“If you love that road so much, why don’t you b***y write a song about it?”
It is what a former colleague of folk singer Robert George Fox said in in jest, when he began yet another animated chat about driving along notorious Grane Road in East Lancashire
Speared-on by his pal’s challenge, Robert, 71, began to research the history of the famously-winding road, which weaves through the glorious Rossendale Valley, for lyric and song-writing inspiration. Robert, who lives in Darwen, discovered that the area was also once home to a series of illegal mountainside stills, where whiskey was made in the 1800s.
One distiller, James Morris, would make it in a cave near his home before he was caught and fined, by famous brewer and then-magistrate, Daniel Thwaites. As a result, with a fair amount of lyrical licence, catchy folk song Whiskey Barrel Street was borne.
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Robert also found out that pre-Industrial Revolution, a thriving village once stood on the land besides the road, which has now been submerged under reservoirs, providing him with further song-writing fodder. The song was originally released a few years ago and has recently been remixed after the musician signed to Accrington record label Wobbly Music.
“I used to talk about my drives along the road, as I’d drive it a lot from Darwen and get across that way to Stockport on the M66 to visit family,” Robert, who used to work at BAE Systems in Samlesbury, told LancsLive.
“And my former colleague told me, dry as as you like, to write a song about it. So I did. They would make the whiskey because o the grain from the quarry.
“I didn’t know it had such a fascinating history – on the Haslingden side quite a few people used to live off the land, sheering sheep, it was quite the settlement. The people were later kicked off the site and it was replaced by the reservoirs.”
The retired father of two, who first started singing aged eight, stopped playing music for decades but picked up his guitar again in his 50s and has since written more than 60 songs. He plays regular live gigs in Lancashire and beyond.
Whiskey Barrel Street also has its own music video, which you can watch above, and was filmed on locations along Grane Road, taking in the beautiful Rossendale scenery and little roadside eatery, Cough Head Cafe. It was shot by Robert’s friend Andrew Helliwell, while the song was recorded, mixed and mastered by Lynn Monk at Wobbly Music’s Bakehouse Studio.
Robert, who played rugby for 30 years for clubs including Burnage and Blackburn, added: “I dropped music until I was 50, and picked it back up again when friend asked me to join his band. We played at a birthday party at Blackburn Rugby Club and people were shocked how good we were.
“We blew them all away and it was great to see their faces. We ended up splitting up after three years but I carried on playing in bars and pubs and writing songs. I don’t plan to stop, as long as I’m still having fun.”
You can check out more of Robert’s music videos, here and singalong with the full lyrics below:
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