Sometimes the best discoveries are right under your nose. Basin Rock, the Todmorden label that’s brought us a select international roster of Nadia Reid, Julie Byrne, Andrew Tuttle, Aoife Nessa Frances and others in recent times, has now unearthed a genuine treasure from its own Calder Valley home. Son of a West Yorkshire soldier and an Algerian stenographer, who settled in the region after meeting in the Second World War, Trevor Beales was composing and playing folk guitar at a young age. Inspired by the likes of Dylan, Django Reinhardt and Welsh folkie Dave Evans, this scintillating batch of songs was recorded in the attic of the family house at various points in the early ’70s, some written when Beales was still a teenager.
There’s a poise and assurance here that belies his years. Beales’ pliant fingerpicking style echoes that of Nick Drake or John Renbourn. Or Evans himself, whose 1974 instrumental “Braziliana” is given a nimble makeover. Everything else is original, showcasing a rare talent that moved seamlessly between piquant narratives, social realism and existential musings. “Marion Belle” is a sinister seafaring tale of ill portent and desperation, the measured authority of Beales’ voice adding layers of understated drama. On “The Prisoner”, he’s locked inside a dream, craving some kind of freedom from the corporeal bonds of life, “where nothing has been schemed or planned”.
Some of these songs were cut during visits home from Essex and London, where Beales lived from 1972 onwards. The thoughtful “City Lights” alludes to both the alienation of the capital and life on the road, the wheels of his songwriting career struggling for traction. “Metropolis” is equally outstanding. Here Beales ponders his fate, choked by the fumes
of the city, dismayed by concrete trees and the indifference of passers-by as he plays
on the street. There’s a subtle environmental edge, too: “I fear the nearing future / Far more than I fear the past”.
Beales’ songs carry a restlessness mirrored in his travels. He busked the old folk train to France and Morocco during these years, odd-jobbing as he did so. In 1975 he took a solo Greyhound trip around America, equipped with little more than a bag of demo tapes. On his return to the UK he formed a prog-leaning sextet, Havana Lake, whose sole debut (1977’s Concrete Valley) includes fleshier versions of a couple of tracks from this collection.
Beales continued to make regular visits to West Yorkshire in the ensuing years. It’s not clear how much more music he produced, but his life was tragically cut short when he died unexpectedly in the spring of 1987, aged just 33. His body of work may be slim, but it’s nevertheless a potent legacy and one finally ready to be celebrated.