A slave to the rhythm

The first in an occasional series from Rick about his life as a musician – where it all started and what it has come to now.

No 1  – How did it all begin ?

Its hard to say exactly what started me off on this caper but, if pressed, I would have to say it was in the ‘just pre-Beatles’ phase of pop music. My elder brother and I shared a transistor radio with earphones and Radio Luxembourg was our go-to domain. Perhaps it was hearing ‘Let there be drums’ by Sandy Nelson or ‘Diamonds’ by Jet Harris and Tony Meahan or maybe even “Take Five’ by Dave Brubeck that caught my ear. All were single 45 discs, all heavily featured drums and all were top ten hits – a rare combination.

I had a friend in primary school who acquired a drum kit somehow. Unimaginable for me at the time, but I got to look and touch it. I can’t say I ever played them but they sparkled and looked good. As time went on, my interest on the airwaves of music expanded to include the pirate radio stations Caroline and London. This certainly opened further my musical horizons in stark contrast to the regimented, dull music periods of early secondary school. For most of us, this meant singing scales or wrestling with recorders. Bad performance was often responded to by physical punishment from the teacher. There did seem a huge gulf between the pleasure I was getting from listening to music on the radio and the idea of taking part myself.  I had no positive pointers to help at this time as there was no history of music making in my family.

More time passed. More music was heard. By the time I reached the sixth form in secondary school, I had met some new friends who could play guitars and keyboards.  I had no hankering to do that but the spirit of the age caught me and I saw that there were people out there adopting a more individual and self-schooled approach to playing.  I was going to concerts and gigs by then and a different world became alive to me.

I can never remember exactly if I asked, or was asked, to try my hand as percussionist for a school play with two other ‘proper’ guitarist friends. By now I was magnetised by Ginger Baker and Mitch Mitchell – both great, expansive drummers who were given acres of room to improvise within their famous trios – Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience respectively.

That was the absolute opposite of where I was but it turned out well, as equipped with just a set of bongos, one cymbal on a converted music stand and a pair of sticks, I kept myself and my cohorts in time – result !  At that point, I must confess that I briefly took my lead from one Steve Peregrin-Took, who played a similar supporting role to Marc Bolan in the original Tyrannosaurus Rex. I kind of looked like him too at the time (or aspired to).



From this point, I started playing regularly with one of the above- mentioned guitarists and featured in a couple of school concerts. We both wrote lyrics too. I felt I was at first base now and that gave me the encouragement to want to develop. At home, with the aid of pocket money and an eye for a bargain, I began to buy second- hand bits and pieces that became my first drum kit. In private I began to play without recourse to learning the usual rudiments. I must have thought that I could run before walking but, more likely, thought wasn’t present in that consideration.  I set myself my own agenda. With a newly adapted headphone socket, courtesy of a clever friend, I was able to use headphones with a Dansette record player and play along to records. I would select 3 stylistically different album sides (I was developing a small vinyl LP collection and borrowed from friends), which would make for an hour’s playing. The choice of playing time in the day could only be before my parents returned home from work – ie after school. The next door neighbour, retired and mostly housebound was not best pleased. He made his feelings known to my parents and I played more discreetly !

Locked down but not held back

Like so many others in the world right now, our live activities are on hold because of lockdown restrictions. We clearly have no idea when this situation is likely to change. However, we have not been idle in this time.

telling a fisherman’s tale

Just before we knew that lockdown was imminent, we took part in a joyful event organised by Extinction Rebellion in Oswestry.  With an inspiring display of the group’s recent activities, lots of things for kids to do and a hall buzzing with repair of tools and equipment, the day was a great reminder of how looking after our planet can bring people together to have a good time too.  We told two stories about how people are bound into their local environment, and how if we look after the natural world we reap the benefits in unexpected ways.



When we realised that the summer’s live performances could not go ahead we took our first steps into online broadcasts. On May 12th both Helen and Rick were interviewed via Amy Douglas’ webinar hook-up as part of ‘Taking the tradition on’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VupjQStU4mw

Two days later we went live in ‘performance’ as part of Amy’s monthly ‘Get a Word in Edgeways ‘ webinar.

Helen has also done a podcast interview: http://traffic.libsyn.com/takingthet…/Helen_East_Podcast.mp3.

               At home in Llansilin we are appreciating the loveliness of the early summer. Helen continues to write and Rick continues to compose and record, awaiting the green light to be able to put the finishing touches to his forthcoming album ‘Voices From Off Centre’.

The old harper and the sea beast

The old harper and the sea beast is a story created for “Of sea and shore and the worlds in between”, first performed at the Roundhouse in the Felin Uchaf Centre at Rhoshirwaun, Pwlheli. Click here to hear how it unfolds.

Stick story maps

Stick story maps are a tool that Helen uses with groups creating stories in a particular landscape. Participants are given a stick and some string and encouraged to find objects that illustrate aspects of their story and tie them on as prompts when re-telling their story. The sticks illustrated were created from work in and around the Oriel Gallery in Newtown, Powys whilst working with artist Bec Knight.

Slate marimbas

Rick collects roof slates and uses them to make pentatonic (5 note) marimbas, struck with soft mallets. Each slate must pass the test of having a strong tone when struck. He often incorporates the playing and painting of these in creative schools’ work, then leaving them situated somewhere like the school garden, so they are accessible and playable. These examples are from a project with the primary school at Chirk.

Frances Fisher RIP

“Your book was so real, I thought I was in it.”
(Alice, age 9, re ‘Frances Fisher RIP’)

Frances Fisher, RIP was a the outcome of a project undertaken in 1993-4 as a Sunderland Childrens Live Literature Residency.  The project was initiated and co-ordinated by Sunderland Leisure Libraries and Arts and involved a programme of work with Year 5 and 6 children from four schools. Through the sessions the children developed the storyline and characters, and worked on illustrations with the help of Jonathan Korejko.  The project culminated in the publication of ‘Frances Fisher RIP’, a novel co-written and illustrated by the children, and won the 1995-6 Libraries Initiative Award.

After Offa: living life along the border

After Offa is an oral heritage project about community, story and landscape, between Chirk Castle, Bronygarth and Sycharth, Llansilin.

The project, set up by Bronygarth Social Committee and directed by Helen,  ran from 2010 to 2012. It was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Shropshire County Council.  Workshops with schools and local groups, community events and interviews with local people generated a wealth of stories, songs and photographs. Working with Sarah Anderson and Simon Greaves, Helen edited and published this material in the “After Offa” book and map and a CD entitled “Border Talk”, and brought it to life in a series of storywalks.


“We can tell from the Iron Age hill forts, menhirs and cairns in this area that it has been occupied for thousands of years…It has been fought over, hunted on, carved out, farmed, quarried, built upon and walked over by generation after generation.

“…the everyday experience of people who have lived and worked close to the land, taking part in activities that have helped to shape it, and the deep knowledge of the local landscape that arises out of this, usually only survive through oral tradition. Where this thread is broken, that history is lost.

“The After Offa project has been more than lucky in the huge number of local people who have shared this oral heritage. Their generosity in passing on family and personal stories, songs and reminiscences, lets new generations, and newcomers too, see an inside view, and feel a sense of place.”

Click here to view the After Offa map.  For more photos from the project visit http://www.aqueducks.org/aowalks.html.  All material from the project is held in the archives of Shropshire County Council.

Tales of trees on Offa’s Dyke. Photo Ali Quarrell

Music and drumming

Storytelling and Oracy

New for 2019

Welcome to our new website, updated in time for the 2019 summer season.

Many thanks to Oswestry based web designer Jewelion for setting up our new site. We hope that you will find it easier and more attractive to use, but please do tell us if you run into any glitches as you browse so that we can iron out any teething troubles.

Among the new features on the site is our online calendar, which should enable you for most public events to click a link straight to the venue or organiser for ticket bookings.

We hope to fill the new site with pictures to tell our stories and give a fuller flavour of our work. If you’ve enjoyed one of our events and taken photos there, please do send us a pdf or jpeg file so we can add your pictures to our gallery (though please note that permission must be given for any photos including children).