Friday, 31 August 2007

5 Questions for Clive Leyland

1. For audiences that aren’t familiar with you or your music, tell them a bit about what they have in store if they come to ‘An Evening With Clive Leyland’ at the Octagon?

It’ll be just me, solo, with a collection of original songs accompanied on acoustic guitar or piano. Some will be from my CD, A Northern Man relating to either Bolton’s or my own family’s history.

Others will be songs on any subject I’ve chosen to write about – love, loss, relationships, personal philosophy, social commentary, “life the universe and everything”, plus a bit of humour – what James Taylor calls “singer/songwritery stuff”. A couple of instrumental things too. And some chat in between.

I play sitting down these days, so it’ll be relaxed and informal. Comments from the audience will be invited and there’s the odd chorus or two to join in with.

2. You came to folk-music relatively late what was it about folk music that appeals to / inspires you?

Short question, long answer! Setting aside the “folk” thing for a minute, I actually came to “music” very early and I’ve been involved in music all my life, including acting as musical director and composing for stage shows.

I’m not concerned about labelling my music. The “folk” tag came about through discovering, around the mid 90’s, that the most likely place to get new songs heard without being specifically booked, was the folk club circuit – where they have “sessions” and “singarounds” and “floor spots”. All but the most traditional clubs don’t really care whether what you play is “folk music” or not so I fitted right in.

One of my earliest engagements as a folk musician was in a dramatisation of Flora Thompson’s “Lark Rise” by Bolton Little Theatre in 1997 – a “promenade” production in the grounds of Smithills Hall. Around the same time I’d joined Auld Triangle, the house band at Westhoughton Folk Club and, mainly via Bolton’s Howcroft folk club, met up with the people with whom I eventually founded Bandersnatch. All these things came together to spark my interest in the folk tradition as an adjunct to writing my own material.

Anyone who plays an acoustic guitar is generally thought of as a folk musician but this is a generalisation. Even the term “acoustic music” is misleading as amplification is often involved and I even use an electric guitar in some shows. And you can play convincing rock music on an acoustic.
Having said that, folk song is a recognisable form. Traditional folk music tends to be songs whose composer is unknown and which have evolved over the years, sometimes into many different versions – arguments rage constantly about which is the “right” one. It tends to tell stories about real people from any time period, that people today can still relate to today. Its style lends itself to telling more contemporary stories too. So there are many musicians on the folk circuit who perform no “traditional” material but write their own in a folk / acoustic style. Several of my own songs come from finding a real-life story that no-one’s written a song about (sometimes concerning my own family) and making up a “folk song” around it, or from finding a poem or the words to a traditional song that I haven’t heard a tune for, and setting these to music myself.

The debate about what is folk music goes on and on. In my view, folk music is music written by folk – like any other kind. I’m with Louis Armstrong when he said “all music is folk music; you ain't never heard no horse sing a song have you?”.

3. You mention on your website you were influenced by The Shadows, Chuck Berry, The Hollies, and later Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Crosby, Still & Nash to name a few. Where else do you find your inspiration for your own work and are their any recent musicians / bands that you admire?

All of those you mention, and many more, are still influences, particularly in instrumental style. Other life-long influences include Debussy and Beethoven. More recently (a sign of age?) – Mahler and Bruckner. Over the last few years I’ve met and worked alongside many leading artists on the folk scene (that word again) such as John Tams, Allan Taylor, Fairport Convention, Dougie MacLean and too many more to mention. All are inspirational in different ways. For sheer enthusiasm and the ability to play powerful blues and rock in a small venue, Animals and Friends (the current incarnation of the original Animals) are the business. Any type of music performed well and with feeling is fine by me - classical, blues, rock, folk, choral, brass band, jazz ……… whatever.

Inspiration for particular songs can come from anywhere. A phrase, a book title, a news item, an experience, a comment, a thought. Sometimes a “noodle” on guitar or piano can trigger a bit of tune or just a mood that some words seem naturally to fit into. The standby if you’re really stuck is to tune the guitar to something weird and just fiddle about and see what happens! As for technique, I say flippantly that the first 40 years are the hardest; it gets a bit easier after that. But I’m not very interested in technique for its own sake; I like songs or tunes that say something and reach people and sometimes these are the simplest.

4. What inspired you to use Bolton as the basis of your album ‘A Northern Man’?

Well I lived there for over 60 years! I started researching my family history a good few years ago and discovered stories about them and about the related local history that gave rise to songs. The ancestors of all four of my grandparents lived in Bolton, Blackrod, Rivington or Chorley for a minimum of 200 years and, in at least one case, probably upwards of 400 years. After a while I realised that these songs were forming a chronological “snapshot” of life in and around Bolton over a couple of hundred years.

It’s always assumed that Lancashire had no history before the Industrial Revolution started – around 1780. This is obviously not true – we just know very little about it. The CD opens with a song about a farmer (one of my great great great grandfathers) who, in 1803, had to leave the land which his family had worked since at least the mid 1600’s and try to find work in “Cotton Town”. Looking at the view from Scout Road one day, I was struck by how little the underlying landscape must have changed despite the ravages of the mills and the mines. This is the “framing device” for the CD – man’s works fade away but nature survives.

5. I believe you have performed at the Octagon a few times over the years. Does it hold any special memories?

I’ve appeared twice as part of Auld Triangle when we opened concerts by Sean and Dolores Keane and by Eddi Reader, Clive Gregson and Boo Hewerdine. Great atmosphere, great audiences, very enjoyable. It’ll be good to be back!

Clive Leyland will be performing in the Octagon's William Hare Bar on Tuesday 4th September. Click here for more information and to buy tickets.

Images courtesy of:

Roger Liptrott , Anglezarke
Ian Austen, Westhoughton Folk Club

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Barrie Rutter's Rehearsal Diary - part 1

Barrie Rutter is the Founder and Artistic Director of Northern Broadsides the multi-award wining touring company based in the historic Dean Clough Mill in Halifax. He is also playing the part of Old Man Mars in Lisa's Sex Strike . This is his diary......

Day 1
I love first days – new words, new folk, new tour, new mates – made all the sweeter by the Octagon’s famed tremendous audience response, good at any time but greater still as we are the first play in the 40th year celebrations.

We were last here in 2001 with Oedipus and Cracked Pot, both by Blake Morrison as is Lisa’s Sex Strike out of Lysistrata by Aristophanes but not since more's the pity. But we're glad to be back. Rehearsals have started, tickets are selling well so you might want to buy yours now, just so you don't miss us!

So the pleasure is all ours to be invited to kick off this years’ terrific programme.
Rehearsal photography: Nobby Clark
Day 2
Blake Morrison and Conrad Nelson, the Director, have served up a text which is light years away from the severe, faithful narrative that I read four months ago – a mouth-watering feast of verbal dexterity and invention, with more changes to come as Blake hears actor’s voices for the first time, delighting in the creative juices released with utterances. Many songs have appeared, more yet may. It’s wonderful to have a poet in rehearsal – two, in fact, as Con’s a poet of music, recent Tempest as evidence.

Overnight edits and new lines allow Blake to catch the 2 o’clock back to his family in Greenwich – there’s plenty to work on ‘til he arrives back next week with more. More – give us more: how exciting!

Rehearsal photography: Nobby Clark

Day 4
Suddenly the building’s louder, fuller – staff and production crew back from holiday; Youth Theatre running to and from the BNT; the Spotlight CafĂ© open to the public and most of our 14 actors in every day – singing, dancing, learning going on around every corner. It’s buzzing.

Day 5
A day off for me. The first time ever in the history of Northern Broadsides.

Day 6
Return to find a chorus of whistling appendages (!) – you’ll just have to see the show, I am not giving anything else away – and a tumbling, trotting, truncheon-toting troupe of silly police of course!

Ambling around the Precinct and popping in to place a bet do I detect a less than favourable atmosphere towards the chap known as ‘Little Sam’? Hmmm. If I do it fits in with mine, being a supporter of the Tigers of Hull City, similarly throwing away home advantage on the first day of the new season. Good job the horse wins, and I whistle away with £30.

Day 7
I’m a God! Many have suspected this for some time I know but the vagaries of Aries, God of War (Mars to the Romans) are now realised in a half-deaf, half- blind, hip replacement needing old geezer from Hull – that’s me!

Another Day.....

A frightening day, a nervous day, a ‘will-I-get-found-out’ day – choreographers in!

The girls love it of course. The lads love watching the girls of course!! It’s always delightful to see the grace that women’s bodies seem to naturally possess. And as always, the movement queen herself is just sensuality on legs….

A serious discussion ensues on how men walk when armed with a certain theatrically enhanced, mechanical strap-on, battery operated 'prop'. Intrigued? You might just have to come and see the show! Oh girls, what you don’t know or haven’t observed – we waddle. Relaxed sauntering is not possible. So it’s legs slightly apart too when stood at attention.

It’s gratifying to know that a certain mechanical prop rescues the possessor from intricate dancing steps. So, being condemned for having two left feet is put off for another day. What’s more the girls will be in various Ann Summers garbs at this stage in the show and so will carry the ‘dance’. For this relief much thanks. “Relief”? Oh stop it Rutter….

All the world wide web is a stage

Welcome to the inaugural post on the Octagon's new blog! We have decided to launch a blog to keep a record of various goings on during the 40th Anniversary Season and beyond and give audiences a glimpse at what might go on behind the scenes at a successful producing theatre.

Quite simply it is a place to put things and publish information additional to that which features on our website. Not only that, it allows are audiences to get involved and comment on what's happening at the Octagon. If you feel you'd like to have more of a say then we'd welcome your words. You might feel like writing a review of one of our productions, a piece about a member of the cast or creative team you admire or even to simply send us your memories and experiences of visiting the Octagon Theatre. Any aspiring contributors can email information to

During Summer the theatre has been dark so not much happening from a performance point of view but allowing us time to dust ourselves off after the launch and end of Spring Summer 2007 season and get ourselves in shape for the 40th Anniversary Season. New carpets have been laid, bits of painting done - check out our new Ruby Red Stage door - new banners on the front of the building and automatic doors installed and much more.

Over the last couple of weeks though it feels as though things stage-wise are really starting to happen. The cast are in rehearsing Lisa's Sex Strike which is looking great and you can read about how rehearsals are progressing from the perspective of one of the cast and activ8 Youth Theatre have been running their summer school and working hard on their production of Millboys, Chavs and Space Cadets - a multimedia musical journey through past, present and future of Youth Culture in Bolton that celebrates local talent and the rich culture of Bolton.

So after months of preparation, the Anniversary Season kicks off next week with music from Clive Leyland and the opening night of Lisa's Sex Strike. We look forward to welcoming you and celebrating our Anniversary Season with the audiences that make this theatre such an exciting place to be. It's going to be a blast........