Music band The Houghton Weavers aim to “keep folk smiling” and, after 41 years of entertaining people, the trio who make up the current line-up are still smiling themselves despite all enduring health scares.AASMA DAY talks to David Littler, Steve Millington and Tony Berry about why they are so grateful to the NHS and are holding a special fundraising concert as a way of giving a little something back
The trio of musicians making up folk music band The Houghton Weavers have all been struck by life threatening conditions – but they’re still smiling and consider themselves extremely lucky.
The Houghton Weavers were formed in 1975 and have had a number of members over the years but for the last 20 years, the line-up has been founder members David Littler and Tony Berry, along with Steve Millington, who joined in 1996.
All three members of the band have experienced major health issues and are extremely grateful to the NHS for lifesaving treatment.
As a result, the trio have decided to perform a special gig to raise money for the Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble hospitals as a way of giving something back to the NHS for the excellent care they have each received from the NHS.
David Littler, 67, who is the guitarist for the group as well as playing the banjo, mandolin, banjo-ukulele, bouzouki and piano accordion, is the latest member of the Weavers – who all originally hail from Westhoughton – to be recovering after major health treatment.
David, 67, who lives in Cottam, Preston, with wife Helen, underwent a triple heart bypass a few weeks ago and is recovering from the surgery at home.
David, who has two daughters and whose wife Helen has a daughter and a son, reveals his condition was only discovered by chance when an eagle-eyed medic noticed something unusual when he was being investigated for kidney problems.
David explains: “I had a problem with my kidney so had to have a scan. One of the doctors who was looking at the scan noticed that my heart looked enlarge, so referred me for further investigations.
“I had to have an angiogram and it showed that my heart was 85 per cent blocked in five places.
“One of the doctors actually said he couldn’t believe I hadn’t dropped dead from a heart attack.
“But I had no idea there was anything wrong with my heart.
“Looking back, the only symptoms I had were feeling a bit fuzzy and tired.
“However, I had just put that down to part and parcel of being 67.
“I am very lucky that they found ‘it’ before ‘it’ found me.”
David was referred to the Cardiac Centre at Blackpool Victoria Hospital and David says the specialists put his mind at ease by telling him he needed some “plumbing” done to his heart and David underwent a triple heart bypass.
David says: “My bypass was carried out at Blackpool and the care and treatment I received was excellent.
“Only three days after the operation, they told me I was fit enough to go home, which is amazing considering years ago you had to be in hospital for two weeks after having your appendix removed.
“This is testament to the care and treatment I received.
“I honestly believe surgeons and medics who carry out this lifesaving work are worth £250,000 a week – unlike footballers who earn this for kicking a ball about.
“These surgeons are like magicians.”
David, who is recovering well at home, is not the first member of the Houghton Weavers to need major health treatment, as lead vocalist Tony Berry was treated for throat cancer, while Steve Millington, who plays keyboards, bass guitar, acoustic guitar and piano accordion, ended up fighting for his life after suddenly collapsing with a brain haemorrhage.
David says: “We are a group of entertainers who have all faced big health scares and are only here today because of the ultimate care we received from the NHS.
“We have all benefited from the NHS and we realise how sacrosanct it is.
“The wonderful thing is that we have all seen a recovery and that is down to the wonderful people who work in the NHS.”
The Houghton Weavers have organised a special concert to raise money for Lancashire Teaching Hospitals to be spent on patient care. It will be held this Friday (August 19) at the Park Hall Hotel in Charnock Richard, near Chorley.
The concert was organised before David had his triple bypass and although he won’t be able to perform himself on the night, as he is unable to lift anything heavy, his goal is to have recovered enough to go on stage and introduce the rest of the Houghton Weavers.
Jim Berry, the younger brother of lead singer Tony Berry, who has been associated with the Weavers for years, will be standing in for David and helping out until he is well enough to return.
Jim, who usually goes to France every summer, says he was only too happy to stay in the UK to help out the band.
Jim says: “I have known the Houghton Weavers most of my life and, of course, Tony is my brother.
“I have helped out over the years and am the regular stand-in – they call me their work experience lad!
“All three of them have been through a lot with their health problems and the NHS has done a fantastic job in treating them.
“I am delighted to perform in this fundraising concert as a gesture of appreciation for what the NHS has done for them.”
Singer Tony Berry, 66, who lives in Westhoughton and is married to Andrea and has two sons as well as a daughter from his first marriage, had his own encounter with the NHS about three years ago when he was treated for throat cancer.
Tony says: “I kept getting constant sore throats so my doctor referred me to a specialist.
“They operated on me and found a polyp on my vocal cords. The specialist explained these could turn cancerous and said he would keep an eye on it.
“I ended up having a polyp removed another two times and, when they operated for the third time, they discovered it had turned cancerous.”
Tony was referred to the Christie Hospital in Manchester and had 16 sessions of radiotherapy.
He now has a check-up every three months and has made a great recovery and is still able to sing fine, although he admits his throat can become sore.
Tony says: “The first concert we did after my treatment was with the Wingates Brass Band and it was the 25th time we sang with them.
“The funny thing was that after the show, several members of the audience told us it was the best concert we had ever done!
“People might complain about the NHS and about things like waiting lists, but the reality is that when you are really poorly, the NHS is absolutely brilliant.
“They found out I had cancer and they got rid of it.”
Steve Millington, 56, suddenly collapsed at a friend’s house in 2013 after suffering a brain haemorrhage and he ended up in a coma and was treated at Royal Preston Hospital.
Steve says: “I can’t remember much about the whole experience as I was in a coma and did not wake up for seven days and my memories of that time are all a bit murky.
“However, it was very touch and go and a priest came to my bedside while I was in the coma and said prayers for me.
“My two children were actually told that I might not make it and it was a terrible time for my family.
“However, thankfully I pulled through and made a great recovery. I am extremely lucky to be alive and it is all down to the terrific care I received from the NHS.
“The NHS is an invaluable service and it has helped each and every one of us in the Weavers. The NHS is a fantastic institution and a gift to our nation and I feel very passionate about it.
“Many years ago, I was on holiday in Bermuda and I was chatting to a bar worker there. He told me he was saving up for an operation and that it would take him two years to save enough money. From that moment on, I thought how privileged to live in a country where we have the NHS.
“After our personal experiences with the NHS, we all wanted to give a little something back and, as musicians, we thought we would use our music to raise some funds as a way of saying thank you.”
David adds: “The Houghton Weavers have been making people laugh for 41 years and we want to do this show to demonstrate our appreciation for this magical thing called the NHS.”
l The concert will be held on Friday August 19 at the Park Hall Hotel, Charnock Richard, near Chorley, starting at 7.30pm. Tickets are £15. For ticket enquiries, call Catherine on: 01772 524412 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
THE Houghton Weavers are an English folk music band formed in 1975 in Westhoughton, near Bolton.
They sing mainly English folk music, much of it in Lancashire dialect and their eclectic range of song subjects include “The Blackpool Belle” and “Uncle Joe’s Mintballs”.
They are best known for their BBC TV show “Sit Thi Deawn” (Lancashire dialect for “have a seat”, referring to the hospitality of Lancashire people).
The programme ran for six series or seven years and was a mixture of easy listening music and comedy for a local audience.
The group also starred in six of their own series for BBC Radio 2.
Other songs by the Houghton Weavers include: Keep Folk Smiling, Lancashire Lads, What a Wonderful World, Lancashire Folk, On The Road, Gone are the Days, Sit Thi Deawn, At Home With The Weavers and Lancashire Leads The Way.