Hank Wangford headlines at Burston Festival
Lost Cowboy returns to play at top union rally this Sunday
Reading time: 6 min
This September the crowd at the annual Burston Strike School rally in Suffolk will be treated to the country sounds of Hank Wangford and his band. Anyone who has seen or heard Hank play will know this is a perfect choice for an event headliner – the only surprising thing is that he hasn’t played before.
Hank joins a packed day of speakers and entertainment, including Red Flags, poet John Hegley and a performance from Banner Theatre.
Catching up with Hank, real name Sam Hutt, shortly after he had performed at the Red Rooster Festival just outside Thetford, his enthusiasm for music, politics and local history shone through.
Sam was born in Brocket Hall, Hertfordfordshire, in 1940 during the blitz, which he described as being “born from a Communist mother in a Nazi’s house.”
His parents were leading members of the Communist Party of Great Britain at the time, with his father, Allen Hutt, a journalist and an active trade union member in the National Union of Journalists – being a longtime editor of unions journal, The Journalist, as well as NUJ President in 1968. Sam was brought up as a “union boy through and through”, something he has continued with all his life. He is currently a member of the BMA (British Medical Association) and the Musicians Union.
Sam studied medicine at Cambridge and became a fully qualified doctor, but loved music, saying that “I’ve always played music since I was young, starting with skiffle – then getting into rock ‘n’ rock and RnB.”
At the time the British Folk Revival of the 50s and 60s was huge, but Sam was put off folk music after meeting Ewan MacColl and being told that he shouldn’t play skiffle as it was “American rail workers music” and instead “he should be playing English folk music.” which he thought was rubbish.
Sam was developing a reputation as a “rock ‘n’ roll doctor” who’s patients included The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Grateful Dead – but it was a chance meeting with Gram Parsons who set him on the road to three chords and the truth.
Hank said, “I got into country whilst being a rock n roll doctor and met Gram Parsons, which was my big epiphany, and I realised country music was for me.”
“Simple songs, melodic songs – which was perfect for me – and about people, poor people and real people. I like the rawness, the sharpness and the cutting edge of real old time country music.”
A rural life
Not long after Sam did what a lot of young people from alternative backgrounds were doing in the early 70s and left the city for the countryside, to get back to nature and a rural life. In Sam’s case he moved to Suffolk where he one day found himself feeling sad and lonely in a pub in the nearby village of Wangford, inspiration struck and Hank was born.
Hank, along with his band The Lost Cowboys, has since produced a large number of popular, and critically acclaimed, albums as well as touring the world.
He is looking forward to playing a local show with a proud history – he is particularly interested in finding out more about the background to the rally, and the Burston Strike School when he visits. No surprise given his radical roots and interest in local history and politics.
These interests resulted in Hank and the band getting involved with Billy Bragg and legendary Japanese punk pop performance group, Frank Chickens as part of a “Hank, Frank and Billy” tour. During the miners’ strike of 1984/85 they toured the country playing trade-union benefits and anti-racist gigs.
Playing country music to trade union crowds isn’t without it’s risks and whilst playing the Greater London Councils “Jobs for a Change” free festival in 1984 Hank and the band were attacked on stage by a group of right-wing skinheads, though Hank used the experience to inspire one of his most popular songs “On The Line”.
‘Public are more tolerant of strikes’
Hank said he feels he has seen a change in people’s opinions of unions and how they support their members, saying that “The public are a lot more tolerant, they are backing strikes much more than before. Railway workers, posties, nurses and medics.”
“This is great, and shows a growing sense of solidarity amongst working people.”
Hank managed to keep his interest in rural history alive when he spent ten years touring village halls – the main hub of many a country community.
Hank explained, “I like knowing about things, finding out about places, their people and their history. So when I had the chance to tour village halls I couldn’t say no.”
As part of the National Rural Touring Forum (NRTF) run by the Arts Council Hank has played in 350 village halls from Cornwall to Northumberland. The NRTF delivers high-quality creative experiences across communities and rural areas in the UK, and aims to strengthen and support rural populations to bring professional work to their venues.
“We named the tour “No Hall to Small” and it was fantastic!”
“I got to know about England. It is unbelievable the variety of things you find out when visiting small rural communities. You meet loads of really interesting people and you get to hear the story of their villages.”
Hank summed up why he still loves playing after all these years. He said, “Music always helps ease the crisis of the daily grind, music carries our lives. Which is why country music is so great.”
But don’t just take Hank’s word for it – make up your own mind and see The Lost Cowboys take to the stage at the 2023 Burston Strike School Rally this September.
FIND OUT MORE
See the Burston Strike School Facebook page
By Keith Hatch