Constant Billy / Young Parker

As mentioned in my previous post, one of the very first morris dances I learned was Adderbury ‘Constant Billy’. ‘Constant Billy’ turns up in a lot of morris traditions, with only minor variations in the melody; but the Adderbury tune definitely seems to be the most commonly played version, not least, I suspect, because of the rather pleasing ascending run half way through the B music. Mind you I wouldn’t have played that Scotch snap in the first bar had I not consulted Lionel Bacon’s Black Book just before doing this recording.

Constant Billy (Adderbury)

Played on C/G anglo-concertina


Like a lot of Adderbury dances, there’s a snatch of song associated with ‘Constant Billy’. As, it appears, there once was at Bampton-in-the-Bush:

Oh my Billy, my constant Billy,
When shall I see my Billy again?
When the fishes fly over the mountains,
Then you’ll see your Billy again.

These words were noted by Mr Charles Taphouse (of Oxford music shop fame) from Bampton man Charles Tanner, and were included in an article by Percy Manning, Some Oxfordshire Seasonal Festivals: With Notes on Morris-Dancing in Oxfordshire, in Folklore Vol. 8, No. 4 (Dec 1897), pp. 307-324.

Dave Townsend came across the Bampton “morris songs” included in Manning’s article – several with somewhat unusual tunes – and these became the excellent ‘Bampton Morris’ set on the Jumpleads LP, The Stag Must Die.

Constant Billy (Charles Tanner)

Played on C/G anglo-concertina


I liked this tune so much that, around 1985 when I was Foreman of Oyster Morris, I devised a stick dance to go with  it (in the style of Badby, as all Oyster Men’s dances were at that time). Actually, on paying closer attention to the tune as noted from Mr Tanner, I think I may have got it wrong back then. Admittedly only by a semi-tone, and only on one quaver in the last bar, but it makes quite a difference (especially on a diatonic instrument like the melodeon or anglo-concertina).

This is the tune as given by Percy Manning, but transposed up one tone:

X: 1
T: Constant Billy
N: as collected, transposed up 1 tone
S: Charles Tanner, collected by C Taphouse
S: Percy Manning, Some Oxfordshire Seasonal Festivals: With Notes on Morris-Dancing in Oxfordshire, Folklore Vol 8 (1890) p321
M: 6/8
K: Am
L: 1/8
c2d eee|B2c ddz|ccd e2e|BBc d2z|G2d BAG|cdB AGE|A2A cBA|EFG A3|]

And this – I think, although it’s over 35 years ago, and I mostly used to dance rather than play – is how the tune ended up when played for Oyster Morris:

X: 2
T: Constant Billy
N: transposed up 1 tone, with sharpened 6th
S: Charles Tanner, collected by C Taphouse
S: Percy Manning, Some Oxfordshire Seasonal Festivals: With Notes on Morris-Dancing in Oxfordshire, Folklore Vol 8 (1890) p321
M: 6/8
K: Ador
L: 1/8
c2d eee|B2c ddz|ccd e2e|BBc d2z|G2d BAG|cdB AGE|A2A cBA|EFG A3|]

Paste those into your favourite ABC editor to see the difference.

Anyway, whether or not that is how the Oyster musicians used to play the tune, that’s how I’d remembered it; so here’s my rendition of the second (incorrect) version.

Constant Billy (Oyster Morris, after Charles Tanner)

Played on C/G anglo-concertina


It has been suggested that the morris tune ‘Constant Billy’ might be a variant of a Scottish melody, ‘Cia Mar Is Urra Sinn Fuirreach O’n Dram’ or ‘How Can We Abstain from Whisky?’. That was written by John MacMurdo of Kintail in the first half of the 18th century, exactly when I’m not sure. Meanwhile, a tune called ‘Constant Billey’ was included in the 3rd edition of Playford’s Dancing Master (1726). Which came first? And are the similarities any more than coincidence? Whatever its origins, ‘Constant Billy’ must have become a widely known tune. As well as its use for dancing, the tune became a vehicle for at least one ballad, ‘The Death of Parker’, which is sung from the perspective of the widow of Richard Parker – the only man to be hung following the Mutiny at the Nore in 1797. The song has been collected a few times from oral tradition, and the collected tunes all seem to be more or less distantly related to ‘Constant Billy’. There’s a tune in one of John Clare’s manuscripts with the title ‘Young Parker’, and this presumably was the tune of the song, rather than a jig (although it would also work as a dance tune, if there’s any morris sides out there looking for less familiar tunes to use with their dances).

Young Parker

Played on C/G anglo-concertina


The version I find myself playing most frequently these days is the Headington Quarry version recorded by William Kimber. Kimber played the tune in G on his C/G anglo – it’s a bit squeaky up there but it works, and if it’s good enough for Bill Kimber it’s definitely good enough for me.

Constant Billy (Headington Quarry)

Played on C/G anglo-concertina


Last year Quarry resumed morris practices for the first time after Covid. At the time their long-standing musician, John Graham – who had joined the side as a teenager, and then taken over as musician from William Kimber – was ill in hospital; and even when he came out, arthritis had got the better of his hands and he could no longer play the piano accordion. Dave Townsend asked me if I’d stand in as musician. Now I certainly hadn’t been looking to join a morris side, but I wasn’t going to forego the opportunity of playing those wonderful Headington tunes, so familiar from the Kimber recordings. I have to say, although dance-outs are still rather few and far between, it’s a pleasure, and an honour to be involved with the team.

On my first outing with HQMD a year ago, I was a little worried when I saw John Graham watching at the Mason’s Arms. I wasn’t sure how he’d react to the interloper who had taken over the role he’d performed for the best part of 70 years. I needn’t have worried. Then, and subsequently when he’d come along to practice night on a Monday, he could not have been more friendly, supportive or helpful. Sadly, John passed away a week ago. When Headington Quarry danced in the village on Monday night, the dancing was, quite rightly, dedicated to his memory.

Here’s the citation read when John was presented with his EFDSS Gold Badge in 2019.

Photo from John Graham's EFDSS Gold Badge presentation, 2019.

Photo from John Graham’s EFDSS Gold Badge presentation, 2019.

Bluebells of Scotland

Oh where, tell me where, has my highland laddie gone?

When I joined Oyster Morris in September 1978 the first dances I learned were Bampton ‘Rose Tree’ and the Adderbury stick dances ‘Constant Billy’ and ‘Bluebells of Scotland’.

‘Bluebells’ is, as I recall, a really simple dance, and it’s certainly a simple tune – boring, some might say. But for a morris musician to call a tune boring is really an admission of defeat. When it comes down to it, the musician’s only job is to provide an accompaniment that allows the dancers to do the dance well. The music needs to be the right length, rhythm and speed and, above all,  be danceable. And if the playing is really danceable then, by definition, it can’t be boring…

Bluebells of Scotland

Played on C/G anglo-concertina

The Beaver / Paddy Wack

Two late 18th century jig tunes. ‘The Beaver’ is from a manuscript compiled by William Clark of Lincoln, and dated circa 1770. From the Traditional Tune Archive I learn that the tune had been printed in Thompson’s Compleat Collection of 200 Favourite Country Dances, Vol. 2 in 1765, so (directly or indirectly) that was probably Clark’s source.

Clark’s MS also contains ‘Paddy Wack’, which seems to have tuned up in a lot of English, Scottish and Irish collections – again see the Traditional Tune Archive for details. The version I play was noted down by William Mittell of New Romney circa 1799. I learned it from the ABC file on the Village Music Project website.

The Beaver / Paddy Wack

Played on C/G anglo-concertina

Magpie Lane / Murphy Delaney

I heard a Man whistle this Tune in Magpey Lane Oxon Dbr. 22 1789. came home and noted it down directly

Thus wrote John Baptist Malchair, watercolourist, collector, composer, and leader of the band in the Holywell Music Room in Oxford – the oldest purpose-built concert hall in Europe. The German born Malchair (or Malscher) had a strong interest in folk melodies, and his notebooks contain several examples of tunes he heard being played, sung or – in this case – whistled – on the streets of Oxford. ‘Astley’s Ride’ is another example of this.

Facsimile of a page from John Baptist Malchair's Third Collection of Tunes, showing the tune we know as 'Magpie Lane', and 'Cupid's Recruiting Sergeant'. From the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.

Facsimile of a page from John Baptist Malchair’s Third Collection of Tunes, showing the tune we know as ‘Magpie Lane’, and ‘Cupid’s Recruiting Sergeant’. From the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.

Fast forward 200-odd years and I was one of an as yet unnamed group of musicians preparing an album of songs and tunes connected with Oxfordshire. My good friend Dave Parry had come across this untitled tune in a book on music in eighteenth century England, and christened it ‘Magpie Lane’. He wrote it out for me; I took it along to rehearsal and everyone liked it; so I wrote out parts for recorders and cello, and this became the first track on our debut CD The Oxford Ramble. And when we realised that we really ought to have a band name, we plumped for Magpie Lane.

(Incidentally, Magpie Lane, which runs from the High Street down to Merton Street, seems such a picturesque name. But in past centuries it had an altogether less savoury appellation – see the article Magpie Lane or Grope Lane? Oxford’s rudest road on the Dark Oxfordshire website).

It’s now 30 years since the release of the first Magpie Lane album, and our first public performance – in the Holywell Music Room, appropriately enough. On Saturday we were back in the Holywell for a sell-out concert to celebrate this anniversary, where the band were joined by former members of the group Jo Acty and Marguerite Hutchinson, and musical friends including Jackie Oates, Colin Fletcher and Jane Griffiths from the Owl Light Trio, Phil Thurman, Louis Thurman, Toby Goss, and the The Patakas 2 – Will and Joe Sartin. Needless to say, this tune featured in the concert setlist.

Magpie Lane 30th anniversary concert. Photo by Tim McElwaine.

Magpie Lane 30th anniversary concert. Photo by Tim McElwaine.

I’ve never encountered the tune ‘Magpie Lane’ in any other 18th or 19th century source – at least not in this 9/8 form. But some years ago now I came across a tune called ‘Murphy Delaney’ and it was clear that this was related to our theme tune. You can find versions of  ‘Murphy Delaney’ in manuscript collections including the HSJ Jackson manuscript from Wyresdale in Lancashire, and that of John Moore of Ironbridge (look for page 90). And it was included in various printed collections: Thompson’s Twenty Four Country Dances for the Year 1805, Niel Gow’s Repository (1806), and volume 1 of the Irish piper O’Farrell’s Pocket Companion (c. 1805) – which is the version I play here.

'Murphy Delany' from O’Farrell's Pocket Companion for the Irish or Union Pipes, vol. 1 (c.1805)

‘Murphy Delany’ from O’Farrell’s Pocket Companion for the Irish or Union Pipes, vol. 1 (c.1805)

You’ll find all of these and more on the Traditional Tune Archive at From where I learn that ‘Murphy Delaney’ started life as a song – possibly by Dibdin – and that the song tune was adapted from an earlier dance tune called ‘Parson in Boots’ (although that’s a different tune to the one we play in Magpie Lane as ‘The Priest in his boots’).

'Murphy Delaney' - print by Thomas Rowlandson, after George Murgatroyd Woodward, June 15, 1807. From the The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

‘Murphy Delaney’ – print by Thomas Rowlandson, after George Murgatroyd Woodward, June 15, 1807. From the The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Edit 22nd May 2023

It occurs to me that as the earliest records of ‘Murphy Delaney’ seem to date from around 1805, the tune that Malchair heard being whistled back in 1789 must actually have been a version of ‘Parson in Boots’.

Magpie Lane

Played on C/G anglo-concertina

Murphy Delaney

Played on C/G anglo-concertina

Magpie Lane by Augustus Pugin, reproduced in A History of the University of Oxford, by Rudolph Ackermann and printed in London in 1814. From the Merton College website.

Magpie Lane by Augustus Pugin, reproduced in A History of the University of Oxford, by Rudolph Ackermann and printed in London in 1814. From the Merton College website.


The Hogmanay Jig / I wish you a merry new year

Here’s a set which I recorded with Magpie Lane back in 1995 and which, as a band, we’ve long neglected.

‘The Hogmanay Jig’ was written (originally in the key of A major) by Scottish dance band leader Andrew Rankine.

I originally learned ‘I wish you a merry new year’ from the tunebook of William Mittell of New Romney, Kent, 1799. But the same tune also crops up in an almost identical form in the slightly later H.S.J. Jackson manuscript from Wyresdale, Lancashire; and, no doubt, in many other MSS of the period.


The Hogmanay Jig / I wish you a merry new year

Played on C/G anglo-concertina

Christmas Eve

On December 26th last year I learned Cohen-Braithwaite Kilcoyne’s tune ‘Boxing Day’, recorded it and posted it here. The same afternoon I was playing through a few other Christmassy tunes, including this one, which I immediately realised was going to have to go into my repertoire. The irony of learning a tune called ‘Christmas Eve’ on Boxing Day was not lost on me, but I recorded the tune in June, and have been waiting patiently ever since to post on this blog.

The tune was written by Ignatius Sancho (c.1729 – 1780), shopkeeper, abolitionist, writer and composer. Born into slavery, Sancho eventually became a free man in London; he is the first Black Briton known to have voted in a general election, was the first Black Briton to be recognised with an obituary in The Times, and was sufficiently well known in London society to be the subject of a portrait by Gainsborough.

Ignatius Sancho, 1768 by Thomas Gainsborough; from the National Gallery of Canada, via Wikipedia

Ignatius Sancho, 1768 by Thomas Gainsborough; from the National Gallery of Canada, via Wikipedia

You can read more about Sancho, including his musical works, at

Wikipedia tells us that

There are 62 known compositions by Sancho, which were printed in four collections in London between c. 1767 and 1779: Minuets Cotillons & Country Dances, book I (c. 1767), containing 24 dances; A Collection of New Songs (c. 1769), six songs on words of William Shakespeare, David Garrick, Anacreon, and unidentified authors; Minuets, &c., &c., book II (c. 1770), with 20 dances; and Twelve Country Dances for the Year 1779.

‘Christmas Eve’ is from Minuets Cotillons & Country Dances for the Violin, Mandolin, German Flute, & Harpsichord. Composed by an African which you’ll find in its entirety on the British Library website. Twelve Country Dances for the Year 1779 is also available online, via the IMSLP website.

Christmas Eve

Played on C/G anglo-concertina

The Day Thou Gavest Lord Is Ended

My parents weren’t regular churchgoers when I was growing up. Or rather, I suppose they were regular, in that they went at Christmas, Easter and Harvest Festival, and hardly ever in between. As my Dad said, that’s when they have the best hymns (I don’t know about other C of E congregations, but in our parish church my Dad was unusual in that he belted out the hymns loudly and with great enthusiasm). Going with them at these times of year, obviously I got to learn a very specific selection of hymns. But Songs of Praise was pretty much essential viewing in our house, and we sang hymns in school assembly twice a week, so I got to be familiar with plenty more. While I agree with A.L. Lloyd when he complains about the wealth of vernacular carol and hymn tunes that have been lost through “the tyranny of [Hymns] Ancient & Modern” I have to confess that I have a soft spot for many of the Victorian and Edwardian hymns that supplanted them. Indeed, there are plenty of hymn tunes which are lodged deep in the recesses of my brain – I know the tunes, and have an idea of their harmonic structure, almost without realising it. That was certainly the case with ‘The Day Thou Gavest Lord Is Ended’. I was reminded of it last week when it was sung at the Queen’s funeral service in Westminster Abbey, and a few days later it surfaced in my head once more, and I thought it might go nicely on the Crabb F/C anglo I’d found myself rather unexpectedly buying at the Whitby Folk Festival in August.

The standard hymn book setting has the hymn in A major. I play it in F, mostly because I wanted to try out my new purchase; but F is also a far more accessible key for this hymn for most singers.

Actually the words, by 19th century Church of England clergyman John Ellerton, don’t do much for me. But the tune, ‘St Clement’, is rather lovely. Wikipedia tells us that

The tune is generally credited to the Rev. Clement Cotteril Scholefield (1839–1904). It first appeared in Sir Arthur Sullivan’s Church Hymns with Tunes (1874)

but then goes on to suggest that actually Scholefield’s friend Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) may well have had a hand in its composition.

Of course we’ve only just come out of the period of official mourning for the late Queen, and in the period between her death and the funeral the media was full of little else. But most people on the folk scene have been grieving rather more, I suspect, for the tragic and completely unexpected death two weeks ago of singer, composer, arranger, fiddle and oboe-player Paul Sartin. Paul emerged on the Oxford folk scene in the 1990s. Having a young family, a 9-5 job, and an aversion to smoky rooms, I never really frequented the session pubs of East Oxford, and consequently didn’t really get to know Paul at that time. I think the first occasion on which I spent any prolonged time in Paul’s company was in 2003, when Magpie Lane were booked to play at the Fylde folk festival. Mat Green managed to get hold of a minibus for the weekend and Paul, who was performing there with Belshazzar’s Feast, hitched a lift. Needless to say, Paul was a thoroughly engaging travel companion, and his ready wit ensured that the long slog up the M6 didn’t seem as tedious as otherwise it might have.

Then in 2011 Paul asked Ian Giles and me to take part – alongside local dance teams, a community choir, and an ensemble including Jackie Oates, Paul Hutchinson, Pete Flood and Sam Sweeney – in a musical performance specially commissioned by Broadstairs Folk Week. Paul didn’t sing or play a note in this production, but it highlighted his skills as choir-leader, musical director, composer and arranger. One of the pieces he gave me to sing was a poem by Siegfried Sassoon which he’d set to an eighteenth century dance tune, slowed down and set to a string quartet-style arrangement; it was an absolute joy to sing. And of course it was, as ever, a pleasure to spend time in his company.

There’s a big Paul-shaped hole in the folk scene, and in many people’s lives, right now. The world is better for his having been in it, and the poorer for his tragically early departure from it.

You’ll find an obituary for Paul, written by Derek Schofield, in today’s Guardian. And he was included in the most recent edition of Last Word on Radio 4.

That programme featured a contribution from Paul’s friend Jon Wilks, who has written a lovely tribute to Paul on the Tradfolk website.

And if you’ve not heard it already, do check out this programme from the Thank Goodness It’s Folk radio show / podcast, presented by Sam Hindley and James Fagan, with guest John Spiers.


Colin Fletcher and Paul Sartin

Paul Sartin (with Colin Fletcher) at the launch party for the Magpie Lane CD ‘Three Quarter Time’, 2017.

As a chorister, I’m sure Paul must have sung this hymn countless times. I have absolutely no idea if he loved it, hated it, or was completely indifferent to it. Although I see that Ralph Vaughan Williams, of whom Paul was a massive fan, wasn’t at all keen on it, regarding hymn tunes like these as “sentimental and enervating”. Oh well.

The Day Thou Gavest Lord Is Ended

Played on

Crabb F/C anglo-concertina (solo 1st verse)

C. Jeffries C/G anglo-concertina

Jones Bb/F baritone anglo-concertina (with very clacketty buttons, as you can hear)

Photograph of Jones baritone Bb/F, Crabb F/C and Jeffries C/G anglo-concertinas

Find the Lady

Despite the fact that there’s no concertina on the record, John Kirkpatrick’s 1983 album Three in a Row: The English Melodeon is one of my favourites from his solo output. Most of the tunes on the album were written by John, and this one is a particularly fine example of his ability to write an absolutely stonking dance tune (and, of course, to play it in an irresistibly danceable way, on a one- two- or three-row instrument).

Despite having had the tune going round my head for years, it’s only recently that I’ve taken the time to learn it properly. And I’m very glad I did (although I’m also annoyed with myself for forgetting to trot this out in a session at ECMW the other weekend). Someone please remind me next year!

Find the Lady

Played on G/D anglo-concertina

Howson’s Hoolie

I learned this from the fabulous CD Borrowed Shoes by Polkaworks – one of my absolute favourite records of country dance music.

It was written by Sue Harris, in honour of John Howson’s 60th birthday.

As mentioned in a previous blog post, John sadly passed away recently, and there was a big celebration of his life yesterday in Stowmarket. I wasn’t able to attend, but I did play this tune.

Rest in peace John. You will be missed.

Katie and John Howson receiving their Gold Badge Awards from EFDSS President Shirley Collins. Photo by J Halliday. From the EATMT website.

Katie and John Howson receiving their Gold Badge Awards from EFDSS President Shirley Collins. Photo by J Halliday. From the EATMT website.

Howson’s Hoolie

Played on four-stop one-row melodeon in C, C/G anglo-concertina, and triangle.

Highland Quick Step

Another 48 bar tune from Gloucestershire fiddle-player John Mason. I’d played this at various times in the past and the tune hadn’t really made much of an impression. But, revisiting Mason’s tunes recently, I decided to try it on the one-row melodeon and found that it works a treat. The tune has a lot of quite long held notes, but the insistent oom-pah oom-pah of the melodeon left hand helps to sustain the momentum.

Actually, just from instinct rather than consciously thinking about it, I quite often find myself breaking up the minims and semibreves into shorter note values. After all, country dance music isn’t like Bach or Beethoven – the notes written on the page really are just the starting point, not an instruction on how the tune must be played.

Highland Quick Step, collected from John Mason 2nd August 1909, from the VWML Archive

Highland Quick Step, collected from John Mason 2nd August 1909, from the VWML Archive

Transcription of the tune on the Glostrad website

Highland Quick Step

Played on a Hohner Acadia one-row melodeon in D