Archive for the ‘Northumbrian Music’ Category

XYZ – James Hill Hornpipe?

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

Reading and researching old music manuscripts takes a lot of effort and is very much a specialised interest – but just occasionally it all comes to life in unexpected ways. I was recently playing in Devon and was sharing some music with some friends, when fiddler Paul Burgess played a lovely G minor hornpipe that felt strangely familiar:


Paul had it from an 19thC manuscript as ‘A Modal Hornpipe‘ – whilst I’ve always known my version as a James Hill hornpipe called ‘XYZ‘ and commonly played in A minor a bit like this:


I eventually found the G minor transcription in the William Irwin manuscript at the Village Music Project. Irwin was a fiddler in Langdale and two of his books dataed 1838 & 1850 were partially copied in the early C20th but the original MSS have been lost. The question then becomes which came first; Irwin’s Modal Hornpipe or Hill’s XYZ?

XYZ was a famous racehorse born in 1808 who won numerous races in the North East from 1811 to 1814. James Hill was born in c.1810 and wrote music through out his short life but many the sources and attributions to James Hill come from much later – a challenge addressed in Graham Dixon’s wonderfully presented & encyclopaedic book ‘The Lads Like Beer‘.

The tune explicitly named XYZ appears with a direct attribution to Hill in the Jock Davidson (Kielder Jock) manuscript and the Clough family manuscripts – both sources from the early C20th. Unattributed but named versions appears in both the Robert Davison and William Green manuscripts; both c.1850. The RD version titled ‘X.Y.’ is much closer to the Modal Hornpipe than many:


In all of the earlier versions there are musical curiousities and what can only be called mis-transcriptions. The c.1850 version from Collingwood is transcribed in A Major and the Robert Davison version (included in the PDF) has a particular ‘double flat’ in the B part!

There’s nothing definitive in any of these manuscripts to say which (if any!) is the primary source and a good tune is still a good tune to be played and enjoyed – but I’ll still keep my ear out for such coincidences as they’re a constant joy. Here’s a PDF with three transcriptions: XYZ and Modal Hornpipe

Unnamed Schottische (NPS Book 1)

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015

In the first edition of the Northumbrian Pipers Society Tunebook published way back in the early days of the NPS there was a tune called simply ‘Schottische’. In the 2nd edition, a number of tunes were dropped from the book including this unnamed Schottische. In the third edition, the tunes were restored and ‘lost’ tunes tunes such as Bellingham Fair have been re-appearing in the wild – but I’ve yet to hear ‘Schottische’.

I was dipping into my library of old books yesterday on a search for something completely unrelated when the tune at the top of the page tripped me up – it took me about 5 minutes to make the connection – and now our unnamed Schottische now has a name. Kerr’s Merry Melodies¬† has this tune as ‘Such Chiming’ a melody from the ‘The Magic Flute’.

The NPS tunebook version is printed a 4th down (key of D) to fit the range of the pipes – but other than that, the tune is practically identical. I’m also not overly familiar with Mr Mozart’s original, and Youtube seems to suggest a different medody line for ‘Such Chiming’ – I’ll have to look it up sometime to see exactly where it can be found.

Terry Conway – Haydon Bridge Sessions

Friday, September 25th, 2015

The Haydon Bridge SessionsTerry Conway was a simply wonderful singer and an outstanding composer, he died in 2013 at the age of 66. Terry had an amazing way with words and his songs cover a wide breadth of subjects from local characters to world events; often including philosophy & comedy. Last night there was a celebration of his music at the Queen’s Hall in Hexham and in conjunction with this, a CD re-issue of Terry’s 1992 tape “The Haydon Bridge Sessions” was launched. The recording is excellent and is must have for anyone who remembers Terry or wants to hear his work. All the proceeds from the recording are also going towards Mesothelioma UK.

Here’s a track listing:

  1. Albatross
  2. Early Rising Bird
  3. Jemima
  4. Soft Easy Words
  5. Hawkhope Hill
  6. Midsummer Blue
  7. Cloudie
  8. Eve of St John
  9. Cowboy Song
  10. The Falcon
  11. Enrico Fermi
  12. Lady Fortune
  13. Darker Days Than This
  14. Julie
  15. Eastern Allan Runs
  16. Day Dreaming Girl (Bonus Track)

You can get a copy of the Haydon Bridge Sessions via Core Music or Gojo in Hexham – they will also have Terry’s later recordings with Liz Law; Premier(2001) and Of Riots & Rabbits (2008)

Welcome to the Dene

Saturday, September 12th, 2015

Welcome to the DeneOver the last few years I’ve been dematerialising all of my CDs, tapes & LPs and putting them on to a media server. Aside from being a wonderful way of finding things you’d forgotten about, it also means that I can access a lot of old recordings that have never been made available in digital formats.

One of the tapes I’ve been protecting and hence listened to sparingly over the years was ‘Welcome to the Dene’ – a full length recording of legendary Northumbrian fiddler Willie Taylor that is sadly now completely unavailable. Having added it to my library; the biggest challenge was to get the album cover – I’ve managed to find images for all but a handful of my older recordings online – and I did draw a blank with this one. So here’s a decent scan of the front (squared) and a full scan of the insert for anyone else who is looking for it.

Welcome To The Dene - Tape Insert