English Gypsy Musicians

Musical Traditions (MTCD373)

Harry Lee: Flowers of Edinburgh, The Breakdown, Let's all Sing like the Birdies do, Irish Hornpipe, Over the Waves, Clog Dance, Killikrankie, Robert E Lee, Sailor's Hornpipe, No Mother To Guide You, Irish Washerwoman, Gary Owen, Gary Owen 2, Brighton Camp, Irish Washerwoman, Brighton Camp, Rakes of Kildare/Tenpenny BitVanslow Smith: Box polka medley, Fiddle Medley, Box hornpipe medley, Fiddle Medley, Box waltz medley, Fiddle Polka, Box hornpipe medley, Fiddle Waltz medley, Fiddle Waltz, Boys of Bluehill.  Lemmie Brazil: God Killed the Devil O, Harvest Home, Smile A While, Irish Hornpipe Stepdance 1&2, Irish Jig, Three Tunes, Devil O, Various tunes, Irish Hornpipe Stepdance 2.  Jasper and Levi Smith: Cock of the North medley.  Jasper and Derby Smith: Whistling Rufus medleyJoe Dozer Smith: Drunken Piper/Step it AwayMary Biddle: Little BeggarmanWalter Aldridge: Cornish BreakdownJohn Locke: Locke's HornpipeStephen Baldwin: Tite Smith's HornpipeFred 'Pip' Whiting: Billy Harris's Hornpipe, Will the Waggoner.
Here are 45 tracks of mainly short field recordings of Traveller musicians recorded between 1910 and 2006.  The repertoire is mainly traditional dance tunes of English, Scots and Irish origins: hornpipes, jigs and waltzes in the main, whose function was largely for step dancing.  Alongside this are some tunes of music hall and popular songs of yesteryear; the sort that everyone would have known for a good old sing-song in a pub or around the fire.  It is heady stuff; very different from the ways tunes are played in folk revival dance bands or in sessions and while the recording quality is far from perfect, for fans of authentic English style this is the real stuff.  Few of the tracks have been widely available before.

Eighty percent of the recordings are of three musicians.  Harry Lee's fiddle was recorded 'as far as we can tell' by Paul Carter, and Gwilym Davies recorded both Lemmy Brazil and Vanslow Smith and there is a great deal to learn from each of them.  The recordings of Lemmy are different from the ones of her on Topic.  Her playing manages to sound pretty sprightly despite the fact that she was 91 when the last of them was made.

Vanslow was recorded at an event at a school in Sussex (by chance I was there that day).  He is both the least known and most interesting of the musicians here playing both fiddle and melodeon.  In his hands the button box is less strident than it usually is but there is an enormous lift and danceability in his playing and his technique shows originality.

As always with MT releases the booklet (32 pages A5 sized) is of high quality and this time we have to thank Phil Heath-Coleman for this.  If this were a release of important recordings of traditional performers from some of the other countries represented on these review pages, then the booklet would carry the logos of the various public arts bodies that had been pleased to offer financial support to the project - but this is English, so it does not.

Vic Smith, in fROOTS - 12.9.17

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