I’ve been sorting out some records. I’ve a pile of LP’s that were my mother’s. What do you do with these old pieces of vinyl? Several were loved and played regularly, sadly leading to them being badly worn and scratched. So the solution is establishing if they’re actually playable. This exercise led me to the stage, and then film musical, South Pacific. I was astounded by how magnificent it was. It seems I had all these melodies and vocals etched into my psyche. The setting is an idyllic island in WW2 where a US base is located. On the island the personnel strut their stuff in high jinx and courtships. In the meanwhile the locals look on with their attractive yet simpler life. All this is set against an imminent deadly battle with the Japanese.
You’ll know many of the songs if not necessarily the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. They created some of the most important popular music of the mid to late 20th Century with Oklahoma! The King & I, Carousel and The Sound Of Music amongst their creations. In addition they wrote with other collaborators; so their canon of work is more considerable and brilliant. If’d you asked me to sing one of the songs I could have probably got most of them but it wasn’t until I spun the disc that I realised I knew them all.
News filtered out into the media this week about, former employee, Niall McTurk’s disposal of his successful student letting business – Sinclair Properties based in York. Linley & Simpson acquired the business for an undisclosed amount. However, I suggest if Niall owed you a fiver, from his time at Moores, he now will be in a good position to now pay you back without him being inconvenienced.
For those of us with a corporate background then taking a punt on your own talents and setting up a business from scratch is brave and unlikely. I can think of only one other former Moores person who’s done this (Jim Brady).
Niall was a remarkable Technical Manager who, like many of us, found himself surplus to requirements when the whole manufacturing organisation was restructured at Moores at the beginning of the century. I remember the then Managing Director intervening to ensure Niall departed with an appropriate settlement such was his surprise at his selection. However for Niall this was the beginning of something exceptional. I well remember travelling somewhere in the car and his mobile calls to some students he’s roped in to repaint a property, obviously one of his first, that he was restoring prior to letting. Student accommodation was in its infancy as a bespoke and dedicated market in York. This coincided with the expansion of higher education by the Blair governments.
A quick look at Sinclair Properties will show you what they do and their expertise. I know that Niall, with his demanding attention to detail, laid down many exact standards for how the properties were to be let, maintained and returned. This discipline has served tenants and landlords well.
This forensic detail was a tremendous asset for Moores. When we were successful selling over a £1m of cabinetry to Hong Kong I recollect the Chinese director, at our customer, purring at Niall’s visit where he collected all the staff together and with demanding instruction helped them on the installation of the product we’d made. This approach and an open mind was something that also earned Moores £millions when a ludicrous request was made by the London Housing Consortium to devise a repairable kitchen cabinet, after installation in situ.
As we all clutched our stomachs, including the competition, in mirth at this request Niall knuckled down and specified the Pioneer range. I don’t have the figures now to hand but sales, five years after it’s launch, of £8m comes to mind on this highly specified and high margin product alone.
Reading the weekend Yorkshire Post newspaper I came across a popular feature where they interview a local worthy and they pronounce on the following questions. Here’s my go…
What’s your first Yorkshire memory?
I suppose the first awareness I had of my surroundings, outside of the home in north Leeds, was going into town, down Scott Hall Road, with my mother on the bus. There we’d visit Leeds indoor market for meat and vegetables before going on to Lewis’s on the Headrow for other groceries. I remember the counters where things were sold by weight including broken biscuits. All this was the very early 1960s.
What’s your favourite part of the county and why?
Gosh, there are so many beautiful parts to choose but it’d probably be the Wolds (although an honourable mention goes to the sumptuous Dales and the coast). On the Wolds at Garrowby you can see endless farmland and when at the very top receive a brilliant view to the west. It’s breezy, open, free from traffic, undeveloped and the perfect place to escape on a bike ride.
What’s your idea of a perfect weekend/day out in Yorkshire?
Taking the top down on the Morgan and heading over the rugged North York Moors to Whitby with Anna, or maybe to Saltburn-by-the-Sea where I spent a year away at boarding school in the year England won the World Cup.
In Whitby we’d have fish and chips and if we’re staying over maybe a pint at The Endeavour or The Elsinore. The contrast with the city of York and the salt air, squawking seagulls, small steep lanes and beaches is marked and only an hour’s drive from home. If I were lucky I’d slip off on the Sunday morning for a bike ride on the local 20% gradient climbs!
Do you have a favourite walk or view?
A walk on the beach at Sands End is always a treat, especially if you can find an ice cream van for a cornet. However we’re blessed around York with the rivers Foss and Ouse to walk along or a dip into the several woods to see deer, hares and a plethora of different birds.
If you had to name your Yorkshire ‘hidden gem’, what or where would it be?
There is a remarkable stately home in East Yorkshire called Sledmere House, between Norton and Driffield. It’s a beautiful period house with wonderful rooms and large landscaped estate. The history of the aristocratic owners over the centuries and their exciting lives is remarkable and captured brilliantly in one of the descendant’s books (Christopher Simon Sykes) The Big House.
Do you have a favourite restaurant or pub?
Now I’m not a foodie and if it’s fresh, well cooked and presented nicely I’m happy but a trip to the Veggie in Ilkley works very well for Anna and myself with everything completely delicious. A pint of bitter in a pub is a treasure and without doubt The Blue Bell on Fossgate in York is my ‘go to’ boozer.
Do you have a favourite food shop?
I love bread and bakeries are my favourite shops. Little Arras on Goodramgate in York has exceptional sourdough bread and a wide selection of cakes to help you add to your waistline. As a simple man then I must doff my hat to that large Yorkshire, head quartered in Bradford, grocer Morrisons, what would life be like without their meat pies?
Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take for dinner?
I once heard Dame Judi Dench talk at my daughter’s speech day and she is a wonderful raconteur, however, Michael Palin is genuinely hilarious and has had a wonderful career in comedy and travel that would keep me engrossed. If he were busy then Bob Mortimer would be a terrific deputy.
Which Yorkshire sportsperson, past or present, would you like to take for lunch?
It’d be hard not to invite Geoff Boycott, Howard Wilkinson or Joe Root but I would have been honoured to sit down with Jane Tomlinson. After she was diagnosed with terminal cancer she embarked on many fund raising activities including running marathons and, lastly, riding a bike across the USA in 2004. That is Yorkshire grit. I would have a great time sharing our joint experiences of the route. Her charity today has now raised over £10m and that is a wonderful legacy for a very determined and brave woman who checked out at only 43 years old.
Do you follow sport in the county and if so, what?
From the age of 10 when I saw my first match sat on the shoulders of my future brother-in-law, Bill, in the Scratching Shed of Leeds United versus Blackpool (we lost!), I’ve been a lifelong Leeds fan having had a season ticket for several years and hiring a corporate box when I worked at Moores Furniture Group in Wetherby.
What do you think gives Yorkshire it’s unique identity?
I think the image is of self-contained dogged (bloody minded?) determination allied to an often no nonsense, no frills approach to life. The rugged, sweeping and hilly landscape with some hard weather surely is the reason for these characteristics.
How do you think Yorkshire has changed, for better or worse, in the time I’ve known it?
The whole world is now more global (not least thanks to Captain James Cook) and cultures mingle and dilute. Given that faith, ethnicity and economic circumstance can create ‘silos’ of separation then it’s a good thing that we can’t always retreat to where we were 50 years ago. So yes it has changed and hopefully with tolerance we can have the best of the ‘new’ and the best of the ‘old’.
Who is your favourite author/ book/ artist/CD/ performer?
My bag is music and I was delighted after thinking about this question to be back in my dormitory at Ashville College in Harrogate acquiring an LP by a Yorkshire legend that still sounds brilliant today. Arthur Brown’s 1968 The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown is a classic and he was born in Whitby. “I am the god of hellfire and I bring you fire”….
If a stranger to Yorkshire, only had time to visit one place. It would be?
Impossible! However, probably the largest cathedral north of the Alp: York Minster. It stands dominant and magnificent in the centre of York. It took 300 years to complete in the 15th Century; the structure is imposing and majestic. Apart from the awesome building it contains a book that lists the 18,000 men and women who died while serving in the Royal Air Force in Yorkshire, Northumberland and Durham during the Second World War. This includes many from the then British Empire and I can never fathom the bond that drew these people from thousands of miles away to fight and die in a war that must have seemed remote, say, on a sheep farm in New Zealand.
This is a beautiful album of strong heartfelt vocals and sublime melodies, sung over simple arrangements. Starr is well into double figures of album releases but to her credit she’s still turning out music of considerable quality. There’s a definite pop sensibility housed in an Americana sound. My research I found her being interviewed after opening for Steve Earle in 2003; all this suggests a recognition of her talents and circulation, for some time, amongst the luminaries of Americana.
However the album doesn’t come from an overly confident artist in her pomp, but one whose trauma of dealing with her sexuality in a Mississippi fundamentalist Christian community still haunts her several decades later. The nine songs deal with anger, loneliness, rejection, anxiety, lost time and eventual empowerment as she surfed a wave of hostility related to her identity as a lesbian. A gay female musician is not an unusual story nowadays, especially when you consider her contemporaries. However, it must be a difficult journey and I remember the audacity and bravery of Mellissa Etheridge’s 1993 ‘coming out’ album Yes I Am.