Extracts from Sounding the Century

Foreword by Chris Ackroyd

From Vol. 1, Glimpses of Far Off Things

Keighley? Nobody knows where it is, or how to spell it, nor how to pronounce it, or so they say. I grew up here in the nineteen-fifties and sixties, so quite some time after Bill was in this area... Incidentally, I became a Young Communist in the same upstairs room where our folk club took place. I did! You had to be sworn in. It was a big deal. I was 16 years old. I became a Young Communist in the same room where we had our folk club! I mean, that’s what they were there for. Pubs originally were meant for weddings and seventieth birthday parties and stuff like that. I think I’ve told you before, we’d meet on a Wednesday evening, if it was Wednesday. This one-armed guy would come over from Halifax and tell us what jumped-up middle-class burkes we were. He used to harangue us. I’d never been harangued. This one-armed madman from Halifax. That was in the Star Hotel on North Street.

Chris Ackroyd and the author discuss the work in progress in Hebden Bridge, September 8, 2017.

A Great Day at Wortley Hall, 1956

From Vol. 1, Glimpses of Far Off Things

The WMA’s Annual Report of 1957, a grim read, is relieved by a single line, “A gross surplus of £87 was made by the WMA Summer School.” “They went on for many, many years at Wortley Hall, and they were always exceptionally successful, culturally and socially and sexually.” (Yes, by the late fifties the dormitories of old had been replaced by small, individual rooms with their own washbasins, a big boost to the sex lives of participants.) Lecturers included composer Alan Bush, brass band composer Alfred Ashpole, physicist/choirmaster/skiffler John Hasted, organist/conductor Arnold Goldsbrough, Philip Hecht, erstwhile sub-principal of the Hallé Orchestra, and singer Felicity Bolton, who lived on the top floor of Bishops Bridge Road.

Bill and Gloria (semi-obscured), far left, second row standing; Alex and Louise Eaton, characteristically radiant, below the man in the white t-shirt astride the Ionic column, right; Wendy Corum, hand resting on the jutting stone, is raised beside the Ionic column, left. We score highest for identification with the front seated row: unknown, Will Sahnow, Arnold Goldsbrough, Felicity Bolton, Alan Bush, Philip Hecht, unknown.

Nance and the Barrel-organ

From Vol. 1, Glimpses of Far Off Things

The children straddled the old and new centuries, and were so numerous that patterns of hair colour began to repeat, like geological strata. The Victorians, Nance and Lou had black hair; Molly was auburn like Harry and Patrick who followed her (it was remarkable how alike the two boys looked). The Edwardians, Lil, Teddy and Jim, reverted to black. Would Kit, born in 1914, count as Georgian? The whole lot had blue eyes except for Pat, whose eyes were green, and all had long, tapering fingers, a distinctive family trait.

The advantage of a big family, when such abundance was commonplace, was that children could be relied upon to entertain themselves. In this way eight were less trouble than one or two, although child rearing in quantity brought its own problems. It went hard on the eldest, for example, to be always expected to mind the juniors. Nance was impulsive by nature, and once abandoned her siblings to follow a barrel-organ through the streets, skipping to the music as she went. The escapade quickly entered family folklore. The runaway was never allowed to forget it. Emigration to the States was not proof against the circulation of the story. On a visit to the old country her niece Jo met her with, “Oh Aunt Nance, you’re the one who dances after barrel-organs.”

“Who told you that? Our Lou?” asked Nance sharply.

Yes, except Jo’s father, Patrick, had told her the same story.

(Illustration by Peter Seal)

The Army Game

From Vol. 1, Glimpses of Far Off Things

“Each regiment had a riot drill: you formed a square of soldiers, each file looking outwards, to the left, to the right, to the front and to the rear, and the point of the drill was to proceed up the street in a square, with rifles pointing outwards. Everybody had a rifle, except for the fellow who carried a bugle. Oh, and one other fellow. And on the command from the officer, the bugle player would play his bugle (that’s interesting: I don’t know what he played on his bugle), he played his bugle, and the other person who didn’t have a rifle had a placard, which he held up and which said in English and Chinese, DISPERSE OR WE FIRE! We were there to make sure they dispersed. And we fired if they didn’t.

“It wasn’t a defensible place. Just occasionally they got a bit uppity, because the other side of the border was communist, and the Korean War was on. Every now and again we formed up in the mornings and the sergeant would say, ‘Anybody who wants to volunteer for Korea, take two paces forward.’ One time everyone took two steps back leaving me standing alone. They all laughed.”

Hardcastle Hearts

From Vol. 1, Glimpses of Far Off Things

As a young bride, Gloria saw her friends marry. Many of them were Hardcastle hearts like herself. Alex and Louise seemed to carry mutual bliss over to married life, and Louise slipped gracefully into motherhood. Gloria, for her part, had an absent husband and lived with her parents-in-law. She was grateful that Bill Snr and Lou were such good parents-in-law, but it did inhibit her from flitting about the place, duster in hand, like a good fifties housewife. The extra allowance paid to servicemen’s wives wasn’t very romantic, but it came in useful. Because she also saved on rent, Gloria soon had enough to buy a grand second-hand armchair. She thought it would be a nice surprise for Bill when he got back from soldiering in Hong Kong. Alas, when she got the chair home to 13 Park Grove, it was discovered to be full of moths. Gloria felt like crying.

José Luis Tovar González

From Vol. 1, Glimpses of Far Off Things

José Luis Tovar González was a lad of Bill’s age (10) from San Sebastián, placed with the Leaders by the Basque Children’s Committee, part of the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief, which co-ordinated aid to Spain. The evacuation of Basque Refugees – the children of Republican homes, not all of them Basque – commenced in 1937. Boats chartered by the Basque government embarked from Bilbao to Britain, Belgium, the Soviet Union and Mexico. José was one of nearly 4,000 children who arrived at Southampton Docks on May 23, 1937, on the cruise-ship Habana. A nice little boy, according to Maggie Leader. José was charming and handsome, confirms Bill, and quickly picked up the language. Yet Maggie detected an atmosphere. She couldn’t put her finger on the cause. I can reveal that it was Bill.

“We didn’t get along, because in my immature way, I just treated him as a rival for my parents’ affection. I didn’t go and kick him when he wasn’t looking or anything like that. It was just my overall, unsympathetic attitude towards him. Very infantile. But I was only an infant.”

José stayed with the Leaders for a matter of months in 1940, before the move to Keighley cut short the fostering and he was returned to the care of the Basque Children’s Committee.

The Battle of Bexley Square

From Vol. 1, Glimpses of Far Off Things

Two policemen are wrestling with a young boy. His face is streaming with blood, and behind them an inspector jumps about, truncheon raised, trying to get in a blow. The boy is shouting, “Unity, unity, unity, unity.” It is the word of the day. Under the blows of the police and the provocation of the Blackshirts the East End is being welded into a solid, united mass with a single idea – Mosley shall not pass. The police finally get their man away. It took about fifty of them to make one arrest there.

(Illustration and words Jim Boswell, courtesy of Sal Shuel)

The Ballad of Christ the Worker

From Vol. 2, Horizons for Some: 1956-1962

“Sad family, the Behans,” says Stan Kelly. “I’ve got a picture of Brendan asleep during a rehearsal of Dominic's play Posterity Be Damned. Bert Lloyd did a one-line review of it: ‘Nothing to declare’. It’s sad because Dominic had at least one success, and it was called The Ballad of Christ the Worker. Does that ring a bell? It’s lost. BBC seem to have destroyed all reference to it. I played St Peter, and Judy Collins played the Virgin Mary, which Dominic thought was very appropriate.”

“What, the American folk singer, Judy Collins?”

“Oh, Shirley, sorry. I always mix them up. I owe a lot to both of them. I owe more to Judy than Shirley, I think, because Judy’s version of ‘Liverpool Lullaby’ was very up in the hit parade.”

Judy Collins sang ‘Liverpool Lullaby’ on her 1966 album, In My Life, which, along with the Lennon-McCartney title track, included ‘La Colombe’ and ‘Pirate Jenny’.

“Yes, In My Life. A good place to be. Whenever I get some money from that LP I know that the Beatles estate and Jacques Brel and Bertold Brecht are all getting an equal amount. And I think, lucky sods.”

Stan’s slip is only momentary. After all, who could forget Shirley Collins in her bloom?

“When Shirley and I were playing together a lot, we did a joint concert at Cecil Sharp House, and I still remember her joke was, ‘Stan and I epitomise the word incompatibility. He’s got the income, and I’ve got the patibility.’ That’s very good.”