A Shaftesbury musician has published a book of his self-penned folk music.
Shaftesbury places and events have inspired many of Nick Crump’s tunes, which have been performed publicly. Alfred discovered that the book reveals how some of the 56 tracks are highly personal.
Shaftesbury resident Nick Crump has become known for his creative, inventive and sometimes wacky approach to music-making. He can turn everyday objects into wind or percussion instruments, and he made the headlines when he created a horn fashioned from an old toilet.
But there’s a serious side to the musician’s new book, ‘Nick Crump’s Tune Book’. “In a sense it’s a legacy. I can see, at my age, that there’s less life ahead of me than there is behind me, and I feel I’d like to leave something nice behind,” he said.
66-year-old Nick grew up listening to Floyd and Hendrix. He became passionate about folk in his twenties. He was a founder of the Hambledon Hopstep group 34 years ago and remains a band member. Nick explained that the performers describe themselves as a ceilidh group. That Celtic connection differentiates it from ‘barn dance’ music, which could just mean a band turning up to play a village hall.
Nick has been keen to experiment in his composition and says he was exposed to different forms of music from an early. His father was professional musician who played with London orchestras. Music has always been a part of Nick’s life. “We were surrounded by a lot of classical music, and I think that must have had an influence,” Nick mused. “My mission was to stretch traditional folk music by bringing it up to date and making it contemporary music. I’ve messed around with the rhythm. Normally you wouldn’t get jazzy syncopation in folk. If you build it into a folk-style tune that you’ve written, then you’re stretching the genre. That can add quite a lot to the feel and the rhythm of the piece, as long as people can dance to it.”
Occasionally folk fans will raise an eyebrow at his folk fusion. “There are purists out there that feel that it’s not following the tradition and I can tell they don’t always approve. But I don’t care. I like to express myself. I do get compliments as well. Sometimes a folk musician can be in the audience and come up at the end and say, ‘What was that second piece you played? That was great’ and I will say that it is one of mine, so that’s nice.”
Nick’s new book represents four decades of his composition. “They go back over the thirty years. They’re all fairly short, and mostly fit onto one or two pages of the book. The band can play them in that format but I’m hoping that other people will take the seed of the tune and do something else with it, build it up or make variations on it,” he said.
His friends urged him to compile what is, effectively, his greatest hits. “I had the idea in the back of my head that maybe I should do it. I just needed a kick up the backside. I got that from some well-respected musician friends, who said that having heard my tunes, they were sure other people would love to play them. It was all consuming for about four months.”
Nick has embraced the power of the internet to offer a multi-media experience to accompany the musical notes and narrative summary of his tunes. “You can listen to each tune on my website as an mp3 file. When you buy the book, it tells you how to access each tune as a learning aid.”
Nick recorded each of the pieces in Ed Bersey’s Sylvafield Recording Studio in Semley. He praised Ed’s professionalism but said that the sessions weren’t the most pleasurable experience. “You have to listen back to yourself afterwards, and then you get very critical,” said Nick.
One of the tunes is a fun personal project, recounting his trip to Crump’s Island. And some of the pieces were inspired by anxiety surrounding a potentially life-changing event – Nick composed tracks inspired by his own open-heart surgery. “It was a major event. The build up to it is in your mind a lot. I knew at least six months before the operation. Then there was at least three months afterwards when I was in recovery. I was very aware of what could happen when they opened my chest up and worked on my heart and then put me back together again. There’s the getting through it and then getting your strength back too. Several tunes relate to that.”
The tracks were written both before and after the surgery. “Heartbeat Five is a tune in five four, which is an unusual rhythm,” Nick explained, in a rather matter-of-fact way considering its significance.
Some of Nick’s tunes have been written about the Shaftesbury area and there are many connections with local church events. “I was invited to play fanfares at Melbury Abbas for the Easter service. I called it the Easter Fanfare. I’ve written fanfares for St James’s church for various vicars that have come and gone because I practice in the church. It’s a nice thing to give them a musical send-off or welcome. I’ve written a piece for Shaftesbury Abbey with Tim Laycock, too. He wrote the words and I composed the tune. It used to be sung every year when they had services there,” he said.
As soon as I asked Nick to select his favourite piece, I realised that it would be like asking a parent to pick their preferred child. “It’s very difficult to choose. It depends on the connection. There are some emotional pieces in there that are connected with people, friends and family that have died. They have significance,” said Nick. “Now to say that was a favourite would mean identifying that as being the most important aspect of music. In my eyes, music is a language. It wants to convey something. My lively tunes convey fun and rhythm. Some of my sad genes convey the sad aspects. As long as they can deliver emotionally or rhythmically then they’re being successful. I’m not going to pick a favourite.”
Before we finished chatting, I wanted to ask Nick about his unusual instruments. The back cover of the book features snapshots of his most creative music-making projects. “Probably the most famous is the bog horn – the musical toilet. I’ve also developed a bath harp, which has got thirty strings. Most people are a bit surprised about that. If you look at any object, there’s some way that you’re going to be able to make it vibrate. It will either belong to the percussion family because you’re hitting it or blowing it, or it might be plucked. One I made out of an ex-foghorn which I saw on a scrapheap and I thought that if I added pipes to that it would make it fantastic horn. I play that regularly because people just love the spectacle, as well as the fact that a real tune comes out of it.”
Nick says there are some mainstream instruments that would work best with this book. “Any melody instrument – the violin, concertina, piano, accordion, recorder or flute. They’ll be able to pick up and play the melodies. Some of them are more challenging than others. There are quite a few slow, contemplative ones. Anyone that can play a chordal instrument, like a guitar, can join in,” said Nick.
‘Nick Crump’s Tune Book”, which includes the access codes to download seventy minutes of free musical audio, is available for £15.
“You can definitely get it via my website- nickcrump.co.uk/tunebook. If it’s local people in Shaftesbury, they can contact me and pop down to my house and pick one up. If they do it by the website, they’ve got to pay carriage for it to be posted so they can save themselves a few quid,” said Nick.
Or, if you’re heading to London, there’s another way to read Nick’s book. “I have had to send the British Library one, because once you have an ISBN number they’ve got to have it.”