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Comment - No 10

Village Music Project

John Adams' Village Music Project is primarily interested in the traditional social dance music of England - where it came from, where it went to, who it travelled with and where it is now.  Full details can be found at the address below.  An account of their first year's work follows:

We've got off to a good start although things have progressed slowly, an inevitable consequence of a low funded project staffed by volunteers.  What have we actually achieved during this first period?

John Adams visited the Mitchell Library in Glasgow and spent a day inspecting the Frank Kidson Collection.  He identified five manuscript items of primary interest and several published collections of tunes which will help to contextualise the manuscript unes.  Copies are not yet in our possession but we are hoping that the Mitchell Library will allow this as access is difficult.

Hugh Taylor visited the Armitt Library in Ambleside and indexed the Lakeland manuscripts of the Browne Family Collection.  This is a particularly interesting repertoire of tunes, quite different to others that we have seen. We hope to have a complete set of copies before too long.

Paul Burgess gave us access to his manuscript book from John Moore of Tyneside and John Adams has begun work on transferring the tunes to abc format for publication.  Paul has also told us of another book which has been lent to him and which we hope to work on soon.

Andy Hornby sent us photocopies of the three collections from Wyresdale near Lancaster (from the Winder family).  These are part of a larger collection which contains much church music as well as country dance tunes.  Taz Tarry has transcribed the earlier book (1789) into abc format and made it available.  We are looking for someone to work on the rest.

John Adams visited the Salford archives and copied and indexed a manuscript book from fiddler William Tyldsley of Swinton (1860).  Taz Tarry has part of that to work on.

George Frampton has sent us a copy of the William Mittell manuscript, part of which was published by the late Dave Roberts a few years ago.  Chris Partington is transcribing the unpublished tunes into abc format.  George also sent us two other manuscript pies from Henry Shade and Richard Hills, both Kentish musicians.

Katie Howson sent us a photocopy of a published collection of dance tunes from Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.

Dr Vic Gammon has offered us access to the copies of manuscripts which were the sources for the Sussex Tune Book which he published in 1982.  These are manuscripts from Michael Turner (1842), William Aylemore (1796), William Voice, Thomas Shoosmith and th Welch Family (1800).

John Adams visited the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at Cecil Sharp House and is working with the English Folk Dance and Song Society to bid for new funding to undertake an extension to the project involving the Library and the Internet.

The project purchased some printed and audio materials from Carrawobbity Press in Australia to start on a comparative study between the manuscript material over here and the more recent manifestations of the tunes down under.

Dr. Andy Day sent us a rucksack! ... full of old photocopies of printed and manuscript material from the north-east.  So we've got some material to keep us busy. Any help in transcribing this lot into abc will be gratefully accepted.

In addition to all of this acquisition work, John Adams and Chris Partington gave a presentation on the project at the Sidmouth International Folk Festival (some of you went to it) and ran a workshop session playing some of the tunes.  In 1999, we hope to give updates at the National Festival at Sutton Bonington, Sidmouth Festival, the Cornwall Festival at Wadebridge, The English Country Music Weekend and several others.

We have been very excited by the amount of interest that our project has generated.  All that we have been offered has far outstripped our ability to administer it all, especially when it is extra to our main daily duties.  We are now getting organised an have refined our methodology and prioritised the tasks.  To those who offered help and then heard nothing until now, please accept our apologies and bear with us.  There's a lot of background work being undertaken!

For more information, contact John Adams at: j.adams@media-perf.salford.ac.uk, or look at http://www.salford.ac.uk/media/research/vmpaims.htm

Death of Fabrizio De Andre'

On January 11, Fabrizio De Andre’ died of lung cancer, aged 58.  He was one of the best loved singer-songwriters in Italy, with a career spanning over 35 years.  At first he took inspiration from French 'chansonniers', translating a few Brassens songs into Italian.  He had a huge hit in 1967 when Mina, an Italian diva, covered his song Canzone di Marinella.  He sang about the old part of his hometown, Genoa, telling tales of murderers, whores and lost loves.  In the early ’70s he cut some concept albums - one based on the Apocrypha, another on a Lee Masters’ anthology.

In 1984 he released his 'masterpiece' album - Creuza de mä - in which he blended his own Genoese dialect with pan-mediterranean sounds.  With this record he gained International acclaim and a rave review in Folk Roots too (by your editor).  In the following years he published only two records of similar moods and themes (plus a live one and a 'best of').

In August he was forced to interrupt one of his all too infrequent tours, when he was diagnosed with his lethal illness.  While we are writing this note, RAI-TV is broadcasting one of his last gigs.

Fausto Meirana - Danilo Parodi - 20.1.99

Broadside Meeting

Saturday 27th February 1999   10:00 - 4:00
Cecil Sharp House, 2 Regents Park Road, London NW1 7AY

An informal meeting is being planned for people interested in any aspect of broadsides, chapbooks, or any other form of street literature.  The purpose of the session will be to exchange information, air ideas, explore options and, particularly, to see if there is any scope for further meetings, conferences, or other ways of communicating.  It would be particularly beneficial if we could help to bring together people from different disciplines who are interested in the subject, so please pass this information on if you know someone who might want to know about it.

There will be no charge for the day, but the organisers need to know in advance roughly how many are coming.
Please contact: Steve Roud, Southwood, High Street, Maresfield, East Sussex TN22 2EH  Tel: 01825 766751 (home), 0181 760 5400 ext.1112 (work): Email: Roud@dial.pipex. com
Also let him know if you can’t come but want to be put on any subsequent mailing list.

Organised by the TRADITIONAL SONG FORUM with the active support of THE ENGLISH FOLK DANCE & SONG SOCIETY

Traditional English Fiddle Players

Veteran Tapes are intending to follow up their Vintage Series double cassettes of 'Melodeon Players From East Anglia' and 'Dulcimers Players From England' with a similar three hour album of 'Fiddle Players From England' some time this year.  This will again be based on traditional players, ie those who have had their style of playing passed down through their family or community, and are looking for a good geographical spread if that is possible - but not revival players.

John Howson says: "Although it would be wonderful for us to find lots of high quality recordings of fine playing, this is unlikely - so I am prepared to listen to anything; however scratchy or badly recorded.  The aim will be to show an overall picture, not to just cherry-pick the gems which we hope will turn up.  All copyrights will remain with the owners of the recordings and all sources will be acknowledged.

I would be pleased to hear about any leads you feel might be worth following up and of course if you have material yourself I would be delighted to hear it."

Club Dates:

The Musical Traditions Club at The King & Queen, 1 Foley Street, London W1, has among its guests for 1999:

Lewes Folk Club at The Royal Oak, Station Street, Lewes, Sussex, has among its guests for 1999:


MT contributor and reviewer, Fred McCormick again presents two 10 week courses through Liverpool University's Continuing Education Centre, at University College Chester (Tuesdays) and Liverpool University (Thursdays) on:

The Music of Ireland

The course explores its many manifestations in relation to Irish history and the quest for national identity.

The courses start on the 19th and 21st of January respectively, from 7:00 to 9:00 and cost £30 with various reductions for all sorts of claimants.  They offer nationally recognised credit points under the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme.

Further information from the Centre for Continuing Education, University of Liverpool,
19 Abercromby Square, Liverpool L69 7ZG, tel: 0151 794 6900/6952

A London Singers' Club

Most singers visiting Dublin know that on Friday night, the place to be is the Góilín club, but it's been a long time since anything similar was available in London.  Ron Kavana, concerned about this lack, has decided to try to organise something - a place where singers can get together on a regular basis to enjoy unaccompanied singing.  The people involved in discussions so far have proposed that the club should make no admission charge, pay no fees to performers and be available to members only.  Membership would be restricted to those introduced by existing members.  Musical instruments would not be involved.  The club would meet weekly on a mid-week night in a pub room suitably separated from the main business area, but with full access to anyone (i.e. not an upstairs room).  Suitable accommodation of this type at a hospitible venue is being sought - but without success at present.  It has been proposed the the 'Noble Call' system might be used to structure the evenings - whereby the organiser would sing first, then call upon the next singer, who would call upon the next, and so on.

Of course, these are only suggestions, and it might be that the initial membership - those who turn up for the first night's singing - would decide that they would prefer some completely different arrangement.  Anyone who is interested should send their name, address and phone number to Ron Kavana at 75 Turnpike Lane, London N8 0EE, so that he can advise them of the date and venue for the first meeting.

Walter 'Font' Whatling: 1919-1998

To hear of the loss of a fine musician is always a cause for sadness.  When that person was also a good friend the loss, of course, is that much greater.  Photo by John HowsonSadder yet, though, is that when I heard that Walter 'Font' Whatling had died in October, Rod and I were in the process of updating my article Sing, Say or Pay! on the music and singing traditions of East Suffolk, to which Font both directly and indirectly had contributed greatly.  But the final irony was that Font's death came only days before the release of Topic Record's remarkable 'Voice of the People' CD series where his music would be presented alongside and up there with the greatest traditional performers these islands have seen this century.

As I say, Font's own story will be told at greater length on this site in the near future, but for those unfamiliar with the man, Font Whatling was born in the small village of Worlingworth, near Framlingham in East Suffolk and lived there all his life.  At an early age he took an interest in playing the melodeon and befriended Walter Read, a blind musician and shoemaker from the nearby village of Bedfield and generally recognised as the finest ever exponent of that instrument locally.  Walter and Font would take their boxes all over East Suffolk playing in pubs, at village hops and at horse shows and country fairs, and their stock in trade was the music for step-dancing.  Font could fairly do that job too:

"I can remember one night in Bedfield Dog.  I step-danced for 25 minutes, straight up, while Walter played.  I was fairly fit then, but the sweat was fairly streaming down my neck at the end.  Walter said 'Font, I thought you would never stop boy.'   'Blast, Walter' I said, 'I was waiting for you!'"
In addition, Font took up with two schoolboy chums, Eddie Woolnough and Wattie Wright, to form the 3 W's band (two melodeons and drums) and took their music to countless dances, country pubs and weddings locally.  Courtesy Font WhatlingWattie was also an exceptional step-dancer (as good as I ever saw in Suffolk - KS) and Wattie and Font's party piece was to dance together - first face to face and then side by side with their arms behind the other - a very impressive sight!

My own memories of Font are very happy ones indeed.  When I first met him in the early 70s he was still performing regularly (probably only Oscar Woods and Fred List were more active at the time) and well-known over a wide area.  I was put onto him by Geoff Ling of Blaxhall - a considerable distance from Worlingworth.

It was a bleak Saturday afternoon in midwinter when I thumbed it to Worlingworth, and well remember walking down the lane leading to the pub and being pelted with pebbles by some local children - the little scamps!  play Sound ClipBernie, the owner of the pub and a good bloke, warmly welcomed me in, although it was two hours before opening time, and assured me that Font would be in that night with his box.  He was, and by the time I left the pub that night I knew that I had met an outstanding musician. (sound clip).  Unfortunately, when Bernie kindly offered to drive me to Framlingham at ten o'clock his car had got stuck in the mud in the Swan's car park.  Font and Wattie were among the brave souls who helped push us out and got thoroughly plastered in mud for their pains - boy, how we laughed about it later!

A few weeks later I arranged to record Font at his home (recordings that later came out on The Earl Sloham Slog - Topic 12TS 374).  A little while before, I had met and been befriended by Royston Wood, who with Heather Wood and Peter Bellamy had been a member of the massively influential group The Young Tradition.  Royston, a thoroughly good chap, was living at the time in Sibton, near Yoxford, and not that far from Worlingworth.  Now Royston was always into projects and had one on the go about Suffolk heroine Margaret Catchpole, for which he had decided that step-dancing formed a vital ingredient, and did I know anyone who could teach him.  As Font stepped, and as Royston had a car, it seemed churlish not to invite him to the session.

After recording a good few pieces by Font - polkas, marches, step dances and song tunes (Font's favourite being Ned Miller's From a Jack to a King) Royston launched into 'teach me' mode.  Initial instructions, on a plush carpet were not entirely successful, so Font produced from his shed a piece of 2' x 2' sheet metal that he had been using to mix cement on.  As the stepping on the sheet became more vigorous a cloud of dust gradually enveloped the living room, when Font's wife appeared at the door with sandwiches.  Font panicked and picked up the sheet depositing a half inch of cement dust over the Axminster.  Words were exchanged!

Font was also a real countryman and was an active member of the Dennington Pony and Trap Club.  In the summer of 1978 he took his trap to Bungay Horse Fair, then a revival in its infancy that appeared to me to be a rather uneasy collaboration, being local country people, genuine gypsies, and the local ex-hippy/pre-new age traveller community.  After a rather pleasant day at the fair, Font, Charlie Whiting and I went to a pub in the town where Font had agreed to meet two German students who had heard his playing on the LP and wanted to hear him play.  Font played, they played, Charlie sang, and I was having a good drink, when about a dozen gypsy men strolled in.  This created a rather tense atmosphere (there had been trouble in the town the previous night), but on seeing Font and his box - "This is what we want, boy" was their general consensus.  Totally taken with Font, every one of them stepped or sang (two in Romany) - God, what I would have given for a tape recorder.  One of the German lads turned to me and said "Well, you certainly seem to have a good folk scene here!"

Thankfully, unlike many of his contemporaries, Font's talents were given a wider audience in later life.  Encourage by John and Katie Howson, who know a good 'un when they hear it, Font became a member of that looser knit musical community known as The Old Hat Concert Party and travelled and played regularly in this company of good friends.  Whenever I saw him in this context I always knew, as did he, that his remarkable party piece of stepping while playing the accordeon would bring the house down.  It always did and yet he was never an exhibitionist, in fact he was rather a self-effacing man.  He just knew, as we all did, that he was rather good.  I shall miss Font.

Keith Summers - 10.12.98


Rod Stradling - e-mail: rod@mustrad.org.uk    Tel: 01453 759475
snail-mail: 1 Castle Street, Stroud, Glos GL5 2HP, UK

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