In another post we have the 1975 album by the Mountain Ash Band, a concept album based on Job
Senior - a Hermit on The Ilkley Moors. Colin Cripps, who reasearched and played on the album has sent me cd versions of the song and this introduction. This limited edition of The Hermit became a cult album, hard to get hold of and despite Colin's misgivings about the album expressed here, it's still an excellent album and moving story in my opinion.
Colin Cripps is author of Popular Music in 20th C (which takes you from Blues to Two Tone with musical exercises and background for use with music departments in schools and colleges)
Introduction to The Hermit by Colin Cripps - May 2007
From 1971 to 1974 I had had a life 'on the edge' in . Politically, I was running a community newspaper - The Willenhall Estate News - and organising rent strikes because of the state of the city's housing stock. I felt passionately about the situation In Northern and was under Special Branch Surveillance as a result. I was part of the squatter's movement in the city and was living in Ivy Walk (now tarquin Way!) with every drug dealer, racist and prostitute as a neighbour. I was doing a lot of grass and a few trips and i had a relationship that was gradually and painfully coming apart. Above all I was a guitar player/songwriter without a band or a voice. I was burnt out and desperate to make a change that would get my life back into shape.
In 1974 the opportunity presented itself to make a new start up in Yorkshire
in a kind of small scale 'commune' in Addingham on the side of Ilkley Moor. The setting was idyllic but unfortunately not enough to save my marriage and I ended up living in a box-room in the house of Geoff Bowen, the fiddle player in the Mountain Ash band - which, at the time, was a caileidh band I was playing in as well as having a line-up that was a regular feature on the local folk-club scene with ex-wife Lynda as part of the set-up.
I was attracted to the local folk story of the Hermit I suppose because it had resonances for my own situation at the time: I certainly could not claim that a centrally-heated box-room was anything like living under a dry stone wall on the moors but I guess i felt, like Job Senior, that an important part of me had died, that I was alone and and that I needed a rebirth. When Ray King, a friend from Willenhall, visited I told him the folk tale and he tuned in immediately and came up with a great set of lyrics. They had no verse and chorus structure because Ray was a poet not a songwriter, but there was enough to work with.
The track 'A Long Winter' was one that came from the kind of magical happening that comes once a life time. I was staying with some friends in a place called White Wells, halfway up the side of Ilkley Moor. I had been struggling with what to do with the lyrics to 'Long Winter' for a couple of weeks. I remember having an unsettled night and waking up early one morning before anyone else was up. I went outside with my acoustic and, where normally there was Ilkley, now there was just a floor of mist filling the whole valley. It came just up to my feet and i felt like i could walk all the way to Blubberhouses Moor on it. It was transcendent! I sat down with the guitar and the song came out whole, first go, complete, perfect, without any conscious thought or control. You have to treasure times like those.
Recording the album was a problematic affair. Martin Carter and Graham Jones were professionals on the folk circuit at the time and were good enough to make space to rehearse the piece but I was looking for a Richard Thompson feel that I never quite achieved: in retrospect that was because i couldn't play the guitar like him, especially not on a Zenta Telecaster copy! We recorded the whole thing in a converted church studio in with a guy who did the sound for ITV variety programmes on the desk. We could afford so little studio time and worked solidly over endless hours for two days: one day to record everything and the next to do any overdubs and mix-down. By the time it came to record the vocals we were already exhausted and by mixing time I had no ears left for nuance and no time to re-record anything.
We performed the piece in its entirety at as a multi-media
event ( we had slides! ) and managed not only to sell the place out but also to lose money. Nonetheless the whole thing seems to have been universally loved, both album and event, and lives on despite itself. I am proud of the songs and proud that we managed to record it despite the personal dynamics. It's a piece of music i keep coming back to thinking that I wish i could re-record it to sound the way it did in my head but the Mountain Ash band is scattered to the four winds and could probably not even co-exist inside a room together nowadays. Sean Mansley, the narrator, is sadly long since deceased and I have no idea what has happened to Ray King, poet extraordinaire; he was a reprobate of the best kind and I am so glad he passed through my life!
I am eternally flattered that people still want to listen to The Hermit and forever sad that I cannot bear to put it on my CD player...
(The lyrics and audio are in another post on here.)