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Mr Fox

+ {Bob & Carole Pegg} + {Carolanne Pegg} + {Bob Pegg} + {Bob Pegg & Nick Strutt}

With more than a sly nod and a wink to electric folk-rock contemporaries FAIRPORT CONVENTION, STEELEYE SPAN and The ALBION COUNTRY BAND, Leeds-based MR FOX were an exciting extension to the genre, albeit for only a brief period in the early 70s.
Formed by Bob Pegg (vocals, organ, melodeon, etc.) and his wife Carole Pegg (vocals and fiddle), the couple had long since acted as a duo; way back in 1965 they’d signed a deal with Nat Joseph’s Transatlantic Records, only to be disgruntled with their boss when they viewed initial copies of a misleading, low-key Various Artists set (`Second Wave’) in which they contributed three ye-olde ballads.
Nevertheless, the student couple stayed with it and brought up their young daughter while playing the odd gig or two (a night!). Having left university and now training as a folklorist at Stevenson College, Bob met up with ASHLEY HUTCHINGS, then Bill Leader, the latter a pivotal figure in British folk having earlier produced BERT JANSCH, among others. With a band that consisted of his wife Carole, Nick Strutt, Roger Knowles, Pete Wagstaff and Barry Lyons, Bob Pegg recorded a handful of songs for the rare BOB & CAROLE PEGG set, HE CAME FROM THE MOUNTAINS (finally issued post-MR FOX in 1971 on Leader’s Trailer Records), one track in particular, `Rise Up Jock’, a precursor to their group project.
Retaining only Lyons (bass and dulcimer), and inspired by the likes of old-timers HARRY COX and Jinky Wells, the couple enlisted Alun Eden (drums), Andrew Massey (cello) and John Myatt (wind). Much to the reluctance of Nat Joseph, but with the confident reassurance from producer Bill Leader, they re-signed to Transatlantic where they issued their eponymous MR FOX (1970) {*7} LP.
Inspired by The VELVET UNDERGROUND (mainly JOHN CALE’s haunting drone sounds), village singers of the Yorkshire Dales and the FAIRPORTs, Bob and Carole’s gory gothic tales (`The Hanged Man’, `The Gay Goshawk’, `The Ballad Of Neddy Dick’ and the terrific but macabre `Mr Fox’) littered their impressive debut, a concoction of Morris-on-like tunes; in fact the lyrics of two tracks (`Mr Trill’s Song’ and `Salisbury Plain’) were scribed by future Morris aficionado ASHLEY HUTCHINGS; one song, `Little Woman’, was penned by ex-TRAFFIC player DAVE MASON, while also of note is the Peggs’ `Join Us In Our Game’.
Without Massey and Myatt, sophomore set THE GIPSY (1971) {*6} rocked from the get-go with 7-minute opener `Mendle’ (penned and sung by Carole), acidic and seductively menacing – but definitely folk! By contrast, Bob’s epic 12-minute title track came across as a tad self-indulgent, but nevertheless effective. Adapting a tune from Mozart and inspired by a 1967 art-house flick depicting the 19th-century double suicide of a Danish circus performer and her army officer lover `Elvira Madigan’, creates its own cult icon, while ye olde folk ballads such as `The House Carpenter’ and `All The Good Times’ get the MR FOX treatment. Sadly, with Lyons and Eden taking off to join TREES (and later FIVE HAND REEL), MR FOX (aka Bob Pegg, himself) carried on with two new members, guitarist Nick Strutt and bassist Richie Bull. But not for long.
With the PEGGs now divorced, it was indeed a surprise when their collaboration AND NOW IT IS SO EARLY – THE SONGS OF SYDNEY CARTER (1973) {*5} turned up, however it turned out to be recordings made during their stint with MR FOX.
Both still on Transatlantic’s large roster, CAROLANNE PEGG (1973) {*6} – as she was now monikered – issued her eponymous solo debut, a fine set that saw her cover JUDY COLLINS’ `Open The Door’.
Released shortly before his ex’s LP, BOB PEGG & NICK STRUTT (1973) {*6} was Bob’s first of two collaborations with his stalwart guitarist, featuring steel pedal man, BJ Cole; the storytelling was still strong, albeit somewhat subdued from his/their earlier days. Minstrel-like and medieval, pleasant instrumental `Baroque’s Off’ was nice enough to chew on, but it was when the songwriting pair took chances (check out the flighty arrangements for `The Headrow Song’ and `Jesus Christ Sitting On Top Of A Hill In The Lake District’) that marked them out, as did good songs like the AL STEWART-esque `Kirkstall Forge’.
Citing Coleridge, Poe and Keats as inspiration, the duo’s next effort, the concept rock opera-like THE SHIPBUILDER (1974) {*6}, was intended to feature various guest spots (SHIRLEY COLLINS, et al), although only Richie Bull (bass), Steve Simpson (guitars, electric violin), Mick Yarrow (piano, harmonium) and Dave Hammel (drums) augmented. Initially commissioned for the BBC by Frances Line, the LP was obviously more complex than its predecessor, breaking slightly from the usual run-of-the-mill folk-rock mould. However, their funky rendition of trad tale `The Raggle Taggle Gypsies’ put paid to that assessment, as did their arrangement of sea shanty `The Golden Vanity’ and the self-penned `End Of The Affair’.
PEGG’s solo debut, ANCIENT MAPS (1975) {*7} – not quite `Rime Of The Ancient Mariner’ – substituted poor Strutt at the bequest of Transatlantic, while ex-RARE BIRD musician Graham Field came in on production; jazz musicians Ray Warleigh and Tony Coe sat in on sessions. Although it seemed possible at the time, Bob was not in fact inspired by Tolkien (he’d never read Lord Of The Rings or The Hobbit); however, songs like `The One-Eyed Merchant’, `The Woman On The Horse’, `Dark Rider’s Song’ and glam-folk dirge `The Wildman Of The Hills’ were influenced by Alfred Watkins’ 1920’s book, The Old Straight Jack. Named after one of the best tracks on the LP, the anthology KEEPER OF THE FIRE (2006) {*8} was compiled from Bob’s times at Transatlantic, plus some John Peel studio time and a bonus BONES suite – about a Viking warrior, but very “Wicker Man”-meets-JAKE THACKRAY. One of the songs, `Mr Fox The Ripper’, stemmed from the same sessions.
In 1978, and still interested in the macabre, PEGG and his philanthropic buddy Ian `Inky’ Gibbs issued a privately-released 7”, `The Werewolf Of Old Chapeltown’ (b/w `The Chapeltown Hawk’), mentioning the Hayfield Hotel, a place incidentally that was used by the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe. When both Bob and the murders moved to the Hebden Bridge (and the 45 was music mag Sounds’ single of the week), police were initially interested in his past activities. Needless to say, after a few questions, the boys in blue eliminated bearded Bob from their inquiries, and the rest as they say is history.
Not long after this episode, PEGG composed the music for Ken Loach’s TV film, `Black Jack’, but the 80s saw him change vocations into a fully-fledged author; in 1989, he relocated to the Nigg Peninsula in the Highlands of Scotland.
1996 saw Bob return to the fore with THE LAST WOLF {*5}, his ambitious attempt to recreate his “Calderdale Songs” (commissioned by the Hebden Bridge Festival in ’79) and brew a cocktail of ballad-folk and Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. It looks unlikely Bob will return to solo work, although he’s the man behind Scottish recording projects From Sea To Sea, Out Of The Stones, A Bairn’s Kist and Between Two Worlds, while he also runs The Merry Dancers Storytelling Centre/Project (among other things).
© MC Strong GFD 2010 // rev-up MCS Aug2015

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