Bringing it back to Featherstone!
Ian Clayton's book Bringing It All Back Home is a roller coaster of a read taking in many places and lots of different music along the way but always returning to Ian's home town, Featherstone...
Ian is probably best known in Yorkshire as a TV presenter but, from following the hippy trail to India to helping prisoners in Wakefield Jail create an opera, Ian has done many other things in his life, and all this makes for a fascinating read.
But this is not a straightforward autobiography. Ian is very much a collector and in many ways this is what the book is about. In Ian's own opening words: "Everything reminds me of something. I have filled my house and my head with things; books, records, paintings, stories; souvenirs that have no meaning except to me..."
'The rhythms of getting through a day..."
However, having taken more than a look at Bringing It All Back Home, we are in no doubt that Ian's stories and reminiscences will strike many different chords with readers. It's a musical journey, but as Ian tells us, it's also a soundtrack for Featherstone. TV screenwriter and playwright Alan Plater says: "Ian describes it, astutely, as the soundtrack to a life and the music embraces everything from half-forgotten music hall songs to the outer limits of jazz, blues and folk. But beneath these sounds he hears the secret music of the common people - from the mining towns of Yorkshire to the Mississippi Delta - the joy of community and the devastation of loss and betrayal."
There's no doubt about it, the book's the thing, but we thought asking Ian a few questions might give us just a little bit of a taster:
Bringing It All Back Home seems to be a book which is as much about life as about music. How closely do you think the two are linked?
I think this is a book about living, learning and music, though not necessarily in that order. I always find it difficult to separate what I do from what I'm interested in. Music is important to my life because I'm interested in the rhythms of getting through a day and I like songs that say things to me about what people are experiencing in places I'm not familiar with.
You've done a lot of travelling. Can you say what it is that has always brought you back to Featherstone?
My gran liked to tell a story from her childhood about a cheeky kid who lived next door to them. One Sunday afternoon his mother must have asked him to go for a walk and in response he said: "What's the point in going for a walk when you've only to come back again!" In a lot of ways that sums up my attitude to travel. I think it's important to come back again and bring things with you: ideas, stories, ways, souvenirs. Featherstone is my home, I have to come back here.
From the 1893 'Featherstone Massacre' (when striking miners were shot out by soldiers) to the 1984 Strike and pit closures, do you think the town and its people have had something of a raw deal?
Working class towns like Featherstone always get a raw deal. You don't see pound shops in middle class suburbia. You don't see old miners fighting for breath on the Stray in Harrogate. Towns like this get a raw deal because of what they are, what they did, and the opportunities for doing anything different are limited. If somebody gave me a lot of money to build something in Featherstone I wouldn't go down the old tired road of building a factory or industrial warehouse in the pretence of bringing jobs - I'd build a first class theatre or opera house, then things might alter!
Do you think it's possible to come up with a soundtrack for Featherstone?
A soundtrack for Featherstone is the one I have described in my book. Some days it's the blues, other times it's dancing cheek to cheek and then again it's my grandad joining in when the turn at the club sings, 'Knock three times on the ceiling if you want me.'
Throughout the book you talk about all sorts of music. Do you think we are far too ready to stick music into genres?
Music genres mean nothing to me. Asking me if I like jazz more than folk is like asking me if I like sardines more than porridge - I happen to be very fond of both.
You mention music hall star Marie Lloyd in the same breath as folk music...
Folk music is just people singing and playing about their experiences of life.
Why do you think Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith have so much to say to a lad from Featherstone?
I think if you're open to life and experience, then all sorts of people can say things that mean something to you. Billie Holiday sang about love and loss and betrayal and let downs, and Bessie Smith sang about sex. I think people in Featherstone know about all them things.
Dusty: One of Ian's Desert Island Discs!
If sometime in the future you are asked to choose some music to take to a desert island, what do you think you would ask for?
I would take to a desert island some of T Bone Walker's blues, the recordings Billie Holiday did with Ben Webster, a sprinkle of Dusty Springfield, a bit of T-Rex and, if you ask me tomorrow, I might tell you something different!
Which work of fiction has had most meaning for you?
A Kestrel For A Knave [Barry Hines' novel which was later made into the film, Kes] though I'm not sure that it is entirely a work of fiction. I like Oliver Twist as well, though the same goes for that. One of the best works of fiction I've read is Billie Holiday's Lady Sings The Blues, and that's an autobiography!
Can you pass a charity shop without going in to see if there is a vinyl gem hidden away inside?
I think charity shops have become wise to people like me sniffing for vinyl gems though I do feel pangs when I go near them.
Do you look forward to a time when all music is downloaded from the internet?
[Ian Clayton's Bringing It All Back Home is published by Route]
last updated: 18/07/2008 at 14:28