Tony Truscott relaxing in his Crediton home, above, and, far left, performing aboard the Kathleen & May at Bideford with Tom Lewis. Left: Tony on the proud day when he was installed as the Bard of Cornwall JOHN FFOULKES 300708_JFF_03
FOLK music crosses all boundaries, is a world music all its own — and it's thriving in the South West.
So says Tony Truscott, a popular singer/songwriter with musical roots in Cornwall, but now living in Crediton. And from what he's seen and heard in the 14 months since relocating across the Tamar, the folk scene is flourishing in Mid Devon.
“But there seems to be an awful lot of squeeze box players — one on every corner,” quips Tony, almost as well known for the infectious humour in his solo act.
He doesn't write sea songs because he wasn't brought up by the sea. “Anyway, it's wet, wobbly and makes you sick,” he adds. But he is a prolific writer with more than 400 songs to his credit, all contenders for his third solo CD. Quite a few of his favourites have been well received this year at, among many venues, the Crediton and Bradninch folk festivals.
“I like being called a raconteur — it gets boring watching a guy sitting on a stool, playing a guitar, say 'This one I wrote...'. I like to think I add in a bit of colour,” he adds impishly.
It's the sort of style that has brought him a healthy following, especially in his native Cornwall. But folk music transcends all boundaries, class, culture and religions. And that, he says, produces something magical.
“It's a close-knit community,” he explains.
”At Crediton I came across people I'd met on the Gower, two from Newcastle, Scotland, a Dutch girl and two Americans. Folk music is the one inter-changeable language. I even entertained a whole room full of impassive Japanese in London. They had a wonderful time but I'm sure they couldn't understand a word they were singing. One evening I was sitting next to a lord of the manor and another man who couldn't read or write, and we were all talking about steam rollers.”
The likes of Devon's own Seth Lakeman may be riding a wave of popularity for a genre variously described as 'roots' or 'world music', but Tony is reluctant to jump on the bandwagon.
He says: “It's good to a certain extent. People talk about world music being from South Africa, South America, India, but there's a lot more about the 'world' and people forget about the one that's right under their noses. We have some truly great performers, many living and playing in this part of the country. We mustn't forget the old timers who have plugged away and have got the experience and skills. I'd find it difficult to write about life if I'd only lived 25 years of it.”
And Tony weaves a wonderful web of images in his stories which he brings to life in a style that led him to winning the prestigious trophy for the Best New Song in a traditional style at The Pan Celtic Festival in Ireland in 2004.
On his latest album, Scarecrow, he tells the story of the Night Freight, about the long non-stop railway journey once a week from St Austell to Mallaig, carrying china clay for the paper mills. There's another, featuring Tony's family members who worked in the industry entitled'alf a Million 'oles.
Tony knows a thing or two about working for the china clay industry. Although born in London, he grew up in St Dennis with his Cornish parents. Inevitably he went to work in the china clay industry, spending 20 years working in the foundry and pits in the St Austell area before finally being made redundant in 1994.
“There were 4,800 people in the industry when I joined in 1974,” he says.
“Nowadays more people work for Ginsters than in china clay. Sad really.”
Out of work, he enrolled for a two-year HND course in environmental studies. He recalls: “I was 42 and there were so many mature students there — we taught the younger ones how to misbehave! We did start a folk band, though...”
After leaving college he found his age counted against him in the employment market, so he spent time in jobs ranging from packing kites to landscape gardening. He says: “I've always tried to work. It's better than being on benefits, I've found.”
But always, it's the music that has seen him through bad times, including a nervous breakdown and a series of health problems.
Tony explains: “I have to say the music has been the driving force in my life ever since I can remember. But I can't read a note. I wore out three piano teachers and about the best brass band teacher in the world.”
A naturally gifted musician, he graduated from a recorder to a Spanish guitar, then two weeks later he invested in a 12-string guitar. Just months later he staged his first gig and once played bass in a reggae band. While he's played with a variety of groups, there has always been a strong folk element. And Tony's songwriting abilities led to what he ranks as his greatest honour in life when he became a Bard of Cornwall in 2002. He was given the Bardic name of Gwyador-a-gan, a 'weaver of songs'.
He said: “I always thought I'd end up with nothing, but this came out of the blue. As far as I'm concerned it's the greatest honour I could get. It's not one you can trade on, like getting a knighthood for being, say, a company director. To know that my contemporaries were good enough to vote for me makes me feel like I've been given my own gold mine really, 'cause that's what it feels like. There are six Celtic nations and to be able to hold my head up in one with the quality of the others was the icing on the cake, with a cherry on top, after all the years of treading the boards. When I put my robes on for the first time and looked around and saw all the people that were there, I wouldn't have swapped it for the world.”
■ Call Tony on 01363 776551 to find out more about his latest album, Scarecrow.