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  • Interviews and Storytelling: Brian Acton

    Can you tell me your name, birthplace and date and where you live now?

    Yep. My name is Brian Acton. I was born on the 13th of December, 1970 in a town called Newtownards in County Down in Northern Ireland and now I live in Woodtop, which is in Erringden just up behind the railway station at Hebden Bridge, which is in West Yorkshire.

    So, how long have you been there?

    I moved here the very start of February (2004) after working all over Christmas in Belfast.

    And why did you come to Hebden?

    Well, it’s a beautiful place and I don’t think you can deny it. I‘ve been here a whole load of times, about eight times before that, because I’ve been touring around England and I had a friend here who put us up and so, every time over seven or so years that I came here I just thought it was great, wandering around the river and just seeing the countryside. I’ve always thought it would be a beautiful place to live and if I ever ended up living here I’d be very fortunate. So, we decided to move to England and thought if we wanted to move at all it might as well be somewhere charming. That’s why we came here.

    When you say touring, what kind of touring?

    I’m a musician, so, I was in a sort of acoustic pop band for eight years called Watercrest and we toured all over the place and occasionally we toured England. So, because we weren’t very successful, even though, of course we were very good. We couldn’t afford to stay in places all the time, so we saved money by crashing on peoples’ floors as most musicians do. So, that’s why whenever we were in this area we ended up staying here.

    So, are you still a musician, now?

    Yes, I am.

    Are you still touring?

    Yeah. Still touring, that’s why we moved over here, because my new band called Drab, whenever I lived in Belfast I’d be on the phone all day long and I’d have like bruises on my ear from trying to convince people to give us gigs. And then it would be costly to come to England, which we in Northern Ireland call the Mainland. It would be costly to come over here, so we’d only be able to come for like two and a half weeks, so that’s why we moved over to make it easier to tour, because that’s basically what my lifestyle is.

    The whole bands moved over?

    Yep, except the drummer. The drummer stayed at home and the rest of us moved and we all live in the same house a bit like the Monkeys.

    Could you tell me a little bit, then, about what it was like where you actually came from, the village that you came from? What it was like there, particularly when you were young and can you compare or contrast that with Hebden Bridge. Are there any similarities or differences at all?

    Well, there’s a whole lot of differences. The place I was raised, where I was born and lived until I was five was Newtownards and it was very much suburbia. I lived on a hill and at that age a hedge is kind of like a forest, really. So, I would wander around there, but it was, there was a little bit of waste ground, you know, where there’d be nettles and you’d see frogs. And a little bit of nature, but then when I moved to Belfast, luckily I come from a fairly wealthy family, so my parents bought a house with a big ole garden and a river down at the bottom of it. So, I still was very much in touch with, like with land and the idea of nature and dirt and muck and all those healthy things that kids should be familiar with. So, I grew up then in that sort of scenario until, well, for the rest of my life, really. And I didn’t really have too much knowledge of like the streets. Belfast has, like any city, really poor areas, which are quite dangerous and frustrated and very territorial. But it, also, has upper middle class areas, which are wooded and pleasant and, you know, trusting, but still well protected. So whenever I was about sixteen that’s when I started going into the city centre and meeting people from all over the place.

    By contrast, Hebden city centre is about one street, a few streets. And I imagine as a child growing up here you’d be hard pressed to find yourself in a dangerous situation. You probably have to go to Halifax. I think growing up here would be a fantastic childhood. It’s important for children to understand about nature and to get hurt, fall down and cut themselves and climb trees and get stuck. I think it’s brilliant. And if I ever have kids I’d like to give, the first ten years I’d like to give them in the countryside.

    I know some young people in Hebden, they finish school and then want to get away because they see it as rural, removed, not really in touch with what’s happening and they all want to move to cities.

    Absolutely. So you have a kind of fluctuating population really.

    Yeah.

    I know it’s so odd, but I suppose it understandable. People grow up in the city, because it’s beautiful and peaceful and it’s all the things that they never had and all the people who grew up in the country want to move to the city because it’s exciting there, it’s busy and it’s dirty and it’s all the things they never had and it’s just the way it is.

    Yeah, it’s funny, that.

    Yeah.

    Do you have any family here or do they ever come to visit you. I know you haven’t been here long, but?

    No one’s been to visit me here yet, but my parents are coming to visit me at the end of the month and they’ll love it. My mum comes from the countryside. My dad comes from the countryside. Neither of the countryside’s that they come from are quite as rugged, well not quite rugged. Around here is quite mountainous and to contrast you’ve got moors and valleys and canals. I think they’ll love it whenever they come over. I have had one friend come up and he thought it was beautiful.

    What do your parents do?

    My dad, well they’re both retired now, but my mum was a maternity nurse and my dad was a GP and then a civil servant and then he ended up being the Chief Medical Officer for Northern Ireland. He’s a part time golfer.

    Oh, is he. He’ll be watching the Masters now.

    Oh, yeah! Absolutely.

    I use to love golf.

    Yeah, I’ve tried it, but it never got off the ground.

    I know you’ve only been here a few months, really, but do you feel part of the community even though you’ve only just arrived? How do you view that side of it?

    Yeah. I saw that question and it’s quite interesting because I do aspire to be as much a part of the community as I can and before I came and I had about three or four friends here and then whenever I came I made a whole load of new friends quite quickly. One of the things about it is I do like to know the people I’m around I think it’s really important. It’s a matter of trust and a matter of support, even, saying hello to your next door neighbour. There’s some kind of support in that as well. And so I’m very much like that. I know the fella’s down in the mountain bike shop now and other people in the internet café and I try to say hello to all the people in the Coop, you know. And I’ve been out on the mountain bike around the area with all the people that work in the shop and that crowd. And I do feel very welcomed and like they want me to become a part of the community. I don’t feel any degree at all of standoffishness or, you know, snobbery.

    Are those people, people born in Hebden or they people who come from somewhere else originally?

    Most of them come from somewhere else. I know a couple of people who were born in Hebden. I know a girl who was born in Mythomroyd and a bloke who’s born in Hebden and another girl who’s born kind of Sowerby Bridge. But mostly the people from the mountain bike place are from outside, I think. The mountain bike people are drawn here because it is so great to have a mountain bike ride here.

    Do you find any difference between the born and bred people, so to speak, in their attitude compared to people who come in, offcomers as it were, but who’ve settled here? Have you found any difference between the two?

    I’m searching for one. Not a tremendous difference. I think, perhaps, I could be wrong, but I think perhaps the people who were born here are the quieter about living here. There ‘re not quite so versiferous in their, kind of, are enthused by it, you know they’re, it’s more just natural for them than perhaps the people who’ve moved here who are really blown away by it and very welcoming and, you know, it’s like if they welcome you, maybe it re-enforces them coming from somewhere else, as well. I’m not sure.

    I think that’s probably true. What sort of things do you like and dislike about the way Hebden is now?

    Now, you know, apart from all the obvious things like the canal and the countryside, I do like, there seems to be an effort in the last, say probably in the 80’s whenever they built or in the 70’s whenever they built those kind of small houses down there, just down the road all those kind of fairly new places. They just look like temporary dwellings, you know, and they don’t suite the place at all. I think that now they’re using the old mills and lots of that old stone and those old stone buildings that have fallen away almost. They’re using them again and I think maybe that there is a conscious effort on the part of everyone to try and build on what was instead of building on top of what was. I quite like that.

    Oh, yeah. The way people throw things away I find quite upsetting, sometimes.

    What do you mean?

    Particularly around the canal. I find that people think of the canal as a bit of a gutter. I was in a shop the other day, it was a second hand shop and one of the women was saying, ‘I looked out the window and it had gone’, and the other one said, ‘ what happened,’ and she said, ‘I don’t know, it must have blown away, it had disappeared,’ and the other one said, ‘well, what did you do?’ and she said, ‘I went out and looked for it and there it was right enough, it was down on the bank by the canal.’ And the other one said, ‘Oh, my god, your wedding dress, what did you do?’ And she said, ‘Oh, well, I just left it,’ and the other said, ‘you didn’t just leave it,’ and she said, ‘what can you do, you can’t get down there to get it,’ and the other one, and I’m like, this is your wedding dress, you know, and it blown out of your back yard and it’s landed on the bank of the canal and you can’t even be bothered to go down and retrieve it and I just thought that was really lame, you know. And cos I would go down by the canal sometimes on the bike, you know, and you see the things that are just lying there, you know, there’s prams and plastic. I hate plastic, you know. And now there’s a wedding dress you know, and I find that a bit annoying.

    I can understand that. Do you think it’s the local people or do you think it’s the tourists, the amount of tourists that you get?

    I don’t think it is the tourists. I think it’s, perhaps, the local people more, because you do take where you come from, you take it for granted. You don’t really necessarily see anything in it. I think that people from outside might be even more inclined to take care of it more, because they’ve moved for a reason, presumably.

    Good point. Have you brought with you, like any customs or traditions or special times or any particular beliefs from Ireland, from Northern Ireland over here, that you still carry on?

    Quite honestly, probably not, because I suppose because of Belfast’s history, you know, and the political troubles and everything and one of the things you gain by living in Belfast is a healthy hatred for politics and perhaps even for customs. I haven’t brought any traditions over with me, I don’t have a tremendous amount of beliefs that I can put my finger on.

    Nothing, like for birthdays or Christmas time or things like that, or certain things that you might do?

    No, not at all. I don’t know, I don’t really celebrate very much. I celebrate day by day more than important moments. I would be more inclined to send something just out of the blue to a friend to say I’m thinking about ya, than I would to do a whole batch of Christmas cards or to remember someone’s birthday. But, I do take care to help people every now and again, that I love them and I’m thinking of them. But no, I really haven’t brought over anything, you know, in terms of customs.

    Well, what kind of music do you play, then?

    Well, that’s the thing that I’ve brought over. You see, I’m a guitar teacher as well. I play classical guitar and Baroque guitar and I play a little bit of jazz and I’m a songwriter. I think if I’ve brought anything over here it’s the willing to tell people about guitar. Especially, well, most people want to learn how to play, like, you know, ‘House of the Rising Sun’, or some little jazzy tune, you know, which is great, because the guitar is a tremendous instrument. But with the Baroque thing, which is very English, there’s a tremendous history of English guitar, which I’m studying at the minute. I, almost feel like, whenever I play some of the 17th century, 16th century lute things, you know, I feel quite wonderful.

    I’ve heard them.

    Yeah, they’re great. And so, I put myself out now as a guitar teacher and we’re playing a little bit in Hebden, we’re side gigin’ and also, in the summer I’m thinking of going down to play in the streets, you know, perhaps some Baroque things, or maybe by the canal or in the park, you know.

    So, you don’t play traditional Irish music, then?

    No.

    Right. Interesting. Well, I was going to ask you if Hebden had changed since you’ve been here, but you haven’t been here that long, really, but you use to visit it and that must go back a few years.

    Yeah.

    Have you noticed any kind of changes then, from like when you first started visiting to like now that you actually live here?

    Well, one of the first times I came to Hebden it was in the middle of the summer and it was absolutely packed. The traffic was crazy, but definitely it’s got more busy. I can even tell that. But honestly, because I’d only come for a few days and wouldn’t really see that much, so I can’t really say in what ways it’s changed here, although I can tell that it’s just getting busier, more touristy.

    Do you think it will change in the future, it’ll, I mean, just, if you walk into Hebden now you can see there’s like new building going on and all that type of thing. Do you get any sense or feeling off people that it’s changing in a good way or bad way or an indifferent way even? Can you sense anything about that? By talking to people in the shops or your neighbours or in the pubs or whatever?

    Well, it’s definitely being, kind of, how can I put it, like you’re getting people from all over the country, basically, or from all over the world, so it means that accent, you know, regional accents are being diluted and, you know, presumably, history is diluted, you know the kind of stuff, like family upon family. Obviously, property prices are ridiculous, you know, selling things without even a roof, you know, for a quarter of a million or something, it’s stupid, you know, just because it’s property you can build on. And I don’t really see if that’s good or bad. It depends on how traditional you are, I mean, it depends on how much you want things to stay as they were or, you know, whether you look to the future as being happily different, I don’t know.

    Is this gig you’re playing in Hebden, is it at the Trades or at Nelson’s or?

    No, it’s in Java Lounge, which is kind of strange. It’s a café environment with big windows and we’ll be against the window and it will be quite safe, hopefully there’ll be people there, hopefully, there’ll be at least four. I’m looking forward to it.

    Because they have a classical music festival up at Heptonstall.

    Right.

    Have you heard anything about that?

    No

    It’s around now and if you read the papers you probably be able to find out about it.

    OK.

    It might be something that you could like hook onto.

    Yeah.

    I use to know the vicar up there, but he’s left and moved to Wakefield, so I can’t really tell you much about it, but.

    Today’s the Pace Egg.

    It is.

    I thought you’d be up there

    I went up to it for the first performance.

    Which there’s more than one?

    There’s four plus the high school kids do one, as well.

    Cos I thought that it was basically, I thought that after one performance that they all got smashed.

    Oh, they carry on regardless. I went up for the quarter past eleven one and the main character St. George, he already was. All the rest were fine, but he was well cut, already. So, it was quite comical, really. I’ve never seen the very first one. Normally, I wait till a later one and they are well cut and it’s a bit of a laugh, but this one was quite funny as well. But the high school kids do a version. They travel theirs around. They do it in Midgely, Luddenden Foot, one in Hebden, one in Heptonstall and I think one or two other spots.

    Yeah.

    They just do one up there. Quarter past three, I think they do it. There’s one at 12:45, another one at 2:15 and another one at 3:45. So, they do a few performances.

    I might go up myself.

    It’s a good one.

    Yeah.

    So, you haven’t had any bad experiences being in Hebden then, being an offcomer, as they call us?

    No. I haven’t, not at all. Everyone’s been very friendly.

    Yeah, I’ve never had any. People make fun, but it’s a kind of healthy kind of fun, if you know what I mean and I quite enjoy that. It almost means that like if they trust you enough to make fun of you, that means they do trust you and accept you into the community and I quite like that.

    Yeah. I think people test you by making fun of you as well, and depending on your reaction can tell them a lot. I mean, if they make fun and you laugh it off you can give them a bit a slagging as well, then they trust you. There’s a good healthy Irish tradition of taking the mickey out of people, so it’s nothing new to me.

    Do you think you’ll stay here, then?

    I’d love to stay here, really. I’d like to stay here for at least three years. I still have to build up my way of making money. It’s a slow climb as a teacher to get enough people to, really, you know, make your living. But, yes, definitely I’d love to stay here and perhaps even live here someday.

    What kind of obstacles are in your way, then, to stop you doing that?

    Well, I’m in a rented property. House prices would be a huge hurdle. I can’t see how on my own I could afford to buy a place around here.

    Would you consider going sort of to Mythomroyd or Luddenden Foot or Todmorden or that sort of way?

    Yeah.

    It would be like the valley was a nice place to live not just Hebden.

    Yeah, not just Hebden, because when I go on my bike it’s all pretty much the same. place.

    You’ve already said it’s a friendly place. What kind of things have people done to be friendly to you, anything in particular or just generally?

    People in the mountain bike shop have fixed my bike for free. They’ve lent me lights whenever we go out at night and given me clothes, so I don’t get all sweaty. The guys in the night café gave me a beer and sometimes give me a free cup of coffee and a guy called Sam lent me an amplifier. Another person gave us a piano that belonged to here grandfather and that’s in our house now. And my landlord gave us a little furniture and that’s it. People have been really, genuinely friendly and generous and helpful in getting us set up.

    That’s great.

    Yeah.

    Is there anything else then, that you could say about living in Hebden that I haven’t asked about already? Feelings that you have about it.

    Well, yeah, actually, I think it’s quite white middle class. I think it’s very at ease. It’s not, I’ve seen, I think perhaps three black people and I haven’t really seen very many Asian people. And that’s unusual, I mean especially when I come over here and you’ve got Bradford and Burnley and they’ve got all sorts of race, you know, tensions and, Hebden, I mean like it’s so obviously, you know, kind of hippies and lesbians, you know. And it attracts hippies and lesbians because of that, it’s so weird, it’s like it exists inside the middle of all of this, sort of, insecure England, you know, and then right in the centre there’s this really weird place full of, you know, freaky people. People whose sexuality isn’t heterosexual and people who believe in crystals and magic, you know, you almost expect insecure England that sort of doughnuts Hebden, to light there torches someday and march on Hebden and take it back for England. I think that is really unusual. And it’s sweet, but it is kind of like a bit of a bubble. I wonder how realistic it is, oh, what’s realistic. It doesn’t matter, really.

    Do you think it might last? That doughnut as you call it will last or crack or break down?

    To be honest I don’t hold a lot of hope, for the idea of being a liberal in today’s world. I think that fear is being fuelled by, you know, insecure governments and that is not really helping situations and places like Hebden Bridge, I hope more of them pop up, so there is some kind of an asylum for people who still believe in an open mind.

    Good point. Have you heard about the people who have taken over the Tourist Information Centre.

    No.

    They’re complaining about the house prices being so high, so they’re complaining to the council, I think, hopefully get some houses built that are affordable for people, because unless you’re very rich or have an extremely well paying job you can’t afford to buy a house and the rents are higher than a mortgage would be really. They’re making a big protest about it. I thought you might have heard about it?

    No, I didn’t. Did you hear about the time in the south of England and all the land was owned by one man, did you hear about this, this is a cracker. And the guy decided one day that he was going to sell the village, that’s it, so he evicted everyone, the whole village. To sell it for like seven million, to some, I don’t know who, probably a developer. He got a community, a whole community was just shifted, you know. Obviously, whenever you talk about high house prices in Hebden Bridge that happened over a period of like thirty years. People will grow up in a house with their parents, in Hebden Bridge, but not come into money, which will enable then to afford to buy another place where they come from. So, they are forced to move and people from who cares where who have the money will move in. That is a shame, definitely, that is a shame.

    What’s interesting is that when all the people in the 60’s and 70’s moved to Hebden, one of the main reasons was because housing was cheap and now it’s so expensive. It’s a complete reversal. And it’s just curious to speculate if it might reverse again at some point in the future. I can’t see it happening, myself, but it might do.

    I can’t really see it happening either. I can see, rather than that happening, new places like the highlands, people will start moving up to the highlands because no one wants to live there, because it’s empty. Or some kind of craggy island off the coast or somewhere off the coast of New Zealand, you know what I mean, where no one lives and because of the internet and because of communications and travel becoming so much more easier now. People will find new places to go. Those hot spots of coolness and sort of escape, those places people escape to, to bring up their kids in a safe environment. They just move around all the time. Every ten years there’s somewhere else. Follow them around. Try to work out where it’s going to be next. Get there first. Get yourself a little wooden shack and sell it ten years later for a quarter of a million.

    Oh yeah, if we could only predict the future. Right I think that’s about it, really.

    Thanks, I enjoyed that.

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About Us

Wild Rose Heritage and Arts is a community group which takes it's name from the area in which we are located - the valley ("den") of the wild rose ("Heb") -  Hebden Bridge which is in Calderdale, West Yorkshire.

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Pennine Heritage Ltd.
The Birchcliffe Centre
Hebden Bridge
HX7 8DG

Phone: 01422 844450
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