Traditional English music

Traditional English music

I want to know more about English trad music. It intrigues me. It’s almost like Irish music, but something about it is different I can’t 100% put my finger on why. It seems to be slower, less passionate but more jolly, not as energetic but more care-free. Does anyone care to explain what the actual musical differences are beyond my emotional interpretations of it?

Additionally, does anyone know of good English trad bands? As in bands in the vein of Altan, De Danann, Planxty etc, that all play traditional music, just in a band/studio setting. I know the tradition of English folk music is nowhere near as big as Irish music but there must be something! Searching for it on Youtube just brings up old medieval/renaissance songs and then super patriotic Victorian British anthems…

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In the same way that music from different areas of Ireland has different ‘accents’, music from the rest of the British Isles has a further range of accents. Shetland fiddle style is distinctive as is Northumberland small pipes music. Irish men and women have been working in Scotland and England for forever. Musicians will have been among them and tunes, songs and some stylistic features will have travelled in both directions.

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Spiers and Boden are great. I like the above set a lot and another that I really like is the "Jiggery Pokerwork".

I would check out www.melodeon.net it’s a melodeon/accordion website but the vast majority of the members play the English tradition.

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Great stuff and a nice resource! Is that one of those wolf-whistling gnomes? :-)

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Actually we use the fiddle rather a lot. See Old Swan Band.

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Yes - Jiggery Pokerwork is nice. Seven stars (final tune in the set) is one of favourite easy English pieces to relax with if I don’t want to take on anything more difficult!

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If you’re going to talk about English music; please remember how many times larger than the population of Ireland is the population of England; and then, how many different regional Irish styles can you think of ? So how many different English styles are there ? It’s sometimes easier to think of Morris variations; Molly dancing in East Anglia, the ubiquitous Cotswold Morris, North-Western Morris, Bacup, etc.The North-East of England has a very strong local music style, distinctive and its own, as just one example of local musical styles.
So; don’t just talk of "English", any more than you would talk of Irish; it’s a broad church, and a couple of hundred years ago when most people stayed in one locality all their lives, unless they did something bold like join the army or emigrate, they were only influenced by other local musicians, and so local styles developed and deepened. Now, with modern communications, unless these things have been recorded by hand or on recording devices, the lines between different styles are becoming blurred.
But it isn’t JUST "English".

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I remember hearing that Morris Dancing was a reinvented tradition based on Arab dances seen in the crusades !?!?

Am I alone - or were these more than just voices in my head?

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There are various theories about Morris dancing, but one suggested derivation of the name is a corruption of ‘Moorish’ or ‘Moresque’ - and there are very similar dance traditions (with very different music) in parts of Portugal and N. Africa. It seems quite plausible that it began in England as a parody of how ‘foreigners’ dance.

In the Tras-os-Montes region of Portugal, men with hats, flowers, sticks and bells, called ‘Pauliteiros’, perform dances very similar to Morris, to the accompaniment of percussion and gaita de foles (bagpipes). Such dancing is done principally at a traditional festival called ‘Mourisca’ - which, again, suggests imitation of The Moors.

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Aaron, There have been some very long discussions on this subject on the mustard pages in the past, if you search under ‘English’.

In my, far from exhaustive, experience, the best English tunes are those that sound like ITM. Check out Kathryn Tickell, the Sharon Shannon of the North of England, for many wonderful tunes. She is probably the best there is on that side of the Irish Sea.

Horslips incorporated some English Tunes into their trad-inspired repertoire (possibly thanks to Charles O’Connor, who is English). ‘Flower Amang Them All’ and ‘Drive the Cold Winter Away’ are two of them. I also really like Nancy Dawson (Piss upon the Grass) which goes well with O’Sullivan’s March, as per the ‘Master & Commader’ Soundtrack. That soundtrack also includes ‘The Cuckold Comes Out of the Amery’, another English tune, with a cracker of a title. I’m sure there are plenty of other good ones out there, even if English Folk will never compete with the vast and dynamic field of ITM.

The less said about Morris dancing, the better. I can’t see it ever having it’s ‘Riverdance’ moment.

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Madoc: " I’m sure there are plenty of other good ones out there, even if English Folk will never compete with the vast and dynamic field of ITM"

That’s fighting talk ;) My book of Northumberland tunes alone has 450 entries, and that just represents a fraction of the repertoire of just one of the English traditions.

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There only is 3 good tunes in English Folk Music.

Scarborough Fair, Greensleeves and….. infact there’s only 2 good tunes. :)

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:)

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Get your head round 3/2 hornpipes, they are fun to play and mainly from England

John of the Green the Cheshire Way is packed full of them (and other NW English tunes in the usual 4/4 & 6/8).

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Come and play and learn!
Regular English session in South London (just around the corner from the Wig Museum/ Kilkenny).
Trafalgar, corner of High Path and Pincott Road, SWNINETEEN.
First and third Wednesday of the month. Next on 6 May 2015 at about 8.30-ish.
They have an amazing selection of ales, lagers and cider as well!

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Thanks everyone, all these tunes have been great so far, especially Leveret! I’m now on a quest to gather as much English trad as I can, I have found a new genre of folk music to obsess about for the time being…

And apologies, of course "traditional English music" encompasses a whole range of styles and styles within styles, but I guess I just meant general trad music from the country which we call England, distinct from traditional Scottish and Irish music, and now that I think about it, Welsh music! Something I havent even considered before. Anyone want to share their wisdom on traditional Welsh music too!? I found this song by a quick simple search on Youtube, and its great

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NmpdJotqPEI


Anymore artists or general bits of information on English trad is greatly appreciated!

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Aaron: That should be ‘gwrachod’ (witches), not ‘gwarchod’ (to guard).

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I like the older English dance tunes, such as are to be found in Playford (Childgrove; Stanes Morris) & Apted - the latter has some very nice & playable dance tunes for a modern setting such as ‘The Happy Captive’ & ‘Shrewsbury Lasses’. Many of the ‘English’ folk groups of yore were electric and/or did songs rather than instrumental - Young Tradition, Steeleye Span, High Level Ranters, Watersons - but the tunes to these songs are often haunting and beautiful and would sound good on instruments.

I like Irish traditional music, and I also like Scottish trad & English trad music (North & South) - each tradition has a certain sound, which is characteristic and lovely.

Floreat musica! :)

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Hello, I think this is a very good discussion.

My background is quite mixed (I’m a Turkish piper and box player) but I spent my childhood in England and Scotland. I currently play nearly 100% Irish trad (and am off in a bit for another session) but I must say here that there’s very decent English trad music - and (to the OP) I know *exactly* what you mean the way it differs from Irish music.

I would say checkout the Albion Dance Band, if you can - they were quite popular in the 70s and were known for mixing traditional music with modern accompaniment. Per another poster’s comment, there have been centuries of intermixing between peoples on these islands, so it should come as no surprise that influences permeate back and forth. That said, I do believe (and please don’t smash me on the head for this) that there’s a good deal of music I find in Irish music (which, as can be gleaned, I prefer) that my gut tells me is probably English in origin, even though most I’m surrounded by would be loathe to admit it. In my heart of hearts, some tunes like The Cuckoo’s Nest are very English, in this respect (here’s a version by The Albion Dance Band):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XVJhpJiA2k


I also see some things like what I take to be tunes like Jackie Tar (a hornpipe) which is essentially about British sailors from very long ago, being turned Irish, ergo the newer (and Irish) Eammon McGivney’s (an example of a work of osmosis in progress, perhaps?) Credit where credit is due, I think - and I don’t believe that at this point anyone can deny the very far-reaching influence of ITM on Britain, but it *does* go both ways.

Amongst Anglo-Scottish material not mentioned here, I would say not to forget the beautiful Murder/Child Ballads, of which renderings by Ewan MacColl I find particularly lovely.

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At 5.30 am this Friday morning which is the First of May at the windmill on Wimbledon Common the Greensleeves Morris geezers will be doin their thing as will dozens of other Morris sides around the planet.
Either stay up partying all night or get up early!

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To me the traditional English music I’ve heard is different mostly in that it’s less edgey, more mellow and flowing compared to Irish music. Also usually played at a more modest pace and the beats seem to be more strongly emphasized.

Thanks for the link to Leveret, some seriously good music there.

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There is some overlap between Irish Scottish and English traditions

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The English Folk Scene is thriving at the moment. If you check out Fish Records, you will get an idea of the types of bands that are making great music at the moment. I moved to Stafford from Belfast and love the English Folk scene. My favourites at the moment are Bellowhead, Show of Hands, Dan Walsh (Best Banjo Player I have ever heard), Jez Lowe and Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar.

The session I go to starts off with a Slow ITM session then a bit more ITM then English Folk with a bit of everything mixed in. Last time I went down a girl was playing a few hornpipes on the Northumbrian Pipes and as has already been mentioned some morris tunes were played on D/G Melodian and fiddles.

I love both, also Scottish folk and Scotish Influenced Irish Folk (Ulster Scots/Scots Irish)

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a plug here for Andy Cutting on melodeon and the band he was associated with, Blowzabella -
neither purely English as they often stray into French [and in Andy’s case Quebecois] territory but well worth a listen. Liza Carthy also worth checking out.

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I am a fan of the following singers or players: Steve Turner, Dick Miles, Martin Wyndham Read, John Kirkpatrick, Kathryn Tickell.

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Check out Will Pound - he stretches the tradition but is an ace melodeon and harmonica player steeped in the English morris tradition.

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There’s tons of Welsh music - largely here in Wales. Try Calan, Fernhill, Ar Log, Crasdant and Gwenan Gibbard

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Check out the four-piece English band Spiro; they’re based in Bristol. Most of their album tracks are based on North Country English tunes, with a treatment that owes a lot to Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

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Agreed about Spiro, great stuff, even if a little less traditional than some.

Note on Leveret - there’s a bit more of their work on Youtube, and re:Christy, you’ll spot Andy Cutting as button accordion player in the group.

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Someone above mentioned the Northumbrian piping tradition, and for those unfamiliar with it I want to point out that it is easily on par with any other- the Highland, uilleann, etc.

The style is utterly unlike any other, and there’s a wealth of old distinctive tunes quite unlike Irish and Scottish tunes.

In my opinion the best Northumbrian piping tunes are the old ones, the original repertoire of the pipes, based on the original keyless chanter.

The theme-and-variation tunes are fantastic.

Then there’s Cornish traditional music, different yet.

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Lots of good comments (particularly about regional differences) and suggestions for listening - my current favourites for dance music are old swan band ( still gigging after forty years -interesting to hear how they have changed) and certainly Leveret. For something completely different Steamchicken. As for the differences between English and Irish dance Music ( I play both as well as French and Breton) -at least that played in sessions - my view is that English music is still very much for dancing to - not too fast and with lots of bounce.

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(Or rather French Music)
We have recently arranged Le Canal en Octobre (Frederick Paris) for full brass band and as a spin-off, a two/three part arrangement that may be of use to folk players. Unfortunately I only have the music in standard sheet music format (2 lines of Treble Clef over 2 pages A4) and note that I have to have it in ABC format to upload to share with others. Can anyone help please? Graham Cooper - Wobbleco Music Ltd, enquiries@wobblecomusic.com

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Thanks everyone for their contribution. Ive discovered some nice new music through this thread. My favourite has to be Leveret though, simply amazing! Ive been on a mission since then to find bands that are in the same league but no good, yet… It’s proving itself somewhat difficult to find a band outside of Leveret that plays pure English trad music in a studio setting…

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The musicians from Leveret- Sam Sweeney, Rob Harbron and Andy Cutting have all played English tunes in other outfits to a high standard so you might try looking into their biogs as a starting point.

I think you have made an interesting comment regarding "pure English trad music". Talking specifically about tunes (songs are a different matter) I don’t think there is such a thing, at least compared to Irish and Scottish music. I say this as someone that plays mainly English music so it’s not a criticism!

To put it in context, a key difference is that compared to Irish music, the tradition of tune playing in England had gone into a much sharper decline prior to the revival, and does not really seem to have been part of the national consciousness; with some exceptions in rural areas like (especially) Northumbria, the South-West and East Anglia.

Outside Morris dancing, there was very little awareness of specifically "English" tunes right up until the early 70s. For example the all-time great English fiddle player Dave Swarbrick played mainly Scottish and Irish tunes, and on the Fairport Convention album "Leige and Leif" an all time touch-stone for English folk, they play sets of Irish tunes!

It was really only in the 70s that musicians like John Kirkpatrick, Alistair Anderson and others pieced together "English" styles of playing. They took their cues from the few surviving traditional musicians (who as with Irish music had distinct regional styles), but also went back to the surviving manuscript and printed tune books of the 17th, 18th and early 19th century.

The result is that the "classic English folk tune repertoire" now comprises a pretty much equal mixture of what you could call the true "trad" tunes passed down from the playing of the surviving musicians, tunes that survived through various types of Morris dancing, and also the wealth of tunes from manuscripts sources. It is the latter that has now revived many folk dance tunes, including many going back before the Baroque era and featuring unusual and interesting time signatures like the 3/2 hornpipes mentioned above.

Leveret are fantastic and I would in fact say they they represent the very best of contemporary English tune playing, and they do reflect all these strands in their music.

I think it’s a really interesting and distinctive mixture, and while in a way it’s sad that English tune playing is less strongly rooted in tradition, I think that it can also be liberating!

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My free Paul Hardy’s Session Tunebook is available at http://www.pghardy.net/concertina/tunebooks/, and has more than 600 tunes largely from the British Isles with an English focus. These have been gathered from sessions I’ve attended, largely in the UK, but also in California.

There are still UK sessions, e.g. round Cambridge, who play largely British Isles traditional music, but try to minimise "tunes from countries that are coloured green on the map". This means that we don’t play many Lebanese or Libyan tunes, but also reduces the number of ‘ITM’ tunes - largely characterised as reels and jigs played too fast to dance to. This gives space for the hundreds of lovely English, Scottish and Welsh tunes that exist - NorthWest English Triple Hornpipes, Northeast English pipe tunes, East Anglian Step-dance tunes, Welsh harp airs, Scottish fiddle tunes, etc.