The Common man forging his own place in music

Heath Common
Heath Common

Over cups of frothy coffee, songwriter and improvisor Heath Common gets through subjects as wide ranging as Jack Kerouac and Kes.

It’s not that surprising, he was born and bred in Kes country – West Yorkshire, Normanton, near Wakefield – and among his influences are the Beat poets including Kerouac and Ginsberg.

Heath Common began his musical career playing in New York City with Robert Lockwood and Johnny Shines – when we touch on this he said it was almost accidental.

“I met them when they toured Britain and then when I was in New York, saw they were on in Greenwich Village, went to see them, they recognised me immediately and we recorded together,” said Heath.

He is one of the most avant-garde and amiable of musicians – as happy talking about Sinatra and Peter Stringfellow as he is about his style of 

A regular visitor to the now defunct Penthouse Club in Scarborough, Heath has settled with wife Honor in Esplanade, to be near the jazz festival and Musicport. “We came to the jazz festival every year and said’why don’t we move here?’. Heath considers it the best jazz festival in 
Europe – and also admires Musicport.

“What I like about it is the breadth of music from around the world it features.

“And it will take a risk on an act from a remote part of the world – and invariably get it right.”

Not only that, he loves Scarborough and Filey – and that there are other fabulous musicians living nearby.

He and legendary vocalist Carol Grimes – with whom he is currently recording – are on the bill fo rMusicport at Whitby Pavilion this year.

Following hsi stint in New York, Heath Common worked with – and was greatly influenced by – many major figures in the New York ‘Art Rock’ scene of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Subsequently,he formed a duo with the Thin Man before both men went on to work with a diverse number of musicians ranging from the guitarist John Fahey to the British indie act, The Rhythm Sisters. Heath continues to work closely with many of the surviving figures from the Beat Movement and he is a published poet.

The blues of ther 1920s and 30s and improvisational musicians continue to influence his work – he is, by his own description, a songwriter and does not play any instrument well. His talent for music was spotted by his teachers at Catholic school in West Yorkshire and the ‘bedroom composer’ was picked up by Charlie Gillett – musicologist and broadcaster responsible for discovering Dire Straits and Elvis Costello – and was signed to write songs for artists on the Chrysalis and Virgin labels.

He cites the late Gillett as being one of the major influences in his life – and now Nick and Sue Dart who run the label his is now signed to, Hi4head.

“I like to think Charlie saw something different and original in what I was doing.

“But if my teachers had not said ‘you have a talent here and you need to develop it’ I probably woul dnot have ended up in the music business,” he said.

His latest album is called the Dream of Miss Dee – a title based on his acquaintance Geraldine Dee who was part of the Nottinghill music scene.

He saw her while recording in the area and renewed their acquaintance. “She told me she dreamt about me – hence the title of the album and the content is what I think might be things she dreams of.”

Musicport runs at Whitby Pavilion from Friday October 17 to Sunday October 19