Bryony Griffith is from Huddersfield and is well known as a fiddler, teacher and vocalist of some 25 years experience. She is now a Senior Lecturer on the new folk Degree at Leeds College of Music Apparently she was taught to ‘hover’ with her bow and her light touch does allow her to use her wrist for quick ornaments, although she can drive the bow along on the down bow when she wants to. The sleeve is subtitled ‘ Traditional tunes for an English fiddle player ‘. A number were learned direct from other musicians in Morris sides and at sessions and many are from old tune books and manuscript collections, particularly from our region. She may also have listened to rare recordings of old source musicians but doesn’t say so. The CD was produced by Ian Stephenson at Simpson Street Studios, an old church near Rothbury Northumberland. Ross McKinlay at Selwyn Music is also credited. Ian also plays guitar and double bass . He told me he uses techniques associated with recording classical soloists and uses the room’s natural resonance and acoustics with the microphones further away than is often common. The ‘minimalism’ he espouses makes it a very satisfying record with nothing in the way of the great intonation and articulation of the fiddle. There has been a lot of discussion and argument among musicians about ‘Englishness’ and also what is the tradition and style that would distinguish it from ‘Celtic” music. I think Bryony has adopted a sound approach and used her skill with music played for social dancing and with Dog Rose Morris and Newcastle Kingsmen Sword Dancers. Dancing not listening is really what these tunes were written for and she has the lift to get under your feet..
Bryony has chosen to play tunes from a mainly English tradition but a lot of the tunes would have been shared across our islands. Her style marks her out as recognisably English I feel. There are Cotswold Morris tunes, including Ladies’ Pleasure and Constant Billy. Oranges in Bloom ( also called Orange and Blue) is played as a waltz. This was introduced by Rod Stradling as the Sherborne Waltz). It is followed by The Castle Minuet, a pre-waltz 3:4 dance with neat steps , from Benjamin Cooke 1770 in the collection Frank Kidson of Leeds. Queen’s Delight and Bonnets So Blue from Bucknall are drawn from the famous Black Book by Lionel Bacon . A book of Tunes for North -West dances was drawn together by Maud Karpeles who collected Radstock from James Higgins in Shepton Mallett workhouse. On the track it is followed by Wednesday Night from Joshua Jackson’s book, definitely ‘Northern’. Bryony plays a cracking set of jigs for the Newcastle Kingsmen rapper .There are films of rapper dancers from the early 1900s where concertina and fiddle provided fast jigs in the Irish tradition. Bryony chose The Gaubeo (or Gobby-o) from the North Yorkshire cornmiller Joshua Jakson’s manuscript of 1798, The Ladds of Dance is from the 1820 book of Joseph Kershaw of Saddleworth on the Yorks/Lancs border. Oaks Assembly is in the manuscript of Lawrence Leadley the Fiddler of Helperby ( 1830s) . Many of these tunes are in collections like the online Village Music Project led by John Adams and Chris Partington and in books by Matt Seattle and the late much loved Barry Callaghan form Sheffield. Jamie Knowles of Glossop did much to widen the appeal of our regional sources as did Greg Stevens from the Lakes and Andy Hornby with the Winder family books.
The Recovery and The Red House are fast 2:4 tunes that would challenge any fiddler and she puts in faultless rolls and trebles without losing the rhythm. The Recovery is said to have been to celebrate the recovery of King George III from porphyria but it could equally be a test piece to see whether you can do the fast bits on the semiquavers and recover toget back for the next bar in time! She credits much missed caller Mick Brooks for the tune. Slingsby’s Allemand and the Spanish Spy are from Jackson and the Winder family from Wyresdale in Lancashire, a well ornamented and a nicely syncopated set that suggested a possible link to Old Time U.S. Tunes. There are some good Hornpipes and we go from 3:2 or triple time examples which have become increasingly popular from such publications as John Offord’s John of the Green -the Cheshire Way from which Hodgson Square is taken. Marsden’s 1705 book is the source of The New Hornpipe is in Three Extraordinary Collections ,edited by ex Sheffield based fiddler and piper Pete Stewart , Handel and Purcell included such passages in their music . The mysterious shift to 4:4 led to the craze for many stage Hornpipes, often by young women and Bryony plays Sadler’s Wells and The Cook Hornpipe from the Leadley collection. Of the two Butcher’s Hornpipes on track 10, one is a nifty stepping tune in common time and the other a challenging triple time hornpipe with plucked as well as bowed notes. Staines Morris is Old English Morris Dance in Cassell’s collection of 1910 and is followed by Lancers no.2 from the same book , a tune from popular dances which were still popular when I was going to Olde Tyme hops as a lad. The album ends with an anonymous jig from the book of Joshua Burnett of Worsbrough near Barnsley from 1835. Dave Malkin, a local caller was handed it in the 80s at the school he taught at. It is now in a book of local tunes produced by South Yorkshire Folk Network by Paul Davenport and played here as a lovely air which reminded me of the waltz part of Charlie Lennon’s suite The Dance of the Honeybees.
I think the CD deserves the description ‘English traditional tunes ‘ and is a valuable addition to communicate what was largely lost to our generation despite the survival of a number of older players who were getting on in years. The valuable work of archivists and the young interpreters of the revival of such tunes has given us a firm foundation on which to build for the next generation of young fiddlers who wish to work in the tradition. The bulk of the ‘folk’ tunes we play now came from the 18th and 19th centuries and musicians were pretty skilled and many players could read music and note it down. The CD is recommended and will make a good source and instruction for some of the excellent young musicians who are wielding their bows
Let’s hope they can ‘hover’ like Bryony Griffith whilst injecting the life and lift of the old dance musicians who left us their valuable legacy.