A Dorset man – Tim Laycock answers the Random 19 questions

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Folk musician, singer, actor, storyteller, historian, Thomas Hardy expert … Dorset’s Tim Laycock is a man of many talents.

Tim Laycock at a William Barnes party. Image: Tony Gill

Folk musician, singer, actor, storyteller, historian, Thomas Hardy expert … Dorset’s Tim Laycock is a man of many talents.
He was a founder member of Hambledon Hopstep band and his CV includes writing music and playing for the National Theatre’s production of Lark Rise to Candleford, leading The New Scorpion Band, and playing William Barnes in The Year Clock, his own one-man show. He has written community plays and song cycles and is actively involved with the New Hardy Players, for whom he has adapted and directed several Hardy novels.
He is co-founder, with multi-instrumentalist Phil Humphries, of the Ridgeway Singers and Band, who continue the West Gallery tradition of carols and songs. Tim will lead the merriment at the Ridgeways’ annual Barnes tea party in Cerne Abbas village hall, at 3pm on Sunday 19th February. This is a celebration of the dialect poetry of the Dorset writer and polymath, who was born near Sturminster Newton. There are readings, songs and a cream tea – quintessential Dorset. And so, to the questions …

  1. What’s your relationship with Dorset?
    I came to Dorset when I was three, so I don’t actually remember arriving! My father had got a job as headmaster at Fontmell, in the Blackmore Vale, and we moved here from Wiltshire. So I grew up in North Dorset, and went to the old grammar school in Shaftesbury. I moved away for probably ten or 12 years, but I came back in the 80s and have lived here since.
    Basically, Dorset is the inspiration for everything I do – all the traditional music and stories and to a large extent the drama is all connected to Dorset and the oral history of the county.
  1. What was the last song you sang out loud in your car?
    It’s an old song, part of the play that I’m working on at the moment (Spinning the Moon, 4th-15th April, Hardye Theatre Dorchester), which is set in the aftermath of the battle of Bosworth Field. One of the songs is a drinking song of the time, and I’ve been driving around the county singing at the top of my voice ‘bring us in good ale, good ale, bring us in good ale!’ The song lists all the different foods that were eaten at the time, and most were … not very good. But you could always rely on ale!
  2. The last film you watched? I’d certainly recommend it. I saw it on TV over Christmas – Sam Mendes’ 1917. It’s the story of two soldiers who are given a mission to cross no man’s land during the First World War, across enemy lines, to take a vital message to another group of soldiers who are about to be trapped. They have to get this message through – and that’s it.
    It’s just the story of their journey – but it’s so well done. It’s tremendous.
  3. It’s Friday night – you have the house to yourself, and no work is allowed. What are you going to do?
    I suppose it depends whether you think it’s work or not for me … I’ve been learning the cello for a long time, and during lockdown I really got stuck into it. So what I absolutely love to do, if there’s no one else around, is to play it – as loud as I like! In fact, we live in a semi-detached cottage, and our neighbours have moved out, so with no one next door I can really go for it!
    Playing my cello out loud, accompanied by a small glass of scotch … that is a very good way to spend a Friday night.
  1. What is your comfort meal?
    Chicken curry of some sort!
  2. What would you like to tell 15 year-old you?
    I think I would like to tell myself to get on and learn to play the piano. It’s the one thing I regret – if I’d learned when I was much younger, it would have been so very useful.
  3. The best crisps flavour?
    Well now. I do like crisps, but recently I have discovered vegetable crisps, and I really really like them. So I would just go for a nice bag of veggie crisps please!
  4. And the best biscuit for dunking?
    Oh, it’s got to be a Bourbon!
  5. What book did you read recently that stayed with you?
    The one that has stayed with me was Natasha Solomons’ Mr Rosenblums List.* She’s actually a local author, and this book is partly based on her grandfather who was Jewish and came to this country just before Second World War.
    When Mr Rosenblum and his wife arrived in England, he was handed a list as he got off the boat; things he had to do to become a proper Englishman (including join a golf club!).
    He moved into London, set up a business in the East End, then promptly got moved to an internment camp when the war started. But he came down to Dorset when he was released and he fell in love with the place. He came to somewhere which sounds very much like it’s in the Ibberton area, and the book is about how this Jewish business man becomes integrated into the local rural community.
    It’s such a delightful book. It’s poignant, and it’s funny, there’s lots of humour in it. But the thing I love about it is that there’s so much folklore in it. Some is real folklore that I already knew about, but quite a lot of it Natasha has tweaked a bit because I’ve never heard it before in relation to Dorset! The book quietly builds up a wonderful picture of this rather eccentric chap who moves to a quiet Dorset village, and how the locals relate to him and his wife.
    And he does in fact solve the problem of the golf course (none of the London ones would accept a Jew, of course) by building one for himself on the side of Bulbarrow.
  1. What would you like to be remembered for?
    I think I’d most like to be remembered for helping to keep alive the flame of Dorset oral history. So many people over the years have given me stories and songs and taught me things, generally people of an older generation.
    Now I feel that I’m in a position to do the same. I love it when other people become enthused by the old stories and customs and songs of the county. That I find deeply rewarding.
  2. Your most annoying trait?
    I’m told, even though I don’t regard it as annoying myself at all, that it is ‘leaving heaps of stuff about the house’. It might be heaps of clothes to other people, but they are, in fact, simply clothes prepared and ready for use the next day.
    Or it could be (and to be fair, it usually is) heaps of scripts and writing paper etc. Which are actually laid out carefully, in order, ready to be worked on.

‘Heaps’ are a source of annoyance, apparently!

  1. What shop can you not pass by?
    Very easy – just down the valley (I now live in the Bride Valley) is the Modbury farm shop. And it’s just wonderful – a lovely range of produce, loads of it is local, and it’s a very social place to go, too; you nearly always meet someone you know. I recommend it to everyone – and it’s extremely hard to pass without going in!
  2. Your favourite quote?
    I thought hard about this. It’s probably the last line of William Barnes’ famous poem Praise of Dorset. Barnes wrote wonderful poetry in the Dorset dialect, nearly all of it inspired by friends and faces and people he know in the Sturminster Newton area. I think this is just wonderful:

‘Vor Do’set dear,
Then gi’e woone cheer;
D’ye hear? woone cheer!’

Tim Laycock
  1. Tell us about one of the best evenings you’ve ever had?
    This was fantastic! Last year the Commonwealth Games were held in Birmingham, and we were lucky to get some tickets to the closing ceremony. We took two of our grandchildren, and it was just the most fantastic celebration of Birmingham. All the athletes were there and relaxing, and it was a whole string of (mostly) singers and dancers from all sorts of cultural backgrounds, and all connected to Birmingham. The whole audience had come for a good time, and you felt the entire city was patting itself on the back. It was just a real celebration of a city. I’ve been to Birmingham so many times to sing in folk clubs, but I saw it in a different light that night. Everyone was so friendly, so exuberant. It really was a wonderful evening.
  2. What was the last gift you either gave, or received?
    The last gift I received was yesterday! We’d lent a little electric freezer to someone in the village, and when they brought it back they gave us a small framed photo of a cat. We both initially thought ‘oh, well, that’s quite nice, but not sure why they gave us that’! But then when we looked more closely, we realised it was a photo that they had taken of our last cat.
    We don’t have any cats at the moment, but outside our house we’ve got a stone statue to our last cat, Bimport (named after the place in Shaftesbury). And they had a photo of Bimport which they’d taken years before – it was such a touching thing to receive and to be unexpectedly reminded of a very, very dear pet.
  3. Your top three most-visited websites?
    Um, my top three are all the same one – YouTube. I absolutely love YouTube, I use it more than anything else. There’s so much wonderful music, and history, and I admit I very often use the ‘how to’ repair guides!
    It’s that or the news, I’m afraid.
  4. What in life is frankly a mystery to you?
    Computers! I’m constantly thinking that I really ought to be better at them than I am.
  5. Chip Shop Chips or Home Baked Cake?
    Cake, definitely.
  6. You have the power to pass one law tomorrow, uncontested.
    What would you do?
    I think I would pass a law that every child ought to be able to study art and music at school to the level they would like to. It’s being eroded, isn’t it?

You can hear some of Tim’s folk music on Spotify here and keep up with his latest projects on TimLaycockMusic.

*Natasha Solomons was a previous Random 19 guest of the BV (June 22) you can read her answers here.

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