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From an interview with Mike Hill on 18th November 2011. Transcribed by Jacky Lawrence.
Steve Baldock

"Dr. Busker"

Steve in his top hat & tails

Hallo, I’m Steve Baldock, stage name Dr. Busker. I was born on the 10th November 1965 at the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames. I’ve got one brother, mum and dad, had a happy and good upbringing. The majority of my formative years, certainly the vast majority that I can remember, were in Higham Ferrers and Rushden. Higham Ferrers first and then Rushden from the age of about 10 I would imagine. It’s a job to remember now but certainly I was in South End school at the time of the Queen’s silver jubilee because I remember the celebrations.

Prior to that, what I remember of Higham Ferrers. The old forge, the railway when it was still running, standing on the footbridge at Rushden Station looking down on the diesels. Watching the diesel locomotive underneath the bridge with a big fan in its roof. It may have been a class 25 or something similar, diesel enthusiasts will know better than me. But there was a big circular grill on the top of the locomotive and there was a cooling fan inside. When me and mum stood on the bridge at Rushden Station and looked down we could see the fan going round.

I remember when the railway closed, taking a walk as a small boy with my mum amongst trucks at the Higham Ferrers end of the line. Much to my amazement, having a toy train set at home, the trucks were huge. This was in the days before health and safety and it was very easy to get access down onto the track of a closing down railway. Me and my mum walked along the track bed on numerous occasions but I remember this time going up to Higham Ferrers end and there being a great big ore wagon and me being a small child, standing on the stones next to the track, I was about the same height as one of the wheels. I’ve always enjoyed railways and was brought up by mum on a diet of Thomas the Tank engine and toy train sets at Christmas. And then in later years enjoying the Iron Maiden film about traction engines on the tele and subsequently getting involved in railways, traction engines and rallies for the rest of my life.

Dad, who’d worked at General Motors in Wellingborough, was made redundant when the place closed down. Detroit Diesel Alison in Wellingborough closed, he immediately went into business as a landscape gardener and as that had been grandad’s trade with market gardening and all the rest of it, his knowledge was good. On my dad’s side there have always been gardeners, small farming, smallholdings, so it was natural that dad should gravitate back towards that I suppose. He made a thriving business out of it, eventually going from landscape gardening to owning his own farm and smallholding which he still runs today and my brother works with him. I, on the other hand, take after my mum’s side of the family who are musical and even my mum plays the piano. I played the piano from the age of six, mum played, my grandfather played, although I don’t remember him because he died when I was an infant.

I went to Higham Ferrers Junior School. I remember learning to write with an ink pen because, as Miss Sugars said to me. "The biro is an abomination of the modern age, it will not last, this is a proper pen. You will all learn to write with a proper pen, in ten years time you’ll all have forgotten what a biro is." I still have my original ink pen from my days at Higham Ferrers school. The desks we sat at had inkwell holes at the top and a little groove where you would rest your pen although the inkwells weren’t in as we all used pens with cartridges or those squeezy type things in an inkbottle. The desks were etched with the names of previous pupils and other graffiti which I think you felt the history of the children who’d been there before you. All assemblies included a religious service which was taken by Mr. Woodward the headmaster and Miss Sugars would play the piano, she’d thumped the hell out of it and we’d all sing the hymns. I remember that the slipper and the cane were very much in evidence. I don’t remember getting the cane myself, I don’t know whether it was because I was a good child or because I wasn’t caught.

South End School
I went from Higham Ferrers school, which was very quaint and old fashioned, when we moved to Rushden to Wymington Road and to South End School which seemed very modern. All the classrooms were very light, the roofs were flat and leaked which was strange because the Higham Ferrers School was Victorian and although it had the look of an old council building, dark and dusty stuffy cupboards, the roofs never leaked. South End School was a beautiful school modern, airy, light with revolving blackboards the like of which I’d never seen before. The teacher would pull the blackboard down and you could write on the next piece of plastic surface whereas at Higham Ferrers the blackboards were fixed to the wall and were made of slate. It was like going from a Dickensian school with a water tight roof to a modern school with all bright and shiny modern things but a leaky roof which seemed very strange at the time.

I enjoyed South End School. I remember the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, I remember Dutch elm disease, the elms went and I was part of the school class who planted trees along the back of South End School as saplings. Now, when I cycle past, I see reasonably mature trees growing at the back and I think to myself, I was in the class that planted them. I miss the elms but it’s not all backwards one of the more positive things that’s happened in the local area is the cleaning up of the River Nene, it was a dead river, full of pollution, smelly and nothing lived in it. These days you will see fishermen and they regularly catch lots of live fish and the river is healthy and that is so good to see.

I went to Bert’s Academy, actually Rushden Boy’s School, run by Bert Catlin a somewhat strict but very much respected headmaster and his deputy Max Street. When we first went there there were 1200 boys and it was a wonderful schooling, I thoroughly enjoyed every day of it. I had a great time in the music department playing their pianos at lunchtime and generally having a number of things going on at any one time, most of which the school were completely unaware of, most of which was perfectly harmless but at the time seemed like great fun. Some of the teachers were stricter than others and I remember getting the slipper for talking in class, it did hurt but it didn’t do me any harm.
Rushden Boys' School

We had an old woodwork teacher, Mr. Hume, the boys used to call him old Humous. He was teaching us the dovetail joint, he got out two bits of wood, cut them with a saw and made the bit that slots in and the cut out bit and made a T when it was finished with one bit of wood along the top and the other bit slotted into it very neatly. He said. "That is how we mark out, cut and do a dovetail joint. You each have two pieces of wood I’d like you to do the same." So we had a go and I cut my socket part and then I made the bit that was supposed to slot in but it knocked about like a bell clapper. I thought, this is never going to be good enough so I’ll start again. I went to the scrap bin to throw away the clapper part, looked in and there sitting at the top of the scrap bin was the bit the teacher had made. I thought, ah a finished one, so glancing round to make sure nobody was looking I pulled it out of the bin and I went back to my desk. Removed the other part of mine from the vice, took it over to the scrap bin and disposed of it. I wrote my name on the teacher’s one and handed it in. You can imagine my surprise the following week when I returned to my piece of wood only to discover that he had graded it C+, that he’d graded his own work C+ and he didn’t know.

I was an early member of the Rushden Historic Transport Society. I joined before they bought the station and remember the meetings at Griffith Street. I got in trouble once with the newspaper for publishing, with my friend Mark Rantle, a newspaper article which read, “Rushden Historical Transport Society is biased against steam.” This was, basically, us two youths of about 15 ranting about the fact that there were no traction engines in the club, which now seems very funny and silly. At the time I had to go and explain myself to the committee and say that the newspaper, which is what actually happened, the newspaper reporter twisted our words and we were simply saying, “Why isn’t there more steam at the club?” Later on I remember the vote, which the Rushden Historic Transport Society had, which we voted in favour of, buying or, renting at the start, Rushden Station. Which then went on to become the museum, so I’ve been with Rushden Historic Transport Society since about the age of 14.

In those days I had my first vintage vehicle, a vintage bicycle, a Gazelle cross frame. Gazelle are a Dutch make and cross frame is an early form of bicycle with extra bars on the frame. I enjoy my rallies and I especially enjoy the traction engines. I went to the Cavalcade, the Wymington Agricultural Show, which was another local rally that ran at the time, and numerous other small and large events. At the age of 16 I bought my first full-size boiler. At this time traction engine related items were still of reasonably scrap value and this one was found at Meppershall where we bought it and towed it back with a vintage tractor to Wymington Yard, which was run by Derek Warboys of The Rushden Historic Transport Society.

We kept it there for a while before moving it up to a yard belonging to, who would become a long term friend of mine, a Rushden man by the name of Mr. Barry Krywald who lived on the Bedford Road. He was a dear friend who died relatively recently and relatively young and I still miss him. I later bought the steam engine from Whitworth’s to go with it although the two have never been paired up. I still own the steam engine which used to run Whitworth’s flour mill in Wellingborough.

Steve's scooter
At the age of 15 or 16, like most young men, I discovered girls and one of the things that I became involved in was motor scooters. I took up the idea of being a mod, bought a motor scooter, covered it in lots of lights and mirrors, and rode it around. Joined a scooter club in Kettering, where I met my wife to be. I always try to apply myself to my vehicles to get as much fun out of them as I can and with all the lights and mirrors on my motor scooter it was actually about 4 inches less wide than my friend’s Ford Capri. It pulled a trailer and it had a roof, all of which was fabricated on with various welding and bars. It was a real sight, I took it to scooter rallies including the Brighton 21st Anniversary Scooter Show where it won 1st prize as the best mod Vespa. I’ve still got the trophy knocking about somewhere although the scooter is long gone.

I joined an archaeological dig with the Northants Archaeological Society which was taking place at West Cotton, which is off to the side of Stanwick Lakes, where they were putting the new road through which is now the A45. This was when I did one of the things which stands out in my life as one of the most memorable.

Every so often I suppose history, and I’ve always been a keen student of history, touches you. We were given areas pegged out to dig which you scrape with a trowel and brushes. It’s a long and laborious process, most people were finding bits of pot and the occasional Roman nail, as it was a Roman age site. However I found something very, very, much more interesting because I discovered what I thought to be a piece of bone. Knowing that bone was reasonably rare I thought I would continue digging. Sure enough the bone turned out to be what looked like a human clavicle, a collar bone. I carried on digging and brushing and trowelling very, very, carefully and I started to uncover a skeleton, which is not something everybody can claim to have done.

I talked to one of the site officers and explained that I had a good knowledge of human anatomy and he said. “Well you’re the man for the job then, carry on.” Which, to my great pleasure, I then continued to exhume. The body was labelled in the finds as number 301 and was in the foetal position but more interestingly the head was by the feet. So either there was a peculiar burial ceremony or the person had come to a sticky end. Either way if I’m passing that area I still occasionally doff my hat in respect to my Roman compatriot. To have made any sort of contact with someone from 2000 years ago is quite a moving experience and I did treat the remains of the person with respect. After the dig was complete the body, which was not a Christian burial, was reinterred with the respect due to somebody who had obviously died a long time ago.

It was during this sort of time that I bought a tractor, a Nuffield Universal 4, I’ve always liked tractors since. I used it to tow the big boiler, which weighs 9 tons, to rallies. I went to Hollowell and to the Cavalcade and several other events with this thing at, I suppose, a maximum speed of about 8 mph because you couldn’t tow 9 tons with a small tractor at any greater speed with any hope of stopping it. Certainly when we came to a hill I was advised very wisely by my friend never to go down a hill in a gear that you would not intend climbing it with. I can only say the roads were a lot less busy in those days and I suffered very little in the way of traffic snarl ups.

At the age of 21, I taught myself the accordion. The reason I did this was because up to that point I’d played the piano in pubs and notably in the Rushden Historic Transport Society. Nearly all pubs and clubs in the early eighties had a piano, something you don’t see any more. So when I left school I could walk into a pub, sit down at the piano, start rattling out the tunes and get free beer all night. By 1986 the pubs were getting rid of their pianos to make room for extra seating, tables and food. Basically because drink driving laws were beginning to be enforced that bit more heavily so the pubs were encouraging people to come to the pub for a meal as much as they were to come to the pub for a drink.

I picked up an accordion in a junk shop, basically because it looked like it had half a piano on one side and I thought, I already know how to play half of this instrument all I’ve got to do is learn how to do the buttons. So that’s what I did, I taught myself. I practised and practised, which is the only way that you ever get any good at anything in my opinion.

Shortly after this I married the girl that I met from the scooter club. Frances Colton became Frances Baldock and we’re still married to this day. I love my wife dearly and I can say that it was definitely the right choice. Frances was born in Bermuda but I met her in Kettering and we settled in Rushden. When we were first married we lived on the new estate at Oakpits Way.

I worked for a while at John Whites in the warehouse on Lime Street. I remember all the shoe factory business was still quite big in the town then. There were lots of shoes made in this area and I was involved in the warehouse and I saw John Whites through to the end when it closed down and a very sad day. I’d enjoyed working there, it was a good job for a newly married man, although the pay wasn’t particularly good but I’ve always been the sort of person who enjoys fish and chips rather than caviar so it didn’t bother me too much. When John Whites went down it was a terrible shame. We couldn’t afford to keep the house in Rushden, so we moved to Kettering where we lived in for a small number of years. Always with the intention of moving back to Rushden again.

I was, for a brief while, a groundsman at Melchbourne Hall and enjoyed a couple of years working in amongst the trees and with the plants. Whilst at Kettering I collected a couple of old bicycles but had to sell them again when times got hard including my beloved Gazelle cross frame.

We had our first child, a son by the name of Jimmy, Sally was born later and they’re two lovely children and I think the world of them. I then got a better job at Mears Ashby nurseries, a chap called John Gaggini.  This paid well and was also a very interesting job. I had to learn the Latin names of all the trees, both native and imported, in order to sell trees to local authorities, forestry commission and landscape gardeners and all sorts. It was wonderful, I had a good few years there, the pay was brilliant it allowed me to move back to Rushden.

I bought a living van, big showman’s caravan, which I became fairly well known for. I towed that with the tractor. The living van was 21ft, the draw bar was 9ft and the tractor was a further 14 ft, making an enormous slow moving vehicle. Which I then clogged the roads of Northamptonshire and various other counties up with, going to and from rallies at the weekend. We went to Cromford in Derbyshire, Weeting Rally in Norfolk and eight years on the trot to the Great Dorset Steam Fair and back again. A round trip of many, many, hours although I did get it down to a fine art. When I first did it, it, took me four days to drive from Rushden to the Fair. By the time I’d practised the route and knew my way I could do it in a day. I’d start off from Barry’s yard at 6.30am, when the sun came up and get to Dorset at 7.00pm, just as the sun was going down. It was a continuous drive, I carried jerry cans on the back of the tractor, so that while I was going along I could refuel. The problem with stopping was not the stopping itself, but if you pulled over nobody would let you out again.
Steve with his living van

I was able, when Mears Ashby nurseries got into financial difficulties, to turn my hobby of music into my business. It has provided me with my income ever since. I play the accordion and the piano in pubs, I theme my shows either Victorian or 18th century, in the shape of pirates, which go down well at beer festivals and what have you. The business has become a reasonable success and I’ve enjoyed being filmed and meeting all the interesting people on the rallies. What used to be a sing-song round a camp fire, now, at some of the larger rallies, like Dorset Steam Fair, I play to an audience of 3500 on three consecutive nights which is quite humbling.

In recent years I got a bit fat and my doctor told me I had high blood pressure. So I decided that a more healthy lifestyle was necessary and this encouraged me to get back into vintage bicycles. So in recent years I have started collecting a few vintage bicycles and can be seen around the streets of Rushden riding a 1900 machine quite a lot. But occasionally, what most people would call a penny farthing, and this really did take quite a bit of learning as the technique to ride a fixed wheel high bicycle is totally different to riding what people would consider to be a normal bicycle.

Steve riding his penny farthing

Barry had a fairground organ which I enjoyed taking to the High Street in Rushden. Years ago there’d been a fairground organ down there from Rushden Dry Cleaners and the local council were keen to have another fairground organ in the High Street to continue this tradition. We took his organ down and played Christmas Carols opposite the Midland Bank which is now HSBC. We would stand out the front in our Victorian get-up of top hats and long coats shaking buckets for the Christmas charity and Father Christmas would turn up in his sleigh and many tunes were played and Christmas was good in Rushden High Street. For my 40th birthday I celebrated by buying a fairground organ of my own and have since done a couple of turns with that in the High Street, playing tunes and Christmas Carols.

I do like to use the High Street, I feel that Rushden is particularly blessed with having had some wonderful traders over the years. I miss Peter Crisps, it was a superb shop for anybody who does model engineering with its supply of nuts and bolts. You could go up there and buy 20 nuts and bolts of a certain size, they always had what you required. Jim Osborne where I bought my first SR1a Mammod steam roller.

Here is my outlook on life. I have simple tastes I’ve tried Champagne and caviar but I’d rather enjoy fish and chips and a pint. The codes which I consider important with all the things I’ve done they wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t done them. Creation is an act of sheer will I believe that if you want something have a go at doing it. If I’m bored I go and do something that way I’m not bored any more. For example I bought a bicycle on Ebay and a silly hat, I put the silly hat on I got on the bicycle and went for a cycle ride. By the end of the day I was knackered but I’d cycled 20 miles and I felt that I’d achieved something. I always believe slow and steady wins the race it’s an old saying but it’s served me well I may not have ever been into vehicles with speed and whenever I do anything I always approach it with that maxim. I am not nor do I ever expect to be a rich man but I am a contented man and I think that is better. Thank you very much for listening to me, God Bless, all the best, cheers.


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