Thursday, 15 October 2015

MY FIRST STORIES


School photo 1953
Well, sort of… it’s not about the first stories I had read to me when I was tiny, or the first stories I read to myself when I was a bit older. I’ve written elsewhere that when I was a boy I read all the Henry Rider Haggard books plus things like Coral Island—real ‘boy’s books’! When I was a bit older still I liked SF and fantasy and I’ve always been (and still am) a lover of short stories. I’m sure that impacts on my choice of stories to tell now—even the fact of being a storyteller. Neither is this about the first tall tales and jokes I can remember hearing when I was growing up. (That might make a good post one day although it might easily get censored! Playground humour can be pretty rude!)
What this is about are the first stories I remember hearing when I became interested in the art form we call ‘oral storytelling’.


I must have discovered storytelling in the early/mid 1980s because, by the time I moved to Derbyshire in 1987 I was including stories in my performances. I soon became involved with story clubs in and around Derby and Nottingham—I went to them and ran a couple myself.
There are three specific stories I remember from that time. They were stories which everyone seemed to know and you could almost guarantee that someone would tell one or other of them at most meetings. I learned them by osmosis rather than on purpose and two of them have remained in my repertoire ever since, although I usually reserve them for ‘lay’ audiences rather than storytelling experts. A specialist audience will probably know them too well and consider them hackneyed, in the same way that The Wild Rover was done to death in folk clubs.

Cassette album recorded live at
Tales at the Tiger in 1992.
Roy Harris, Pete Castle
Madge Spencer and Ann Fairbairn
The first of these stories was The Tailor’s Coat – the one about the very skilful tailor who made himself a magnificent long coat and he wore it for days, and he wore it for weeks, and he wore it for months, and he wore it for years… and when it began to get worn out he made it into a jacket and he wore it for days, and he wore it for weeks, and he wore it for months, and he wore it for years… and when it began to get worn out he made it into a waistcoat... and then a tie and a button and, finally, a story! I’m sure you know it. No-one seems to know for sure where that story comes from but there are various theories. We had a long discussion in Facts & Fiction a few years ago. It’s a good story for getting a bit of audience participation and you can tell it to any age group from the youngest children to adults.
The second is The Man Who Couldn’t Find His Luck. Since those early days I have not heard anyone else tell it but they must do because a Friend on Facebook a couple of years ago said that if he heard it again he’d kill himself... or the teller! I expect you know it: there’s a man who has no luck and his friends persuade him to go and consult the oracle to find his luck. On the way he meets a wolf, a tree and a beautiful young woman. Eventually he reaches the oracle and gets the answer to why he has no luck which is—”You have, but you miss the opportunity, you don’t see it, you let it slip through your fingers…” So, full of hope, he sets off on his way back home. Until he meets the wolf!
Again, I don’t know the exact origin of the story but I’ve heard and accepted that it’s from Ancient Greece. A few years ago I was reviewing a book of Islamic Tales and found it in there, exactly the same tale credited with coming from Uzbekistan—yet another example of the way stories are universal.
The third story was probably the one I liked best but, for some reason, I didn’t learn it at the time. It was THE PICKPOCKET. Although I didn’t learn it I remembered it fondly and it lodged itself in the little compartment in my brain reserved for ‘things I’ll learn one day’. And that day came just 2 or 3 years ago. I happened to hear Dave Tonge, the Yarnsmith of Norwich, tell his very different, idiosyncratic, version of it and it inspired me to work it up. It’s a good story which can be appreciated by a range of audiences and I’ve found it works well in folk clubs. (See my first Blog Post for a discussion about the difficulties of mixing songs and stories.)
Here is my version on You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WrafxJw_4KQ

Again I have no idea where The Pickpocket originates. It’s been through a whole range of throats before it reached mine so it is ‘traditional’ in that sense but I suspect it is not terribly old. If the person who ’made it’ hears my version I hope he likes it. (On the other hand it has a sort of Jewish feel about it… there’s a Yiddish song about Avremi the Pickpocket: “I’m Avremi, the most talented pickpocket, a great artist, I work lightly and surely…”)
There is a vast difference in attitude to the ownership of stories between tellers in Britain and the USA. Here we, on the whole, love to hear other people tell or sing stories and songs we have had a hand in making. Discussion forums/Facebooks etc in the USA though, are full of handwringing  posts about ‘how can I copyright my material to stop other people using it?’; ‘I heard someone telling a story I made, should I sue?’; and such like. From a purely personal point of view I love it when, as has happened, I hear a song or story which has obviously been taken from ‘my’ version. Sometimes you get credited— “I learned this from a recording by Pete Castle” - but other times the teller/singer might not know that I actually put that verse into the song to explain the story more, or added the motif to the story to improve it. It may have been through several voices between me and him. In that situation I have a lovely, satisfying feeling of something well done. A bit of ‘me’ has been accepted and has entered into the Tradition. That’s the most you can hope for.



If you'd like to know more have a look at my web site  http://www.petecastle.co.uk

You may also like to consider subscribing to Facts & Fiction storytelling magazine (  http://factsandfiction.co.uk  )  It's quarterly and covers all aspects of storytelling with news, reviews etc

My You Tube channel contains a lot of videos of both songs and stories.

Have a look at the previous postings below and if you have any comments please post them. I'd welcome your (constructive) comments and would be very pleased if you did sign up to 'follow' me!