Is it a final encore for charity singers?

The Singing Farmers
The Singing Farmers
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After raising thousands of pounds, The Singing Farmers are preparing for what may be their last hurrah. Chris Berry finds himself centre-stage.

The Rolling Stones’ 50th anniversary has rightly captured national headlines in the past week, but for some in the hills, vales and dales of Yorkshire the announcement of tickets going on general sale this weekend for the Singing Farmers 10th Anniversary concerts in 2013 may be just as significant, albeit on a more affordable scale.

Having started in 1994 with the aim of raising funds for the RABI (Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution) the five individual singers, all from farming backgrounds, have played to sell-out audiences in halls and theatres throughout the county every year since, have released several CDs and have raised over £100,000.

The concerts have also become a major social occasion in the rural spring calendar for all ages, but you don’t have to live in the countryside to buy a ticket. The songs are not about farming, apart from the odd one or two, and are familiar to everyone as they are from all eras of popular music. They also offer good old-fashioned Yorkshire value for money as each concert lasts three and a half hours. When they first started they lasted even longer!

Bringing the performers together in one place other than for the shows is a logistical nightmare as the singers live miles apart.

Ken Jackson farms at Walden Stubbs, near Pontefract, and has both mining and farming family connections. He is a noted cattle breeder and showman, was voted Farming Personality of the Year in 2003, is regularly in demand to play in pubs and for parties and has been in the news in recent times over his fight against Defra to save his prizewinning British Blonde bull Boxster from being sent to slaughter after a bungled bovine TB test. He opens the show with his easy listening rendition of 50s and 60s classics including songs such as All I Have To Do Is Dream and Teenager in Love.

“It’s a long time since I was one of those, but songs like that are the kind of thing everybody likes. We have become more like a performing family in the past ten years and the support I received from those who came to the concerts during our fight against Defra led us to write the book Boxster’s Story earlier this year.”

Glaisdale is the home village of Tony Richards. He has combined farming with singing for over 50 years. His farm is predominantly sheep oriented, at Egton Banks where he and his wife Ann also run a bed and breakfast business.

Tony was a regular at both Whitby Pavilion and the Corner Café Theatre in Scarborough for many years playing his brand of country music from Johnny Cash, Don Williams, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley. At one time he ran his own band and was responsible for bringing some of the top US country singers over to the UK. He writes his own songs about his love of the North York Moors and the coast and released a very successful DVD of them a couple of years ago.

Sheep breeder Charles Marwood of Whenby, near Sheriff Hutton, had built a reputation for his Charollais breed around the livestock markets, but there were few apart from his sheep who were aware of his talent as a baritone until a decade ago.

Wensleydale-based farm supplies shop owner Phillip Holden is the comic turn of the troupe. Monologues and humorous Geordie folk songs tickle the funny bone of the audience and he is more than happy to vent his spleen over farmers’ odd ways and “townies” not understanding the land where they have chosen to live when moving to the country. He says: “When we first started out with these concerts, in Hawes playing in front of 100, I don’t think any of us ever thought we would be celebrating ten years of them and filling 300-seater auditoriums. It’s just tremendous and if you haven’t been to one yet then you really are missing out.”

Sally Conner is the regional organiser for the RABI, which benefits from the concerts. She believes the Singing Farmers have become far more than fund raisers.

“I cannot thank the boys enough for what they do. They are all fantastic performers and they put on a great show every year. As a charity we are immensely grateful as there is an immense amount of work carried out by the charity in Yorkshire, but what they should also be thanked for is the social aspect of what they have done. These concerts are simply wonderful and bring the whole of the community together. I’m already looking forward to the 10th anniversary shows.”

And the other singer unmentioned so far? It would be unwise to mention him too much here for fairly obvious reasons. At these concerts he sings songs such as Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, plays guitar, organises and presents the concerts and also writes a little. He’s also recently been confirmed as the support act for Midge Ure at Settle in February. I think that’s enough of him.

There has been talk of the 2013 concerts being perhaps the final year of The Singing Farmers so if you haven’t yet seen them it might be wise to take the opportunity. In the words of the Rolling Stones: “This could be the last time.”

Singing farmers on the road

Holmfirth Civic Hall, Friday, March 15, 7.30pm

Skipton Mart Theatre, Sunday, March 17, 2.30pm

Northallerton The Forum

Friday, March 22, 7.30pm

Malton The Milton Rooms Sunday, March 24, 2.30pm.

Tickets £13. Send cheques payable to Singing Farmers, stating venue required and enclosing a stamped addressed envelope to: Singing Farmers Tickets, 2 Elmete Croft, Scholes, Leeds, LS15 4BE. Copies of the 10th Anniversary CD are £11.50 from the same address.