| Saltaire people: Nigel Schofield
Never has this column been more appropriately named. This month sees the first of a number of articles which prove that the future of folk music is alive and well and thriving in Saltaire.
will be best known to most of you for his involvement with Pennine Radio between 1975 and 1986. He was initially producer there, and then became Head of Music. Those of you who tuned in regularly to these local programmes will remember the wide range of popular music which they featured, and the fact that they were often hit makers. Do you remember Kelly Marie singing “Feels like I’m in love” which won a Gold Disc Award in 1980? Nigel was responsible for the fact that Pennine was the only programme in the country playing it, until it took off and then everyone wanted to hear it. Another hit was “Day trip to Bangor”. Nigel was following in the steps of his great hero, John Peel OBE, who sadly died last year, in giving exposure to lesser known artists and minority musical interests which later become mainstream.
But Nigel’s passion is for Folk music and Folkrock (traditional tunes with modern instrumentation and rhythms). His knowledge is encyclopaedic, and he soon lost me when he drifted away from Steeleye Span into the detail of his subject. However, I kept up enough to appreciate that I was talking to one of the leading experts on Folk music in the country. His publications on Fairport Convention are widely acclaimed, and his links with Peter Bellamy, founder member of the Young Tradition, are well known. Peter Bellamy’s career was a tragic story of a talented singer of ballads, shanties, and blues, and a composer of a ballad opera called The Transports (about convicts transported to Australia in 1787), who committed suicide in 1991 aged 48 years. He also set the poems of Rudyard Kipling to music (“which made exceedingly good songs” says the record sleeve)
Nigel is one of those fortunate people who has turned his hobby into his work. From the time that he chose “the development of the English lyric” as his Oxford degree thesis (later achieving an MA), through his Pennine days, and now as a lecturer at Leeds College of Technology teaching Media. In addition he has his own Company, called “Urizen”, based at his home on Bingley Road where he and his wife have lived for 20 years. (The name Urizen is from a William Blake painting which shows the God of Logic and Creativity – very appropriate for Nigel). This started as a videography company, producing videos for the Bradford Festival and for Bradford Recreation Division (as well as the occasional wedding video).
He now uses his considerable creative talent in compiling boxed sets of CD's. They each focus on one particular artist or group. He says that “this one house industry has revolutionized how boxed sets work”. In addition to the CD’s, which often contain rare archive recordings as well as more popular tracks, Nigel writes an in-depth study of the artist with full “discography”. He takes great pride in the high quality of these books, which are written from a personal point of view – and always include a reference to Saltaire! They are Award winners.
Eight artists or groups have now been featured in the sets, retailing at around £40 each. He has a niche market, because the returns are not large enough for the big record companies to invest in them. He has teamed up with a Company called “Free Reed”, based at Belper in Derbyshire, which (like Nigel) has changed and adapted over time. It began as a concertina magazine, then became a mail order Folk music LP service, and finally has become a recording label. The founder is Neil Wayne, who co-produces the boxed sets with Nigel.
Nigel is hugely enthusiastic about the future of Saltaire as a centre for Folk music. Key people in the Village are Helen Kemp, Simon Higginbottom, Eddie Lawler and Louise Eaton. Simon organizes monthly folk concerts (mainly, but not exclusively, Celtic music) which bring 400 people into the Village every month. The other draw is Victoria Hall with its great acoustics – and the added attraction to Folk fans that Phil Fluke’s harmonium museum is on the same site.
Nigel recalls that John Peel also used to visit the Village regularly, because his wife was brought up in the property on Saltaire Road which is now Fanny’s Ale House. And John loved the area as much as Nigel does. As a last advert for his boxed sets, Nigel told me that his last recorded interview with John was about Ashley Hutchings (of Fairport Convention). It features in the boxed set on Ashley which was launched in Saltaire on April 7th this year. Saltaire is mentioned on the box cover.
You may see Nigel hurrying to catch the train at Saltaire station on 4 mornings each week. Mention Folk music to him and you’ll both be late for work!
PS – Nigel’s wife, Christine, runs the registered charity, The Gambian Schools Trust. This raises money and resources to provide schools within the Gambia. If any individuals, organizations, or schools are able to contribute money, books, musical instruments, computers, pens and pencils etc please contact Christine on 01274 581504 or on the Trust website on
www.gambianschools.org. There are no State funded Primary Schools within the Gambia!