Monthly Archives: May 2015

Whitefriar’s Hornpipe

The posts for this week and next are both crooked tunes – musical riddles that turn round and bite you in the ankle just when your ears are quite sure how the tune is going to work out.

For this week, then: two arrangements and a teaching video of the wonderfully crooked hornpipe Whitefriar’s. (Traditional English, I believe – though after last week’s research debacle, I wouldn’t lay bets…)



Andy Cutting (melodeon), Rob Harbron (concertina), Sam Sweeney (fiddle)

Inspirational playing in a set with the inscrutable Purlongs.* (Mr Cutting only half visible, but happily entirely audible.)

(‘Leveret – Whitefriars & Purlongs Live in Dursley Town Hall’ YouTube video, 5:41. Posted by Sam Sweeney, 12 Jul 2014.

The set is on Leveret’s 2015 CD New Anything, available from their website:


Ben Moss and Laurel Swift

‘Three fiddles, two voices, one melodeon and a pair of clogs.’

Stonking fiddle harmonies at Sidmouth Folk Week 2014. Played second in a set with Laurel’s light-and-shade waltz First False Path.*

(‘Ben Moss & Laurel Swift – Waltz Set’ YouTube video, 3:48. Posted by Laurel Swift, 12 Dec 2014.

Ben and Laurel have a new self-titled EP out – see their website:


Laurel Swift

Laurel teaching Whitefriar’s to her Monday evening West London class.

(‘Whitefriars Hornpipe’ YouTube video, 1:28. Posted by ‘ealingsessions’, 9 Apr 2014.

For a shedload of teaching videos for other great tunes, visit Laurel’s Ealing Sessions website:


(*Note to readers: we’ll be returning to Purlongs and First False Path in later posts – if you can resist the tempation to learn them now, that is!)



Filed under English folk/traditional

Last of Harris

Three versions of an apparently rarely-heard Kentucky tune, including a house concert performance, a teaching video, and the earliest known recording.

Plus, to finish, a cautionary tale: Last of Harris held a sting in its fiddletail for this unwary researcher.


Stephanie Coleman (fiddle), Adam Hurt (banjo), Beth Williams Hartness (guitar)

A lilting, closely-woven arrangement filmed at a 2011 house concert in Suffern, NY.

(‘Last of Harris’ YouTube video, 1:22. Posted by ‘banjolady’, 5.4.2011.


Andy Fitzgibbon

A great teaching video made for the 2014 Cowan Creek Mountain Music School advanced fiddle class. Andy notes: ‘Fiddle tuned GDAE. As played by John Salyer.’

(‘John Salyer’s The Last of Harris- Andy FitzGibbon’ YouTube video, 1:30. Posted by Andrew Fitzgibbon, 4 Oct 2014.


John Salyer

The 1940-1941 field recording of Kentucky fiddler John Morgan Salyer.

(From the Appalachian Center Collection, Berea College Southern Appalachian Archives. Hear the full Salyer recordings at:


And finally…

Last of Harassed: a researcher’s cautionary tale

A few  passes through Google turned up nothing about Last of Harris’s intriguing title. The tune’s origins seemed pretty obvious though. In my mind’s eye I could see it all: the ship’s stern, the gulls above the silver wake, the mountains of  the Isle of Harris misting away over the horizon as a Hebridean fiddler sets sail for the New World.

A poignant theme that deserved to be illustrated, I thought, and contacted Harris-based photographer Stefan Davies, explaining that the tune ‘presumably relates to the experience of emigrating to the US from the Isle of Harris’. He kindly sent me a wonderful photograph to upload.

Sorted – a great post for this week!

And then, last night, quite out of the blue, Google sweetly offered me a search result I really didn’t want to see: ‘Last of Sizemore’. ‘Don’t click!’ whispered my sinking heart. ‘Don’t go there!’ But I did. And read. And oh, – how could you be so cruel…

‘There are a number of musically unrelated ‘Last of’ tunes: Last of Callahan, Harris, etc. Usually they go along with a story of the last tune played by a fiddler on his deathbed or at the gallows.’

I fall on my sword. Blushing. But truth has come too late to press memory’s delete. For me, Last of Harris will always evoke, not poor Mr Harris about to meet his Maker, but Stefan’s image of the Isle of Harris – quite simply too beautiful to be left out.

isle of harris stefan davies Early morning just after sunrise (5.20 am) in May. Crescent beaches carry the eye further along the coastline to Taobh Tuath and in the distance Leverburgh. (© 2008-10 Stefan M Davies.)

(You can see more of Stefan’s fantastic photographs at




Filed under American old-time/traditional

The Valiant

Three different takes on the glorious 48-bar jig composed by Simon Ritchie.

Nick Hart and Tom Moore

Nick (duet concertina) and Tom (fiddle) recorded this haunting rendering on their 2014 self-titled CD.

Mary Humphreys and Anahata

Played at breezy dance speed on English concertina and Oakwood melodeon, in a set with The Alexander (by William Clarke of Feltwell – see Mary’s fascinating notes at:

Simon Ritchie (composer)

Simon and His So-Called Band recorded the original barnstorming version on their 1998 album Melodion Mania. I hope to post up a Spotify link here soon, but in the meantime you can hear the track on Spotify, and download it from Amazon. 51tcHC0EplL._SL500_AA280_

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Filed under English folk/modern

The Devil’s Nine Questions/Billy in the Lowground

For this very first post in my new fiddle tunes blog, I thought I’d treat you to something unusual that I came across while hunting out old-time versions of this week’s featured tune, Billy in the Lowground. And so we begin with a story, a riddle, a rhyme – and dance away into a tune played fit to charm Old Nick himself…

Anna and Elizabeth (Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle), accompanied by Jefferson Hamer and Eamon O’Leary (The Murphy Beds)

The Devil’s Nine Questions was learnt from the 1920s-40s singing of Texas Gladden and Mrs. Rill Martin, Virginia. Comment on Irish music forum The Session has Billy in the Lowground originating in centuries-old Scottish and Irish reels.

Anna and Elizabeth illustrate some of their songs with story-scrolls turned on frames known in the States as ‘crankies’. The duo is touring the UK and Ireland in May, in London on 8th (Musical Traditions/sold out) and 19th (Green Note, Camden). Check out their full itinerary on their website: The Murphy Beds are at:


Filed under American old-time/traditional