The album, Child of the Hollow Way, has a narrative but the story doesn’t always belong to me.  It's based on personal experience, albeit one that sometimes avoids reality and is a journey that has no start or end point – in fact, it’s going round again as I write.  It is rooted in the collective unconscious that I believe binds us all.  An oral history that has the words sometimes left unspoken.  A shadow, a rustle, a dog bark, a murmur in the trees, a ripple in the water, a whisper in the grass or the sound of an mill engine in the distance.

      It can be your story but it is also the story of those who have gone before – one they can give to you and one you can hold on to and preserve for those who come after.  But remeber, it doesn’t just belong to you.

      We all have the Child of the Hollow Way inside us – it can be the knowledge that you don’t have to meet someone to know them, go somewhere to have been there, or the ability to have lived a life without drawing a single breath. We just need to find the best way to let it out.  It may come to you very quickly or, as in my case, it may take nearly a lifetime.  It may be as music, or poetry, or painting, or photography – just close your eyes and let it develop, in whatever way feels right for you.  It is an archetype, one of the ghosts within the machine, a collection of unconscious memories, messages hastily written on a wall or paving stone, meanings found between the pages of books or some notes that someone has whistled into the wind or sung into the ether.

      For me, it was born out of an increasing understanding that I “belonged” within the back streets, mills and chimneys, abandoned tin mines, tumuli, packhorse bridges, derelict ground and wild places of East Lancashire – a realisation that I was part of the landscape, the trees and wildlife, the stone walls, the clouds, the smoke and steam, the curlew’s cry, and the people around me.  It was a memory of my mother disappearing into the fog on the way to work, silver fish glinting in the hearth, the travelling fair arriving in the night, the cinder track, swans and ducks on the lake, my grandma’s labyrinthine cellar, the canal and the warthog skull in the attic – a realisation that I was so much more than just “me”: like one of those exotic, rarely seen sea creatures that is a collection of individuals but exists as one cohesive animal.

      Some people may say that this is one for Pseud’s Corner in Private Eye: that I’m being enigmatic and obscure to create an effect or impress.  If you’re one of them, I’m sorry, I can understand and accept your opinion, but you’re wrong.  I can’t explain things properly because I don’t fully understand them myself and have to speak in feelings and images rather than facts and absolutes.  Child of the Hollow Way is a stream of consciousness and so is this.  To really understand its meaning, why not jump into the stream yourself and see where it takes you?  If you can do that I’ve done my job. 


Just make sure Jinny Greenteeth isn't watching!


The Tracks Explained(ish)

Child of the Hollow Way  

Inspired by the book “Holloway” by Robert Macfarlane, Stanley Donwood and Dan Richards; a chance encounter, and the work of Carl Gustav Jung, the song (and the album) grew out of memories of the secret, hidden wild places that I used to seek out in my teens. Most of them were technically not true "holloways" but rather old packhorse routes; copses; abandoned, derelict and shadowy places; and moorland, forever haunted by the cries of curlews. And no, I’m not the child of the hollow way - but I have met her!

A Handloom Weaver’s Tale 

 The Industrial Revolution brought about huge changes to the lives and livelihoods of the handloom weavers and their families, due to the impact of mechanisation and the drive to cut production costs. Work was lost, homes were lost, families were relocated or scattered, and independence and the right to make choices was taken away. Being a handloom weaver wouldn’t have been an easy life either but it was a specific “way of life” that was lost forever, along with the industry. I have a very vivid image of the weaver and the room she’s sitting in – I often wonder whose memory it is!


 I wanted to write a song about the Pendle/Lancashire “witches” but found it very difficult due to the complexity of issues that surround the events, and the untruths that become evident when you dig below the “old hag on a broomstick”/Halloween/commercialism surface that we have today. Many of the accounts of the time suggest that local “cunning folk” were often called in to treat sick animals and prevent water and crop failures – if things went well they were paid (well, sometimes); if they didn’t, they were often branded as witches. The song tries to highlight some of the events and the issues but can only scratch the surface.  Mouldheels (Katherine Hewitt, a clothier from Colne) was one of the ten people (women and men) tried at Lancaster Assizes and sent to the gallows on 20th August 1612.  She doesn’t get as much prominence as the Redfernes, Southerns, Devices et al, so I thought I’d give her a moment in the spotlight.


 When I was about nine, a doctor warned me that I should never smoke or work down the pit.  There were no miners (that I know of) in my immediate family but I’ve known people who worked at Bank Hall in Burnley and the Cliviger pit, several of whom have happy memories of life underground.  However, this song was triggered by my own, darker memories of the Hapton Colliery disaster on 22nd March 1962 when sixteen miners (some as young as 16) died in an explosion caused by firedamp; although it doesn’t directly refer to that event but rather the accounts of miners down the ages who thought of firedamp, chokedamp and afterdamp as spectres that haunted them, their families and communities throughout their lives.  The song doesn’t tell you explicitly but it’s written from the perspective of both miners and their partners, who also had to live in constant fear of an accident.

 Jinny Greenteeth

My first home was situated at the bottom of a “cobbled” street between the Leeds Liverpool Canal and Pendle Water, with a lake in the park for good measure.  The malevolent spirit, Jinny Greenteeth, was a regular presence who we were warned about any time we ventured near the water.  Some said the duckweed that floated on the surface was her hair or that tree roots in the water were her spindly, bony fingers.  She was a useful tool to use for scaring younger children (me included) but she did serve a purpose and probably saved a few lives in her own way.  When we moved house to the edge of town and I wandered around instead in the wild streams and boggy places, Jinny didn’t come with me – or maybe she did!

A Jacquard Loom Weaver’s Tale

This song is very loosely based on my dad, who lost his job in the mill soon after being trained up on Jacquard looms - but it really belongs to all the workers whose lives were radically changed by the closure of the cotton mills caused, in no small part, by production being moved to countries where production costs and overheads were more "competitive". It must have been a difficult time for my mum and dad (although I know they tried hard not to let it impact on me) but he ended up as a postman and had a very happy (and sometimes eventful) working life during which he gained the reputation of a sort of pedestrian version of Postman Pat.  One of his routes was a nine mile hike (no vans in those days) around Pendleside which took in some of the farms and places that are mentioned in the accounts of the witch trials. The song is supposed to pair with the Handloom Weaver’s Tale to demonstrate that sooner or later it all goes round again (see below).


My dad did some insurance collecting for a while, knocking on doors and trying to get payment. We had the milkman, window cleaner, rent man, even the knocker up once, calling but, fortunately, we never had a call from the tallyman (debt collector) – not that I know of anyway.  But I remember a neighbour “coming round for a brew” to escape the tallyman’s call, and must have known many families who were troubled by debt, particularly in my earlier years. The modus operandi of the more unscrupulous tallymen was to prey upon the “lady of the house” and get them to sign up for goods on the “never never” with false promises and exorbitant rates of interest – they then visited weekly for the payments. Strangely, the song (and the accompanying tune, called Sugar Stealer) ended up being a bit “jolly” but the threat of the tallyman must have been anything but!

Seven Whistlers

On the surface, this is another song about pits and pitmen as the cry of the Seven Whistlers (probably curlews) was feared as a portent of impending disaster – they were supposedly heard just prior to the disaster at the Hartley pit in Northumberland that claimed 204 lives.  However, they also have connections with superstition and folklore, with tales of a single whistler forever roaming the moors in search of her six sisters. The cry of curlews certainly doesn’t scare me (in fact it always reminds me of home) but it does take me back to days in the wilder places when it would drift across my path and “whistle down the wind” – the curlews tell a story about being alone in the wild open spaces and the magic spells those places weave.

It’s Going Round (Again)

Things do seem to have a habit of repeating themselves over the years.  The song is partly based on my own memories and the collective ones that I believe we possess, and also contains some elements from a couple of songs that never quite saw the light of day.  However, it also sits a little bit apart as it lives very much in the present and is my rant at the people who don’t care, think only for themselves and always try to blame someone else for their failings and failures – and who I despise but feel powerless to do anything about these days!!