James Higgins (1819-c. 1910), was a fiddle-player from whom Cecil Sharp noted a number of tunes, including the tune normally known these days as the ‘Shepton Mallet Hornpipe’, and the ‘Radstock Jig’. Internet sources describe him as having been “a clerk in the local Co-operative Society”, and “a former shopkeeper who fell on hard times in his old age”. Sharp encountered him in September 1907 as an inmate of Shepton Mallet Workhouse. I learned this tune from Dave Townsend’s First Collection of English Country Dance Tunes (1982).
James Higgins’ Hornpipe, as noted by Cecil Sharp, September 1907. From the EFDSS archive.
I wrote ’15 Welsh Street’ at Oddington, Oxfordshire, on the morning of Wednesday 1st September 1982. That was the Wednesday following the August Bank Holiday, and Oyster Morris had been dancing that weekend in and around Bishops Castle, as guests of Shropshire Bedlams and Martha Rhoden’s Tuppeny Dish. I was Squire of Oyster Men at the time, and Chris Wood, who had danced with Oyster in his teens, had rejoined as musician just for the weekend. We’d travelled up from Kent after work on the Friday, and by the time we reached Bishops Castle the pub appointed as rendezvous had closed. Plan B was to go along to Dalkeith, 15 Welsh Street, home at the time of dancer and musician Sally Turner (later Sally Kirkpatrick). Chris always maintained that the full title of this tune should be ‘(Is this) 15 Welsh Street (and do you want a chip?)’ as those were his first words to Sally on arriving at the house. It turned out that Chris and I were staying with a pair of dancers who lived a little way out of Bishops Castle. But after a wonderful weekend of dancing and enjoying the Bank Holiday steam fair (especially the old-fashioned carousel, Ashley’s Golden Gallopers), Chris and I got wind of a music session on the Monday night. We promptly arranged to stay an extra night with Sally and her housemate at 15 Welsh Street. On the Tuesday we drove up onto the Long Mynd, and then Chris and I set off for Oxfordshire, to spend the night with the brilliant guitarist and fiddle-player Anthony Johnson, an old friend from the Canterbury music scene who was at that point pursuing an academic career in Oxford.
If you spend a weekend watching the Bedlams and Martha Rhodens, the insistent 4/4 rhythm of their wonderful tunes is going to get under your skin. In fact Chris and I had spent much of the weekend consciously trying to memorise tunes such as ‘Bluff King Hal’, ‘Churning Butter’ and ‘Last night with Archie’ (‘Boyne Water’). And so it was no surprise that if I was going to write a tune that week, it would be in that same 4/4 rhythm. I can’t say that I woke up with this tune in my head, but it was certainly fully formed between waking up and getting out of bed. And of all the tunes I’ve composed, this one has always been a particular favourite.
I’ve been playing ’15 Welsh Street’ with the James Higgins hornpipe for a long time, but it’s only recently, with the Oxford NAGS, that I’ve had the opportunity to play the tunes for dancing. And, if I may say so, it’s a cracking set of dance tunes. Here we are playing them (for ‘Clopton Bridge’ I think) back in January this year at the excellent Red Fox Ceilidhs in Leicester.
A popular session tune, which I first heard in the early 80s, played by Nic Jones, Chris Coe et al on the Bandoggs LP. We recorded it for the first Magpie Lane CD, based on the fact that John Baptist Malchair had noted it down after having heard it “Played in the Streets of Oxford Ash Wednesday Feb 25 1789” – on a “Flute a bec and Tambour” no less.
Astley’s Ride as notated by Malchair, 1789. Image copyright VWML.
Our arrangement also featured pipe and tabor, played by Tom Bower, but we made no particular effort to play the tune as noted by Malchair, as opposed to the version we already knew.
Knowing that the tune also crops up (as ‘Ashley’s Ride’) in John Clare’s MSS, we revived ‘Astley’s Ride’ earlier this year for a Clare-themed concert (sadly that concert never came to fruition, but we’ve kept it in our set for our forthcoming Maytime concert).
Ashleys Rides, from John Clare’s MSS.
Recently I was inspired to look at the versions in Clare and Malchair’s MSS, and see if I could play them as writ. My attempts to do so are below, in the keys given in the original manuscript.
Astley’s Ride – John Baptist Malchair
Played in C on a C/G anglo-concertina
Ashley’s Ride – John Clare
Played in D on a G/D anglo-concertina
The tune is named after after Philip Astley (1742-1814), a noted English equestrian performer widely regarded as the founder of the modern circus. 2018 marks 250 years since Astley purchased a small piece of land known as Glover’s Halfpenny Hatch, to the South of the Thames, between Blackfriars and Westminster bridges, and opened a riding school where he gave riding lessons in the morning and – along with his wife Patty – performed equestrian tricks in the afternoon.
One of Patty’s best tricks involved circling the ring on horseback with swarms of bees covering her hands and arms like a muff.
Philip Astley is credited with discovering that the ideal size for a circus ring is 42 feet in diameter. This was the optimum size that enabled him to use centrifugal force to help balance on a horse’s back. As he rode at speed around the ring he used gravity to push himself into the horse’s back and thus prevent a nasty tumble onto the sawdust floor.
I wrote ‘The Sleeping Policeman Waltz’ during my time as a student in Newcastle, 1983-84. There’s no significance to the title, other than the fact that I’d only recently encountered the phrase being used to describe a speed bump. In fact the OED has no examples of usage before 1972 (a photo caption in the Daily Telegraph Colour Supplement for 27 October “Sleeping policeman is a bump under the road surface designed to slow vehicles”).
‘The Duke of Kent’s Waltz’ was in the Oyster Ceilidh Band repertoire of the late 1970s / early 1980s and, like them, I learned it from one of Bert Simons’ Kentish Hops pamphlets. There I discovered that the Oysters had altered the very end of the tune – for the entirely sensible reason that neither John Jones’ melodeon nor Chris Taylor’s harmonica had a D# available. I’ve retained the accidentals – they give it a nice period feel, although they’d have disappeared very quickly I’m sure, had this tune ever entered the folk tradition.
Bert Simons discovered two early 19th century tunes called ‘The Duke of Kent’s Waltz’. The source for this one is given as an “unnamed collection (1802) in the British Museum”.
In relation to the particular Duke after whom both the tunes were named, Wikipedia tells us that
My C/G has just come back from a tune-up and 10 000 mile service at the hands of Steve Dickinson at C. Wheatstone & Co. So, left to my own devices last night, it was probably inevitable that I’d spend most of the evening playing concertina. And, while you can play all sorts of music on an anglo, there’s no better match of music and instrument than morris tunes played on a anglo-concertina.
So here’s a favourite selection. First up, ‘Dearest Dicky’, one of those grand tunes from the Field Town tradition with, as I believe is appropriate, the A music played twice through each time.
Then another Field Town tune, ‘Shepherd’s Hey’ (otherwise known as ‘Signposts’) which I learned from John Kirkpatrick’s playing on the Morris On LP. And then another ‘Shepherd’s Hey’, from Bucknell – closer to the ‘normal’ ‘Shepherd’s Hey’ but pleasingly idiosyncratic. I learned this from the Lionel Bacon Black Book although, looking at the dots on the Morris Ring site, I think I may have changed it a bit over the years.
And then finally, the ‘Shepherd’s Hey’ tune which we all know and take for granted and often, I fear, treat with insufficient respect. I’ve long maintained – partly in defence of the fact that I’m not actually very good at playing technically difficult tunes – that getting better at playing your instrument shouldn’t mean that you stop playing simple tunes. On the contrary, becoming a better player should enable you to play simple tunes better. So it is with no apologies whatever that I present a recording of the ultimate in simple English folk tunes. Incidentally, I recorded this twice. The first time was OK, but then I stood up to play it, and it gained a bit of extra oomph in the process – it’s the second recording I’ve uploaded here.
Here’s a tune for Christmas from the 1798 manuscript of North Yorkshire miller Joshua Jackson. I learned it from the second volume of Jackson’s tunes, edited and published by Robin & Rosalind Shepherd. For details and to order the books (highly recommended) see www.ydw.org.uk/joshua.htm
Both are untitled, so the numbering is (I assume) Andy’s.
Waltz 1 (like ‘The Algerine Waltz’) is from the H.S.J. Jackson manuscript, while number 2 is from James Winder.
I used these at a West Country Concertina Players’ weekend where I was a tutor in 2015. We played them then in the original keys of C (Waltz 1) and D (Waltz 2). Here I’ve put Waltz 2 into C also, so I can get a fuller range of chords on the left hand.
Playing them numerous times over the weekend, it became clear that the two tunes have a very different feel – number 1 is more stately, while number 2 seems to want to be played quite a bit faster, and could sit quite happily in a French music session or bal.