The Yetties, A Dorset folk-group
Pete Shutler, Mac McCulloch, Bonny Sartin and Bob Common (The Yetties) first met in the Yetminster Scout Group in the mid 1950’s. Singing round the camp fire and performing little sketches which developed into shows in the Church Hall to raise money for camping trips etc.. Then the Yetminster W.I. started folk dance classes in the hall every other Tuesday night and the girls of the village went along to join in. None of us boys actually lived in Yetminster at the time but the attraction of a bunch of lovely young ladies to dance with was too much so the village became our social centre. This developed into forming a young folk dance display team which performed their favourite Dorset dances at local fetes and festivals. The village down the road is Ryme Intrinseca so we were The Yetminster & Ryme Intrinseca Junior Folk Dance Display Team. This proved to be a bit of a mouthful for the M.C. when we went to the village of Offley, up near Hitchin in Hertfordshire, for their folk festival. He shortened it to The Yetties and the name stuck for the next 50 years.
We gradually started singing more folk songs. Bob, Mac and I all worked for the same printing company and lunch times we would borrow the works van and head off into the countryside to practice. Goodness knows what the local livestock thought of this. Pete decided his instrument was the accordion but at first he could only manage the keyboard side so Mac bought another and played the bass end. Eventually Pete mastered both sides and Mac picked up the guitar. Although they were both self-taught it was obvious they had real talent. Bob made himself a drum kit from bits of old piping and in between visiting local folk song clubs they went off to play for folk dances as The Ranters with a chap called Bryon Bonnett.
We all had different jobs within the group. I was transport manager because I had 1933 Ford 8. We would squash into this venerable machine with the instruments lashed to the carrier on the back and, to be fair to the old girl, she didn’t let us down very often. There was one night when we had to stick a couple of torches out the window because the lights had failed but Bob, a motor mechanic by trade, could usually fix things up if there was a hitch. When we went further afield we would hire a big Vauxhall from a chap at Stoford but they proved no more reliable than the Ford. They only cost us 10s (50p) a day though so it’s hardly surprising.
We started our own folk song club across the border in Yeovil in 1963 and through artists we booked and visits to Sidmouth Folk Festival etc. word began to spread about this rustic singing group from Dorset. We did a couple of television shows for TSW in Plymouth in 1965 and it was about this time that we were contacted by a BBC radio producer in London who was planning a live show from Cecil Sharp House (the headquarters of The English Folk Dance & Song Society). This was not a simple operation. None of us were on the phone in 1965 but he persevered and eventually found the number of the phone box in Yetminster and rang that. The vicar happened to be passing and answered, took the message and gave it to the publican at The White Hart. Next time we went in for a pint it was duly passed to us so we went down to the box, put our pennies in the slot and got our first, very nerve racking, job for the BBC.
We were out dancing and singing virtually every night and still trying to hold down jobs and it began to dawn on us that something had to give because you can only burn the candle at both ends for so long. Visitors to our club had suggested that we should go professional because there were hundreds of folk song clubs popping up all over the country which needed performers and they thought we would fit the bill. At first we were very dubious but eventually in 1967, when Macs apprenticeship was finished, we decided we would give it a try for 3 months and see what happened. The firm I worked for even kept my job open for the 3 months. What an understanding boss! The trial period soon whizzed by and the work rolled in. I look at my diary from this time and gawp. We were all over the place working virtually every night and travelling in beat up old Humbers. They didn’t last long, about 6 months and I would then get another. Having said that the Green Shield Stamp collection rapidly grew. We didn’t go mad with the money. Our wages were £8 a week each but Yetties bought the meals etc. We never paid for accommodation. Some trusting soul would always provide a roof over our heads and we all took sleeping bags, which were quite often unrolled on a carpet. If you got a bed that was real luxury. Having said that we were traversing the country, meeting lots of interesting people and expanding our horizons. They always say travel broadens the mind but actually it’s not the travelling so much as the people you meet on the way.
In 1969 we had our first long trip to foreign parts. We had worked with a dance troupe called London Folk at various folk festivals (Sidmouth, The Albert Hall, Billingham etc.) and they had been asked to go to Romania for 2 weeks to take part in a festival over there. They wondered if we would like to join them to sing a few songs, play the music and muck in wherever we could and also have a bit of a holiday with a difference. We duly went to rehearsals, were fitted out with costumes and off we went. There were teams of dancers from all over Europe, most of them from communist countries. They took things very seriously and they had the big beafy minders with them to make sure they didn’t skip into the British Embassy and try to escape whereas we were out for a bit a giggle. At the end of the festival the prizes were handed out and we got one for being happy. The best prize of all. All the winners were invited to a party organised by the team from Outer Mongolia who had won the 1st prize. This was a strange occasion. Nobody spoke Mongolian in our party and their idea of a bash was to drink Mongolian Vodka and eat tinned sardines. I wouldn’t recommend this blend but we were all on the same hooch so it didn’t matter so much. Because we had won a prize we were asked to stay on for a couple more days to do a concert for the President. Because this was going to make us late getting back to the UK but they laid on a special flight for us. Unfortunately this was in a very ancient Russian plane which looked and felt as if was going to fall apart at any moment. I did see one some years later when we were touring in Czechoslovakia. It had belly flopped by the road and the locals, very sensibly, were using what was left of it as a transport café.
After 3 years of tearing all over the place we were beginning to get thoroughly drained again and it was time to make big decisions. We had made 3 LPs by this time for a company in Oxford, Festival at Towersey, Fifty Stones of Loveliness and Who’s A’Fear’d, had appeared at The Albert Hall Festival for the English Folk Dance & Song Society and had been to many Festivals up and down the country so The Yetties were getting known. None of us fancied going back to our old jobs so we decided to stick with it and see what developed. Then we received a letter from a chap called Jim Lloyd who was the front man for all the BBCs folk programmes. He said he was getting lots of favourable reports about us and it was obvious to him we were working far too hard for too little money and before long we would have to give up. He hit the nail firmly on the head. He offered to be our manager and said he would get us a lot more TV, Radio and concerts in theatres. Here was our way forward so we signed on the dotted line and worked with him for 13 years. One of the first things he did was to get us a contract for 6 LPs over a 3 year period with Argo Records. Jim was excellent. In, what we laughingly call show business, if you find someone who does what they say they will do you hang on to them. For us to go into a theatre and know what to do with the sound equipment and lights etc. was a big step and his tuition was invaluable.
The E.F.D.S.S. published out first song book at this time and over the years 4 more were to follow for different companies. There was also a music book later on with tunes from the Hardy family collection, The Musical Heritage of Thomas Hardy.
By this time we were also thinking of settling down with wives, families, mortgages etc. and the timing of all these changes was absolutely spot on. We were still putting in the miles but now earning enough to pay for all the extras. Jim was right about the T.V., Radio etc. Multi-Colour Swap Shop for the kids on a Saturday morning, Tonight (a sort of newsy One Show), even a Mike Reid Spectacular and lots more television in Bristol, Plymouth and Southampton. We recorded dozens of sessions for BBC Radio and worked on Pete Murray’s Open House, Country Meets Folk and other live shows. We worked with all sorts of household names. Cliff Richard and Twiggy were on one of Christmas Swap Shop programmes. We did a series called Hoe Down for BBC TV. It was a sort of Young Farmers ‘It’s a knockout’ and teams of youngsters from all over the country competed in rural crafts, combine harvester racing etc. to become champions of Great Britain. We were booked to help with the judging and sing a song each week. Ted Moult was the other judge and Lance Percival was the city type employed to balance the show. We explained what was about to happen to Lance and in doing so passed the information on to those watching.
This mass media publicity helped us enormously and in between we kept making LPs for Argo including one with Bob Arnold, Tom Forrest of The Archers, in 1974. Bob was a fine singer and entertainer in his day and he had all these old songs he’d picked when he was young man from singers in his Uncle’s pub. We did the backing vocals and music and it set up a long-standing relationship. We would meet up at the BBCs Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham when we were doing Pebble Mill at One and he was recording The Archers. If you listen to the Archers omnibus edition of a Sunday morning you will hear our recording of the theme tune and when Argo/Decca organised a weekend party in Sherborne to present us with our gold discs Bob came down to do the honours. One of the Bristol papers would have a competition every year and the winners would be sent to Ambridge. The BBC took over a village in the Cotswold for this occasion and our job was to greet the people as they got off the coach and take them down The Bull for a sing song with Bob and some of the rest of the cast. Nice work if you can get it!
We also started travelling to Germany to perform in the Army and Air Force bases. I can remember packing every spare space in the car with LPs but we had sold them all after the first 5 concerts and we had 6 more to do. I was distraught but we came home with a lovely pile of cash and the bank manager actually smiled at me.
We still very much kept in touch with Yetminster. One of our albums was called The Yetties of Yetminster, we had photo shoots in the village and The Village Band was recorded in the church hall with Sherborne Town Band. The picture for the sleeve of this one was taken outside The White Hart. The church bells play The National Anthem every 3 hours and the producer was determined to start the LP with this but every time we set the microphones up a plane would fly over or a car would drive past. Then, one afternoon at 3p.m. there was perfect peace, the bells started to chime and then someone leaned over the wall and shouted, ‘Yer! Bonny wanna buy a raffle ticket!’ Eventually the recording crew got up very early one morning and did the job at 6a.m. Yetminster Fair also started and we performed at this event until we retired. The other long-standing booking was in Northampton for their Christmas Singalong Concerts. This was our last event before Christmas every year for over 30 years.
In 1978 Bob Common decided he’d had enough of gallivanting all over the place. He had a young family and his wife wanted him home. Very understandable in the circumstances. There was no great bust up and he actually gave a years’ notice so that we could adapt our performances and carry on without him. What a gent! His last concert was at the end of 1979 in the theatre at Yeovil, five miles from home. We gave him our estate car for transport and bought another one. It all went well although I think Bob suffered a bit from withdrawal symptoms.
Early in the 80’s the government began to cut back left, right and centre. Many of England’s theatres virtually closed down and there weren’t many slots for live bands any more. We carried on but it meant that a little more diversification was needed. Fortunately for us these cut backs also affected an organisation called The British Council which sends British culture, music, plays etc. all over the world. They couldn’t afford to hire a Shakespeare Company or a Symphony Orchestra so often so they began booking bands like us. Unbeknown to us their representatives had been coming to our concerts in the London area and checking us out, making sure we were personable and not likely to cause a riot or make a diplomatic bloomer.
Eventually in 1982 they rang up Jim Lloyd and asked if we would be prepared to go to Nepal. Yetties in Nepal??? We were intrigued to say the least and naturally said yes. The tour began to grow and grow as they found more countries who were interested. The finished itinerary was Nepal, Pakistan, Singapore, Malaysia, Sarawak, Hong Kong, Thailand and Sri Lanka. 27 flights in 7 weeks. It was hectic but absolutely fascinating and we met a lot of lovely people, some of whom have since visited us here in Sherborne. We were very nervous about our reception in these far flung places but once we got over the problems caused by our instruments, costumes etc. flying on to Tokyo when we were in Nepal we settled down and The Rising Nepal newspaper’s headline was ‘Methinks The Yetties are Terribly Delightful’.
Despite the poverty in many of the places we visited the hospitality was wonderful. We had been told not to sample food offered to us by the locals because it might have an adverse effect, to put things politely, but how can you refuse when things are so freely given by people who have so little. It’s just not polite. The only time we really suffered was when we were taken out into the middle of Kuching in Sarawak by The British Council Representative. Let me tell you it was not easy flying down through Sarawak in little planes dropping into towns and doing concerts with our stomachs in complete turmoil. Bear in mind that as part of the show I was doing a Morris Dance and a Broom Dance. There was no contact with home during the first 3 weeks. You had to book your telephone call a couple of days in advance and by that time we were a thousand miles away. I eventually rang my family from Singapore and it cost me an arm and a leg but it was worth it. The tour was certainly and eye opener and I have never seen people work so hard for so little and still smile. I came away with a feeling of great respect.
The following year we went back to Nepal again and we were treated like long lost sons coming home. We also visited Pakistan again for a longer tour and went to Peshawar up on the Afghan border which was not a good place to be. The concert went fine but there were too many guns about for my liking. We also did tours of Sudan (another dodgy one), Ethiopia (going on Safari in a Ford Cortina looking for hippos and crocodiles and flying round the mountains in an RAF Hercules transport), Greece (fantastic) and along the way made many friends and had a few hairy moments. For 3 lads from the village without a music lesson between us we did OK.
Jim Lloyd parted company with us because he felt he couldn’t get us enough work to keep us and him going. Fair enough considering the cutbacks in the theatres etc. He handed the books over to me and there was not a lot there so it was decision time again. We all felt it was worth carrying on and once people realised they could deal with us direct the phone began to ring. We were still recording whenever we had enough material. Sometimes we would sell the finished product to labels such as Academy Sound & Vision and other times we would release under our own brand of White Hart. In 1988 we did a double album for ASV entitled The Musical Heritage of Thomas Hardy. Thomas Hardy was a very good fiddle player so this was a mixture of readings from Hardy and tunes he and his family collected and played. It came out on LP, Cassette and those new-fangled Compact Discs. We also did this as a concert in various places and it will always stick in my mind as one of the best things we did.
There are many Dorset connections with Newfoundland. Lots of fishermen from the county sailed across the Atlantic to catch cod and, because of the wars with France and Spain and the fact that crossing the ocean in tiny ships was very risky, settled in the outports. They took their songs and music with them and then adapted them to their new surroundings. We toured there a couple of times and produced a cassette called The Banks of Newfoundland which, like the Hardy recording, was a mix of readings, music and song .We also went to Berlin for the BBC before the wall came down and had a whirlwind trip to San Sebastian in northern Spain. Somewhere in the middle we also went to Norway for a festival. It was mid-summer and above the arctic-circle you get 24 hours of daylight so we were expected to keep moving or working all day and night. At the end we felt we had been beaten up by one of Norway’s famous trolls.
The Wonderful world of Steam seems to have cropped up quite a lot in our careers. The enthusiasm of the people involved is brilliant to behold. We started to perform at Stourpaine Bushes before it moved and became The Great Dorset Steam Fair. There was also a similar event at Netley Marsh down near Southampton. The Bluebell Railway booked us year after year to do a concert in a marquee. The audience would be brought in on ‘The Yettties’ special so they were a very happy bunch before they got to see us. That was one of the highlights of the year. We also went regularly to Swanage to raise money for the railway there. The CEO at Swanage suggested we should make a film on the railway with 2 friends who regularly made their videos. Thus we met Phil & Jenny Biggs of Classic Media. Nobody really knew what was about to happen but we had a great time filming on and off the railway, singing songs and acting out little sketches. Pete played several parts and proved to be a very good comedy actor while Mac and I bumbled around doing all sorts of different jobs. The result was Journey Thro’ the Purbecks. It was all a bit of a hoot and was the beginning of a long standing association with Phil and Jenny. Yetties at Yetminster Fair, All Over Dorset, It’s a Fine Thing to Sing, A Weekend at Halsway Manor and 50 Golden Years followed. There were also 5 films about the rivers of Dorset, 2 on The Stour, 2 on the Frome and one on The Piddle which I fronted with Yetties music floating us from one scene to the next.
We continued to do the odd spot of TV and had 4 series of half hour programmes for Radio 2 called Cider & Song. The BBC outside broadcast unit would come down to the village halls of Dorset for these and we would record 2 programmes in an evening. Our local fiddle player, Richard Helson, helped on these occasions and he then regularly went out with us to play for Barn Dances, Ceilidhs and some of the more off the wall performances. Phil Biggs of Classic Media proved to be a very good drummer and he also joined in particularly at our New Year Ceilidhs in Sherborne. With no official manager we became a sort of cottage industry and friends from all over the country booked us regularly for their events. They knew they could pick up the phone, ring me, sort a date and that would be it. Simple as can be. I must mention one family from Barrow in Suffolk who not only booked us but bought a couple of old minibuses when we had finished with them. They proudly drove around with the logo still on the side.
One of our long standing bookings was down at Halsway Manor on the edge of The Quantock Hills near Crowcombe in Somerset, our National Centre for the Folk Arts. (www.halswaymanor.org.uk) We first ran a weekend there in 1969 and these events continued off and on until we retired. There were music workshops, talks on various folk-related subjects and plenty of song, dance, humour and it became just like a friendly family gathering.
Julian Mullins, son of one of the original Yetminster & Ryme Intrinseca Junior Folk Dance Display Team, realised that computers were the thing of the future when he was at school. In fact he was teaching the teachers how to use them. When emails started to fly around the world he very quickly set up system for himself and for us. We rather spoilt the speed of the operation because we didn’t have a computer. He had to put the emails in an envelope and send them to us by post. It took 2 seconds for the emails to come from Australia and two days for them to go the last 8 miles to Sherborne. In the end of course I bought a computer, Julian set up a web site and so we entered the digital age. Just!
The years ticked away and gradually it dawned on us that at some time or other we would have to call a halt. I was the elder by 2 years so if I decided to retire at 65 then that would leave Mac & Pete in a bit of hole. We discussed it in our usual amicable Dorset fashion, (you rarely see a Dorset man throw his toys out of the pram), and thought the best thing to do was for me to keep going for a couple more years and then we would have a final fling in Sherborne in The Digby Hall which had been so big a part of our lives for so long. Here we had recorded albums, made a DVD, done about a hundred concerts and seen over 30 years in. We booked the hall for the weekend of the 9/11th of April 2011. On the Friday we had a Ceilidh, on the Saturday a concert and on the Sunday afternoon we invited everyone in for a cup of tea, a slice of Dorset Apple Cake and a final farewell. One couple even flew in from South Africa for the occasion.
It was a strange way for 3 lads from the wilds of Dorset to make a living but I don’t think we had any regrets. Mac said, ‘We were lucky to get away with that’ and in a way he was right. There were many near squeaks en route. Not just with guns and dodgy planes in far-away places but on the roads of Britain and Europe. However I always felt that making people happy and sometimes think a bit was not a bad way to carry on and I, for one, have no regrets.
Pete sadly passed away on the 21st of September, 2014. Yetminster Church was packed for the funeral and Pete would have loved the fact that the church organist and the representatives of Sherborne Town Band didn’t quite get their act together. We gave him a good send off, and he’s now buried in the churchyard of his home village, Ryme Intrinseca.