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Date: 16/01/22

"And, Spinning In Space, We'll Reach The Same Place Surely One Day"

Photo of Ian Chesterman

Ian Thomas Chesterman
Musician and songwriter
b. 1945(?), d. 3 January 2022

I've mentioned before how it was that I spent ten years between 1994 and 2004 frequenting Wrexham Folk Club. One of the organisers of the Club was Ian Chesterman, who has died at the age of 76.

It was at my first visit to the club at the beginning of '94 that I first met him. I had gone there - completely against my usual pattern of behaviour, which consisted of not having gone out into town of an evening for about a decade by that time - because I was chasing a woman...

(And, reader, I found her. But I didn't catch her, if you see what I mean. Anyway...)

...because she was in a band which was performing that evening, and the prospect of seeing her again after about fourteen years was too strong a lure. It was the first time I had sampled live music of any form in person since about 1981, and I was bowled over by the experience. So much so that I went the next time. This was advertised as a 'singers' night', from which I knew nothing. Nonetheless, off I went.

A 'singers' night' is exactly what it says on the beer cask; people from the audience - who were not, by and large, professional or semi-professional - get up from their seats, stand before their fellow attendees and confess their si...sorry, sing a song (or two) before returning to a sedentary position to watch someone else making an exhibition of themselves.

The audiences for the singers' nights at Wrexham were almost always thin (at least in numbers), and the first one I attended had no more than about six of us. At the interval Ian Chesterman came up to me and asked if I was going to do anything.

I was: piss myself with fear, I suspect. But I got away by saying that I didn't think the world was ready for that.

By the time of the next singers' night about a month later however, the reluctant show-off in me had surfaced, and I took my place in front of no more than a dozen or so people (the house band included) to render - or perhaps 'rend' would be the more appropriate verb - two songs in Irish which I was pretty sure no-one there would have heard before. Unfortunately, I started the first one in far too high a key, but kept going manfully (if that's the mot juste for something far too near to the soprano range) until I came close to qualifying for membership of the National Truss. The response was kindly and generous, and set in motion my unpaid decade-long side career as an occasional entertainer (that is to say, I was occasionally entertaining).

The support and encouragement of Ian Chesterman and his confrères Goff Jones and John Evans during that time was the reason why I kept doing it, and my departure from The Scene was due entirely to my running out of new material, a minor form of stage fright and not particularly wishing to be in Wrexham town centre late on a Thursday night.

(I once had a chat with Ian when he popped into the pickle factory to deliver some of his clients' tax returns. I remember him saying how he envied my ability to make people laugh. I said that that was nothing to the envy I felt that he - indeed, all musicians - could entertain and move people by playing music).

During those years, I discovered that Ian Chesterman was a song writer of considerable talent. A native of Chester (nominative determinism really meaning something in those days), he had settled in Wrexham and developed his accountancy practice. By that time, he had already accrued a substantial hinterland of prominence on the folk scene in and around the north east of this country, and of Merseyside and Manchester in England, dating back to the early 1960s. By the time I met him, he was a member of Offa which, with varying lineups, was to be the main outlet for his songs for nearly thirty years. He was also the author of a weekly column in our local rag, which ran until a centralising of editorial functions at the publisher led to its removal at the beginning of 2020.

Although Offa (and its 'sister band' Yardarm, which had originally been formed by Goff and John as far back as the late sixties) played traditional songs and covers of other well-known - and sometimes not so well-known - folk artists, a central part of their set lists was Ian's own material. Many of these songs were - as is only right and proper for a folk artist in any land - related to events in local history, such as the Gresford Colliery Disaster of 1934 (No More Disasters Tonight), another example - a preview of Aberfan scarcely more than thirty years later - of appallingly off-hand behaviour by those who set themselves in power over us, in that the only punishment for the killing of 266 men and boys was a small fine for the pit manager for "inadequate record keeping"; or, Ladies Of Llangollen, about the international eisteddfod there, a song regularly used by the BBC in coverage of that annual event; commemorating the closure of Brymbo Steelworks in 1990 in Ghosts Of The Past; or just a celebration of nature in the (to my cynical mind, somewhat cutesie-pie) song Tinker's Dale (a location between Dobs Hill and Penarlâg).

I'll end this remembrance of a fine and talented man with two of his songs.

The first is my favourite Chesterman composition. In The Old Days On The Railway appeared on his solo solo album Over The Moors (1988), and is the song of an engine driver taking a train along the north coast in the steam era. I just love the atmosphere and the - well, there's only one word for it - drive of this song.

(Click on the ear icon below to hear it. Any inadequacies in the sound are due to, a) it being digitised from the original cassette, b) I'm having trouble with my hearing of late, which means I'm not in full stereo, and c) the need to compress the file down to a manageable size (see here for an explanation of why I have to do this):

An ear

And finally, perhaps Ian Chesterman's most-covered song. Next Time Around was written as a farewell to his friend and fellow musician Neil Lewis (a former sideman of Max Boyce) when Lewis went to live in the Caribbean. It demonstrates how so many of his songs were eminently singable by others. Here's a performance at Chester Folk Day in 2006 by a much-expanded incarnation of Yardarm:

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"Here's to déja vu
I'll be seeing you
next time around"