Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections: Nick Small

Nick Small | 17th December 2017

As the year draws to a close, we ask our friends and collaborators to look back on the past twelve months and share their significant moments. From Nick Small:

Military Display in The Piece Hall by John Wilson Anderson (1798-1851)

2016 wasn’t a year that I cared to reflect upon. 2017 has, by comparison, been a joy.

I spent much of the year working on Countryfile. Some people seem bemused by the programme’s outlandish success (it generally thrashes all comers in the viewing figures stakes). To me though, the reason that it has become a Sunday night “appointment to view” is simple: we, as a nation, love our countryside. I was asked by the New York Times in the Spring what it was that made the show appealing. They ran my response as a headline for their article: that it is “pastoral porn”. It is lovingly crafted by a large team of producers, directors, researchers, camera and sound crews, runners and a dedicated production management bunch. It is a labour of love for pretty much all of the team (let’s just say it has funding issues) and I think that love shows.

The show’s content is a cleverly mixed bag of lavishly photographed landscapes, lyrical commentary, the quirky eccentricities of the characters that try to make a living in rural Britain, and provocative features that put #countryfile at the top of the twitter trending charts every Sunday evening. I have always loved watching it, and have found that making the programme is just as enjoyable (if hard graft).

After the usual break to recharge my batteries in Swedish Lapland I came back to work on a very appealing project for ITV: Britain’s Favourite 100 Walks. It really has been a treat to travel across Britain, filming our most cherished landscapes…the rugged Cornish coast, the majestic highlands, the beguiling Lake District, impressive Snowdonia and my personal favourite, the Yorkshire Dales. The programme will be an entire evening to wallow in lovely landscapes and will air in the late winter/early spring.

Away from work, my home town of Halifax is, according to the Yorkshire Post’s Mandy Wragg, “having a bit of a moment”. It has a lot going for it, Halifax. It’s surrounded by the South Pennine moors…and fingers of tussocked hills intrude almost into the centre of town. But now it has a gem in the restored Piece Hall, a Georgian cloth hall which forms the kind of plaza that you’d expect to find in a European capital. There are niche shops, great little restaurants and, shockingly for this pints and pies stronghold, a Gin Bar. Halifax has become “a destination”…which seems to be a bit of a shock to its natives, who for years have generally looked to go elsewhere, anywhere. Me, I love it. With great places like The Trades Club in Hebden Bridge and Salt’s Mill in Saltaire, there’s plenty going on culturally in the neighbourhood.

Speaking of culture, some notable offerings that have enriched my life this last year. Former Chumbawamba guitarist, fell runner and writer Boff Whalley got a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs together to form The Commoners Choir, releasing an album which I’ll write about in more detail later. Suffice to say it’s a totally enjoyable romp with dollops of civil disobedience and agitprop. The Nightingales released a new EP – Become Not Becoming. Astonishingly, they just get better and better. I have also really enjoyed the Fews, Baxter Dury, Richard Dawson, Elbow and John Grant’s Kindling and First Aid Kit’s Fireworks. I have scarcely had chance to read this year but Steve Chilton’s Running Hard, about a battle between fell running legends Kenny Stuart and John Wild, was compelling. As someone who worked with The Go Betweens, I found Robert Forster’s Grant and I, a deeply personal account of his time in the band with the late, great, Grant McLennan to be utterly absorbing and moving. Currently, I’m reading Richard Carter’s On the Moor, which I shall review for these pages, and I’m trying to find the courage to finish Ben Myers’ Turning Blue, so that I can then run the gauntlet of The Gallows Pole.


Nick Small on Caught by the River