedding to Ioan Hotea. It’s a huge folklore event broadcast on Romanian radio and TV but sadly the marriage doesn’t last. The peasant community of Maramures has a huge influence on Pete and teaches him a lot about folk music.

The final Popeluc tour happens in summer 1997. They do 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’s all captured on video. Despite public demand the band is not likely to tour again.

Solo, Pete is continuing to work in folk clubs, storytelling venues and in the wider community. Between 1996-8 he’s Artist in Residence in Shropshire schools. For the next couple of years he also does the Redcar & Cleveland Schools Folk Festival.

So we come to 2000. A new century and a big step forward for Pete’s reputation. He releases the ‘Mearcstapa’ CD which is an immediate hit, is played on Radio 3, leads to an interview in Living Tradition and garners praise from all quarters. Pete continues all the strands of his work.

2001 sees another community project based around Cromford Mill and an album of songs and stories inspired by the site and the cotton industry. It’s far simpler and more mainstream than Mearcstapa but gets just as good reviews. Gig-wise 2001/2 are probably Pete’s busiest ever - folk clubs, schools, libraries, festivals, story clubs, and a wide range of events with the general public.

The big thing for the start of 2002 is a Reminiscence Project for Nottingham Playhouse which climaxes in half a dozen very successful performances. A busy summer sees him back at Chippenham Festival and Dursley folk club which seems to bring the story full circle. But he’s not giving up. Pete aims to continue with all the strands of his work and is always searching out new things to try and new ways to do things.

2003 sees 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 are for an Education Action Zone in the St Anns area of Nottingham and storytelling inspired by paintings at the Djanogly Gallery at Nottingham University.

2004 follows 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 works with children from three schools writing and learning songs which are then spliced into a drama production along with dance and video. It all takes place at 3 historical sites in the area and is a huge success.

At the end of the year Pete moved into the Derwent Valley area, into a millworker's house in fact, in Belper.