Trevor Beales, “Fireside Stories (Hebden Bridge circa 1971-1974)”
By Elle Carroll · November 29, 2022 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

There’s no getting around the sepia-toned romance of rediscovery and the profound local tragedy surrounding Fireside Stories (Hebden Bridge circa 1971-1974). A teenager records a cluster of songs, bent over his guitar in the attic of his parents’ home. The teenager lives in Hebden Bridge, a small town just west of Leeds caught in a moment of transition. It’s not yet become associated with the queer community and the hippies; it is, however, in the throes of industrial decline following the closure of Acre Mill, the local asbestos processing factory. The economic pains are immediate, but the human toll comes into focus more slowly. In 1976, a public advocate finds that 12% of 2,200 former employees suffer from debilitating asbestos-related diseases. Someone paints “REVENGE THE DEATHS!” on the side of the shuttered brick building. Demolition orders eventually follow, and by the end of 1979, all that’s left is an empty lot. The teenager’s songs disappear too.

But that all comes later. Suspended in this peculiar in-between moment of the early 1970s is Trevor Beales, the latest entry in the long folk tradition of being discovered decades late and with nary a Google result to their name. Responsible for this discovery is Basin Rock, a small contemporary folk label based in nearby Todmorden. Fireside Stories is the label’s first release by a non-working songwriter, and it is, at its best, remarkable.

Although you’d never know his age from the world-weary character of his voice, this is the work of a young songwriter seeking a musical identity by trying out several. He begins with dark and detailed narratives. Album opener “Marion Belle” is an evocative tale of mariners adrift upon the waves and within their own hearts; “Tell Me Now” is a harrowing one about a farmer’s son accused of raping and murdering the mayor’s daughter. His assumed guilt is rooted in the class divide: “Such a girl of respect would never have let/ A mere farmer make love to and court her.”

“Sunlight on the Table” is the opposite of a narrative, however, which is to say it’s a song in which nothing happens. Beales fixates instead on the minutiae of a single, interior moment: “Silence in the corridors, a slow tide in my mind/ A mist made up of memories of the ones I left behind.” A talented player by any standard, he attempts a playful Latin experiment on the instrumental “Braziliana.” But the energized album finale “Fireside Stories” may be the standout. He hits every impassioned downstrum with fervor and combines sharpened, singular stanzas—“If your jewels make you sparkle/ And your wine makes you glow/ And my words taste so bitter/ And you’ve learned all there is to know”—with a catalog of momentary images marked by a sensory vividness. It’s easy to imagine him, pen in hand, noting down the “creaking rocking chair and thick velvet curtains and the smell of the pinewood walls.” As such, Fireside Stories captures a gifted and otherwise-forgotten songwriter in amber. Finally dug out of the attic and dusted off, it shines in the light of day.

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