Pop and rock stars have often chosen to buy farms with their wealth but Glaisdale sheep farmer Tony Richardson took the opposite route.
The son of a fireman-turned-farmer and one of five children, he learned to play the guitar in his teens at the birth of rock ’n’ roll and since 1955 has mixed entertaining human flocks with lambing, buying tups and rearing cattle.
In recent years he has turned to song-writing, specifically about the North York Moors and Whitby, where he was born. He has recorded CDs and three years ago launched a DVD, Beautiful North Yorkshire, with magical scenes of the town and the countryside portrayed in his songs. His second DVD, Countryside & Memories, was released in March this year.
“In the 90s I got this idea about starting to write country songs about all around here. If you go to Scotland, Wales or Ireland there are songs about every town, but there didn’t appear to be much for the North York Moors and Whitby and I love them both.”
Music and farming have been Tony’s dual passions since he started playing the ukulele as a 14-year-old. He progressed to the guitar at 15-16 and played in between milking cows and tending sheep and pigs at Mountain Ash Farm.
“The first song I ever sang live was Lonnie Donegan’s Dead or Alive, he was very popular at the time and I played it at the Robinson Institute in Glaisdale. I had no amplifier or microphone in those days, just an acoustic guitar and my voice.”
Tony’s musical journey saw him play 23 consecutive summer seasons at the legendary Corner Café Theatre in Scarborough, many major clubs in the North, and make five trips to the States playing shows in Nebraska, Missouri and Iowa. He has always performed under a slightly shortened version of his real name thanks to the entertainments manager at Whitby Spa.
“Captain Cooper was a Scotsman who wore a kilt and told me that he’d run out of room on the poster he was preparing, so I became Tony Richards because he couldn’t get the ‘on’ on. I’ve been Tony Richards ever since and Tony Richardson when farming.”
His first break came when he was offered the opportunity to join Johnny Milson’s Dance Band from Robin Hood’s Bay in 1957. Playing also led to romance and marriage.
“Johnny needed a guitar player to make his band up to a five-piece and I think I got the job more because he needed a fifth member for the contract rather than my ability, but I played with him for two winter seasons in 1957-58 and met my wife Ann. We married in 1959 and lived at Mountain Ash Farm in Glaisdale where my parents had moved to from Daisy Bank Farm in Littlebeck in 1950.
“Ann and I came to Egton Banks Farm in 1964 with our two-year-old son Mark and we’ve been here ever since.”
In 1966 Tony started on the workingmen’s clubs circuit and holiday camps on the coast, and he benefitted from the entertainments manager who had taken over at Whitby Spa, Alf Hattersley.
“Alf moved from the Spa to Scarborough and was keen to put on events at the Corner Café. He took me as guitar/vocalist. I was playing three nights a week there until 1972-73 and then I was asked to put together a country band as country music was very popular at the time.
“I came up with a seven-piece band and we played there twice a week until 1992. From the late 70s our son Mark played drums and daughter Sally was on keyboards, vocals and guitar.”
Tony’s roots have always been in country music with Hank Williams being perhaps his most early influence along with Johnny Cash, Jim Reeves and Elvis. “I would listen to Hank Williams on Radio Luxembourg and thought he was great. I later played on the same stage as Hanks’ backing group The Drifting Cowboys in Omaha. When wintertime came I used to put on acts at the Corner Café rather than the council and I would have agents telling of acts that were touring from the States. That led to an invitation from Bob Everhart, president of the National Traditional Country Music Association, inviting me to play in the US. “I played on some great stages and I have a standing invitation to play every year.”
While today’s UK clubland scene is in a parlous state Tony recalls it was the best of times when he played. “I was fortunate to be playing the clubs in their heydays of the 70s and 80s when there was any amount of work.
“Later Sally also joined me in a duo act. I was out four nights a week.
“When you’re younger you think that you might become a pop star but at the time I played very much for the money as well as the love of music and entertaining.
“I was also lucky that Ann was good at looking after stock and enjoyed it.”
In his field of dreams
He may enjoy being a musician but Tony Richardson says he’s more dedicated to work in the fields these days.
“I’m probably more of a farmer today than a singer, in fact I didn’t think I’d still be singing today but the fans I had in the old days have come along with me,” he said.
“I still enjoy my music and I wouldn’t have wanted to be without music or farming. Here at Egton Banks we still keep cattle and have 200 sheep all Mules and Mashams, and a bed and breakfast establishment that Ann has run since 1985-86.”
Tony’s DVD, Countryside & Memories, is available from www.tonyrichardsmusic.co.uk, or call 01947 897289.