Bonny North Tyne: Northumbrian Country Music

By John Armstrong, Will Atkinson, Joe Hutton, Billy Conroy, George Hepple, Donald Ridley

Search for John Armstrong, Will Atkinson, Joe Hutton, Billy Conroy, George Hepple, Donald Ridley.

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“Bonny North Tyne: Nothumbrian Country Music”

Topic 12TS239, 1974 ~ LP

This lovely 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 ~ tracks 1, 6, 12 & 19

Joe Hutton - Northumbrian small pipes ~ tracks 2, 3, 7, 10, 13 & 14

Billy Conroy - whistle ~ 4, 11, 17 & 18

George Hepple- fiddle & Donald Ridley - accordion ~ tracks 5, 8, 9, 15 & 20

George Hepple - fiddle ~ 16

Anything featuring this lot is ‘recommended’!

Topic 12TS239 - “Bonny North Tyne: Nothumbrian Country Music”

While we no longer have the full measure of this, the LP, by the generosity of someone else you can get the reduced form, however compressed, MP3s, but it will still serve as a welcome education for your ears and your heart ~

Get it while you can, with thanks to Gonzo, whoever they are… I only wish they’d included the notes from the insert and the back of the LP…

For the above link to MP3s ~
the MP3 bit rates are curiously varied ~ from 192 kbps to 256 kbps…

“Bonny North Tyne: Nothumbrian Country Music” - Topic 12TS239 - 320 kpbs

Here you’ll find a better MP3 bit rate, 320 kpbs, but only for five tracks from this LP:

Not On CD

4. ) Billy Conroy: The Green Castle / Spot On / Corn Rigs

10. ) John Armstrong & Joe Hutton: Sir Sidney Smith’s March

11. ) Billy Conroy: The Liverpool Hornpipe / The Steamboat Hornpipe

17. ) Billy Conroy: The Jenny Bell Polka

18. ) Billy Conroy: Napoleon’s Grand March / Untitled March

“Bonny North Tyne: Nothumbrian Country Music”

Topic Records 12TS239 - LP - 1974
with notes on the back of the sleeve and a 4 page insert about the musicians…

Recorded & produced: Tony Wilson & Tony Engle
Notes: Tony Wilson & A.L. Lloyd
Sleeve design: Tony Engle

All tracks are traditional except for the following:

2a. ) Thomas Todd
2b. ) Forster Charlton

3a. ) Lady Nairne

5c. ) Errington Thompson

7. ) James Hill

8. ) George Hepple

10. ) Tom Clough

12a. ) Angus Fitchet
12b. ) James Whinham, Andrew Rankine (?)

13a. ) Billy Ballantyne
13b. ) James Hill

15a. ) Tom Clough
15b. ) J.L. Dunk
15c. ) James Whinham

16. ) George Hepple

Tracks 2 and 10 were also included on “The Northumbrian Small Pipes” (12 & 8) -

Tracks 6, 12, and 19 (thought elsewhere 1 is also claimed, but it ain’t there) were also included on the “Voice of the People” series, Volume 19: “Ranting And Reeling: Dance Music Of The North Of England” (1, 17, 6) -

“Bonny North Tyne: Nothumbrian Country Music” - the Musicians

Notes by Tony Wilson & A.L. Lloyd

The following notes on the musicians are from the four page insert that came with the LP…

John Armstrong - fiddle (1974)

John Armstrong is in his mid-sixties and works two large farms on the edge of the Army firing range a few miles from Elsdon.

He is a prominent member of the local community, being a noted stick dresser and huntsman, in addition to his activities as a musician. John is a member of the famous Border ‘gryne’ of Armstrongs and can trace his ancestry back to Johnny Armstrong, the notorious ‘Gilnockie’; his wife is a descendant of the legengary Muckle Jock Milburn.

For many years John’s main interest was in the Northumbrian pipes and he is proud of the fact that his family has the longest unbroken tradition of piping in the country, his son being the fourth generation to play the family’s set of Reid pipes. The Cough family of Blyth were frequent visitors to the Armstrong farm at Raylee’s after the First World War and John frequently played duets with Tom Clough. He also played duest with the late Billy Pigg on many occasions. John owns a magnificent collection of pipe and fiddle tunes, including original manuscripts by James Hill, Tom Clough and R. Whinham, and provided many of the tunes for the “Charlton Memorial Tune Book”.

A series of accidents to his hands, resulting in a stiffening of his fingers, has led John to concentrate more on the fiddle in recent years and he began playing duets with Joe Hutton in 1972. Most of the duets he plays on this record were originally intended for two sets of pipes, this combination being much more common locally than that of pipes and fiddle, probably because of the difficulty in reconciling the differences of pitch and dynamics between the two instruments.

Billy Atkinson - mouth organ / harmonica (1974)

Billy Atkinson was born in 1908 and lives at Broomhill Farm, a few miles North West of Alnwick. He has worked as a shepherd but spent much of his life as a rabbit catcher until myxymatosis spread to the county in the 1950s. His uncles played fiddle and Billy learned many of his tunes from them through in recent years he has supplemented his repertoire with tunes learned from radio, TV, gramophone records and tape recordings.

Though he does not read music he has composed a number of fine tunes and his interest in traditional music takes him to concerts, festivals and competitions as far afield as Perth, Kinross and Newcastle where he has won a number of prizes both as a composer and performer. Billy also plays button accordeon and played with several local bands before becoming a member of the Cheviot Ranters in the 1950s, appearing with them in a number of broadcasts and TV programmes.

His son George is one of the best of the younger generations of Northumbrian pipers and can be heard on the latest Topic Northumbrian pipe record “Wild Hills O’ Wannie” (12TS227).

Billy plays a Japanese three-octave, Blue Rhythm, C mouth organ.

Billy Conroy - whistle (1974)

Billy Conroy, now a great-grandfather, was in his mid-sixties when these recordings were made*. He comes of Irish stock and lives in Ashington where he worked in the pits until his retirement. Many of his tunes were learned from his father who also played the whistle, but in recent years Billy has picked up many tunes during his frequent visits to the areas folk clubs.

He makes his own whistles from a variety of materials ranging from broom handles to bicycle pumps, using the simplest of tools - a pocket knife, a pair of scissors, a hacksaw and a file - and his products are much sought after by the youngest generation of musicians. At one time he led a band of whistle players composed of pupils from a local school.

His musical tastes are Catholic andhe plays a splendid version of the Swing classic “In the Mood”; he also has a fine collection of nonsense songs and is a prolific painter in oils.

Other pieces by Billy can be heard on Topic 12TS219 “Canny Newcassel”.

* The Billy Castle tracks were taken from tape recordings originally made by Peter Knowles for the North-East Folk Federation.

George Hepple - fiddle (1974)

George Hepple was born at Cowburn, near Haltwhistle, and comes from a family of musicians. His grandfather was taught to step-dance by Whinham, the travelling dancing master and composer of several of the tunes on this record, and George can remember countless musical evenings at this family’s farmhouse. Before his retirement three years ago he worked as a blacksmith and specialized in wrought-iron work.

He played fiddle in country dance bands for most of his life and also plays Northumbrian pipes, guitar and finger-style G banjo. Though he has a wide and varied collection of tunebooks and manuscripts, he has a special affection for Northumbrian music and has composed a number of tunes in the idiom.

Donald Ridley - accordion (1974)

George Hepple’s nephew, Donald Ridley, is in his late twenties and lives near Carlisle, where he works as a builder. He is a member of Gretna Accordeon Club and is a regular attender at the Perth accordeon competitions where he has won several prizes for his playing.

He plays a Ranco Supervox Accordeon.

Joe Hutton - Northumbrian Small Pipes (1974)

Joe Hutton was born at Cornwood near Haltwhistle but for the last fifteen years he has herded 550 half-bred Blackface/Swaledale ewes on the 1,100 acre Rowthope farmsteading in the upper reaches of Coquetdale, two miles from the Scottish border.

Joe’s father, a shepherd and fiddle player, encouraged his son’s early interest in the pipes. His main tutor was the late Mr. G.G. Armstrong of Hexham and in 1937, playing a 4-drone, 12-key set of pipes by Reid of South Shields, Joe won the Thompson cup for novices. In 1951 he swept the board at the competitions at Newcastle, Alnwick, Rochester, Hexham and Bellingham and is now acknowledged as the North East’s premier piper. He is in great demand for concerts throughout the county and pays regular visits to folk clubs on Tyneside.

Joe’s present set of pipes deserve a biographical note to themselves. They are a 17-key ivory and silver set made in 1876 by the farmer, Errington Thompson, of Sewingshields, from a single elephant tusk, turned on a manually operated lathe improvised from an old sewing machine.

5c & d ~ attributed to Errington Thompson ~ I’ll try to set some time aside soon to add more of the notes for this…