“Why did I stop?” asks melodeon player Dave Whetstone, as he prepares to return to the stage for only the second time in twenty years. It’s a fair question.
Dave had been a key player in the 1970s folk/ dance scene, who’d been turned onto “the notion of a dance band” after his band, Hemlock, visited Towersey village’s vibrant folk club, on the Oxfordshire/ Buckinghamshire border. As a result, the band changed direction to become The Hemlock Cock And Bull Band, and then simply the Cock And Bull Band.
“When we first went [to Towersey’s folk club] Jean-Pierre [Rasle] was not playing the bagpipes and I didn’t have a melodeon. I didn’t know what a melodeon was! I sent off from one and got it in the post – that was around 1977/1978, and Jean-Pierre knew some chaps in France [with pipes], so we started playing tunes with Dennis [Manners] calling,” Dave recalls. “At that time there were the New Victory Band, The Old Swan Band, doing variations to the repertoire.”
Dave went on to The Albion Band/ The Albion Dance Band, formed the well-regarded Waz! with Maartin Allcock (Fairport) and Pete Zorn, and released a well-regarded solo album, The Resolution, in 1996, with Allcock, Zorn, Dave Lockwood and Simon Nicol.
“The Resolution was surprisingly very well received,” reports Dave. “It got reviews in Q and various other magazines, it was very well received, and we did a few ceilidhs with that line-up, but not with Simon as he was so busy with Fairport Convention, so we got in another guitarist.”
But within a couple of years, despite mounting acclaim for Waz!, Dave simply felt it was time to move on.
“I can’t remember the exact sequence,” he says. “The Resolution came out and I did the trio thing (Waz!), which was a short lived thing, maybe a year or so getting work. I didn’t really enjoy it enough. I’d been doing music and tunes since the mid-70s with Jean-Pierre, music has always been with me, music courses through my veins, but I like to do other things – like riding a bike, family …
“There’s a difference between a musician and a performer and I considered myself a musician – with a small ‘m’; I don’t read music, I feel it – I’m not a performer, though some of the most enjoyment I’ve had from playing has been at ceilidhs.
“I haven’t done a great amount of music, but there’s been Cock And Bull and with Jean-Pierre with melodeon and bagpipes. I quite like the idea of singing, but that’s not me. I put a lot into it for a long time and it was all very interesting … but I didn’t want to pursue all that.
“Why did I hang up my melodeon? It felt like I’d lost interest in it, there was a feeling of being overly constrained by it.”
So he stopped.
“I make decisions like this. I’m not a hoarder – if things need to change, I’m not scared. I did the Albion Band for a time, and I knew that was not me and I stopped. I didn’t shirk from making the change. Either it fits or it doesn’t.”
He continued to play at home, in private – mandolin and guitar – but then in 2014, Towersey Festival, scene of many fondly remembered performances, invited the Cock And Bull Band to reunite as a one-off. The show was a huge success which Dave enjoyed, though didn’t feel the need to repeat. But the idea of performing The Resolution in full was something different. He pitched the possibility of a Resolution show to Towersey who were excited, so Dave called on Martin Brinsford (Brass Monkey, Old Swan Band) and Benji Kirkpartrick (Faustus, The Transports, Bellowhead) for assistance, who were also enthusiastic.
“I haven’t played out since Towersey 2014, and before that, not since 1998, since The Resolution. I play a lot more freely now … so I’m looking forward to playing now, in a more expansive way,” he says. “I like playing but playing is only part of it. I like it simple. With Martin and Benji, it’s something very specific, for a very specific thing, and that’s easy.”
As the trio to prepare to make their one and only performance at Towersey Festival on Friday 24 August 2018, Dave reports that things are “sounding good” and that the set-list, though focused on his solo album, will span his career.
After some thought, he picks a few of his personal highlights.
“The tune ‘The Resolution’, I s’pose it was intended to be, not square the circle, but something like that. It’s a waltz tune – I can go to it and it’s a very calming tune. I think they all do different things, but there is some kind of fulfilment with The Resolution.
“There are simple ones, ‘like Hotfoot 2’, which in on a row, no chords, it’s so simple you can go just on and one. It’s very deceptive … good for dancing.
“And there are more recent ones, like ‘Mind Your Manners’, which is a Morris jig I concocted for Towersey in 2014. It’s simple, efficient. I wrote it for Dennis [Manners]; it’s only ever been done once, so this will only be the second time.
“There are also some tunes that pre-date The Resolution, like from The Albion Dance Band’s Shuffle Off – ‘Frog Is For Jumping/ Beetle On The Wine’. They are tunes I concocted around 1983 and are the opening tunes on the album.
“I think they’re tunes that are played in sessions now. Brinsford said I had to play it, ‘… that’s one of your hits!’ They may have entered the repertoire now,” he says proudly.
As Dave prepares to take his leave, there’s just one question: why Towersey?
“Towersey is special … it always had a feel about it – there was something homely, safe about it,” he says. “Towersey always held a special place.”
* Whetstone Brinsford Kirkpatrick play Towersey Festival, Oxfordshire, on Friday 24 August 2018. The festival runs from Friday 24 to Monday 27 August 2018 and also features appearances from Richard Thompson, The Proclaimers, The Shires, Big Country (Acoustic), Sharon Shannon, Fisherman’s Friends, Peter Knight and John Spiers, Roy Bailey, and The Pink Weasel Big Band (a one-off team-up of Tickled Pink and Whapwesel). For more information and tickets see: www.towerseyfestival.com
‘Donkey Riding/Buffalo Girls’ by the Hemlock Cock And Bull Band all those years ago: