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Pete Shutler

It was impossible, I think, for anyone to meet Pete Shutler without coming away from the experience a richer person, and his death on 21 September 2014, after a short period of illness, has left his family, friends and his beloved county of Dorset much poorer. It’s also left folk and traditional music and song without one of its most stalwart exponents over the last 50 years.

Pete spent his childhood in the small North Dorset village of Ryme Intrinseca, and it was at the local scout group that he met up with the other members of what was eventually to become the Yetties (this being more digestible than their original name – The Yetminster and Ryme Intrinseca Junior Folk Dance Display Team). The music captivated him more than the dancing and led him into a musical apprenticeship with Bryon Bonnett, a noted local musician. His love of the accordion, inspired by Jimmy Shand on the radio, led to this as his instrument of choice, although he eventually mastered whistle, concertina, bowed psaltery and keyboards, as well as being a capable singer. Pete had a natural instinct for music and this meant that he became the bedrock for the musical side of the Yetties performances as they developed into the band that was to make such an impression through the sixties and seventies. His sense of humour was incredibly quick, always clever, but never unkind, and added a significant dimension to the group’s performances throughout their 44 year professional career.

Pete never forgot the help he’d had from others when he was learning to play, and he repaid this debt many times over during his lifetime, teaching innumerable younger musicians. He was an excellent teacher too – although you could always tell one of Pete’s accordion pupils; many of them played as he did, with a fag hanging out of their mouths and looking down and away from the box!

Many of us had a lot to thank the Yetties for, especially in their earlier years, when they unearthed a plethora of traditional songs from various archives and singers and put them into their repertoire. It remains difficult today to find a traditionally-based session or club in the West Country (and far beyond) where you won’t hear a song that was initially revived by the Yetties in the sixties and seventies.

Of course, a professional career puts pressure on anyone to broaden their repertoire and this was never a problem for Pete, whose musical tastes were eclectic and varied. Lighter songs and newly composed material broadened the group’s appeal and drew the attention of (among others) the British Council, and Pete and the others found themselves touring as far away as Nepal and Ethiopia and teaching Dorset choruses to Philippinos! In Newfoundland they were able to tap into a strong West Country-derived oral culture and Pete delighted in the rich seam of traditional material he uncovered there. Closer to home, the Yetties continued to fill clubs and concert halls until their retirement in 2011.

Each time he went away, Pete’s heart remained in Dorset and finally he returned to his own native home for good. Over the years, he always retained a firm footing in his local community, and for many years was chairman of the committee that ran the Weavers Club. This is basically a pub/social club that was purchased and subsequently run more or less as a co-operative by its members and Pete’s involvement with the club satisfied several of his interests: he always enjoyed a pint (or several); he was a long term Labour Party member; and he loved good, down to earth company. It’s also the spiritual home of Sherborne’s town band, with whom the Yetties enjoyed some mutually beneficial music-making and recording sessions, largely inspired by Pete.

He also made time to devote to his family – he was always very strong on family values and he was a devoted family man; a son; brother; husband; father and grandfather. So it was that, following his retirement, he accepted and dealt with his wife Marian’s Alzheimer diagnosis, shouldering the additional burdens that the condition brought to them both, at the same time as his own health was facing challenges. He continued playing in bands and with his old friend Ann Knobbs, a fine pub pianist, and the Yetties reconvened fairly often for local nights in the Weavers.

Speaking as a friend, it’s difficult to think back to a time when the Yetties, and Pete in particular, weren’t a part of my life. I was in my teens when the big front window of Dyer’s shop in Sherborne was completely plastered in Yetties LP covers following their first recording. You had to get up early to buy one before they ran out! At this remove, it’s difficult to convey the impact they had on many of us in the South West at that time. But somehow, and despite regular radio broadcasting and even a large number of television appearances, they never lost touch with their roots, and this was certainly true of Pete.

In addition, there are so many people who have Pete to thank for teaching them how to play music. Pete’s ability to judge the best way forward for his pupils on their musical journey was intuitive and rare, his encouragement was sincere and his pleasure in their progress and success was genuine.

He loved and valued the traditional aspects of life in his beloved Dorset and was always happy sharing a few jokes and hearing the reminiscences of older country people. On occasions this led to him – and, through him, others such as myself – picking up songs from his acquaintances. He had a gift for sniffing out those who knew a song, a joke or had a musical bent, and they recognised him as a kindred spirit. His love of good company made him many friends, although it must have driven Mac and Bonny demented: Pete was never to the fore when it was time to pack up the gear after a concert – he was yarning with members of the audience! And he was never happier than when playing along with others for pure pleasure in a local pub. Until a few years ago, he and wife Marian (who, as Marian MacKenzie, was a member of seminal sixties group the Three City Four) often went out as a duo, mixing Marian’s Scots heritage with Pete’s Dorset repertoire to create fascinating and enjoyable evenings.

Over the last few months, Pete’s declining health was visible, but nonetheless, his final illness and death came as a deep shock to his family and friends. The funeral at Yetminster was attended by well over 500 people from all walks of life, from near and far, and afterwards he was taken on the short journey back to his own roots at Ryme Intrinseca, where he rests within a hundred yards or so of his childhood home.

Few of us will be able to look back on our lives, as Pete could (and I hope did), knowing that we had spread so much goodwill in a world that needs it so badly. Someone said the other day that Dorset won’t be quite as beautiful without Pete, and there’s some truth in that. But the legacy he’s left through his music, his encouragement of younger musicians, his humour and natural humanity will, I’m certain, ensure that his memory and influence will enhance life in Dorset and wherever good music and humour are valued for a very long time. And what more is immortality than that?

Our sympathy goes out to Marian, to his children Jamie and Sarah, granddaughter Willow, and the rest of his family.

John Waltham