Swan for the Money

by The Old Swan Band

Ian Anderson, writing in fRoots magazine, described The Old Swan Band as ‘a well oiled machine’, qualifying it with the additional comment ‘in more ways than one’. True, the band was born in a Cheltenham pub called The Old Swan (for a time an Irish theme pub and now just The Swan) and the band members are often to be found adding their considerable musical weight to English tune sessions in pub back rooms, but ‘well oiled’ must refer to the band’s ability to reach deep into the often hidden vein of English dance repertoire and pull out a gem of a tune which will be delivered to the world in distinctive style. This style is typified by driving fiddles and harmonica, fat brass, persistent and inventive percussion, all glued together with rhythmic and sweet piano. Whether applied to a newly researched tune or to an old favourite, the Old Swan sound is unmistakable.

Fi Fraser - Fiddle
Paul Burgess - Fiddle
Flos Headford - Fiddle
Jo Freya - Saxes & Whistles
Neil Gledhill - Bass Sax
John Adams - Trombone
Martin Brinsford - Harmonica & Percussion
Heather Horsley - Piano Keyboard

Mrs O’Dwyer’s/Packie Russell's     (Trad  arr. OSB/Trad arr. OSB)

Ellen O'Dwyer was a concertina player, whose tune is also known as Slugs and Snails.  After all these years it probably doesn't much resemble how she originally played it any more!  Packie was one of the famous Russell family of Doolin, Co. Clare.  Both Mrs O'Dwyer and the Russells were recorded in Co. Clare in 1974 by John Tams and Neil Wayne - a fantastic piece of work.

The Queen’s Jig/The Basque     (Trad  arr. OSB/Trad  arr. OSB)

The Queen’s Jig comes from the 11th edition of Playford’s English Dancing Master (1701). The breakdown ‘Sweeping the Town’ is said to be an American derivation. The Basque Jig was found by Gloucestershire musician Dave Haines who got it from a  Bombarde and binou band in Brittany, whose EP he brought back with him.

Walter Bulwer’s No. 2 & 1     (Trad  arr. OSB/Trad  arr. OSB)

Walter Bulwer was born in 1889 in the village of Shipdham in Norfolk.  His father died before he reached his teens,so, with his elder brother Chamberlain, he was brought up by his mother, living in her father's house.  He played music from an early age, was musically literate and played for many social functions on fiddle, viola, banjo, mandolin, clarinet and trombone. His wife Daisy played banjo and piano and when musicologist Reg Hall started meeting them in 1959, they were past doing gigs but enjoyed evenings at home playing popular songs of the 1920s and 30s, and also the old hornpipes and polkas, plus some Walter used to make up as he went along!

 Staffordshire Hornpipe/Mad Moll of the Cheshire Hunts      (Trad  arr.OSB/Trad  arr. OSB)

Staffordshire Hornpipe and  was collected by Cecil Sharp from James Locke of Newport Shropshire.

Mad Moll of the Cheshire Hunts was also collected by Sharp from  John Locke, and is not to be confused with another tune from James Locke, Mad Moll of the Cheshire Hounds which is an odd version of Flowers of Edinburgh. John and James were members of the famous Locke family who travelled extensively in the area of the Welsh/English border.  One of their regular haunts was Gorsley Common on the Gloucestershire/Herefordshire border - a rough and lawless area  dreaded by wayfarers.  The Lockes must have been well known to the  Baldwin family who lived here when Charlie Baldwin was born (see Gloucester Hornpipe).

 Dashing White Sergeant/Brighton Camp     (Bishop/ arr. OSB /Trad  arr. OSB)

The tune which is used for the formal Scottish dance The Dashing White Sergeant was  originally a song intended for an opera by English musical composer Sir Henry Rowley Bishop (1786 -1855) who was most famous as the composer of Home Sweet Home. The archetypal English tune Brighton Camp (otherwise known as The Girl I Left Behind Me) could well have Irish provenance, the earliest known version of the melody being printed in about 1810 in Dublin  publisher Hime's Pocket Book for the German Flute or Violin. Louis Antoine Jullien, the French composer and orchestra leader toured England extensively with his sets of Quadrilles and Polkas.  A real showman, famed for his magnificent waistcoats and for conducting classical music with a diamond-encrusted  baton, he produced several sets of Quadrilles based on national airs and those based on Irish airs includes this tune as one of the main themes. The words associated with the tune are dated by historian Lewis Winstock at 1758, but was the tune the same?  The jury’s still out. When leaving camp it was said that the British Army would often play this tune, because of the association with the words.Both of these tunes demonstrate how difficult it is to apply national labels to tunes.

The Woodcutters Jig/The Swedish Dance      (Headford / Trad arr. OSB)

The Woodcutter’s Jig was written by our own Flos Headford and named after one of his favourite hostelries in Whiteshill, on the hills near Stroud.

The Swedish Dance was collected by Cecil Sharp on August 2nd, 1909 from Thomas Swallow of Lower Guiting, Gloucestershire and is a truncated version of the English jig When Daylight Shines. It was traditionally danced at harvest suppers in Guiting and was collected there for the second time in 1935, by H Hurlforth Albino, from Charles Denley, whose family had strong connections with the old Guiting morris dancers.  The dance itself was a version  of Three Meet: dances were labelled "Swedish" if the couples were in groups of three with alternate men and ladies.

Gloucester Hornpipe/Polly Put The Kettle On      (Trad arr. OSB/Trad arr. OSB)

Were collected in 1910 by Cecil Sharp from  88 year old Charles Baldwin (father of Stephen Baldwin) who spent his final years in the Alms Houses in  Newent in the Forest of Dean. He was formerly the fiddler for the morris side at Cliffords Mesne, which faded in the 1860s. The Gloucester Hornpipe belongs to a family of tunes related to Nelson’s Hornpipe and appears all over England as The Bridge of Lodi, Down Back o’Shoddy, Saxon’s and Huntsman’s Hornpipes and more. Polly Put the Kettle on bears only a slight resemblance to the nursery rhyme or old-time fiddle versions and seems to be a one off sighting. Sharp described it as a "diamonte" or corner dance, and wasn't sure in which order the B & C musics should be played.  We like it like this.

The Sloe/The Sweet Briar/Double Figure 8      (All Trad arr. OSB)

The Sloe and the Sweet Briar were collected at Stow-on-the-Wold workhouse in 1907 by Cecil Sharp from John Mason who came from nearby Icomb.  Mason was a fiddler who played for Sherborne Morris, and probably others, but who also had a number of country dance tunes such as these in his repertoire.  The Sloe also occurs in the Aston-on-Carrant Ms as The Slave, and appears to have originally come from an opera by Sir Henry Rowley Bishop in 1816 (see Dashing White Sergeant for more on Bishop).  A play called The Slave was also presented at nearby Cheltenham for an extensive run in the 1820's.  This contained a Morris dance, and it is possible that this was a means by which a selection of Bishop's popular tunes reached the Cotswolds.

Double Figure 8 was collected from William Strick of Hannington, Wiltshire by Cecil Sharp

The Vine Tree/Gentiane Mazurka      (Trad arr. OSB/Trad arr. OSB)

The Vine Tree was written by our own Paul Burgess in celebration of many a good session in a Randwick (near Stroud) pub of the same name - they don't let us play there now! The Gentiane Mazurka is so named as it came from Gentiane, a band founded in France in the early seventies by renowned French folk musicians Jean Blanchard, Bernard Blanc, Emmanuelle Parrenin, Gerard Lavigne and Denis Gasser, to produce a record of traditional music from the Auvergne,

Earl of Mansfield/Bobby Shaftoe     (McEwan/Trad arr. OSB)

This pipe march was composed by J. McEwan. It’s originally a three part tune but our version doesn’t include part two. Bobby Shaftoe was a real person—Robert Shafto (1732-1797), who was MP for County Durham from 1760 to 1768. He was a man of fashion who married two heiresses in turn and was known for his charm and elegance. This version is different to that used for the well known song, being one of the dance tunes once used for The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance (according to Violet Alford in 1933) and also the Sleights (Yorkshire) Sword Dance. 

In & Out the Windows/Down the Road      (Trad arr. OSB/Trad arr. OSB)(Check)

The second part of In and Out the Windows is well known to many as the tune to a playground game of the same name.

Go round and round the village,  x3  As we have done before.

Up and down the staircase, x3  As we have done before.

Go in and out the window, x3  As we have done before.

The whole tune has been used for a number of songs including ‘We Kept Eating Parkin’ popularised by Lancashire’s Five Penny Piece but we always knew it as William Brown, from the song with the chorus "Keep that wheel a-turning (x3) And do a little more each day". 

Our version of music hall giant Gus Elen’s Down the Road uses only the chorus section of the song as the verse doesn’t willingly adapt to the dance floor. It comes to us via the old players of East Anglia.

Les Jigs - The Matelot/Michael Turners's Jig/Captain Lanoe's Quick March (All Trad arr. OSB)

The Matelot is reputed to be derived from the French, or Dutch tune, Matelotte , and related to Washington's March and several others but the likeness is slight to say the least. 

Michael Turner’s Jig - is an otherwise unidentified jig played by the eponymous Sussex fiddle player and written in his manuscript book.  Similarly from a Sussex manuscript, William Aylemore's Captain Lanoe’s Quick March has reached the zenith of modern cultural recognition by being used in an episode of Spongebob Squarepants!

The Rose/J B Milne      (Trad arr. OSB/Fitchet)

The Rose is to be found on the Topic record Melodeon Greats and comes from a 78 of Scottish melodeon player James Brown, an acknowledged championship winner on the Scottish dance scene in the early 20thC and an influence on Jimmy Shand.

Shand employed the writer of the second tune, Dundee fiddler Angus Fitchet in his band. John Bannerman Milne (1902 -1968) was a Scottish cinema chain proprietor who supported Fitchet at the beginning of his showbiz career. Fitchet was taught fiddle by his father and started playing for dances at an early age and, after his period with Shand, successfully led his own band for many years.

Grand Chain/Grommet     (Trad arr. OSB/Freya)

La Grande Chaîne is a Quebequoise reel which has made its way into the English session via the Northumbrian Pipers repertoire. There has been some confusion over the original name as an alleged mishearing resulted in chaine being replaced by chien and a consequent renaming of the tune as The Big Dog! A Grand Chain is a dance movement also known as ‘grand-right-and-left’ in the United States. Grommet was written by our own Jo Freya.

Mrs O’Dwyer’s/Packie Russell's
The Queen’s Jig/The Basque Jig
Sample not available
Walter Bulwer's 2 & 1
Sample not available
Staffordshire Hornpipe/Mad Moll of the Cheshire Hunts
Dashing White Sergeant/Brighton Camp
Sample not available
Woodcutter's Jig/The Swedish Dance
Sample not available
Gloucester Hornpipe/Polly Put the Kettle On
Sample not available
The Sloe/The Sweet Briar/Double Figure 8
Sample not available
The Vine Tree/The Gentiane Marzurka
The Earl of Mansfield/Bobbie Shaftoe
Sample not available
In and Out the Windows./Down the Road
Sample not available
The Matelot/Michael Turner's Jig/Captain Lanoe's Quick March
Sample not available
The Rose/J.B.Milne
Sample not available
Grand Chain/Grommet
Sample not available

Pete Fyfe


Well blow me down if this isn't a recording that sounds as if it comes from a more magical period than the Great British public are at present experiencing. It's almost as if I'd stepped back in time to the days I remember when I danced to the likes of the New Victory Band. Very much in keeping with the tradition the Old Swan Band sound as if they're having a party and the use of 'skulls' on the drum-kit feels almost surreal in these days when most modern artists opt for technical gadgetry to propel the rhythm. Still, it's quaint in that Lark Rise kind of way and in fact you could see the residents of that village (ok, I know it's mythical but a man can dream can't he?) having a right old knees up. It makes a refreshing change to go back to basics and if you're looking for that quintessential 'English' sound you've come to the right place. With many established tunes in the band's repertoire including �Dashing White Sergeant/Brighton Camp� and the much utilised �Walter Bulwer's 2 & 1� married to a smattering of new tunes written by some of the band I can see certain sets being 'poached' by artists of a similar ilk�come to think of it!!! The accompanying sleeve notes (something I very much appreciate) are very informative and Tony Hall's cover art as ever is as clever as the pun itself. www.wildgoose.co.uk


Alex Monaghan

It's comforting to know that in today's music world of studio-sculpted perfection and ethnic pick'n'mix there's still room for The Old Swan Band. Formed in the mid seventies, the heyday of English Country Music, this eight-piece outfit has retained its original blend of authentic English rural music with bits of brass and Britpop. From the decade which spawned bands such as Umps & Dumps, Flowers & Frolics, Gas Mark 5 and the English Country Blues Band, when much of England was listening to electric morris dancing, The Old Swan Band included such influential figures as Rod and Danny Stradling, Jo Freya and Fi Fraser. The Stradlings have long since departed, but Jo and Fi are still part of the band's core.

The Old Swan Band has been fronted by three fiddles since the eighties - a powerful sound, but I still miss the buzz and wheeze of the melodeon from their first LP. About half the material here has been recorded on previous albums, not necessarily with the same line-up. I definitely don't miss the rustic monologues which used to accompany the tunes: there are no vocals at all on this release, a boon indeed. Fans of the band will find their memories jogged by Walter Bulwer's, The Sloe, The Swedish Dance and other tunes collected in southern England. New additions come from farther afield: a couple of Clare polkas, the stirring Scottish march The Earl of Mansfield, and Quebec's La Grande Chaine which works really well on triple fiddles. There are also several of the band's own tunes, many (like the band itself) named after pubs: The Vine Tree and The Woodcutters may be familiar, Grommet less so.

The clash of the tambourine, the ringing of the triangle, and the sound of a shakey egg in the hands of a master: these are an integral part of the Old Swan Band's charm, just as much as the pumping sax basslines and the eccentric trombone harmonies. There's piano and whistles in the mix too, and the band seems to have broadened its sound to embrace all that was good about 1970s English music.

For nostalgia, or just curiosity, if not for the outrageous pun in the title, Swan for the Money is worth a listen.


Gavin Atkin

Some things in life seem to be utterly reliable � and for many years, the wonderfully musical and uplifting sound of The Old Swan Band has certainly been one of them.

I'm glad to report that nothing has changed with this splendid album. After nearly half a lifetime, The Old Swan Band are still making a great sound. The ingredients will be well known to many readers: the tight, often harmonised, playing of three of the best English revival fiddlers, Fi Fraser, Paul Burgess and Floss Headford; the solid piano of Heather Horsley working with Martin Brinsford's driving and intriguing percussion; and the big, syncopated brass sound produced by Jo Freya's tenor sax, John Adams' trombone and Neil Gledhill's bass sax, which together provide yet another sort of swinging interest and lift. To this list must be added a large ladle-full of an undiminished joy in playing, for these are people who love to play and session together, and with their musician pals everywhere.

If that's how you've enjoyed the Old Swan Band, you won't be remotely disappointed by this new album made up of a mix of tunes. Some are old band and session favourites going back to the 1970s, such as the pair 'Dashing White Sergeant' with 'Brighton Camp' and 'Walter Bulwer's Nos 2 & 1', while others are less well known, at least to me. A few are modern tunes by Paul, Floss and Jo, but they don't sound at all out of place among the old favourites � but that's what you'd expect from players deeply steeped in this kind of music.

A strong point with this album is the notes describing the sources � many musicians will wish they knew half so much about the sources of some of their favourites.

Finally, I should also mention the striking cover by the Norfolk cartoonist and mightily gifted melodeonist Tony Hall: it depicts a rock'n'roll 'Swan for the money' complete with quiff, drape-coat and crepe-soled shoes suitable for a pair of webbed feet, and on the back there's also an amazing pink Cad-Swan-illac with giant fins and powered by pairs of swan feet. The sleeve notes thank Tony for being as daft as the band, which will seem entirely appropriate to anyone who has enjoyed the company of all the people involved.

Folk Roundabout

David Kidman

What can a reviewer say about this intensely feelgood disc, other than it's a 100% delight that keeps a big grin on your face from start to finish�? It's one to convince the unbelievers that there is life in dance music, and that a whole 51 minutes of dance tunes can provide a scintillating and uplifting listening experience. For it's an encapsulation of all the OSB does best, and delivers exactly what it promises in the most reassuring of manners � presenting the finest of tunes, (mostly but not exclusively) traditional in origin, chosen with care and imagination from the hidden recesses of the English dance repertoire and interspersed with tried-and-tested old favourites that have been in their collective repertoire for donkey's years, all ingeniously arranged in what has become known as the unmistakable Old Swan style. That means ultra-spirited phrasing from experienced musicians who really understand the idiom and aren't afraid to bring in elements of their own personalities (yet always in the service of the music); seriously together ensemble playing from musicians who are totally steeped in playing for the dance; an unerring feel for texture, pace and dynamics; all blessed with naturally bouncy, chunky rhythms that support rather than mask the wealth of gleeful incidental detail within the playing. The driving fiddle front-line of Fi Fraser, Paul Burgess and Flos Headford is augmented by Martin Brinsford's spicy harmonica and Jo Freya's colourful versatility on various saxes and whistles, while the trademark gloriously galumphing �fat� brass section (John Adams' trombone and Neil Gledhill's bass sax) is sweetened by Heather Horsley's wonderfully pointed piano continuo, and last but defiantly not least Martin B's signature all-over-the-shop percussion is as always in a class of its own. As for the repertoire, well I'll bet you won't hear a more invigorating take on dance-floor chestnuts Brighton Camp and The Sloe, while newer compositions like Flos's marvellous Woodcutter's Jig prove there's plenty of life in the old tune-dogs yet! And they tirelessly reinvent the traditional �set� concept through creative combinations like Jo's finale tune Grommet arising out of the rumba-esque Quebequoise reel Grande Ch�ine (which may sound an unusual companion but which we learn has sneaked into the English session via Northumbrian pipers!). Everyone is clearly having a real good time, and the listener is carried along in a parade of flowery frolics that range from strict-tempo Jimmy Shand to cavorting cajun, down-home rock'n'roll to trusty rustic rumbustiousness. No individual set outstays its welcome (OK, one or two are even just a tad short!). The sleeve notes are a paragon of their kind, with an abundantly satisfying amount of detail on the provenance of the tunes that manages at the same time to be of interest to non-tune-anoraks (did you know the connection between Bobby Shaftoe and the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance?)! And the brilliant Tony Hall cartoons give exactly the right flavour to the whole beautifully punningly-titled package; octopus on the jukebox, anyone?!�


Mike Wild

It was a pleasure to get this for review. The cover by Tony Hall  (�who is as daft as the band�) of a swan in a Ted suit with a Tony Curtis haircut and a ducktail by a jukebox is a classic. The Old Swans kickstarted a new approach to communal dancing in the '70s and their Free Reed records were worn out and still form the staple fare of many �English� melodeon-driven sessions.

  I wanted to see where they have got to and are going and was not disappointed. In the time since the Southern English Country Music revolution and reaction to �Celtic� domination we have had much research work on other regional English music and tunes from many sources and media and traditional functional music styles have re-evolved through the '90s and on to the present. Our own region has been important in the process with local collections such as the South Riding Collections.

  The record reflects this and feels much like what one feels a village hop would have been in the heyday of social dancing in assembly rooms as well as village halls. Not quite Pride And Prejudice but the same era�and much more fiddle-driven, and here we have three such players, Fi Fraser, Paul Burgess and Flos Headford, and Martin Brinsford's harmonica giving that drive with John Adams' trombone and Brinsford's unique percussion to ground it. Neil Gledhill and Jo Freya on saxes give it added oompah and Heather Horsley vamps away on piano, a worthy successor on the Joanna to the late great Beryl Marriott. You don't notice a lack of the once ubiquitous melodeons.

  Friends of the much-loved and greatly missed Barry Callaghan will recognise many tunes that are in his Hard Core English collection, and there are echoes of other sources and great bands playing in this way now the '70s lumpishness has been lifted for lively dancing.

  All I can do is list some of the lovely tunes from the thirty--odd played. I expect to be playing some tonight in the sessions and village pubs after I have posted this to the Editor, at the Swaledale Squeeze if all goes well. Look out for The Queens' Jig, Staffordshire Hornpipe, The Sloe, Michael Turner's Jig, The Rose, Grand Chain, The Vine Tree, JB Milne etc.

  As Ian Anderson of fRoots wrote, Old Swan �play like a well oiled machine...in more ways than one�. Well, they do and can, so long may they reign.


Colin Irwin

There's something reassuringly warm and familiar about the Old Swan Band. You know that, just as everything seems alright with the world while we still have the Shipping Forecast and Test Match Special, Old Swan represent a solid building block for English dance music... something of trust and good cheer to raise a beam of recognition if not an unseemly romp around the kitchen with Jim the postman.

Way back when, they did after all offer almost lone resistance to the remorseless march of Celtic music, championing and laying the groundwork for a wider appreciation of English tunes, leading to the more fashionable era in which we currently luxuriate  not that they've been exactly prolific in the years since their first foray into the recording studio with the landmark No Reels in 1976. This is only their sixth album and their first since Swan Upmanship celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2004, but by now they sure as hell know what they're doing and yep, there's that big, bright, breezy, chunky sound and a confident wave of fiddles distinctively undercut by growly dollops of brass and a dashing array of cracking tunes. There's even another classic Tony Hall illustration on the sleeve to complement another excruciating title pun, so who, frankly, could ask for anything more?

Certainly the gang's all here the Fraser sisters on fiddle and sax, Paul Burgess, Flos Headford, John Adams, Neil Gledhill, Heather Horsley (supplying the lovely basic piano tempo at the root of it all) and Martin Brinsford on harmonica and occasionally unexpected percussion that even includes a jaunty hammering of skulls and cymbals on the joyous Queen's Jig/Basque Jig and they are clearly having a ball. There's no concession to modern technology or fancy techniques, and nor would we want it as they revisit a lot of early favourites   Walter Bulwer's 2 & 1, Dashing White Sergeant/Brighton Camp, The Woodcutter's Jig/The Swedish Dance, Gloucestershire Hornpipe and The Matelot/Michael Turner's Jig among them.

They do spread their wings on the busy Quebecois reel Grand Chain, which neatly segues into Jo Freya's tune Grommet, while another highlight sees the stately pipe march Earl Of Mansfield gambol winningly into Bobby shaftoe, informative sleeve notes giving detailed provenance of each track.

It's fun. So smile, dance, throw the teapot out of the window. A carefree English folk institution bounds happily on...

The Living Tradition

Bob Harragan

It's very difficult to type while you are dancing around the room, even if you bear more resemblance to a carthorse than a ballerina. So do see do the keyboard, type three words, circle round the settee and back again to words .....

After all this time the Old Swans are back. Still the EFDSS bands on speed. Still stately and arranged, while at the same time being wild and uncontrolled. There are a few line up changes, but most are still there: the Fraser sisters, Martin Brinsford, Paul Burgess et al, on fiddles brass, piano and percussion.

There's a wide variety of material, but it all comes out as an infectious romp in their hands. There's well known stuff like The Dashing White Sergeant, Brighton Camp and The Grand Chain, a couple of tunes by Walter Bulwer, who doesn't seem to have bothered about remembering titles; some tunes collected by Cecil Sharp; one from Stephen Baldwin's dad   a source's source if ever there was one; some French dances; music from a Topic record and from a mentor of Jimmy Shand; and a couple of tunes by members of the band.

Where it all comes from is an interesting intellectual exercise, but the CD works just as well if you know none of that. Altogether now: Dee de dum diddle diddle diddle dee dumdiddle didlle dum .... You know. That one, not the other one. Just dance.


Dai Jeffries

There is a school of thought that measures the worth of a dance band by the number of obscure tunes it can find or the strange rhythms it can play.

This is completely misguided. The measure of a dance band is in how good it is to dance to, which is why The Old Swan Band is still one of the best. The familiar ingredients are still in place: three fiddles and three brass players with to Freya doubling up on whistles, topped off by Heather Horsley's keyboard and Martin Brinsford's unmistakable percussion. Far frorn being obscure, many of the tunes might be thought of as over familiar but they are still around because they are great dance tunes: 'Walter Bulwer's No. 2 & 1', 'The Sloe', a splendid medley of 'In & Out The Windows'/'Down The Road' heavy on the bass sax and trombone, and even 'Dashing White Sergeant'/'Brighton Camp'.

The music has the polish that comes of long years' playing while still retaining the freshness and 'lift' for which the band is famous. You can't help wanting to dance.