Brian's folk tale

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LONGRIDGE folk singer Brian Preston is celebrating 35 years in the entertainment business - and can count the likes of Billy Connolly and folk legend Kate Rusby among his many fans.

I'M off to Germany for 10 days, then Scotland and Norfolk, Lancaster University on July 14 then Morecambe's Smuggler's Den's live music venue in August, Chorley Cricket Club in September and a special concert in Worden Park in Leyland in October!"

What a list! And one which would surely have stopped any other than the very skilled, irrepressible and seemingly unstoppable Brian Preston in their tracks.

But he relayed it for this profile with all the eager anticipation and energy of someone just starting out, somehow leaving behind the fact that he took two years off in 2000 for rest, recuperation, fishing and walking the dogs with wife Jane, determined to 'get back in harness' but at his own pace.

That pace - and for someone not long turned 60 - doesn't seem to have lessened much, however, since he cut his teeth in folk music's post-war revival of the 1960s, but Brian's quest is not only to be an evangelist for folk the world over, but also to put something back into it and for the local community.

His evenings each month at Longridge Folk Club's venue at the Legion are legendary.

The singers nights and guest gigs, organised with the help of Longridge's Ron Flanagan, his friend of 40 years, have a hugely enthusiastic following and through them and others run in Preston, Blackburn and Clitheroe, as well as Ribchester and Garstang, he has also supported many local charities.

He says: "Ron and I are very close, we served an apprenticeship together and now go fishing together at Horns Dam in Goosnargh.

"In fact," he added with a laugh, "I do manage 'my own pace' now up to a point - if I don't fancy doing something, I go fishing with Ron!"

Brian started life and his folk music career under his family name of Dewhurst, but he had to change this to Preston in order to join Equity, the actors union.

He explained: "It was when I went onto the weekly Granada arts programme 'Celebration' in 1980, and was told I couldn't present it as Brian Dewhurst because another Equity member already had that name - the ruling then was one member one surname.

"So I adopted the professional name of the town - now city - where I was born and bred."

He could also coin the motto 'once every Preston Guild' - but certainly not in the context of his innumerable successes! - as he has seen and taken part in three Guild Week celebrations - 1952, 1972 and 1992 (he was born in 1946) and is looking forward to the next in 2012... "not a bad record for a local lad!" he says.

And, where Preston is concerned, he was also a paid up member, organiser and resident of its folk club for over a decade.

He was born Brian Dewhurst at Sharoe Green Hospital, grew up in Ashton in the inspiring shadow of St Walburge's steeple, was educated at the church's Talbot Boys School and then Blessed Campion High School in Lea.

His work experience was at Dick Kerr's and Dorman Smith - where he became superintendent engineer - before he left aged 26 to become a professional singer.

He had served his time at the start of this life career as a floor singer, resident and organiser in the county's folk clubs, joined popular goup 'The Wayfarers' in 1966, forming 'Horden Raikes' four years later with Ron Flanagan with whom he also set up 'Raikes Recordings' to record local north west acts.

After turning professional in 1973 and touring solo, he formed the critically acclaimed 'Tom Tiddlers Ground' with Chris Parkinson and Hugh O'Donnell, later adding the Yorkshire duo Robin Garside and Paul Gough.

They toured constantly, recording albums, singles and cassettes until about 1980 when Brian turned solo, occasionally working with other musicians on 'live' and recording projects.

Over the last 35 years, Brian has built up a vast repertoire of traditional, contemporary and comedy folk songs, always presented with his own brand of lop-sided humour.

He has played folk clubs, concerts, festivals and universities throughout Britain and Europe, supporting hundreds of well-known artistes and getting rave reviews from clubs, the media, festivals, concerts and from the many military venues who have booked him.

'When Brian Preston sang, you could hear a pin drop' - Weeton Barracks; 'one of the finest singers and entertainers in the country' - Whitby Folk Festival; 'he can take an audience in the palm of his hand, make them laugh' - Loughborough Folk Club; 'this man is a natural, a great entertainer and comedian' - New Musical Express and 'I have worked with Brian hundreds of times and he has won the respect and admiration of every singer on the scene' - Mike Harding.

Such reviews must also have been prolific in the Middle and Far East where he worked for a number of years entertaining ex-patriots and nationals, plus international hotels, with his English, Celtic and American traditional and modern songs and music.

On his return home, he ran an entertainment agency for eight years, and was elected to office with the National Entertainments Agents Council and also served on its executive committee for two years.

After the two year 'millennium' break taken with his wife Jane, Brian went back to his 'paced' life on the folk scene and is once again combining his repertoire of good music, razor sharp wit and years of professional experience with countless stories and a reputation for giving one hundred percent at all his gigs.

In June, he and his instrumentalist and vocalist partner Phil Wignall broadcast their 'Lancashire Drift' on BBC Radio Lancashire. They were interviewed and played live in the studio, and are now looking forward to their next appearance together 'In Concert' at Worden Arts Centre on Thursday, October 4, in aid of 'Sing for Someone Else's Supper.'

"That will be a really special night," said Brian. "We're being supported by my son Matthew and my 'other son' Matthew Baxendale, both 18 and an acoustic duo who play under the name of 'Driftwood'."

It sounds as though a lifelong dedication to music will therefore be carried from father to son - a great way of passing on skills, interests, and keeping folk music alive.

Not yet a family tradition, however, Brian mused, when asked where his gifts came from he could pinpoint only one family trait, "my dad, Albert Dewhurst, used to sing a bit!"