At home with The Wilson Family

We are including this page on the site, just to give a very brief sketch of who we all are as people, as opposed to the Wilson Family as a folk group. Of course, when "The book" is eventually written – (12 volumes we think) – we will be able to give a more unabridged account.

We have always thought of ourselves as quite an unremarkable family, living quite unremarkable lives, indeed when festivals programme us to do a "meet the Wilson family" we are invariably at a loss for words!!!!

A frequent question is always "are we all related", and "where do we come from?"

Well yes, we are brothers with the exception of Pat, who is our sister, and the eldest of our family. Tom is the eldest of the lads, followed by Chris, Steve, Ken and Mike in descending order. The youngest of the siblings is Sister Jackie, who was always a bit too shy to join the group.

We generally reveal to our audiences that were born between the late 1940s through to the mid 1960s, and usually find that more people are intelligent enough to fill in the gaps themselves.

Dad’s name was Joe Wilson (though not the famous Tyneside bard of the same name – now that would have made us remarkable). Through most of our childhood, he worked as a bricklayer, eventually becoming a general foreman and subsequently site manager. On his return from the western desert at the end of WWII, he courted and married Gladys, who had served as a land girl, and returned from "down South" to take up a job as manageress of a local bakery – (dad certainly knew on which side his bread was buttered!!)

Like thousands of post-war wedded couples, it didn’t take them long to start a family – unlike thousands of others however, they didn’t appear to know how or when to stop!!)

Mam and Dad in full swing Mam and Dad in full swing

The "homes fit for heroes" had never been built, so, for the first few years we "lived in" with Aunty Noreen and Uncle Jim, who had managed to rent a 3 bedroom ICI house (probably through the black market). Since Noreen and Jim already had 3 sons, the household or nine could euphemistically be described as "cosy" – a situation we were to get very used to!!

With Pat as a toddler, and Tom the baby, when Aunty Noreen became pregnant with her fourth son, Dad had to frantically try to find any sort of accommodation going – but there was none. At one stage he even applied to the council to buy a "Nissan Hut" to live in, but was told that they were oversubscribed!!

Eventually, with Chris now on the way, we were allocated a 3 bedroom, prefabricated terraced house at 34 Braid Crescent, Billingham. This was to be our family home for the next 13 years, and, at its peak, mam, dad and all 7 kids lived within its modest walls – very "cosy" indeed!!

It was a "rough and ready" sort of estate, but had a great sense of community, with everyone realising that they were all, essentially in the same boat. But that didn’t prevent our little Catholic "enclave" having to virtually fight our way out of the road each morning – just to get to school.

Whilst singing was not particularly prevalent on a day to day basis, there was always plenty of community singing went on around Christmas and New Year in particular, (it being Mam’s birthday)

In 1966, literally pushing our Jackie in the pram, we moved "up town" to 13 Grosmont Drive, Billingham. This was still a 3 bedroom terraced house, of roughly the same proportions, but at least it was built out of bricks!!! Mam and Dad obviously had one of the bedrooms, and Pat shared the "box" room with Jackie. This left the lads sharing and 4m X 3m bedroom. With the imaginative use of bunk beds and every inch of floor space properly allocated we were, once again, quite "cosy".

In reality, though, there was only a relatively short period when either house was "absolutely chocca". Ken, Mike and Jackie were all born between 1960 and 1966, so for the first six years in Braid Crescent there were "only" four kids. Similarly by 1969, both Tom and Pat had flown the coop, which again left the house seeming eerily empty.

After a long and painful illness, our Dad died on 2nd July 1982, at the premature age of 63, which was a devastating blow to us all!

We all worried that Mam, whose life had previously revolved around Dad and her "bairns", might quickly fade. But with our coaxing and full support, and her own inner strength, she started to accompany us to most of our club and festival bookings. She soon became a well known and much loved "character" in her own right, and the subject of a plethora of legendary stories!!

She would have been gratified and delighted to know that her funeral in October 2003, was attended by a virtual "who’s who" of the folk world, and her life was celebrated with a huge "big sing" afterwards.

We thought that we should conclude with the definitive answer to the other, much asked question of " how did we get into harmony singing?" Well it has been well documented that our harmonies are not "worked" out, but happen quite spontaneously – one theory runs as follows: -

Being the first born, and female, our Pat never had any trouble being heard. Nor did Tom as the first born male – so there we got our first two melodies. When Chris came along, for him to get noticed he had to shout a bit louder than the previous two – a natural high harmony then!. Steve found that the best way to compete for attention was to adopt a lower, more plaintive approach, which was fundamental in his developing a deeper "basey" tone. By the time that Ken was born, there was a temporary lull in sibling rivalry, so he had not needed to raise or lower his voice – another melody. But, of course, Mike had to go higher than anyone else to avoid total oblivion!!

Mam singing at the Station Mam singing at the Station

But essentially, since we all learnt to speak from the same two sources, our voices were always going to be similar. We were probably just lucky to have had a naturally developed variety of tonal ranges, and our singing is more to do with "voice blending" rather than classical firsts, thirds and fifths.

What else do you want to know?

  • What do we do for a living?
  • Do we all have families of our own?
  • Did we learn our songs from Mam and Dad?
  • Do we all have the same inside leg measurement?
  • What will the weather be like tomorrow?
  • What is the answer to the universe (42 actually)
There are always more questions than answers, so maybe we will have to write the much-vaunted book one-day.