Two performers from West Melbury have found a unique way to showcase their music. Tony Dean and Una Walsh are making YouTube programmes that mix their original song writing with travel guides to destinations in the Shaftesbury area.
Tony and Una have been together as a couple for twenty years, often performing locally as ‘No Fixed Abode.’ Guitarist Tony worked for an electronics company in England, that manufactured connectors in a factory in Shannon, Ireland. He used to take business clients to view the works and part of the trip involved a banquet in a medieval castle. That was where he met Una, who was the lead singer for the Irish Tourist Board and performed at those events.
Una enjoyed the experience of the shows. “We were entertaining a lot of Americans and Germans. The world did come to Bunratty Castle back in the day,” recalled Una. “We had a ceilidh as well. They were all different types of shows. There was an Irish theme running through it, but it wasn’t all ‘begorrah’. I was very lucky to do it. I was only a kid in my twenties. It was night after night. It was a bit like the rep theatre. You’d have six shows a week.”
Una’s role with the tourist board gave her the chance to join tours of the USA, where she sang. She is classically trained and studied at the Dublin College of Music. Una no longer sings the madrigals and traditional songs that accompanied those banquets. “I wanted to get back to the more natural thing. I just like to be able to put the feeling across. Now that we have been writing songs for a long time, I’m more of a Dido fan than a classical singer,” said Una.
But she feels that her training stands her in good stead. “It’s good to have, because I never push my voice. I always sing quietly, and I can do a pile of gigs if I have to do them,” she said.
Una says the songs she writes with Tony are ‘very honest’. “We are not kids any more. It is heartfelt and soulful. I hope it touches somebody’s heart. It’s singer-songwriter, harking back to the 1960s and 1970s. It’s not going to be taken up by any record label,” she said, adding that she’s pleased that their tight control over music publishing has been loosened by online sources. “We just hope we can get people through the internet.”
Often singer-songwriters who are described as ‘honest’ sing about heartbreak. Tony and Una are a couple and are very much together. I asked how they are inspired to write, without the rich creative source of material which comes from relationship breakdown. “We just sit down and there is so much to dig from, because we are older, and it doesn’t have to be about puppy love. It can be growing up on the farm. It’s completely different subjects to lovey-dovey stuff,” Una said.
She added that many of the people they meet during their gigs have inspired their songs. They described a woman, the wife of a deceased member of a famous rock band, who is entertaining but has some serious issues. “She’s the wildest, maddest, funniest woman I’ve ever met. But you can’t talk to her after two o’clock because, sadly, the alcohol has kicked in. And then she is away with the fairies. I like the weird, the wonderful and the bewildered because I’m heading that way myself,” laughed Una.
“We have written a song about her. We’ve got a song about Alzheimer’s, which we wrote years ago. There’s a song about throwing a penny into a wishing well. There’s a lot of reflection going on there,” Una said.
Tony says he is always on the lookout for material, and he people watches. “It’s circumstances that just prick the conscience. Whereas people do love and romance or variations of it, we tend to do more observation. Very few songs are about life and death. There is a song about death, which is about a friend passing. It’s about not having the time to go along to the funeral. It doesn’t mean you don’t love them, but you just don’t have time in your life. Everybody is very busy. They don’t always do what they think they should do,” he said.
It was an interesting topic for a song choice. Most songs about friends who have died are about wishing you’d said something before they passed away. “Our song ‘Absent Friends’ is about that. ‘Please understand only love we will send’ is a line in the song,” explained Tony. “It means we won’t be there, but we will send our love. We have a different way of looking at things through experience in life.”
Tony doesn’t want people to think the pair’s songs are all maudlin. Far from it. Most are very happy, including a track about Una growing up on a farm. “It’s about walking through the orchards with her father. We try and reflect everything,” he said.
Tony and Una have devoted a great deal of time into recording on-location video reports in towns near to Shaftesbury. These travelogues are mixed with their original music and each of the programmes in this series, which began in the new year, runs for approximately fifty minutes.
Tony wanted to make a music programme for YouTube, but he says he was conscious that watching a performance might not be too engaging, hence the decision to take to the road with filming. “It’s a bit like a variety show. We do gigs in Somerset, Wiltshire and Dorset. We thought we’d choose places that we like to go to and do a touristy guide. We will take you to the places that we like,” he said.
“The first one is Wells. We’ve been to Swanage and as we are near Shaftesbury, we’ve done a lovely one here as well. We’ve been to the Abbey, walking around the Abbey Gardens. And we’ve gone down Gold Hill. Then we say, ‘Where we would go for a cup of coffee?’ The idea is to give a 10-minute idea of anywhere,” said Tony. Their Shaftesbury coffee stop recommendation was The Grosvenor Arms.
In mixing tunes with travel, you could make a comparison with the TV programmes featuring former cruise ship singer Jane McDonald. “There’s nothing wrong with Jane McDonald. I think she’s marvellous,” laughed Una, who went on to explain how her and Tony’s production is different. “We’re staying at home. Being very sustainable. We are not hopping on a plane. We’re hopping into a little car and keeping it local. Dorset is a climate within itself. You don’t need to go anywhere else. You have got Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire on the borders. All around here it’s gorgeous.”
I asked Una whether she walks down the street and sings to the camera. “I’ll sing to anything,” she replied, and burst into her infectious laugh. “I’ve sung to a dartboard before! No. We haven’t done that yet because it’s hard to film and do that. But there’s time.”
This project requires an immense amount of work and the couple are busy touring with many gigs in their diary. Nevertheless, Tony says he simply wanted a new challenge. “You get to the stage where you want to give it a go or you feel like you haven’t attempted it. If it flies, brilliant. If it doesn’t, we’ve given it a go. I’ve had a lot of fun doing it. It takes a day to film it and about four days to edit it. It’s about a week to do one show but, when we go to somewhere like Swanage, will go for fish and chips somewhere or go for a drink. It’s what we enjoy doing, but we’re filming it. It has been a pain at first, but we’ve learned how to do it,” said Tony.