LENDANEAR: NOW AND THEN
I fell in love with poetry through listening to the lyrics of old songs my dad would sing as he drove the family on weekend trips throughout my childhood such as On The Street Where You Live, Unforgettable and A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square. In one of my early jobs as a young man, my employer’s head office was in Berkeley Square, which seemed a strange bit of serendipity at the time.
I had started writing poetry at the secondary-not-very-modern Heys Road School For Boys in Prestwich. I was inspired, in an almost Dead Poets Society manner, by a teacher called Noel Drury who was prepared to read my non-curricular efforts and offer patient advice and encouragement. Standing at over six feet tall, or so it seemed to me then, and bald but with a halo of red hair around the perimeter of his head, he looked like an angel, but he could be a devil of a teacher. In those nineteen sixties days when ‘whacking’ was allowed he would call miscreants out in front of the class to his desk, and tell them to bend over. From the top of his desk he would lift the largest, heaviest leather-bound bible you could imagine. He would then hoist it, two handed, and deliver thumping blows to the pupil’s bottom.
‘You have been smote by the wrath of God,’ Drury would remind us as we limped, pained and embarrassed, back to our place.
I still have some of the poems I wrote then and asked him to read and I still love all the canonical poetry he introduced me to during class time and in his own extra, and unpaid, time after school. Mr. Drury didn’t tell me to ‘learn them off by heart’ but instead taught me how to interrogate them, how to evaluate them and to understand them. He must have noticed, but seemed not to mind, that my poetry edged more towards the contemporary lyrics of folk-pop than to Alexander Pope.
‘Sir’ ensured, though, that I gave very careful consideration to the selection of the precise, or deliberately imprecise, word and that I learned how to plot a narrative. In short, he taught me to have fun as I learned, and that surely, is the art of teaching.
Some years later, I was a married young buck with a wife, living in our first house, on Kirkstall Avenue, in Heywood, only half a mile from my parents and brother, enjoying the freedoms and fears of manhood. I feared more than anything that the day might come, and it seemed then as if it could arrive very soon, and indeed it did, when I would feel trapped in a dead end job that I hated.
I could well have been fretting on that notion on the evening I stood outside, in our still uncultivated garden, (Dee just hadn’t got round to it yet and wasn’t much good with a rotavator) when I heard guitar and vocals floating gently through the evening air. Following the sound, I found a lad of about my age, a few houses away, sitting on his back door-step, singing a lovely song and picking some neat guitar behind it, with a chorus of something to do with fishes and coal. A life-long friendship was formed in a couple of laconic sentences.
‘s’a good song,’
‘who wrote it?’
Like all artists we talked to each other, already, in a kind of dismissive shorthand, and we still do.
Within a few weeks we were writing together and the legendary song-writing duo of Lever and Warwick was born. Despite my music teacher, Mr Wilson, telling my folks at a parents’ night that I was ‘tone deaf’, (they were worried sick, they thought he’d said stone deaf!) I now found I had a knack of fitting words to anything Colin heard in his head and then played with his hands. Similarly, Colin could take any words I threw at him and put them to a tune, so suddenly we had a mutually beneficial and equal partnership.
Nevertheless, the first couple of times we went to local folk clubs and dragged along my wife, Dee, and Colin’s good lady, Elaine, we would perform our floor spots to a very unimpressed audience of friends and acquaintances. Colin would perform some his own earlier songs and I, in our shared spot, would read some of the ‘poetry’ Mr. Drury had approved of.
For the next seven or eight years Dee hated those nights each week as she would feel obliged to accompany us to local folk clubs. Although there was a choice of forty or fifty clubs within our reach she felt the songs were repetitive, the artists indistinguishable and the raffles expensive.
Her point was perhaps best proved when, a generation later, long after Colin and I had disbanded, our son Andrew came over for a holiday from his home in Seoul where he and his South Korean wife, Sue, ran a private school and brought up their young daughter, Olivia. In the previous fifteen years over there Andrew had pretty much replicated my collection of folk, Americana and World Music and had taught himself to play John Stewart style banjo. He knew all the songs and came home desperate to go to a folk club. We, of course, accompanied him to a club Colin and I had played at least thirty years previously.
I kid you not, the same resident group came in, the regulatory half hour late, and began to perform a set Dee and I immediately recognised, to an audience of she and I and our son and his wife. There was no one else in the pub and even the barman was watching the snooker on the telly.
After a few songs I loved, the group turned to Andrew, nodded at his banjo and asked if he could play. He muttered and mumbled something about a jam session maybe, and suddenly, we were off. Froggy Went A Courtin’, (which amazingly Colin had occasionally thrown into Lendanear sets, performing it on guitar,) and Froggy was followed by more Pete Seger and Kingston Trio, and every banjo run we had ever heard in the folk clubs.
There followed an interval of longer than the first half had run for, during which a total of eight raffle tickets were sold, including one to each of the resident group. There were three prizes and none of us in the ‘audience’ won one. I wouldn’t have minded the third prize, which looked to me like an old Lendanear cassette !
The second half had us not only remembering some of the songs word for word, but also saw us able to recite the whole introduction to each one. All were indelibly stamped on our memories any way, and not a word had been changed all these years down the line.
However, back to where it all began, as Colin and I became very familiar with a song that seemed to be played everywhere we went. Ye Jacobites By Name was indeed a song that justified Dee’s complaint, but we nevertheless chose its chorus of ‘Lendanear’ for the name of the new duo we had decided to become.
Lendanear, we implored, but no one ever did.
However, re-masters of our albums are now available on the new Lendanear web site. and Colin has also recorded ten previously unreleased songs. We, of course, remember what Don McLean said, in Vincent, of those who disdained Van Gogh´s work. ´They did not listen. They did not know how. Perhaps they´ll listen now.´
Check out https://lendanearmusic.com/ for full details of new albums, re-packaged collections, podcast commentaries and Colin´s You Tube performances. It´s great for us to have all our collection of work in one easy to find space, and it also opens up all sorts of avenues still to explore with these songs. Doesn´t Cup Finals Every Night lend itself to a film extending that famous scene in Kes, or warrant a place in the Football Museum and surely Mr. Cole is a demon barber worthy of his own sit com. Our several songs dealing with the coal industry might make a short documentary for the National Coal Board Museum, and even just writing this article has me thinking about a history of folk clubs we have known and loved in the UK since the nineteen sixties folk revival.
I´d also like to explore why it seems now to be a rite of passage that every generation first ignores the music of its parents and creates its own sounds instead, before going back to the music of previous generations and then quickly leaping forward in time to create and refine new soundscapes for their own generation. My son learned to play banjo largely by listening to my old Kingston Trio albums on which John Stewart played. Andrew found my old Bela Fleck albums, too, and listened to those, then learned from several later Flecktones´ albums that hadn´t made it on to my shelves.
Colin and I, Lendanear as was and is, owe a debt to our sons. Matthew Lever designed a web site that has dragged his dad, and me, into the twenty first century and his younger brother Aiden filmed the You Tube gigs for the site. My son, Andrew, from thousands of miles away in South Korea, is a constant source of new inspirations in the way of films, books, or music I might otherwise miss by being so stuck with my singer-writers from the last century !
So, it really is a case of Lendanear now and then, with our own sons sending us back to the future. Its alright, it´s only music.
When asked why he wrote songs, John Stewart replied by quoting his own lyric saying that ´some lonesome picker might find some healing in these songs.´ I think I write to explore rather than to explain though I know there are many who think I write simply because I like the sound of my own voice. These people know me too well. I think for Colin that writing helps him identify and consider what needs changing in this world. Why we write together is perhaps a much more interesting question. Nobody else finds the perfect soundscape for my hopes and fears and I think my words help Colin to sing to his audience what he might otherwise shout at them. Our forty year friendship started with music and continues with music. It is not always of perfect harmony and there have been fights along the way. But whenever either of us has something to say, in a world that doesn´t seem to care, we know that the other will always Lendanear !
This morning, on the day he launches our new Lendanear web site I have received an e mail that is so typically Colin and that summarises the Lendanear, and I hope the Sidetracks And Detours) approach to life. Even before morning has broken, Colin talks about how ´the cold light of day dampens expectations´ and that even though ´we have a life´s work captured for posterity´ we, like Steve Earle, ain´t ever satisfied. So, now we start the hard work of contacting folk music radio, country music stations, publishers and bands who might be interested in these songs. You might think we´re mad, and perhaps we are, but these songs still have light years to travel.