Trevor Midgley continues to speak to Jason Barnard of The Strange Brew Podcast
Did you have much contact with the other artists on the label?
I remember when we launched the label in The Netherlands, when we did the Paradiso in Amsterdam, there was me, Bridget and Medicine Head. We were staying at the Schiller Hotel, and we crowded up into John’s room. Peel was a great raconteur. Despite the reputation of the time, he didn’t take drugs and was clean as a whistle. He told us he’d worked in the States as John Ravencroft. Apparently he’d been at a radio station in Oklahoma. Then he got a job in Dallas. He was sitting there in the Schiller saying “Yeah, I was in the room when Lee Harvey Oswald was killed by Jack Ruby.” We said “Yeah, OK John.” We thought he was taking the mick! Anyhow, after John died there was a big retrospective on TV. There was footage of when Lee Harvey Oswald was being brought in. There was this guy with a gun… bang. Camera pans and there is Peel! He really was in the police station when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald!
I went to his flat a few times, a mews place just off the Marylebone Road. I remember the first time I went there, I opened the door and there was a spiral staircase. I got to the top and behind on the landing there was this little squat fella playing the sitar. It was Marc Bolan. Of course, I’d heard Tyrannosaurus Rex. Bolan was well known on the scene and John had done a lot for him but I didn’t recognise him! I just went up the stairs and he went “Hi” and carried on playing. The thing that got me was that there were three long shelves on the wall absolutely stuffed with LPs. They weighed a lot and were bowing between the brackets. What pleased me was that there were so many that I’d got. I wasn’t into everything that Peel liked, but it was interesting to see the stuff that influenced him and the collection he’d amassed.
Your sound broadened with the Creation LP. The track ‘Silence Returns’ is quite folky and then goes into a blistering guitar solo. Was this shift a consequence of playing with The Way We Live/Tractor?
Dandelion had just signed The Way We Live. The Beau album was entirely acoustic/12-string. Clive wanted something a little more varied and he’d just signed Mike Hart who’d been a member of The Liverpool Scene. Mike had made his ‘Mike Hart Bleeds’ album for Dandelion, although it hadn’t been released yet. Clive said “I want you to listen to this and see whether you think the enhancements that are on this would be of any use for Beau”. So I listened to it and said “Yes”. Clive said he’d just signed this duo – The Way We Live – from Rochdale; more accurately a trio, as their producer John Brierley was part of the band. He said “Would you like to see if you’d like to get together with them”. I got in touch and went over there. John had his own studio set up. I got playing with Jim and Steve, who were primarily progressive rockers who’d come out of the Cream and Hendrix era. Jim is very adaptable and loves to play whether it’s a Les Paul or an acoustic. I think they were a bit intimidated by me as I’d already got stuff out and they hadn’t. Steve used to go to the Electric Circus in Manchester and they used to play ‘1917 Revolution’ at a ridiculous volume, so they had a certain image of me! When we got playing, Steve played bongos and Jim acoustic, but we did gel and figured that we could work together. We did several rehearsals at Rochdale, some straightforward acoustic and some using electrics. Clive booked us in at Hollick and Taylor in Birmingham for a couple of days. So we went, but it wasn’t what we’d been used to at CBS in London. John Taylor who owned the studio had worked on the Thunderbirds TV soundtrack and was very much of that mindset. He wasn’t rock. I guess he just wasn’t as tuned in to what we were doing, so we took the tapes back to London to Marquee Studios to mix with Phil Dunn.
‘Silence Returns’ has a strange time signature. When we were playing it, Jim had a bit of trouble getting to grips with the timings – the solo was the only part that was dubbed as he was playing bass as well – and on the solo, he’d started about half a bar too early. It was all fixed when we went into the Marquee. There was a little red switch on the mixing desk that brought in Jim’s lead track. As I was the only one who understood the timing, it was my job, when the moment came, to hit that switch. It worked, and it is startling when Jim’s solo cuts in.
I’m taken with another track on the LP, ‘Blind Faith’, it’s quite a statement to make.
I just can’t understand why people believe something simply because other people say it’s so. I don’t see why, because something’s written down, because tradition says, therefore it must be true. I’ve no problem with people taking a reasoned view of anything but, for me, blind faith is blind folly.
I’ve always been a convinced atheist – at least, from about the age of nine. But I find the militant atheism of guys like Richard Dawkins a real turnoff. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with just about everything Dawkins says. Just not the way he says it. I mean, he’s a highly intelligent bloke. He must know countering faith with logic is a non-starter. It’s only when faith has drained away of its own accord that rational argument stands a chance.
And anyway, some people have a need for irrational belief. Sometimes it’s all they have. Taking that away can be very cruel.
So was Silence Returns a marker for the John Trevor/High Mass material?
Not consciously, but in reality it probably was. Peel said that “The material’s changing; it isn’t the folksy Beau anymore”. He said to The Way We Live, “You aren’t The Way We Live anymore – how about Tractor?” He suggested the name John Trevor. I knew where he was coming from and could see it. We’d done quite a few tracks with Tractor including ‘Sky Dance’. Dandelion decided they were going to release a sampler – There Is Some Fun Going Forward – and put that on. They also put on a track by an act called ‘Country Sun’, who was actually a bloke called Paul Savage – that turned out to be the only track he released in his life!
John Trevor put out that one track and we had done the album but Dandelion went down.
Was that the turning point when the focus on your life went to your day job rather than the music?
The focus was made sharper as I was with the Halifax Building Society in Leeds and got a good promotion around the time I lost my record contract. There wasn’t a choice. However, I still kept playing and writing. I still kept in contact with all the Dandy people, and a couple of years later Tractor opened a studio in Heywood and asked me if I wanted to put something down. I was playing as John Trevor in clubs at the time. We recorded an album called Twelve Strings To The Beau.
I’m taken with a number of those songs which are spread across the Beau reissue and the Edge of the Dark CD like ‘Love Is’ and ‘Miss Alice Preece’.
They’re nice songs. ‘Love Is’ is a funny one as I’m not a lovey dovey, moon june writer. There are so many great love-song writers, and I have a leaning to create a wide range of material as a songwriter.
How did Roy Bailey come to record ‘The Roses Of Eyam’ which has become a folk classic? It’s not known as one of your songs!
I wrote ‘Eyam’ and I was singing it around the clubs in the Sheffield area. I did it one night and Roy Bailey was topping the bill, probably 1978/79. He came to me and said “I love that. Do you mind if use it?” I said “No. I don’t mind at all.” I stuck it down on a cassette and sent it to him. That was the last I heard of it. Fast forward to 1982 and then I heard he’d recorded it, but I didn’t know that because I’d never been asked! So I found the Hard Times LP and there it was, “The Roses of Eyam”. I bought the album and was pleased with Roy’s version, although it was in a very different style to mine. His is a soft, lilting folk approach as opposed to mine, which is angry. Roy’s version doesn’t have that anger. It’s been played very heavily in Australia and Canada. I recorded it several times but never released it. Then, when I was talking to Cherry Red about the Beau reissue, I said there were some later tracks that would complement the album. The version that’s on the Cherry Red disc was recorded in 1999/2000. I really wanted it down, as it’s a nice counterpoint to the other versions.
‘The Heaviest Stone’ from the Beau reissue is also a powerful song.
I do tend, even from an atheistic point of view, to use religious imagery. I guess I view it like inoculation. Hopefully the immune system becomes stronger by exposing it to something slightly invasive!
Did you continue writing throughout the eighties and nineties?
Oh, yeah all the time. I don’t write as much now but I do when something grabs me. I have a desire to get my songs out there. I like them to be heard.
In a funny way because of the reissues, Edge of the Dark and YouTube you’re getting more out now than you’ve ever done.
Yes, I’ve released more material in my sixties than I did in my twenties! Which is bizarre! Also the reaction has been quite remarkable. Some of the Edge of the Dark reviews from France, Belgium and Germany have been very good.
Looking back, out of all the hundreds of songs, what are your favourite?
Overall, I’ve written lots of different types. Of the released songs I like ‘Eyam’, ‘St Elizabeth of Hungary’ and ‘A Nation’s Pride’. ‘Red Light in Arcady’ has always been a favourite. ‘Silence Returns’; I like its sentiment and production. Another song on Edge of the Dark is ‘Birds’; the whole feel of that song appeals. But really, it’s almost impossible to choose.
As you’re seemingly as popular now, what’s next?
Things are being worked on now but I don’t know if anything will come.
Will there be a similar reissue to the Beau LP for the Creation album? That seems like a hole.
It is, and there’s a reason for it. Since 2009, Cherry Red has owned all the Dandelion masters. However, before they acquired the catalogue, and about six months after they released Beau, both Beau and Creation were licensed to Airmail Records in Japan. Airmail have done a very good job on the mastering, presentation and marketing, and they’ve sold well worldwide. Together with the fact that Creation was first reissued by See For Miles in 1996, I think Cherry Red are of the view that all this has eaten into potential sales. However, the Airmail version has only one bonus track (John Trevor’s ‘Sky Dance’). So, if Cherry Red do eventually decide to go ahead with a European re-release of Creation, I guarantee it will have further unreleased bonus material!
For lots more information on Trevor/Beau/John Trevor, Dandelion Records and his current projects check out his great websites: