"I grew up in an immigrant family. My mum and dad came over from Ireland, from rural Kilkenny, in the early 1950s and landed in Industrial South Yorkshire. The noisily thumping heart of Britain’s industrial empire. We settled in a small manufacturing centre called Parkgate, near Rotherham; steel plants and mills on every side as far as you could see, and lines of coal mines just beyond them, winding-wheels whirring incessantly. Row after row of tall chimneys, mouths perpetually wide open, blathering relentlessly at the sky, in visible contrast to the colliery pits whose vasty gullets drew up dark deep down breaths from the very belly of the earth itself beneath our feet.
As I grew up, of course pop and rock music filled my ears though I was always drawn to more acoustically minded folk; James Taylor and Joni Mitchell were biggies for me, Dylan and Leonard Cohen came later. In my late teens I discovered folk clubs and poetry; Martin Carthy, the Watersons, WB Yeats, Christy Moore, Ralph McTell, Dick Gaughan, the Chieftains, Seamus Heaney, and later on Roy Bailey.
I learned lots of the songs and played them here and there but a sense grew up in me that something was lacking. Those lovely renderings expressed other people’s worlds but not my own. Where were the songs of South Yorkshire steel and coal? I knew songs about the Ohio, Thames and Shannon but not about the Don and Rother which had flowed through the whole of my life. Where were the songs in our accent? Shocking to say, they were nowhere to be found. It dawned on me that we would have to write them ourselves.”