Pete Grassby at the 2010 Mangonui Ceili


UK folk entertainer extraordinaire Pete Grassby (he’s been described as a ‘one-man folk festival’) made his annual foray to the Far North of New Zealand and the Mangonui Ceili last night. The hall was packed and Pete was on form with spirited and oft-hilarious dance calling. I interviewed multi-instrumentalist/singer Pete Grassby recently in a DBFR studio and I’d like to share a little of that Voices from the North interview with you now.

In the last months Pete has had his own brush with cancer. He had a mole removed from his back (a growth that had been there for something like 15 years – “It didn’t itch and it didn’t hurt and being in the middle of my back, I couldn’t see it so I left it’) that turned out to be cancerous so surgery was repeated and extended a further 5mm all around the original incision. “That felt more like a badger than a mole being removed,” said Pete. Get the humour?

Pete encourages anyone with an unusual skin growth to get it checked, rather than live with the uncertainty.

He has personally used the experience as a call to take stock. A few months back Pete lost another dear friend, guitarist Dave Bennett. Once again, a reminder that the termination of one’s life can come around at any time, so get on with what needs to be done.

Pete shared some touching live music in the studio after speaking about the origins of one of my favourite Pete Grassby songs—The Whale Song—from his Cilan CD. He started off the live music with a couple Richard Thompson offerings performed with Pete’s own interpretation on guitar (a six string kindly lent Pete by Dougie Chowns.) In addition to being a fine singer and superb guitarist, Richard Thompson is a great lyricist. So listen closely to the words Pete sings of Down Where the Drunkards Roll and Beeswing.

 Listen to the complete interview below:

At last count, Pete was able to play about 40 different instruments (including percussion) and he’d like to record one song on his upcoming CD that includes parts with each of these instruments. He’s a talented melodeon player (and repairer) and he squeezed out a medley of three tunes on the melodeon he brought with him from home. The three melodies were The Sweetness of Mary, Stan Chapman’s arrangement of a traditional Scottish tune and Marnie Swanson of the Grey Coast by Andy Thorburn.

Not long ago Pete played the Bunker in Devonport, Auckland. He calls it the best folk club in the world. That’s no small assertion from a man who’s played a lot of clubs in his lifetime in music.

Pete Grassby closed out the interview with a Tony Franklin song of a Cornish tinker called The Higgler. All in all this was a most enjoyable interview for me to be part of. Pete is wonderful, warm-hearted man and ‘folk song story telling’ is a natural extension of his kind and friendly nature. As always, we look forward to his return next January to the Mangonui Ceili. If all goes well I’ll interview him again then and include selections from the CD he plans to begin recording in a few months time.


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Radio host, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives, a startlingly poignant and inspiring real-life endorsement of the power of thought, belief and synchronicity in one’s life.

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