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reviewsDavid Whetstone writing in The Journal, July 2006
Singer songwriter Pete Scott talks music past and present
If you were to write the soundtrack to Pete Scott's life so far, it would probably have to begin with the sound of his mother singing light opera around the house in “this amazingly wonderful soprano voice that I didn't always appreciate. She used to sing when she was hanging out the washing and people used to come into their gardens to hear her. The set of lungs on her... she certainly had the pipes.”
Pete's uncle was a bit of a performer too. “He was a tenor and used to go round the clubs. He did reasonably well.” It was he who would later inform Pete that he was a baritone, which came as news to him, having no formal musical education to speak of.
You won't be surprised to hear that it wasn't the chanteuse of Walker, Newcastle, who was Pete's main inspiration. That came via the airwaves. “I used to listen to Radio Luxembourg from 1959. There was a show called The American Hot Ten and nobody else I knew used to listen to it although I can't have been the only one in the world. The first time I heard Patsy Cline singing, when I was 12 or 13... well music like that does something to you that you don't quite understand at that age.”
At school Pete was more into poetry than music. “But then I heard a song called Spanish Harlem sung by Ben E. King and under the title was a writer's credit. That was when I suddenly thought: somebody actually made that, someone wrote it. I know Phil Spector had a hand in it. But there it was, this beautiful thing, and I suddenly thought it would be great to write songs.”
“I got my first guitar when I was 14 but I'd ached for one since I was about nine. There wasn't money for things like that but I finally managed to get one for seven and six (that's just under 40p in today's money). I didn't know anything about guitars except I wanted to play one. I replaced the nylon strings with steel strings which you are not supposed to do with Spanish guitars.”
So the young Pete Scott - he was born in 1948 - took his first steps towards a musical career armed with a guitar so tightly stressed and strung that it came to resemble a longbow. With a solitary O level, he went straight from school to work at 'the Ministry', the Government's sprawling pensions complex. A picture of Pete from that time shows him with hair down his back.
He was starting to perform at folk clubs at the time and sometimes, if he was going straight to the venue, he would take his guitar to work. A colleague had a harmonica and the pair of them used to play the blues at lunchtime. “We thought it was the most normal thing in the world to do and everyone was on their lunch break at the same time so we weren't disturbing anyone.”
Not surprisingly, he looks back quite fondly at his time at the Ministry. He passed an exam and got promoted and had “a great social life”. He only left when the music started to take over. A postscript to this episode is that recently, after a gig, he was approached by his old harmonica-playing Ministry mate. They hadn't met for years but he found the guy now has a room full of harmonicas and is still gigging with an outfit called The Lounge Lizards. Longbenton's role in pensions is well known; its musical hot housing, less so.
From his current vantage point - literally speaking, a guitar, amp and CD-filled attic room in Whitley Bay - it's fun to look back on these halting beginnings. Nowadays Pete is a respected North-East singer-songwriter with a wealth of original material to his name and a popular following. Fans know they'll get music and humour at a Pete Scott gig for he has a dry manner and a fund of stories.
The late, great Jake Thackray was a hero. Pete remembers going to see him at a cabaret club in Newcastle. It was quite posh, he recalls, the sort of place where people didn't really listen to the music. “I wasn't sure I'd be allowed in but I put my suit and tie on and it was fantastic. He came on and sang all his best songs. He was such a great user of the English language.”
Not long afterwards Pete did a gig in Birmingham and sung a song called Ms Lapotaire, inspired by the actress Jane Lapotaire's performance as Edith Piaf in a theatre show in Newcastle. Afterwards he learned that Jake Thackray had been in the audience, had loved the song and wanted him on his show on BBC2. The great man later rang him at home - and subsequently Pete also received an appreciative letter from Ms Lapotaire herself.
Anyone writing the book of Pete's life and works would have to include at least a chapter on the two-and-a-half years he spent as musician-in-residence at Moorland Prison, near Doncaster. A tentative six months was extended again and again as the positive results of Pete's residency became apparent. He formed a choir and a band behind bars and they cut a CD called twenty four seven. But in the end those of the view that prisoners should be given no favours won the day. It was a bitter moment for Pete who is planning to write an account of the emotionally draining episode.
Mention must also be made of Joe Wilson, the prolific Victorian songwriter who provided Pete with the material for a CD of songs as part of the Northumbrian Anthology project. He plans to do another at some point. But the immediate project concerns Yuri Gagarin's Banjo and other stories. “I woke up with it,” says Pete of the curious title. “The lyrics just started coming. When I had four verses in my head I ran downstairs and wrote them down. Then I thought: you're crazy.”
Pete has no reason to suppose the first man in space ever owned a banjo. He doesn't even own one himself. But after a few years off the live touring circuit, Pete is back in business. “The last few gigs I've done I started to get the old feeling back. I wanted to bring the funny stuff back into the live set and make it a little bit different.” There will never be another Joe Wilson nor even a Jake Thackray. But Pete Scott will be performing his Yuri Gagarin set at the Phoenix Theatre, Blyth, on July 22.
Pete's latest album:
Songs To Sing & Jokes To Tell
available online from:
Hear tracks from the album
Why Sing Goodbye Songs
available online from:
Hear tracks from the album
Read the album launch review
Watch Pete on YouTube:
He Said She Said Yeah
William Smith and Pauline Jones
Pity The Poor Baritone