“Jack Armstrong / Billy Conroy: Rothbury Hills: Pipes Of Northumberland”
FolkTracks Cassettes, 1978, FSA-30-122
Recorded by Peter Kennedy at the home of Jack Armstrong, Wide Open, Newcastle-on-Tyne, June 1954
Jack Armstrong, the champion of the Northumbrian bag-pipes, and piper to the Duke, plays some of his own slow airs as well as descriptive pieces and Keel Row variations, etc.
On Side B, champion whistle player Billy Conroy, and friend of Jack’s, plays some of his father’s tunes, John Peel variations, and talks about whistle playing.
FTX-122 - Border Fray: Northumbrian Pipes & Whistle ~ notes from the website
A unique collection of bagpiping and whistle-playing recorded in 1954. One of the greatest exponents on the Northumbrian small pipes, champion Jack ARMSTRONG, plays some of his own slow airs, descriptive pieces, dance-tunes and variations on local airs. On Side B, his friend, Billy CONROY, a miner and a champion tin- whistler, plays some of his father’s old tunes and his own “mine-shaft” variations on JOHN PEEL & talks about whistle techniques.
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Tracks #1-3 Jack ARMSTRONG (N-pipes) and #4-11 Bill CONROY (whistle) recorded by Peter Kennedy in 1954. Edited by Peter Kennedy and first published on Folktrax Cassettes 1975.
Jack ARMSTRONG was born at Wide Open north of Newcastle. His father, Robert, also played the Northumbrian pipes. Both worked as colliers at Dinnington Colliery, but a few years after the First World War Jack managed to get out of the pit and get a job as a chauffeur. This enabled him to spend more time on his hobbies: pipes, fiddle and photography. In the late 20’s he won many local prizes and acclaim at piping competitions. In the 40’s he started his own folk dance band, The Northumbrian Barnstormers (FT-121) and in 1948 he became official piper to the Duke of Northumberland, playing at the annual Shrovetide Football at Alnwick. THE LADS OF ALNWICK is the tune played for this event. ROTHBURY HILLS was Jack’s first attempt at pipe tune composition.
Alice ELLIS, the composer of WHITTINGHAM GREEN LANE and THE COTT, accompanied Jack on the Celtic harp on broadcasts and on a number of recordings for the BBC. MONEY MUSK was his father’s best tune and the one always requested by Jack’s mother.
Billy CONROY, was also born in 1904, at Crawcrook in Co. Durham. He started working in the pits at the age of 14, first at hauling below ground, and then pony-driving (known as “putting”), coal-cutting and coal-filling. His father came from Cumberland and his mother from Durham. His tin-whistles were always home-made and he used hot water in order to get exactly the sound he needed.
Interesting stuff. I hadn’t known Whittingham Green Lane had a known composer (Alice Ellis) in relatively recent times.
Jack Armstrong ~ 1904 - 1978
Born in Wide Open, Jack’s farther, Robert, was also a player on the Northumbrian small-pipes. Both worked as colliers at Dinnington, but a few years after the end of the First World War Jack managed t oget out of the pit and get a job as a chauffeur. This enabled him to spend more time on his hobbies, especially pipes, fiddle and photography.
In the lte twenties his playing of the pipes won him local prizes and acclaim at piping competitions. In the forties he started his own folk dance band called “The Northumbrian Barnstormers”. And, in 1948, he became the official piper to The Duke of Northumberland, and played for the annual Shrovetide Football Match at Alnwick. “The Lads of Alnwick” is the tune he played for this event.
“Rothbury Hills” was Jack’s first attempt at pipe tune composition. “Money Musk” was his father’s best tune andthe one always requested by Jack’s mother.
Jack Armstrong’s “The Northumbrian Barnstormers” are featured on another FolkTracks / FolkTrax recording. They can be heard on FSC-60-121:
“FTX-121: A North Country Barn Dance” / “The Barn Dancers: A North Country Rant”
“A North Country Barn Dance”
Other FolkTracks / FolkTrax recordings featuring Jack Armstrong
FTX-330 - Chevy Chace: Northumbrian Minstrelsy
FTX-418 - Lower Your Funnel Music of the Canals & Waterways
Billy Conroy ~ 1904 -
Born at Crawcrook, County Durham. He started working in the pits at the age of 14, first at haulage below ground, and then pony-driving (known as “putting”), coal cutting and coal filling. His father came from Cumberland, his mother from Durham. His tin whistles were always homemade and used hot water in order to get exactly the sound he needed.
Billy’s whistle playing is also featured on the following recordings, FolkTracks / FolkTrax first:
“FTX-121: A North Country Barn Dance” / “The Barn Dancers: A North Country Rant” - as already mentioned, with Jack Armstrong and others…
& on this gem from Topic, sadly no longer in circulation:
“Bonny North Tyne: Nothumbrian Country Music” ~ 20 tracks
Topic 12TS239, 1974
Here’s Billy’s contribution, five tracks out of the 20 ~
This wonderful recording, sadly no longer in our possession, features the following wonderful musicians, including “The Shepherds” ~
John Armstrong ~ fiddle ~ tracks 3, 10, 14
Will Atkinson ~ mouth organ ~ 1, 6, 12, 19
Joe Hutton ~ Northumbrian small pipes ~ 2-3, 7, 10, 13, 14
Billy Conroy ~ whistle ~ 4, 11, 17,18
George Hepple ~ fiddle ~ 5, 8-9, 15, 16, 20
Donald Ridley ~ accordion ~ 5, 8-9, 15, 20
However, you can acquire the MP3s, not quite second best considering the compression, but better than not at all. Let your ears rejoice ~
Billy Conroy ~ Topic 12TS239 tracks ~ “Bonny North Tyne: Nothumbrian Country Music”
4. ) Green Castle / Spot on / Corn Rigs - Billy Conroy
11. ) Liverpool Hornpipe / Steamboat Hornpipe - Billy Conroy
17. ) Jenny Bell Polka - Billy Conroy
18. ) Napoleon’s Grand March / Unititled March - Billy Conroy
Topic 12TS239: “Bonny North Tyne: Nothumbrian Country Music”
Just added! 😉
Billy Conroy on “Bonny North Tyne: Nothumbrian Country Music” - 320 kpbs
For a fuller MP3 experience, 320 kpbs, thanks to ‘Not On CD’ ~
4. ) The Green Castle / Spot On / Corn Rigs
11. ) The Liverpool Hornpipe / The Steamboat Hornpipe
17. ) The Jenny Bell Polka
18. ) Napoleon’s Grand March / Untitled March
From the LP:
“The Billy Conroy tracks were taken from tape recordings originally made by Pete Knowles for the North-East Folk Federation.”
Billy Conroy & friend ~
Billy Conroy - FARNE ~ Folk Archive Resource North East
And, back to the wonderful FRANE site, with thanks, more on Billy Conroy ~ though lacking a bit more about the man, 5 tracks including one with him playing the jaw harp:
Do a search here for Billy Conroy ~
Jack Armsrtrong - FARNE ~ Folk Archive Resource North East
Also do a search there (FARNE) for Jack Armstrong. There are over 30 ‘tracks’ of him solo or with others.
Thanks, I’d meant to say that too… 😀
World Brain at Work
Just the other day I was mulling how to obtain various Folktrax offerings sans charge - I notice some of the cassettes are in American libraries, the Paddy Taylor for instance. Spooky that this ’un would be posted at the same time!
I’ve enjoyed the FARNE tracks of Jack and Alice for years now. Love the pic of Billy playing the tin whistle with the chickadee perched amidships, too. 🙂
Thanks for linking to those blogs too, ceol.
“Interesting stuff. I hadn’t known Whittingham Green Lane had a known composer (Alice Ellis) in relatively recent times.”
It’s misinformation (by Peter Kennedy, probably). The tune predates Alice Ellis/Ging by several years.