The release of a new record is always something of an event to celebrate and investigate. So When The Oldham Tinkers released a new album after a gap of over 40 years, Steve Henderson thought there were questions to be answered. Ready to respond were the trio of Gerry Kearns, John Howarth and Dave Howard.
What were the reasons behind the wait for new material on ‘A Lancashire Grace’?
Gerry Kearns (GK); Our first decade of recording was with Topic Records and featured two shared albums and five of our own in the time period 1968 to 1979.
We did record some unpublished songs in the nineties which included a little new material - two tracks of which are on the new album. Topic have also , over the years, put out compilations which have included our songs.
There was a flurry of activity from Topic round about 2018 with further compilations including
‘An Introduction to The Oldham Tinkers’, an invitation to the 80th anniversary celebration party to provide the entertainment along with Eliza Carthy as well as an invite to play at Cecil Sharp House after an absence of 50 years..
However, work and perhaps, Larry’s being unable to sing and play with us and subsequently his death brought about a big change as he had been such a creative force on stage and in his writing.
I had always put words to music but never attempted to write complete songs but the songs came slowly and it was probably Dave who encouraged us to record what new material we had.
Dave’s experience in recording in his career at the BBC and the asset of his studio at home was a help, not to mention his outstanding mandolin playing along with guitar and singing ability.
You’ve been playing some of these tracks in your live shows for a while. Was this all done with the new album in mind?
GK: I would say no. I don’t think we have ever done that. I wrote the tune to Edwin Waugh’s ‘Cradle Song’ perhaps 30 years ago but we have hardly used it. ‘Jemmy’s Garden’ and ‘When the Sun Goes Down’ were a poem and song we were using in the early nineties. It was in 2014 when we began to discuss a new CD.
What did you look for in choosing songs for the new album?
GK: We had 21 tracks which we had recorded in Dave’s studio and had not really thought how they would narrow that down to CD size.
Then. John approached John Ellis who he had recorded with in a group called the Oddfellows.
He had set up a firm called Limefield along with John Haycock and Will Faulkner and they connections with Bandcamp.
We listened to the advice of Limefield as they new the market better than we did with regards to downloading on the internet and such technology and discussed the choice on the criteria of subject matter, contrast of tracks, balance, a variety of sounds and instruments, humour, light and serious tracks and we hope people like the resulting CD or at least some of it.
Which track on the record is your favourite and why?
John Howarth (JH): ‘Mrs Peet’, I think the reason being my working life in the Health Service. I was a State Registered Nurse, a State Registered Psychiatric Nurse and a Registered Nurse Tutor, at Oldham and District Hospital and at Salford University.
G.K. I think ‘Peace Be Upon You’. Not because of it’s music or anything other than its message which I think is important. It tries to portray the importance of relations between people of different race, culture and faith. The simple message of peace.
Dave Howard (D.H.): My favourite track on the CD is ‘Charlie Brown’, pure vintage Tinkers.
What music do you enjoy and/or inspires you?
JH: In the early years , my mother Mary Howarth (nee Colleran born Cloonlyon, Charlestown, Co Mayo, Ireland.) was always singing.
I was a member of the Royton Morris Dancers’ in my early teens.
At my secondary school in Ashton, a woodwork teacher (known as Harry Plank) taught me the rudiments of 5 string banjo playing and along with three others formed a group called ‘The Gamblers’ and he entered us in a talent competition on the Six Five Special’ roadshow at the Empire Theatre, Oldham, top of the bill was Wee Willie Harris, The Most Brothers (Mickie Most) that was the first time I’d played to a full house.
Early influences; Burl Ives, Lonnie Donegan and the skiffle movement, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem (for my Irish influence)
American influences: Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Ry Cooder.
GK: Influences started at home growing up with my brother Larry. Our father was Irish and loved singing and he and his brothers would sing at Christmas parties and such.
There was plenty of singing at junior school and most of this was folk music with the teacher at the piano and, when the teacher did not play, we listened to the radio BBC programmes ‘Singing together’ and ‘Rhythm and Melody’ which were excellent and we learned folk songs from all over the births Isles.
At our secondary school in Salford, Pepe Martinez used to visit every year and of course his playing was brilliant. Ever since I have never wanted to play anything other than the Spanish acoustic guitar.
Once we started as the Tinkers, we met Harry Boardman who encouraged us to add to the few Lancashire songs we knew. He introduced us to Harvey Kershaw the Rochdale dialect poet who then came up to our singing nights at the Oldham Hotel. It was Harvey who wrote the words to the Peterloo Song that John sings. Cliff Gerrard another dialect poet from St Helens was another strong influence and we have used much of his material - two tracks on the new album.
DH: I listen to everything from trad Scotish/Irish tunes and country from USA contemporary folk song, and soft rock, Portuguese Fado etc, Show of Hands, Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr, Jezz Lowe, any Lakeman combination, Kathryn Roberts, Sierra Hull (US mandolin), Bob Fox, Sam Sweeney, any good guitar playing.
Do you see your influence an other artists? If so, who and how?
JH: Mark Dowding the Lancashire folk singer, recorded and sings a number of The Oldham Tinkers songs, and was influenced by Harry Boardman, as we were.
We also get acknowledged in books. Kate Long’s bestselling book. ‘The Bad Mother’s Handbook’ cites the influence of a whole lot of Oldham Tinkers’ LPs’. Mike Keegan’s tele of goings on at Oldham Athletic. This is How it Feels: An English Football Miracle’ references The Oldham Tinkers and even quotes from the lyrics of ‘A Mon Like Thee’.
Looking back over your lengthy career, what memories come to mind?
JH: 16th August 1969 Concert at the Free Trade Hall Manchester 150th year Commemoration of Peterloo.
Singers: Harry Boardman, Leon Rosselson, Pete Smith, and John Howarth.
Speaker: Michael Foot M.P.
Narrator: David Mahlow.
January 1973 B.B.C. Colin Welland Award winning ‘Play For Today’ starring Bill Maynard, Rosemarie Dunham and Marjorie Yates, directed by Michael Apted. The Oldham Tinkers’ songs were used throughout the play ‘Toddlin’ Whoam’ (EdwinWaugh), ‘Charlie Chaplin’ , ‘Our Sarah’s Getten’ A Chap’. Children’s Chants and songs.
1974 Another BBC ‘Play For Today’ by Barry Colins, ‘The Lonely Man’s Lover. The background songs and music for the play were provided by Te Oldham Tinkers to lyrics by Barry Collins.
1973 Colin Welland selected the Oldham Tinkers recording of the song ’Peterloo’ as one of his choices on ‘Desert Island Discs’.
In the early 1970’s, Ewen McColl with Peggy Seeger and The Oldham Tinkers played The Liverpool Civic Hall - what a night that was. Full House, A Fund raiser for the Jimmy Reid, Clyde Shipyard workers strike.
1975 The Oldham Tinkers did two concerts with Bernard Cribbins on May 4th at ‘The Free Trade Hall’ Manchester and on Tuesday May 6th at ‘The Guild Hall’ Preston.
1976 The Oldham Tinkers were involved in a BBC production ‘Cribbins, Livings and Co’ Bernard Cribbins, Henry Livings, (we were the Co) which was filmed at the Grange Arts Centre, it involved some outdoor scenes, acting in Oldham market, and singing our songs in the Grange Arts Centre to an Audience.
1976 The Oldham Tinkers were guests of the Lunar Literary and Philosophical society and entertained late-night television viewers each night for a week in the programmes ‘Thank You and Goodnight’.
The Oldham Tinkers guest appearances on the John Peel Show and the numerous trips to London for Andy Kershaw BBC Radio 3 World Music Show. On one occasion ‘The Chieftains’ who had been recording in another studio came along and watched our session with Andy Kershaw.
GK: The early years singing in the pubs in Oldham. There were lengthy spells at the Waterloo, The Grapes, The Manor and The Oldham Hotel and a few others.
The production of ‘Lancashire Sings Again’ in Manchester at the Library theatre with Harry Boardman, Harvey Kershaw and Moston Brook clog dancers including a ‘Pace Egging Play’ where I fell off the stage.
Being resident group at the Brookdale Folk Club, Failsworth run by Harry Boardman and where Christie Moore would turn up as a floor singer.
1968. A concert to commemorate the centenary of The TUC at Manchester Town Hall with a drama group from the University and John Betjeman who became the Poet Laureate.
1968. Singing at Cecil Sharp House.
Singing at The MSG in Manchester.
1977 Singing for the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh at Manchester Palace Theatre and meeting the Queen and Duke in the Line up at the end of the show. Hilda Ogden asked to hold Larry’s hand because she was nervous and then fainted.
Playing to a full house with Brighouse and Rastrick brass band on a Monday night at the Free trade Hall.
Playing with Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick at the Lesser Free Trade Hall and Martin Carthy Breaking his fingernail opening a bottle of Guinness just before he went on stage.
2018 Singing at Cecil Sharp House after 50 years.
2018 Singing the newly written ‘Remember Annie Kenney on Oldham Town Hall steps with Annie Kenney’s great great granddaughter after the unveiling of a statue of Annie Kenney. It was not planned.
2019 Singing at a commemoration of the Peterloo Massacre to an audience of a thousand people at Salford University.
DH: Appearing on Andy Kershaw’s BBC Radio 3 Show in London (twice) . Cecil Sharp House gig. Bolton Octagon, Bury Met. All great venues with full houses.
What’s next for The Oldham Tinkers?
GK: We think we may have enough material for a new CD if we put our minds to it. We do know we can’t wait another 42 years.
Artwork by Peter Stanaway from which the new album cover is taken.