Meet the man whose musical tour of Yorkshire tells tales of Dracula, Captain Cook and Guy Fawkes

Tim Hunter does not venture far from his studio in Knaresborough to find inspiration for his music.

“There’s so much there in the history and legends of Yorkshire so why not write about that?” he says. “I could write loads of concept albums. There’s so many things that are interesting.”

He’s certainly drawn on an eclectic mix of the region’s heritage offerings. Captain Cook, Guy Fawkes and Dracula have all influenced his musical works. “I’m interested in a wider thing than just music,” the composer and producer says. “It’s all about telling stories.”

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Under his music label Northern Soundscapes, Hunter has spent the past five years telling the tale of Yorkshire’s past through a series of concept albums – records featuring songs on a particular theme.

Knaresborough musician Tim Hunter.Knaresborough musician Tim Hunter.
Knaresborough musician Tim Hunter.
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And, whilst much of his work has lyrics, this latest album is an instrumental one. “You can actually listen to some instrumental music and it almost conjures up a mood,” he says. “Even music without any words can tell a story, but certainly songs can.”

Hunter has created a series of videos using the orchestral music, set to photographs of Knaresborough woodland and accompanied by explanatory text telling parts of the town’s story.

“This year is the 250th anniversary of the Enclosure Act,” Hunter explains of his motivation to explore the forest in his work. “The 1770 Act of Enclosure defined the forest, but it was not a positive thing for many rural workers.

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Tim has released a series of concept albums exploring Yorkshire's legends and history.Tim has released a series of concept albums exploring Yorkshire's legends and history.
Tim has released a series of concept albums exploring Yorkshire's legends and history.

“Some of the forest remained in the hands of the Duchy, some was allocated to tithe owners, and 200 acres of land was allocated as a public open space, which today is known as the Stray. The Enclosure Act meant that many rural workers who had previously farmed land for generations, had their rights and livelihoods taken away.

“Many were forced to go into nearby rapidly developing urban conurbations in search of work. Some sought their futures in the new world of North America, where they were welcomed and given land to farm on.”

Hunter, who works in IT, feels he was somewhat destined to become a musician. His father and grandfather were both organists and choirmasters at Holy Trinity Church in Knaresborough and he started playing guitar in the 1970s at the age of 14.

Influenced by 70s and 80s classic rock/pop and prog music, such as Genesis and The Alan Parsons Project, Hunter estimates he has now written at least 500 songs, recording around 200 on a number of albums.

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“I was brought up with instruments and I think it was assumed I’d probably do music,” he reflects. “I’ve never thought I could make a living out of it really but it’s always been a pretty serious hobby.”

That hobby has been ramped up a level in recent years after Hunter decided to create his own professional studio. It is from here that he has recorded his series of albums tied to Yorkshire and its history, beginning in 2014 with a four-track record on Knaresborough.

Two years later he released Captain James Cook’s Journeys on the back of a collaboration with a playwright called Frederick McKinnon.

Inspired to make music about the story of the Yorkshire-born explorer – “I thought it was fascinating that there was actually somebody who had gone out there and had done what he did (the voyager explored and mapped territories in the Pacific) from very humble origins” – Hunter had joined the Captain Cook Society and was put in touch with McKinnon, who had coincidentally written a musical play was looking for a composer.

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Hunter’s 2016 double album release was an audio version of the play, which tells the story of Captain Cook’s life. The album was re-released last year after Hunter and McKinnon decided to create a shorter version of the play to mark the 250th anniversary in 2018 of the first of Captain Cook’s three Pacific voyages.

“Not only does the story highlight the importance of Whitby to Cook’s early years and his life-long friendship with Quaker ship-owner Captain John Walker but it also seeks to engage the audience by depicting many of James Cook’s great accomplishments as an 18th century explorer and man of the Enlightenment,” Hunter says.

“The central dramatic arc of the piece traces the great captain’s historical and emotional path from his aspiration to sail North Yorkshire colliers to his tragic murder by natives on the shore of Kealakekua Bay in Hawaii. The loving and sometimes conflicted relationship between James Cook and his wife, Elizabeth, is also touchingly rendered.”

In the same year that the first album was released, Hunter also produced a record entitled Yorkshire Through The Ages. A collection of songs about characters and events in Yorkshire’s history, it charts the region’s story from the Brigantian era through to the Industrial Revolution, featuring songs about Yorkshire Day, Guy Fawkes, Dracula, Maundy Money and William Wilberforce, a leader in the movement to abolish the slave trade.

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To tie in with the 300th anniversary of the birth of John Metcalf, also known as Blind Jack of Knaresborough, Hunter then released On The Road With Blind Jack in 2017, featuring a series of songs inspired by the life of the pioneering roadbuilder and accomplished fiddler, who lost his sight after a smallpox infection. “He overcame adversity in his life and I think he is somebody who deserves to be more widely known,” says Hunter.

It was the Yorkshire coastline that then provided inspiration for one of Hunter’s most recent albums, Blue Sky Moments, a series of instrumental pieces released last year. Also in 2019, Hunter explored the connections between North Yorkshire and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, who spent several years living in Croft on Tees in Richmondshire and visited Whitby on numerous occasions, in an album called Living In A Looking Glass World.

Hunter spends hours delving into historical research to inform his music, introducing facts and telling stories through both his lyrics and in booklets that accompany each CD. “We’ve got so many interesting things in our past,” he says. “These are things that are understood the world over.

"The universal symbol of rebellion is Guy Fawkes. The universal symbol of fantasy is Alice (in Wonderland) and the guy that came up with the idea lived in Yorkshire. One of the greatest explorers of all time was also from here.

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“Things are being created here which are becoming massive. One thing I’m hoping with the albums is that they are educational and people will listen and think ‘blimey, I never knew that before’.”

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