Richard Westhorpe, Wes, Ford Westhorpe, Rick Westhorpe. All me at some point in my life. I suppose I shouldn’t miss out Yamuna Jivana Dasa – my name as a Hare Krishna back in the 70s.
Music has been a common factor throughout.
Growing up in the Fenland town of Wisbech I half-heartedly learnt the violin before discovering the much more exciting mandolin. I also tinkered with the piano, which we had, but had to teach myself as lessons were a bit beyond our reach. If you had known me then you would have called me Wes, Little Wes, or Richard. (My brother Mike was Big Wes). To be honest it was all a bit of a struggle, but growing up gay in the Fens in the early 70s was never going to be much fun – I had to leave.
Music was part of the attraction when I made my break at 16 and ran off to join the Hare Krishnas in London. I look back on those as pretty bonkers years, generally, but the musical influence was enormous and has been lasting. The percussion and rhythms of mridanga and karatalas still wrap around me like a comfortable blanket and are always wanting to creep into my work. Frequently I let them, although as I own neither mridanga nor karatalas its not always obvious. The harmonium too had me in its grasp and replaced the mandolin which had no place in Hindu devotional music. I traveled with the Krishnas to height-of-apartheid South Africa which was a second wave of culture shock. It is where I remember starting to write songs. It’s also where I met the amazing Warrick Sony – an absolutely explosive creative force who has since gone on to great things in South Africa.
Back in this country, and doing my damnedest to catch up on years of missed sex drugs and rock and roll, I immersed myself in London and found myself a part of the Fighting Pigeons, providing musical support with George Mitchell and others to the profound, poignant and powerful poems of Frank Bangay. I didn’t appreciate at the time how much of an honour that was – I think I just got swept along and lost in the fun of it. I still have an old recording of some of the songs which I’ll get up on here at some point – there’s nothing like it and it really should be heard. During this time I had a good stab at being Richard Westhorpe, but it just didn’t work for me and so at some point I became Ford Westhorpe (from our Fordship – Brave New World, and Ford Prefect, of course).
In 1981 I went to Dartington College of Arts. I was encouraged to go there by the generous-hearted Bob Stratton, and had four fantastic years, though I don’t really think I was good enough for the place. Everybody else was so … clever. I muddled through and found I had a knack for working music into theatre. I’d done a little bit of that at the Oval House in Kennington, but at Dartington I was able to craft it a little and at the same time be well and truly stretched by the demands of the course and my fellow students. These were the years of the first portastudios, when being able to bounce down onto 4 tracks of cassette tape seemed like the ultimate liberation. As well as my Portastudio Mk1 I had a Crumar string synth and a set of congas. And a mandolin. I still have the congas and the mandolin.
In 1985 I discovered midi. I’m not sure how long it had been around before I came across it but linking a Casio CZ5000 and Yamaha RX11 drum machine together and then sequencing them was the next great adventure and I wrote songs in earnest, whilst earning my keep by teaching music and drama in various interesting and unusual locations. I did think I was biding my time until I managed to break into the ‘Music Industry’, either as a writer or performer, but honestly I have never really had my finger on the pulse, nor the necessary self-confidence. That doesn’t mean I didn’t try though, and by the end of the 80s I was locked in my attic trying to write that classic with the help of Dr T’s music software on an Amiga.
From there it was just a hop skip and a jump to the freedom and magic of Cubase and Logic on the Apple. No classics were forthcoming but I was nevertheless creative and did have a good time. I still do.
I abandoned Ford, and became Rick, and headed for the Southwest, living and working for fifteen years in Exeter. It was a good life, writing and playing music in the community, often linked with theatre projects, and pretty much always bringing joy and creativity into people’s lives. My favourite project was The Heavenly Choir – a raucous bunch of singing song-writing pensioners from Exeter Age Concern. The choir became a massive part of my life with some of the members becoming close friends. It was thanks to one of those friends, Olive Scanes, that I was able to relocate to a glorious hillside in Wales and chase alpacas about with Gwen my amazing dog.
When I get time to do music these days I work on a Apple G5 with a Roland D70, Yamaha TG55 and even an Alesis D4. Positively retro, and yet I haven’t really begun to scratch the potential of those machines. The mandolin still gets a look in now and then …
I’m no longer trying to impress with the music, nor make a living from it, which is a wonderful freedom, but also means I am nowhere near as prolific as I was in the 80s and 90s. When I have something to write about, I write, and I know that I do need to do more, hence this website, the theory being that if I am putting it out there I might be encouraged to create more. We shall see.