Sandy Still

Rod Hall

Allen Miller

Jim Jack


Fourum - The Later Years

The Later Years - Part 1: Fourum get a Rod for their backs

Not long after The Dales Revisited had been released, Fourum were due to perform a concert at Gunnerside Primary School. The Deputy Head Teacher of the school, Rod Hall, asked if he could play double bass with the group for the night. He said he knew all the songs and would love to join in. Fourum had long thought it would be nice to have a bass accompaniment for their songs. Sandy had even played bass on one or two tracks in previous albums.

The group met Rod for the first time at a rehearsal in Sandy’s house a few weeks before the concert - the effect of Rod’s playing on the group was instantaneous! If only they had met him a few weeks before when they were recording their cassette...! It turned out that Rod had a music degree and could also play the guitar, mandolin, violin - and probably any other instrument he picked up! - as well as being a song-writer himself. He even lived in the heart of Swaledale, just off Reeth Green in an old lead miner’s cottage. From that moment on Rod became a permanent member of Fourum,  with his Victorian double bass and adding extra harmony to some of the songs.  He also occasionally took centre stage with some melodic playing on his old nylon string guitar or mandolin.

Allen was busily writing more songs about The Dales and by 1997 Fourum were ready to release another album, this time in CD format. The producer for this album was Allen’s son, Gus, who was now in his final year at university, so they travelled to York to record the album.

All the songs on this album were centred on Swaledale and the album was entitled The Making of Swaledale, the title of Track 2. Rod’s versatility is much in evidence on this album, as he played the double bass, electric bass, mandolin, nylon 6 string and steel 6 string during the course of the 12 songs. In the last track, Kisdon Foss, Allen had written an instrumental interlude. When this particular track was being recorded, Rod was not available on the day. The idea was that he would go to the studio a few days later and put down his bass and mandolin tracks for the instrumental, and Allen, Sandy and Jim would add their guitars on top the next time they came to the studio. When the rest of the band arrived for the next session they listened to what Rod had done - only to find that he had put down guitar tracks as well. There was nothing that could be improved upon! They decided to leave the track as it was - as a tribute to Rod’s musical genius.

The Later Years - Part 2: Back on TV

The album proved to be another success and the following Year, 1998, “The Dales Diary” contacted Fourum. They had heard that Allen was an American and that he wrote songs about The Dales and they wanted to do a feature on this, as part of the 5th series of this successful show fronted by Luke Casey.

Allen was interviewed by him on Grinton Moor. In particular he asked about the background for Leaving For America, a song based on the great exodus of Dalesmen during the 1830s and 40s, and Striving Needles, a song which tells the story of the knitting industry and its importance to Swaledale. Fourum were filmed singing both of these songs in Grinton Church, a place where they had sung on previous occasions.

In April of 2002 Fourum celebrated their 30th anniversary of singing as a group. Many of the audience had been fans for most of those years, including the long-retired Head Teacher, Lewis Gordon, who had appointed successively Jim, then Allen, then Bob, then Sandy. Little did he realise at the time of their appointments what the future would hold! It was nice to be re-united with him again and for him take a deserved share of the limelight that night.

The Later Years - Part 3: Tragedy Strikes

For eight years after  their 30th anniversary Fourum  continued to perform concerts for audiences throughout The Dales and its environs. They appeared a number of times at the annual Swaledale Festival where new visitors to the Dales were able to hear them for the first time and regulars could join in the songs they have come to know so well.

Then, in October 2010 Bob was diagnosed with cancer of the kidney, at an advanced stage. In  early December he underwent an operation to remove it, but there were complications and he never recovered consciousness, dying in hospital two weeks later. In many ways Bob was the focal point of the group with his unique brand of humour and memorable introductions to the songs. His wife, Jean, asked that Fourum continue to perform. It was what Bob would have wanted. The four remaining members intend to carry on, as long as there is an audience for their music. Bob’s spirit will always be with them at every concert.

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The Later Years - Part 4: TV Fame Again!

Before Bob's illness was known, final recordings for a double album featuring all of the Dales songs, had been completed.  The album eventually became a triple CD set and was released in November 2011. The boxed set sold (and continues to sell) very well. Now they are working on a book to accompany the album, with the background to all the Dales songs, as well as the lyrics and appropriate photos. Bob had done some initial articles before he died and these were incorporated into the book. In addition many of his unique maps were featured as well. The actual volume should be available in the summer of 2013. The group members are all looking forward to this publication, which will be a fitting tribute to Bob’s memory. It is also being eagerly awaited by those who have followed Fourum’s music with interest and enjoyment over the years.

In the early summer of 2012 the group were surprised to receive a phone call from a researcher for ITV’s The Dales programme. He was looking into some of the legends of the dales and, in doing so, had come across Fourum’s web site. After talking with first Jim, then Allen, then Sandy, Rod and Bob’s wife, Jean , the idea of doing a feature on the group for the third series began to emerge. A group get-together and interview was arranged with cameras and sound crew to further explore this possibility. When the producer saw the initial rushes she immediately gave the go-ahead for the crew to follow Fourum as they prepared for their 40th Anniversary concert at the Georgian Theatre in Richmond. They also wanted to do a special feature on Bob and his unique maps of the Dales. It seemed that Fourum , after being filmed individually in their homes, were followed around by camera crews everywhere they went during the summer, including an exhibition of Bob’s maps at The Georgian Theatre, an appearance at Reeth Show and a special performance at The Tan Hill Inn.

Ade Edmondson, the presenter of The Dales, and a mandolin player in his own right, came along for Fourum’s dress rehearsal and played with the group as they sang a new song from the CD, The Explosion in Richmond Marketplace. It was a jovial occasion and a good time was had by all. Unfortunately a prior engagement kept him away from the actual performance, which was filmed in it’s entirety by ITV (although only a few minutes actually appear in the programme). Fourum appear in two of the episodes of Series 3 in 2013

The group members all have other interests as well, but a concert by Fourum  is still a magical event for those in the audience.  In May of 2013 Fourum were invited to appear at the Ireby Folk Festival in Cumbria and the following day at the Swaledale Festival in Low Row. This latter concert sold out within 2 days and Fourum gave a 2nd concert to another full house on the same day!

The Later Years - Part 5: Rod’s songwriting blossoms

Rod had been writing songs for years before he joined Fourum, and his particular interest was the First World War. As the 100th Anniversary of World War One approached, Fourum introduced a song of Rod’s about a survivor he had met many years previously, Hawkin Mundy. The song was an instant hit. Rod followed this with a song about a Swaledale resident who was injured and had to make his own way back home from Richmond Railway Station to Healaugh in Swaledale - The Long Road Home - another instant hit! This song was released as a CD Single along with Storm Warrior, a song about the Whitby Lifeboatman Henry Freeman.

With Christmas 2014 approaching Fourum decided to do a Christmas single which Rod had written specially for Fourum called Christmas Bells. It was inspired by the  legendary unofficial Christmas Day truce in 1914. Fourum even introduced a children’s choir to finish the song, comprising Rod’s daughter and a few school friends, over-dubbed several times! To complement the song an evocative video for YouTube was created by a friend Abi Gedye. All proceeds from the sale of the CD went to the charity Help For Heroes. Since then Fourum have included at least one of Rod’s songs in every programme, and all are well-received by audiences!

Fourum, now in their 51st year of performing, continue to sing when invited and are even now working on new songs of The Dales, as well as bringing other traditional folk songs into their repertoire.