Big Interview - Harold Dearden

For decades, Harold Dearden has been Lancashire's Mr Music – and now he's set to celebrate a personal milestone in typical style.

Harold will be 70 next month, and is planning a couple of gigs to mark the event, including a special musical party featuring just a few of the people with whom he's performed down the years.

Harold started his love affair with music in 1956, when he founded the Ramblin' Riversiders skiffle group.

The band, inspired by the pre-Beatles skiffle boom pioneered by Lonnie Donegan, started out in a cabin built by Harold's father in the back garden of the family home in Hennel Lane, Walton-le-Dale and now, 53 years later, it's still rambin' along – only these days it plays festivals in the home of skiffle, the USA.

Over the years drummer, guitarist, singer and harmonica player Harold has moved on through beat groups, rock bands, blues, Cajun, country, trad jazz and dance bands.

"We played our first-ever gig at trad jazz jamboree at The Playhouse in Preston – a wonderful little theatre that's still open. But by the end of the 50s skiffle had lost its popularity and, shortly after that, The Beatles came along to change all our lives. For the Riversiders it was a thin time, but I always put a group together for birthday parties or a church garden fete."

Harold balks at the suggestion that he's the "godfather" of the local live music scene, but few people who have played regularly in the Preston area over the last half century do not at least know of him – and he's actually played with many of them.

He also played in a support band when The Rolling Stones played Preston.

"People always need a drummer so there's a constant demand," he laughed.

"Everyone wants to be a lead guitarist, but no-one wants to cart a drum kit around with them, so there's always a shortage of drummers.

"The Stones gig was at the Public Hall in the early 60s. I remember that they'd only released a few singles then – they'd just released Not Fade Away."

Harold might have remained just a local musical hero had he not played at a music festival in Whitby where he met the president of the American Traditional Music Association who, impressed by the Riversiders' British twist on American tunes, invited Harold and the band to play in the States – an invitation which has seen them on stage at various festivals and in Nashville. It was a dream come true for Harold.

"The highpoints of my musical life have been many, but the two that top the list were both in America: playing a gig at the world-famous Ernest Tubb's Record Store in the heart of downtown Nashville; and receiving an award for services to traditional American music from the Governor of Tennessee in a ceremony aboard the General Jackson riverboat on the Cumberland River."

And asked which musician, living or dead, he'd most like to play with, Harold does not hesitate: "It would have to be Eddie Entwhistle – a guitarist from Coppull who I played with for three years at the end of the 60s. He was a phenomenally good player."

Harold keeps his finger on the pulse of the music scene – citing Kaiser Chiefs and The White Stripes as modern favourites – but there's also one other person that Harold pays tribute to.

"My love and thanks go to Jan who has sat beside a thousand stages while I played a million backbeats!"

Harold and the Ramblin' Riversiders will be celebrating his 70th birthday at the Gregson Lane Folk Club near Houghton on Friday November 6 (5 on the door) and with a free show at the Wagon & Horses pub in Leyland on Saturday November 14

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