TURNING BACK TIME

THEN AND NOW (FEAT LEADER PAGE/hold) from left today, David Pearce, Dick Gilllingham and Ron Baxter
THEN AND NOW (FEAT LEADER PAGE/hold) from left today, David Pearce, Dick Gilllingham and Ron Baxter
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Wyre Light, keep on shining; Wyre Light, lead me home, for the tide will soon be turning and the daylight’s nearly gone. Fire could not destroy you, nor the shadows of the night, like the fire that burns within me, keep on shining Wyre Light.

The song’s by Chris Beeson, the chorus, according to local historian David Pearce, sums up the “optimism we feel that Fleetwood will come to know better, but different, times, after so much tradition has disappeared”.

Time and tide stop for no man. Ask the trio who are turning back the clock to the heyday of Fleetwood as a port, to chart its rise and fall, and now hoped-for regeneration.

It is almost 30 years since Gazette photographer Mike Foster pictured David, Ron Baxter, and Dick Gillingham on Fleetwood Docks, when they created Final Trawl, using songs, poems, drama and music to depict the once-mighty fishing industry.

That was back in 1982, and Final Trawl soon found an appreciative audience throughout the North West and at the international folk festival in Sidmouth. Other projects followed in similar vein, building on that success.

Now fast forward to 2011, and the Final Trawl’s founding fathers are back, indeed even stood on the same spot, in what passes for dockland today, with hardly, as David puts it, a “fishing boat left in Fleetwood, and the docks have become a marina, surrounded by shops and new houses”.

Bar a receding hairline or two, time has been kinder to the three local historians. Twenty-nine years on, the friends are collaborating on yet another project to commemorate their home town, through words and music that tell the story of the men and women who created a unique community and gave the town its life and heritage.

Using the tried and tested formula of the Final Trawl, they will present their latest modern folk opera, The Golden Dream, in the ballroom of the North Euston Hotel, Fleetwood, at 7.30pm on Thursday and Friday. Tickets cost £5 from Fleetwood Museum on Queens Terrace, or from reception at the historic hotel itself.

Ron and Dick have been mates since they were four, attending the same infants school at the long gone Blakiston Street School. David and Dick were briefly pupils together at Fleetwood Grammar, but began working together on heritage projects in 1981.

The three have joined forces with fellow members of Fleetwood Folk Club to mark the 175th birthday of the town of Fleetwood, born of the vision of the local squire, Sir Peter Hesketh Fleetwood, and created from a greenfield site in 1836.

Eleven members of the club, including resident band, Spitting On The Roast, take part, along with singers from Fleetwood Choral Society. The folk club itself meets every Thursday at the Strawberry Gardens Pub, on Poulton Road.

Ron, a civil servant, writer, artist and former Merchant Navy deck officer, explains: “We know this style of presentation works well, and we hope this show will get the same kind of appreciation from audiences that we’ve had in the past.”

A shorter version forms part of the Fylde Folk Festival in Fleetwood later this year.

Dick, a retired teacher and Fleetwood Museum volunteer, adds: “No way is this a boring history lesson. There’s a lot of humour in there with songs like Dome of Discovery, which recalls a famous Fleetwood shop where you could buy anything from a tin tack to an old army uniform – and another piece that recalls the smell from Isaac Spencer’s Fish Factory!”

While Golden Dream has a strong focus on ships and the sea, the men who sailed in them, and on them, while the women waited ashore, it touches on many other parts of Fleetwood life, from Tram (now Transport) Sunday through to the success of Fleetwood Town FC and the Cod Army of supporters, who may have missed out on promotion, but are willing their team to climb ever higher in the coming season.

An animated film about their football heroes, made by children at Shakespeare Primary School, forms part of a digital backcloth to the show, along with nostalgia pictures such as the paddle steamer Monas Queen en route to Douglas, or the four-masted German barque Bertha entering port.

The tragi-comedy of dockland life is featured, along with a night out with deckhands, the rules and regulations of early Fleetwood, a trip to magistrates’ court and a look at how Fleetwood often presented an opportunity to make money.

David, a journalist who has covered maritime Fleetwood for 50 years, as well as an active community project member, concludes: “We don’t look back on life on the trawlers or the docks through rose-coloured glasses, because it wasn’t glamorous. We admire the courage and comradeship of those days, and what we have written has been done with respect in mind for those who lived through those times. It’s an affectionate tribute to our home town. Hopefully, there will be more laughter than tears.”

jacqui.morley@ blackpoolgazette.co.uk