One person at the centre of it all was Peter Gretton, who wrote a huge body of music – songs and instrumental pieces – many of them recorded in his own studio. He made a huge impact locally but now seems to have been all but forgotten .
He died aged 60 in 2012, and to mark the 10th anniversary of his passing, his good friend and musical collaborator, Abbotskersell author Brian Thomas, has written a book celebrating his talents.
Out of the Sun, The Rock Star Who Stayed Under the Stairs, is difficult to categorise. Rather than a straightforward narrative, Brian has chosen to tell Pete’s story – and by inference the Teignbridge music scene – through a series of articles, lyrics, snapshots and conversations, which reveal the workings of a truly unsung musical genius.
All this was in the days of music cassettes and Pete and Brian would fill many with improvised sketches, some of which are also reproduced in the book.
Brian has weaved together an unconventional biographic portrait of the man who created a mini recording studio literally under the stairs and later in a basement. ‘As he kept his music secure in his below-road level studio, so he also kept that music under the radar, mostly away from large scale public scrutiny,’ writes Brian. ‘Everyone who knew him thought him a star with so much potential.’
However, although possessing a creative drive and amazing talent, success wasn’t that important to Pete.
He ditched a job he hated in Timothy Whites and trained as a psychiatric nurse in Langdon, Dawlish but his true vocation was music. He also disliked the internet which explains why most people haven’t heard of him.
Brian builds up a picture of the man part-Python, part-all round musico who was happy just ploughing his own furrow.
As well as composing his own music he would play drums, keyboard and later in the ’90s lead guitar.
He left a number of boxes of recorded material, and listening to one of his recordings, his style brings to mind Zappa.
In a series of bands including Frog, Musk, The Next Band, The Disturbed, The Odd and The Gang, he entertained in pubs and halls around South Devon, all the while working in his own recording studio.
His obsession with music affected his personal life, leading to a marriage break-up and other fractured relationships, and Brian doesn’t shy away from telling that side of his life.
It’s obvious the affection the author still holds for him, and what emerges is not the sad story of someone who could have been a big name, but rather the triumphant story of a man fulfilled and doing just what he wanted.
Who knows, maybe one day those boxes of recordings will be made available once again.
► Out of the Sun, The Rock Star Who Stayed Under the Stairs is available from Amazon, priced £6.