A heartfelt but short post today (a strained hand means I can’t type much at the moment). And unusually for Fiddletails, it’s a song, brief but beautiful – an old ‘twelve days’ counting song from iconic Yorkshire group The Watersons, to welcome in the ‘twelfthmost day’ on Epiphany, Twelfth Night.
Jolly Old Hawk is a Roud ballad; for possible origins and links to lyrics, see Mainly Norfolk, and the usual fascinating debate on mudcat.
Wishing you all a year of hope, health, happiness – and plenty of whatever music lights your life!
Norma Waterson, Elaine (‘Lal’) Waterson, Mike Waterson, John Harrison
A tune for 25th November – feast-day of the legendary Alexandrian princess, scholar and Christian martyr who has her work cut out as the patron saint of a diverse slice of humanity, from potters and unmarried girls to knife-grinders and librarians.
‘St. Catherine’ is the 1701 Playford name for My Lord Cutt’s Delight, a tune from Henry Atkinson’s 1694 Northumberland manuscript. (The Session has notes on repeats, if playing this tune for the dance.)
The two featured videos this week pair St. Catherine in dance sets with another tune – Leveret play it second to New Anything; melodeon-player Anahata places it first in a set with The Cotillon.
Andy Cutting (diatonic button accordion), Rob Harbron (English concertina), Sam Sweeney (fiddle)
A track from the trio’s 2015 debut album New Anything. (St. Catherine begins at 1:58.)
A set of two beautifully-matched jigs from different Celtic traditions. Da Shaalds O’Foula is a traditional Shetland jig named for the hidden reef that lies off the remote island of Foula, where standing stones mark the midwinter sun and the local dialect speaks out of Old Norse roots. The second tune, Old Favourite, is a traditional Irish jig known by many other names, including the West Clare Jig.
Methera describe themseves as ‘a string quartet with roots firmly planted in English traditional music’ – a music that dissolves the walls we’ve built between traditional and classical. They take their name from the ancient northern English sheep-counting system that begins ‘Yan, Tan, Tethera, Methera…’. (If you feel like a linguistic adventure, you can learn the rest here.)
Lucy Deakin (cello), John Dipper (Fiddle), Emma Reid (Fiddle), Miranda Rutter (Viola)
The quartet playing for the live recording of their new album Vortex, at a house concert in a gorgeous Suffolk barn, April 2016.
Bid farewell to sweet October with this beautiful composition by Anna Gustavsson – one half of American/Swedish duo Premo & Gustavsson, whose US tour I featured earlier this week.
It’s also a great chance to hear a nyckelharpa, the iconic Swedish instrument famously played by 18th-19th century master nyckelharpist Carl Ersson Bössa (Byss-Kalle), composer of last week’s Fiddletails post.
Premo & Gustavsson
Laurel Premo (fiddle), Anna Gustavsson (nyckelharpa)
The Swedish 3/4 time slängpolska plays in some strangely danceable world between polka and waltz. This popular example was composed by Uppland herring fisherman, bargeman and renowned nyckelharpist Carl Ersson Bössa (1783-1847), known as Byss-Kalle (or Byss-Calle).
To non-Scandinavian ears, the rhythm is extraordinary: there’s an interesting discussion of slängpolska timing, along with details of Byss-Kalle’s life, at Banjo Hangout here.
My good friend and West London neighbour, ex-Genesis roadie turned environmentalist Richard Macphail, goes solo on air tonight with his shiny-bright new radio station, playing an eclectic mix of rock (1960-1985 ish), jazz, classical, folk, and a whole kaleidoscope of you-heard-it-here-first stories from his years on the road.
The second hour he describes as Off Piste – and it does what it says on the tin. Tonight, acclaimed English folk band Leveret (a Fiddletails favourite) is on the playlist with a track from their 2016 CD In The Round.
Kick back and stretch your ears for a while. I’ll see you there!
Monday already? So what better way to start the week than with this breezy Old Timey/Ragtimey tune – originally from renowned Virginia fiddler ‘Uncle’ Charlie Osborne (1890-1992), who played left-handed on a conventional right-handed fiddle, and was famous for his fiddling from the age of 15 until his death at the age of 101.
First up, Adam Hurt and Beth Williams Hartness lay out a jaunty, fluid version at dance speed, along with some great banjo ornamentations over subtle fingerstyle guitar. The second video – a slightly slower rendering showcasing the fiddle’s double-stopping and dulcitar/strumstick fingering – is by Danish Old Time afficionados TheDeleuran Enevoldsen Duo, who learned the tune from a recording of Uncle Charlie Osborne.
This lovely tune is named for the Palace of White Hall, which had grown larger than Versailles or the Vatican by the time it was almost entirely destroyed by fire in 1698.
The Whitehall Minuet was published in 1709 by John Young in his tunebook Dancing Master, and in John Walsh’s Compleat Country Dancing Master, 1718.
Hare’s Maggot and French Morris, the ‘set’ partners to the minuet in the two very different renderings below, are both Playford tunes from 1701.
I’ve always understood that ‘maggot’ in a title means a tune that sticks in your head – an ear-worm. But I see from the wonderful Traditional Tune Archive that although the word can mean a dram (a liquid measure), ‘the musical meaning may stem from the word’s derivation from the Italian word maggioletta, or a plaything’.
The Askew Sisters
Emily Askew (fiddle), Hazel Askew (melodeon)
From a 2014 performance at TwickFolk, Twickenham, Middlesex, UK. The set is also on their CD In the Air or the Earth.
Just a few places left on this first event in Laurel Swift’s 2016-2017 varied teaching programme – a multi-instrumental weekend retreat with the emphasis on developing ensemble skills alongside individual playing and musicianship. Expect dynamic, inspirational teaching in great company, fuelled by wonderful food and drink in glorious country settings.
Oh, and you’ll need to pack walking boots with your instruments!
Every couple of weeks or so I feature a tune that's caught my fancy – audio/video clips of brilliant musicians playing great, perhaps uncommon tunes to learn by ear. Most are from the English and American Old-time traditions; some hail from other musical worlds ‒ Scandi, perhaps, or French. But whatever you play ‒ fiddles or frets, free-reeds or fipples ‒ I hope you enjoy catching these wonderful tunes!