Musician and local council gardener keeps in tune with the planet
Interviewed by Jo Reynolds
How long have you lived in the area?
Most of my life. I grew up in Shepherd's Bush.
How long have you gardened for the council?
Around 30 years. I started training in hard landscaping for sheltered housing in Hammersmith and Fulham. In 1990, I joined the council who funded me to study at Capel Manor (the horticulture college in Gunnersbury Park) where I qualified to RHS Advanced level. My responsibilities include Wendell Park, Wormholt Park, Cathnor Park, Westcroft Square and Norland North.
Music and nature are the foundation of life
Are your parents keen gardeners?
My Mother loves flowers and does a little bit of gardening. My Dad was in engineering. My son, Marcus, has followed me into gardening. He's now a team leader in the south of the borough, doing grounds maintenance for the last 9 years and going strong. He's also followed me into music and went to university to study Music and Technology and got his BA.
You were nominated for H&F's Civic Honours award for "Improving our environment". Who inspired your love of the environment?
The nomination means a lot to me. My inspiration was Jonathon Porritt (CBE). He was my Form Teacher and English teacher for 4 years. He was chair of the Ecology Party, which became the Greens. Later he was Director of Friends of the Earth. He would ride to school on an old, beat-up, sit-up-and-beg bike, and his jumpers sometimes had holes in, which we would laugh at. But he wasn't fazed by us. He would just smile and say, "Why waste a perfectly good jumper just because of a few holes?" He tried to make us aware of excess wastage and we'd try to limit the damage we do to our environment.
In a sentence, how would you refute climate change deniers?
The rate we are emitting greenhouse gases like CO2 and methane today is much faster and greater than the most destructive natural climate changes that have been recorded in the past – I see bumblebees at Christmas and plants flowering earlier and for longer.
How should we do our bit?
Recycle, ditch the car, plant a tree, carry a reusable bag... This year's Earth Day is the 22nd of April (which this year focuses on plastic pollution). And get involved in community groups. Most parks have volunteer groups, planting bulbs et cetera, like the Wendell Park Gardening Friends.
What changes have you noticed in the parks over the years?
I grew up with dogs – we had 2 Alsatians. There wasn't that many dog owners back then. Now, there are many more, with unusual breeds from Leonbergers to Labradoodles. And personal training is much more common now.
What's the strangest thing you've seen in one of your parks?
A helicopter landing in Wormholt Park was really dramatic. And on the Scrubs, I've seen multiple Boeing Chinooks taking off. When I worked in Hammersmith Park, beside the old BBC Television Centre, the Blue Peter Garden backed onto the park and sometimes guests would practice in the park, like circus acts and marching bands et cetera. One of my colleagues dug the pit for a Guinness World Record attempt at walking on hot coals and when the coals reached the correct temperature, which took quite a while, and the man had finally composed himself after meditating, he took one tentative step onto the coals, then another. And then he started running across the hot coals howling out. That story still makes me giggle.
Tell us about your music.
I'm a drummer and producer. My music is a mix of many influences from world music, dance, jazz, rock, funk, ambient and lots and lots of improvising to create something special. I have a home studio and use a combination of live playing and virtual instruments.
Who have you drummed for? And where?
Many bands over 37 years. Most notably, with Daevid Allen's (prog rock) bands, Here & Now, and Planet Gong. From 1991 to 2007, we toured the UK, France, Italy, Germany and Holland. We also played the Glastonbury Assembly Rooms in 2005. I've also played with Nik Turner's (ex-Hawkwind) band, Inner City Unit. And Taxi Pata Pata, a Congolese band, which headlined the council's Unity Day in Ravenscourt Park last year. I currently play with PsiGong, a band I co-founded with Mike Howlett. And with Sentient, which I co-founded with Steffe Sharpstrings and Gary 'Subs' Subassa.
What band would you most like to be in?
When I was growing up it was James Brown and Prince.
You're also learning to compose film music. Which score do you wish you'd composed?
I'm enrolled on several film courses including a Hans Zimmer masterclass. I really like his Inception soundtrack and Quincy Jones's score for the original Italian Job. I also love Danny Elfman and, of course, John Williams's Star Wars.
Aside from horticulture and music, have you any hidden talents?
I have a black belt in Taekwondo. I was really into the late, great Bruce Lee as a youngster. I recommend martial arts training for everyone, young and old. It helps not only with fitness but inner confidence.
Horticulture, music, martial arts. You sound very driven.
You have to use the time you have productively. If you want to make something worthwhile, it will not happen overnight. You have to devote time to it. Everything is connected. With gardening and music, nature gives us plants for food, medicines, clothes and a home. Music and nature help people come to life. They are the foundation of life.
Thank you, Steve. It's been a real pleasure to meet you.
You can hear Steve's music on his website stephencassidy.bandcamp.com