‘Never as popular as pie and peas’: Trevor Beales, Hebden Bridge’s lost musical son

In the early 1970s, life in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, was dreary, says Christine Beales. “It was dead. Growing up there you just had to get out.”

So she did. Christine lived in Rome between 1972 and 1974; and upon returning began a romance with a young folk singer named Trevor Beales, who had also felt the need to escape. He had been travelling in Europe and America; on the latter trip he carried stacks of demo tapes of music he’d made in the early 1970s to take to record companies. “He always had this strong belief in himself and that it was going to happen,” says Christine. “I loved his drive, zest and enthusiasm.”

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Christine and Trevor married in 1985 and had a daughter, Lydia, in 1986. Eighteen months after their wedding, Trevor died suddenly, aged just 33, from cryptosporidium, a type of parasite, which led to sepsis. His zeal and determination never led to a career in music. However, the songs that were on those demo tapes have now been collected for a new release: Fireside Stories (Hebden Bridge Circa 1971-1974), an album of fluid, finger-picked folk blues that recalls Bert Jansch and Michael Chapman. On the album, Beales counters clear technical rigour on the guitar with an unassuming deftness; his voice is as light and melodic as it is rich and warm. The whole thing is delivered with a palpable, Nick Drake-likeintimacy – partly a result of Beales’ having recorded it in the attic bedroom he lived in as a child.

The era of people desperate to flee Hebden Bridge sits in stark contrast to today. The bustling market town, with a vibrant arts and culture scene, has a population of less than 5,000 – but during peak months it pulls in nearly a quarter of a million visitors. Nearby Todmorden, once listed in the Crap Towns book as one of the worst places to live in the UK, is now a burgeoning hip destination that is dealing with the overflow. “Tod’s full,” one local says to me, only half-jokingly, when I go to visit Trevor’s old pals in the Golden Lion pub, which is filled with authors, musicians and artists.

But in the early 1970s, the Calder Valley’s reputation as a mecca for bohemians was yet to fully materialise. “You could virtually see tumbleweed rolling down the streets,” says Christine. “It wasn’t the sort of place young people wanted to hang out.” Some houses had yet to be sandblasted so remained soot-black from factory chimneys – a sight that Ted Hughes once called “the fouled nest of industrialisation”. In his liner notes for the album, local writer Benjamin Myers, author of The Offing, speaks about the era as “a monochrome world defined by its unforgiving surrounding landscapes”. Locals even went as far as to refer to the overwhelming grip of winter’s bleakest moments as “valley bottom fever”.

Despite the conditions, creativity flourished and there was a small number of active musicians in the area, one being Trevor. A precocious talent who loved James Taylor, Chet Atkins and Django Reinhardt, he was by his teenage years a gifted songwriter with a rich voice and storytelling knack that belied his age. Childhood friend and musician John Armstrong recalls him being inventive very early on. “When we were 12, Trevor told me he had built a spaceship in his cellar,” he says. “Said he’d been to the moon in it.” When Armstrong visited to see this audacious claim for himself, Beale really had manufactured a makeshift 10-foot-high conical structure that resembled a spaceship.

Beale’s desire to go beyond his immediate orbit was clear in his artistic ambitions, too. He quit school at 17 to focus on music. “He was self-effacing but ambitious,” recalls Wally Woodcock, who played with him in the band Havana Lake. Influenced by harmony heavy American pop-rock such as the Eagles and the Doobie Brothers, they released a solitary album, Concrete Valley, in 1977. “He had big plans,” says Woodcock.

He always had this strong belief in himself. I loved his drive, zest and enthusiasm

At first Havana Lake had a meagre but unique local following. “We played working men’s clubs but it was a mixed reception,” says Woodcock. “You’re never as popular as pie and peas or bingo. For some reason we had a bit of a following from the Satan’s Slaves, who were the Shipley equivalent of the Hells Angels. Which was odd.” Eventually, they got a manager and gigged in London. “Of course, we’re all thinking there’d be record company executives and we’d get signed and we’d be sorted, but there wasn’t and we didn’t.”

Punk exploded, tastes changed, and the band fizzled out. Trevor and Christine moved to London in late 1977, eventually settling in Bournemouth, with Trevor giving up on his dreams of entering the industry. Trevor’s departure from Hebden coincided with its emergence as a musical epicentre; hippies were lured there by cheap property, empty buildings to squat and beautiful landscapes known for their magic mushroom fertility. Trevor had seen the beginnings of this – he even tackled the new swell of hash-smoking spirituality seekers on the song Then I’ll Take You Home: “All I hear is ‘peace and love’ from you but you’re way above my head,” he sings.

“There was a wave of people locally who had been introduced to Guru Maharaj,” says Christine. “[Trevor] wouldn’t knock other people’s opinions but he was a realist.”

Armstrong recalls this becoming a period of great local creativity. “Doors were left open and you could just walk into somebody’s house and there would be strangers there with a saxophone or a flute and you would just start jamming and stay the night.”

Trevor’s story has an air of bad luck and wrong time, wrong place about it, but these recordings made in his attic bedroom, between the ages of 18 and 21, are finally bringing him into the light. “I hadn’t clicked at the time just how good Trevor was,” says Woodcock. “I think he’d probably be pissed off about it taking this long [for people to realise] but I’m sure he’d be thrilled as well.”

His old friend Steve Lacey sighs: “I’m just sorry he isn’t here to reap the benefit of it.”

A chance meeting in 2018 between Christine and Armstrong resulted in the rediscovery and digitisation of this music. For Christine, the release represents another side of her late husband for her family to connect with. “It’s one thing telling your daughter about her father but this rekindling of Trevor’s music is lovely for her,” she says. “It’s sharing a memory of him.” It’s also brought back some fond ones of her own. “I used to love waking up to Trevor playing his guitar,” she says. “I’d come downstairs and the fire would be going and he’d be strumming away. It was an absolute delight. I feel very privileged to have been able to share that with him.”

Fireside Stories (Hebden Bridge Circa 1971-1974) is released 2 December on Basin Rock.