Reviews of VTDC11CD 'The Pigeon on the Gate'
More squeezeboxers than you can shake a stick at:
The 28 melodeon players represented here were recorded between the end of the 1950s and 70s, at the end of the era when, all over England, local musicians played in the pubs, village halls, the street and their homes. It was in these places that enthusiasts such as John Howson, who runs the Veteran label, Carol Pegg and Keith Summers captured their joyous and expert performances. The liner notes include not just the names of the places where the musicians lived but the pubs they frequented.
They played for dancing, singing and to entertain. So their repertoire was extensive. 'The Pigeon on the Gate' was a favourite hornpipe - there half a dozen renditions here - and there are polkas, waltzes and schottisches. There are also tunes from the music hall, light opera, songs from both world wars, from the cinema and even chart hits such as Lonnie Donegan's 'Putting on the Style'. What unifies this musical ragbag is the consistent approach of the players. Dolly Curtis plays 'The Entertainer' just as she does her 'Dennington Polka', making no allowance for the provenance of Scott Joplin's great ragtime tune. Oscar Woods doesn't alter his style to accommodate ' Oh, No, Antonio', but finds in the tune something that sits comfortably in the country way he plays his squeezebox. It is wonderful to hear these performances in their proper milieu, with people talking, humming, singing and, especially, dancing.
Most players get a few tunes each but at the end of both CDs two masters have extended sessions. These are Oscar Woods from Benhall in Suffolk and Percy Brown from Aylsham, Norfolk. Both are acclaimed by melodeon players today, but their musical qualities are very different; Woods decorated his tunes with octaves, harmonies and hammered single notes; while Brown favours the triplet and grace note. They were ear musicians of the best kind. Brown eschewed written music because he thought it 'flattened out the tunes'; if you played from sheet music where did you put 'the twiddly bits'? Lend an ear to 'Pigeon on the Gate' and you'll know he was right. (**** review)
Whether you look to the veritable cornucopia of recent archive releases or the gratifying abundance of young players, there is no doubt that this is a particularly propitious time for things squeezy.
Consequently, this double-disc issue of Veteran's long-deleted tape set it both welcome and timely. With more than two dozen players performing more than a hundred tracks, this is a collection to visit time and again, not least because of the way different players approach the same tunes, most notably the album's title track, which is stamped with the individuality of a handful of players on different recordings.
Collected, as the exemplary cover notes state, 'in quiet kitchens and noisy pubs'., the ambient sounds of dancing and chatter never let the listener forget that these are social tunes, and the players' lack of academic distinction between centuries-old 'traditional' material and popular recorded music of the 20th century is as refreshing as the playing. After all, surely the important thing is that both players and listeners enjoy themselves - a premise that this wonderful collection most emphatically fulfils. (**** review)
R2 (Rock and Reel)
A welcome return on CD of a
compilation originally released on two cassettes; particularly welcome here as
the machine ate my copy about four years ago. Featuring over a hundred tracks,
this is the ultimate guide to the roots of the ‘Southern English’ style of
melodeon playing popularised by the likes of Oak, Old Swan Band and Flowers and
Frolics in the early 1970s. With over 100 tracks and 24 players, I use the word
Many of the players are well known; the likes of Oscar Woods, Percy Brown, Font Whatling or Dolly Curtis will need little introduction to those readers familiar with this style of music. But there are also undiscovered gems; amongst others, John Woodrow of Norfolk and Mr Potter of Cambridegshire, of whom little is known other than ‘he played his father’s country dance tunes on a single row melodeon’. As we have come to expect from Veteran, exemplary short biographies and photographs in the accompanying booklet put flesh onto the bones of half remembered names in admirable fashion.
But what of the tunes? Hornpipes,
stepdances, waltzes and polkas predominate; reflecting, perhaps, the needs of
the intended audience in “’quiet kitchens and noisy pubs’. What perhaps is
surprising is the ease with which these fingers turn towards popular songs:
‘I’ll be your sweetheart’, ‘Oh, Oh Antonio’, ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom
White’ … all grist to the mill. These players and their repertoires reflect a
much more eclectic approach to a session than can be found these days. Again,
notes on the history and provenance of the tunes are faultless.
Many tunes are repeated; ‘repeated’,
however, rather than duplicated, each player putting his or her own stamp on the
tune. (For a rather more eloquent and better illustrated explanation of what I
mean see the tune book Before the Night Was Out available from The East Anglian
Traditional Music Trust – see EDS Spring 2008). We hear, for example, five
versions of the title track, each different, tailored to the player’s individual
style, dictated by the intended audience. Which reminds me of an exchange
overheard at the fourth English Country Music Weekend in Broseley in 1980.
Well Meaning Acolyte: What’s that one, Oscar? Oscar Woods: Pigeon on a Gate. Acolyte (Puzzled): I thought you’d played that one? Oscar Woods (as to a child): ‘S another bloody pigeon on another bloody gate… Enjoy.
English Dance & Song
Sub titled "Melodeon
Players from East Anglia" this double CD gives you "exactly what it says on the
tin". This was originally released on cassette in 1997 and consists of over 100
short tracks by 28 traditional musicians, mostly from Suffolk and Norfolk but
with a handful from Essex and Cambridgeshire. These are variously recorded in
pubs and private houses, typically solo although a lively session recorded by
John Howson in the Dennington Bell in 1981 had Dolly Curtis accompanied on piano
Musicians like these were never precious about the "F" word and material ranges from the traditional through music hall to modern hits. Dolly Curtis is recorded playing The Entertainer while Oscar Woods managed Under the Bridges of Paris and Oh No Antonio. Nor, of course, were the step- dancers, who can be heard on a number of tracks, including an unnamed dancer stepping to Charlie Plant's rendering of She's my lady Love (aka Lily of Laguna). The high points of this recording must be the 19 tracks from Oscar Woods and 23 from Percy Brown (listen for Dick Hewitt stepping on two of them).
These aren't neatly finished studio arrangements, what you get is music as it was being still being played in the pubs of East Anglia in the 1970s. If you play southern English music then this CD is an essential item on your record rack.
"Pigeon On The Gate" Melodeon players from East Anglia. Double CD, III tracks, VTDC11. 149 mins. This definitive collection of 25 players, the recordings dating from 1959 to when the original double-cassette was released, is a warm bath of delight.
In last issue of Mardles I noted the recommendation from The East Anglian Traditional Music Trust's Book Before the Night Was Out that anyone interested in learning the tunes from that book should really also listen to the recordings from which they were transcribed. Here's a great opportunity to do that, especially if the melodeon is your instrument - a double CD of melodeon players from East Anglia, including many tunes from two of the best known, Oscar Woods and Percy Brown, but also contributions from 26 other players. After listening to all that, you really can't say you don't know what the East Anglian melodeon style sounds like, even though there are many players here so both the differences and similarities are interesting.
This is a re-release of a collection originally issued on double cassette tape. As a resource for finding a specific version of a tune it is far easier to use in CD form, as some of the tracks are very short and would be hard to locate on tape. From that point of view this is a welcome and much awaited improvement. Typically of the output of Veteran, the CD set comes with extensive background notes on the players and their music in a 24 page booklet, and please note that some of them are still around, playing and stepdancing in Norfolk and Suffolk if you know where to find them.
There's a running joke around some of the trad English music community that "Pigeon on the Gate" is a bluff for "I don't know the name of the tune", because it appears so frequently, but there are several examples of the title on this collection and it seems to refer pretty consistently to versions of what I'd call The Manchester Hornpipe and also in this collection as Yarmouth Hornpipe and Jack's a Lad. I still don't know which recording of Percy Brown's I got my version of The Yarmouth Breakdown from, but parts of it appear interspersed with bits of other tunes in several step dance medleys from Percy Brown on these recordings.
This isn't all easy listening - the quality of the playing and of the recordings varies, but at least the live recording in crowded pubs gives a flavour of the atmosphere, and a few tracks accompanied by some very nifty step dancing or by singing illustrate some of the uses of the music. Even where the playing is not as polished as it could be, there's often still the driving rhythm that shows that these players are used to playing for dancing, and in the good examples (I'm listening to Percy Brown now) there are numerous crafty playing tricks used to lift the music, which are well worth listening to carefully by any serious melodeon player. Anyhow it's still fun to just play and soak up the atmosphere, and as a player you can't help but absorb the style and incidentally be amazed at some of the tunes and songs that turn up in a typical "anything goes" pub session.
If you have an interest in the roots of the English musical tradition,
especially dance music, then this encyclopaedic compendium of music recorded
from East Anglian melodeon players between 1959 and 1997 will set your blood
flowing! This double CD set (originally on cassette) has been long-awaited,
containing recordings of fifteen melodeon players from Suffolk and twelve from
Norfolk, from the archives of John Howson’s Veteran Recordings.
Some of the players are well-known names, and the tunes are regularly heard at music sessions, but what is remarkable about these recordings is the sense of enjoyment all the players get from their music, and the vigour with which the tunes are played, especially the dance-tunes.
All the tracks are field recordings and naturally vary a great deal in quality, but throughout you can detect a distinct East Anglian style — a rhythmic left-hand technique coupled with staccato, detached notes in the melody — particularly good for playing those fast hornpipes for step-dancing! There’s still a great deal that can be learned about playing for dancing by listening to these 121 tracks.
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