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Brian Horsfall - 7.5.28–20.12.13

Just about a year ago, Brian Horsfall told me that the news about his health was not good. I was in touch with him as recently as early December and there was no sign that he would soon be leaving us. In fact, he had plans for something and he wanted me to put a musician in touch with him. It was typical of Brian - stoic, wouldn’t want a fuss, single-minded – that no indication of his deteriorating health was given to me.

I’d first made contact with Brian in 1972. I was editing a small folk newsletter and I bought a Traditional Sound Recordings LP and asked him if I could review it. We started a correspondence and this eventually led to him hearing a BBC Folk on 2 programme I was involved in and then, ultimately, to me doing some recordings with him. But I am getting ahead of myself.

After serving his National Service in the RAF, Brian started work at ICI, where he worked for 33 years and met his wife Molly. He retired at the age of 53.

Brian had been involved in the Bate Hall Folk Club in Macclesfield in 1967 and members of one of the local groups, The MacDonalds, were also work colleagues. Another work colleague, Alan Green, also came to the folk club. Alan and Brian became friendly and discovered they had some shared interests. Brian had built his own tape recorder and had been recording the group while he played around with it. Somewhere along the line it was suggested that they make a serious recording and issue it. This theme developed as they had noticed that folk music was poorly served with independent, specialist record labels and so they decided to create their own, Folk Heritage Recordings. In those days (pre-VAT) you could make 99 copies free of Purchase Tax and this is what they did. Before long, Alan wanted to go on to bigger things and so the partnership broke up with Alan keeping the Folk Heritage label. Brian and Alan remained good friends with Alan looking after Brian’s pressings when he set up the Plastic Sound factory in Wales. Like Brian, Alan built a lot of his own equipment: “Brian taught me everything I know about electronics – what he didn’t know about electronics wasn’t worth knowing,” Alan once told me.

Along with another of the original partners, Bob Siddall, Brian set up Traditional Sound Recordings (TSR) releasing their first LP – by The Woods – in 1969. There was no falling out, but after six months, for domestic reasons, Bob Siddall left and Brian continued on his own, establishing TSR as a label that acquired a good reputation. The first LP he produced on his own was of a group from Sussex called The Trugs, which included a young Eddie Upton. Brian never had a big selling record, but he did have some reasonable success with The Ripley Wayfarers, The Teesside Fettlers, Johnny Collins, Derek & Dorothy Elliott, The Alan Bell Band and Strawhead. Although he devoted a lot of time and energy to the label, it was always very much a hobby. Brian had very fixed views (the single-mindedness): he would only record at 7½ inches per second when the industry standard was 15ips. Obviously there was a cost factor, but he did attempt to explain the physics of it to me at one stage. He would not multi-track: everything was straight down into stereo and if anything was needed to be overdubbed, he would copy from one machine to another with the new part added while it happened. Gregg Butler of Strawhead told me of some amazing contortions needed to record the various instruments ‘live’. In those pre-digital days, Brian had devised an amazing reverb system involving springs and tape delays. When the recordings were finished, Brian would often spend hours copying the tapes off, making adjustments to the equalisation and adding more reverb all with his hand-built mixing channels, equalisers and compressors. Even the microphone stands were home made at one point - involving Morris Minor steering wheels, some alloy tubing and a lab clamp! Despite all this, when on form he could get an excellent sound although he could sometimes overuse his treasured reverb to my taste.

Brian was one of the first to start issuing recordings on cassette. He saw it as a way of keeping his back catalogue available. Again, he had his own quirky take on it: he would duplicate the cassettes in real-time individually, he would only use a particular brand of Scotch 3M cassette (with a distinctive case) and would not use Dolby noise reduction. He used Scotch tape for his main recordings: excellent tape but with a strange smell!

Eventually, after 45 issued albums he decided to call it a day. We had vaguely kept in touch, but out of the blue came this phone call from Brian asking me if I could take over TSR as he wanted it “to go to a good home”. I was rather touched by this. Back in 1973, I had been involved recording some tracks for Brian which involved Linda Pattinson (who would become my wife a little later), Ray Downes & Terry Haworth and, the group I sang in, Preston Isle Metal Band. Apart from a couple of tracks the album was never issued, but Brian, like me, had decided I was not really a singer and I ought to try recording and record production. To that end he gave me a lot of help and encouragement in setting up Fellside Recordings (along with Bernard Whitty of Folksound). In many ways Brian gave me the blue-print: you can do it yourself and you can do it from home: his studio was in his dining room with his control room in the attic (later to move as children grew up and moved out). For all that quirkiness, encouragement and inspiration, I shall be forever grateful.

Brian’s second ‘retirement’, this time from TSR, involved him rebuilding his radio equipment. Typical of Brian, having been given a PC for his 70th birthday he went on later to build his own on which he wrote his life story for his family and researched his family tree in great detail. He still played around with his recordings (he had kept copies) and he would send me the results from time to time. He was also a traditional jazz fan and liked to receive the CDs I issued on my jazz label, Lake. In many ways, those of us involved in recording are lucky because, like writers or painters, our legacy is the body of work we leave behind in our recordings. As the 1970s progressed, the number of small folk labels blossomed, but Brian’s Traditional Sound Recordings was rightly up there with the best of them.

“Behind every great man...” goes the saying and Brian was given great support by his wife, Molly – her pies were legendary amongst musicians – and sadly the family had to deal with a double blow: Molly, seemingly much affected by Brian’s passing, died on 6 January 2014. My contact with the family has been through Brian’s son, Andrew, and our thoughts are with him, his four brothers, one sister and the rest of the extended family at this very sad time. Brian lost his fight in life but still battles cancer in death by bequeathing his body to Medical Science, for research, so that one day we may eradicate this terrible disease.

You can find more information at justgiving.com/BrianHorsfall

Paul Adams
Fellside Recordings