TREVOR BEALES – Fireside Stories (Hebden Bridge circa 1971 – 1974) (Basin Rock)

Fireside StoriesBack in the 70s, in the then dreary West Yorkshire valley town of Hebden Bridge, Beales was one of the UK’s many aspirant loner folk Nick Drakes and Bert Jansches playing the pubs in their local towns. Unlike so many, however, inspired by the discovery of artists such as Django Reinhardt, Dylan and John Martyn, he had the potential to stand alongside them. Fate, however, had other ideas. Although he did release an album, Concrete Valley, with his band, Havana Lake, in 1977, his solo recordings went unheard.

He died suddenly in 1987 and a chance meeting 31 years later between his widow and childhood friend John Armstrong led to a collection of cassette demos of self-penned songs he’d recorded in the attic of the family home at Ivy Bank in Charlestown being digitalised, finally forming his belated solo debut, Fireside Stories.

From the outset, his sophisticated jazz and blues influenced guitar technique, lyrics that combine worldliness and Northern no-nonsense, and seasoned baritone all belie his young age. The collection opens with the bluesy fingerpicked ‘Marion Belle’, a number about a doomed ship and its crew as opposed to a woman and one of two songs here that would appear on the band album,  the other being the jazz-inclined guitar sound of the higher vocally pitched ‘Ocean Of Tears’.

With a waltzing melody line that conjure thoughts of Christmas folk carols, the fingerpicked ‘Tell Me Now’, a song about a forbidden love and its consequences,  is another example of his guitar technique, his fingers more quickly over the frets for the Jansch/Graham-like instrumental ‘Dance Of The Mermaids’, the album’s other instrumental being the equally intricate and jazzy ‘Braziliana’.

Given the period in which it was recorded, songs of a social commentary or protest nature find their way in with the ruminative ‘The Old Soldier’, ‘The Prisoner’ and the lightly picked ‘Then I’ll Take You Home’, a Tom Paxton-like swipe at the hypocrisy of self-styled spiritual Guru Marajai who promoted relinquishing up worldly possessions while living a playboy lifestyle himself (“Please don’t tell me your light is divine and it’s way ahead of mine…Buy your new-born king a new Rolls-Royce like the one he had before/But didn’t Jesus ride the lowest creature known”).

Elsewhere you get the tumbling guitar notes of ‘City Lights’ which speaks to Jackson C. Frank influences, the brief, deep-voiced reminiscences and regrets of ‘Sunlight On The Table’ with its troubadour-like playing, the city life observations of ‘Metropolis’ and its lyrics about how hard it is to make a living as a busking musician, and, calling on John Martyn’s guitar percussion playing and delivery, the title track album closer.

While unlikely to generate the same sort of cult status as other young folkies who passed too soon, Fireside Stories should certainly afford Beales a posthumous position among the pantheon of his inspirations.

Mike Davies

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