Through the Woods

by Rattle on the Stovepipe

A new album from Rattle on the Stovepipe. Great music as usual. Hear sample at

Dave Arthur (guitar, 5-string banjo, melodeon, percussion, vocals), Pete Cooper (fiddle, mandolin, vocals), Dan Stewart (5-string banjo, guitar, fiddle, harmony vocals)

'The trio brings together two of the British folk scene's most admired veterans, Dave Arthur and Pete Cooper. Both have been members of leading bands and duos for decades now but never has either been heard to better effect than in this line-up. The third member is the much younger multi-instrumentalist Dan Stewart… one of Europe's leading Old Timey banjo players.'
- Vic Smith, fRoots

'Whenever Rattle On The Stovepipe are booked to play at my local folk club I'm first in the queue to make sure I get my seat in the front row. This engaging trio inspires in me the same devotion that old Virginia musicians like Wade Ward and Uncle Charlie Higgins do. There is that same sweetness, ease, subtlety and good humour, every song and tune so well understood, so deftly played and so perfectly paced. They are all master musicians, but there is no sense of ego, no promotion of themselves as stars, although they certainly can dazzle. They are completely at home with the music they love, and can switch comfortably from American to English songs and tunes… Both Dave and Pete have that rare gift of drawing you into a song.'
- Shirley Collins

The band first got together in 2003 to explore the connections between British, Irish and Appalachian songs and tunes that passed back and forth across the Atlantic, carried by waves of immigrants and visitors - morris tunes that cropped up in the Southern Mountains as fiddle and banjo breakdowns, black-face Minstrel songs that took root in the Cotswolds in the nineteenth century, the classic folk ballads whose themes of love, betrayal, murder, revenge and adventure appealed equally to North Carolina mountain people, Scottish Travellers and southern English agricultural workers. Not making a fetish of the crossover idea, however, Rattle on the Stovepipe also play purely Appalachian and purely British traditional songs, ballads and tunes - in fact, whatever they enjoy, feel a connection with, can get inside and want to share with an audience. They have performed widely, including in France and Japan, as well as most years at Whitby Folk Week.

Comments from their Previous recordings

Rattle on the Stovepipe are not just three master musicians. In my humble opinion, their combined talents are the equal of anything that our cousins on the far side of the Atlantic might muster. What's more, they treat their material with the kind of integrity and honesty which it undoubtedly deserves. I suspect that some old timey fans may find this disc a little too laid back. All I can say is, try playing it on a hot July night, as I did, with all the windows open, the fan going, and a cooling drop of whatever you fancy. It's magic. Fred McCormick for EDS

Instrumentally this is powerful stuff, thoughtful arrangements and some fancy picking, admittedly at a relaxed pace and packed with minor cadences. The lead singing is strong, and the occasional backing vocals are more in the manner of audience participation than barbershop harmony. this music seems designed for listening in a rocking chair with a pipe or a glass of something tasty: the sort of old-time American music often described as "front porch". Alex Monaghan Living Tradition

This homegrown acoustic trio is well respected composed of highly competent and versatile musicians. I have enjoyed listening to this CD very much. This CD is well worth a listen (or two, or three), the quality of the recording in my opinion is very good, you can hear all the instruments equally well.  Sue Rook for Old Time News

Rattle On The Stovepipe have a special selling-point in that all three of the trio’s members are intensely versatile as musicians and remain ever-open to the influences and practices of English, Scottish and Irish folk music as well as their deep love for old-time (especially Appalachian) music. It covers a musical territory that will be almost entirely familiar to the enthusiast of old-time music, but this isn’t a bad thing when the performances are as warm and self-evidently full of communicative enjoyment as these. Intensity and conviction is also very apparent in the instrumental selections, David Kidman for Fatea

Dave lead vocal, guitar, Dan banjo, Pete fiddle

From the earliest days of Scots and Irish immigration to Appalachia the recipes and art of corn whiskey distilling were an integral part of mountain culture and celebrated as such in countless folktales and songs. ‘Bootleggers Blues’ was first recorded by the popular African-American fiddle and guitar trio, the Mississippi Sheiks (Bo and Lonnie Chatman and Walter Vincson) in San Antonio, Texas, in June 1930 for Okeh Records. Here we top and tail the song with the tune ‘Wandering Boy’.
Dictionaries tend to equate Bootlegging with Moonshining as the making, selling and distribution of illegal liquor (Moonshine, White Lightning, Mountain Dew) to avoid registration and taxes, but in popular usage Moonshiners made it, Bootleggers distributed it. The word ‘moonshiner’ was first recorded in 1860. The term ‘bootlegger’ is said to date from the 1880s when unscrupulous traders hid illicit liquor in the tops of high boots when going out to trade with Native Americans, but may stem from the earlier practice of smuggling contraband on board ships in long sea-boots.
Moonshine came into its own nationally in the prohibition era of the 1920s when illegal drinking clubs, ‘speakeasies’, mushroomed in all the major cities, a moneymaker for organised crime and gang bosses such as Al Capone. With this huge demand, moonshining became a southern industry, with cornmash stills hidden up many a mountain holler to produce cheap, tax free and high alcohol content liquor.
Some ‘shiners’ and bootleggers came up with a novel method of covering their tracks to and from the mountain stills to evade Government revenue men. In 1922 the Florida Evening Independent printed the memorable headline:

A new method of evading prohibition agents was revealed here today by A. L. Allen, state prohibition enforcement director, who displayed what he called a “cow shoe” as the latest thing from the haunts of moonshiners. The cow shoe is a strip of metal to which is tacked a wooden block carved to resemble the hoof of a cow, which may be strapped to the human foot. A man shod with a pair of them would leave a trail resembling that of a cow.’

Maybe the bootlegger in our song employed such a tactic to get safely through the woods with his ‘whiskey on his back.’

Pete vocal, fiddle (tuned: G# D# G# C), Dave banjo, Dan guitar

The song, also known as ‘The Drunken Hiccups’, has appealed to many fiddlers, inebriated or otherwise, across the American South, from Mississippi’s W. E. Claunch, to Virginia’s Emmett W. Lundy (1864-1953) and Hobart Smith (1897-1965). On hearing North Carolina fiddler Tommy Jarrell’s version, the opening track of the 1976 County Records LP, Sail Away, Ladies, young Oxford busker Pete, perhaps unhealthily identified with the protagonist’s view of life, adopted it for his street repertoire, then recorded it with Holly Tannen on Frosty Morning (Plant Life Records, 1979). So here, after checking out Brad Leftwich’s version in the meantime, he’s revisiting an old friend.

Dan fiddle, Pete fiddle, Dave shruti box, melodeon basses, tambourine, bones

Our take on a classic Georgia tune recorded in 1929 by The Skillet Lickers, with fiddlers Gid Tanner and Clayton McMichen, one of the most influential old time string bands of the 1920s and ’30s.

Dave lead vocal, guitar, Dan banjo, Pete fiddle

A song originally learnt by Dave from singer Jerry Epstein during a stay with Jerry and his wife, Clarice, in Queen’s, New York, several years ago. The song appears in the wonderful collection STEAMBOATIN’ DAYS Folk Songs of the River Packet Era (Louisiana University Press, 1944) by Mary Wheeler. Although, on checking on Jerry’s version for these notes the lyrics are substantially different! Dave can only imagine that he ‘tweaked’ his version, which is more of a straight narrative of a race between two Mississippi paddle steamers, the Kate Adams (Katy) and the James Lee (Jimmy Lee) to win the franchise to carry the U.S. Mail. Jerry’s version contains more of an impressionistic view of a roustabout’s life on the river.
The Kate Adams ran from Memphis, Tennessee to Arkansas City, AR (the Cotton Belt Waterway) carrying mail, passengers and merchandise for the Memphis and Arkansas City Packet Company. She was a handsome sidewheel paddle-steamer, Queen of the river. The first Kate Adams (there were three of them), built in 1882 was probably the first river boat to have electric lighting throughout. Her cabin was panelled in walnut, ash, cherry, mahogany and bird’s-eye maple. Her famous whistle could be heard thirty miles inland.The Arkansas City Journal for Saturday, December 23, 1882 gave an enthusiastic report of Katy’s maiden trip:
‘Early risers who were astir at daylight this morning were the first to catch the
welcome sound of the long whistle of the Kate Adams as she came around
Chocktaw bend, and in half an hour the whole town was agog with curiosity
and excitement over the arrival of the new boat. As soon as she was made fast,
people flocked on board in crowds, and all confessed that no prettier or more
complete steamboat ever touched at this port. Her magnificent cabin was an
especial theme of admiration. The whole boat, from pilot-house to the railway
tracks in the hold, were carefully inspected and the verdict was "She is a good
one, and no mistake!” ’
She won several speed trials before she caught fire in December 1888 and was destroyed, with the loss of twelve of her crew, twenty passengers, and one young cabin boy.
In our arrangement we’ve tried to emulate the drive and rhythm of the engines and the pulse of the churning paddles as she ploughed down the Mississippi. As Ike, an old roustabout, commented:
‘Gentlemen. Dat dar boat wur a-gwine down de ribber so dam fas’ dat the cap’n wur afraid to let go de bell and go in out’n de cold ter wa’m hisse’f.’

Pete lead vocal, fiddle, Dan banjo, Dave guitar

A song from Si Khan, who grew up in Pennsylvania and moved south as an activist in the civil rights movement. His songs reflect his engagement with social issues in the lives of working people in the mountains. Keeping in mind the well-being of future generations, as the old man in this song does, is rightly celebrated in an age obsessed with short-term profit. Dedicated to grandfathers everywhere.

Pete fiddle, Dave banjo, washboard, Dan guitar

‘Pike’s Peak’ is named after the second highest mountain peak (after Mount Elbert) in the state of Colorado. It’s a tune in the ‘raggy’ key of C that Pete learned in Glenville, WVa in 1978 from Joe Herrmann, though originally from Ted Sharp, Hinman & Sharp (Echoes of the Ozarks, vol 1, County). It’s followed by the ‘East Tennessee Blues’, with its fiddle slides up to 2nd position in the B-part, and then the ‘Beaumont Rag’, recorded in 1928 (and maybe composed) by Sam Peacock, fiddler with Smith’s Garage Fiddle Band (Texas Fiddle Bands, Vol. 1, 1925-1930, Document DOCD-8038). In 1938 Bob Wills (1905-68) made it a Western Swing classic.

Dave lead vocal, guitar, Dan banjo, Pete fiddle

‘Only the poor break laws - the rich evade them’
- T-Bone Slim, Wobbly activist

Written by Dave, inspired by the song ‘A Mill Mother’s Lament’ by union organiser and balladeer Ella May Wiggins. Ella was a spinner at American Mill No. 2 in Bessemer City, N.C. and became a leading figure in the mill strikes that spread across the southern states in the 1920s, calling for a living wage and more humane hours and conditions. She lived in poverty in a shack in the black neighbourhood of Stumptown with her nine children, four of whom died from whooping cough because, as she said, ‘there wasn’t no money for medicine, and they just died.’
The most high profile, longest running strike started at the huge Loray Mill in Gastonia, N.C. in 1929, when nearly 1800 of the 2000 workers supported the National Textile Workers Union’s call. Ella went across to lend her support, organising and singing to the families and pickets, and her songs documented unfolding events as the strike continued. As was frequently the case in industrial disputes in America at this time (and later), the northern industrialists who owned mines and mills from Colorado to the Carolinas ignored the union demands and, with the connivance of local politicians and police chiefs, drafted in strike-breaking thugs, sheriffs’ deputies, vigilantes and the National Guard. On September 14, 1929, Ellla and some colleagues attempted to attend a union meeting at Gastonia and, having been turned back by strike-breakers, were heading for home when they were attacked by a gang of armed men. Ella was shot and killed. She was 29 years old. Her five surviving children ended up in orphanages. Not surprisingly, the five Loray Mill employees charged with the murder were acquitted the following year, despite having been seen by some fifty witnesses.

‘It is for our little children
That seem to us so dear
But for us nor them dear workers
The bosses do not care’
- Ella May Wiggins

Dan banjo, Dave guitar, Pete fiddle

The origin of this is a dance tune, ‘Old Sage Friend’, recorded in 1946 by south central Tennessee fiddler John Lusk, with Murph Gribble, banjo, and featured on the 1989 Rounder album, Altamont: Black String Band Music from the Library of Congress. Lusk’s grandfather had been sent as a slave to New Orleans to learn to play fiddle in the 1840s, and Lusk inherited his instrument and his repertoire, both of tunes for white dances and those favoured at the kitchen dances, or ‘sukey jumps’, of the African-American community. ‘Old Sage Friend’ was his grandfather’s signature tune. Dan learned this more contemplative version, 'Cora Dye', from his friend Guy Hayes. Guy, having got it from banjo player Dan Gellert, who included it on his Old Time Rikki Parlour recording, then slowed it down, giving it a whole new feel.

Dave lead vocal, guitar, Pete fiddle, Dan banjo

A song learnt several year ago by Dave from the singing of singer/songwriter Tom Ovans. Over the years Dave added three new verses to the three he remembered from the original.
It’s an interesting song on two levels, firstly it’s a ‘who dunnit’, where we know ‘whodunnit’ from the start but not ‘what he dunn’! That is left to our imagination, so it can be as graphic or as mundane as you choose, or your sensibilities allow. Secondly it paints a vivid, stark picture of the poverty and debilitating depression of some Appalachian folk’s lives in towns and communities left in limbo when mines, factories and mills closed. For many young mountain men the three options open to them were - Coal mine, Moonshine, or Move on down the line. This song covers all three options. What it doesn’t cover is the opioid addiction crisis, once a rural, low-income phenomenon affecting the Appalachians and the mid-west, which has now spread across America and killed over 350,000 people since 1999. Perhaps a new verse is called for. Poverty and depression kills.

Pete vocals, fiddle, Dave banjo, Dan guitar

The song celebrates an act of generosity towards a migrant, or as the Creole girl calls him, a ‘kind stranger’. Pete learned it from Ulster singer Paul Brady in the 1970s, and has loved it ever since. The first steam locomotive on the Pontchartrain Railroad’s five mile run from Elysian Fields Street, New Orleans, to the shore of Lake Pontchartrain at Milneburg, was delivered from England in September 1832, and the song appears in several 19th century American collections. Paddy McCluskey, from Corkey, Co. Antrim learnt the song around 1905 from local singer Frank McAllister, who had picked it up whilst working as a woodsman in America. McCluskey’s version, recorded for the BBC by Peter Kennedy and Sean O’Boyle in 1953, was then adopted by Mike Waterson, Christy Moore and Paul Brady.

Pete fiddle, Dan guitar, Dave banjo

A pair of Kentucky tunes we’ve taken the liberty of playing, Irish-style, as a set. Our source for ‘Martha Campbell’ is ‘Fiddlin’ Doc Roberts (1897-1978), whose early musical mentor was African-American fiddler Owen Walker, and it was also recorded by John Salyer (1882-1952), Walter McNew (1912-1998) and Buddy Thomas (d. 1974). Pete first heard ‘Yellow Barber’ from Indiana fiddler John W. ‘Dick’ Summers (c. 1887-1976), who called it ‘Arthur Berry’. Other great recordings of this tune, which exemplifies the melodically intricate northern Kentucky/ southern Ohio style, are by Ed Haley (1883-1951) and, again, Buddy Thomas, as well as Bruce Molsky.
As for the meaning of the term 'Yellow Barber', Andrew Kuntz points out on The Fiddler's Companion website that ‘the general consensus seems to be that the title refers to a mulatto barber, a common-enough occurrence among freemen in the South as well as other parts of the country. It appears to have also been fairly common for fiddlers and other musicians to moonlight as barbers (or vice versa). John Heine has found a reference to a mulatto barber named William B. Taylor, a fiddler born in Kentucky in 1821, who called the figures as he played. Taylor's Band - composed of barbers - played for hundreds of balls, banquets and steamboat excursions in the Minnesota territory from 1849 until his death in 1862.'

Dave lead vocal, guitar, Pete viola, Dan banjo

Alfred Williams, the ‘Hammer-man’ poet and author of Folk-Songs of the Upper Thames (1923), met with several versions of the song, presumably introduced into Britain by the American black-face minstrel shows that toured widely from the mid-19th century, on his cycling, song-collecting forays into the Cotswolds. Williams did not collect the music, but the lyrics here are essentially those sung to him by John Sutton of Arlington, Bibury, near Cirencester. Dave first heard it sung in the late 1950s by Bert Lloyd, for whom Williams’ collection was an important source, and who fitted tunes to the songs he fancied singing, in this case a version of ‘Turpin Hero’.
Originally it was a mid-19th century American minstrel song and dance, and appeared on broadsides and small A5 song sheets. ‘Young Bob Ridley,’ as performed by Master Tommy, for example, was also published in the 19th century collection Minstrel dialogues, jokes, plays, stump speeches and Brudder Bones’s Nigger Songs and Choruses (no date), a battered copy of which Dave picked up in a bookstore in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 1972:

‘White folks, now I’ll sing you a ditty,
I’m just from home, but dat’s no pity;
To praise myself I am ashamed,
But young Bob Ridley am my name

Den I’m young Bob Ridey ho,
I’m young Bob Ridley ho.
I’m young Bob Ridey ho I ho,
And I’m young Bob Ridley ho.

White folks, I have crossed de mountain,
How many miles I did not count dem,
I left de folks on de ole plantation,
Come down here for my edication…’

By the time Williams found it in the Cotswolds it had undergone a sea-change, shed its terpsichorean breaks and much of its plantation dialogue and become merely an entertaining, boasting, tall-tale song. In 1959 Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger recorded a couple of verses from the Norfolk fisherman Sam Larner, who gave a spirited performance of what he described as ‘The Old Bob Ridley-O, that’s a song and dance, that is’. This was much closer to the minstrel original, with almost identical lyrics to those published on a 19th century song sheet by A.W. Auner, Song Publisher & Printer, Philadelphia. Three years earlier, in 1956, Peter Kennedy also collected basically the same verses from Bill Cameron (Snr.) in Cornwall. By the time these other versions were uncovered Bert Lloyd had already fitted his tune to the lyrics and, as was frequently the case, his version was more catchy, if less ‘authentic’, than the others. We’ve stuck with Bert.

Dave lead vocal, guitar, Dan banjo, Pete fiddle

Slavery, officially abolished in the USA with the 1865 ratification of the 13th Amendment, continued as an economic system in the South well into the 20th century, in the practice of convict leasing. As a money making scheme, cash-strapped postbellum southern states leased out black penitentiary inmates as cheap, dispensable labour to farmers, plantation owners and industry. This was made possible because Section 1 of the Amendment states: ‘Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.’ Convicted prisoners, the majority of whom were, and still are, disproportionately black, thus had no rights and could be put to work as an added punishment to incarceration.
Some establishments decided to cut out the middle man and run their own prison-farms, growing and marketing cotton and sugar cane, often on the old antebellum plantations. The brutality and abject conditions on farms such as Parchman Farm (Mississippi State Farm), Angola Prison Farm (Louisiana State Penitentiary), and the Texas Prison Farms on the Brazos River, were legendary and earned them a place in black folklore and the blues.
‘Old Hannah’ was put together by Dave from versions of ‘Go Down Old Hannah’ and ‘No More Cane On the Brazos’ from Bruce Jackson’s Wake Up Dead Man: Afro-American Worksongs from Texas Prison Farms (Harvard University Press, 1972) and from fugitive lines half-remembered from early Lonnie Donegan albums! Inmate Johnnie B. Smith on Texas Prison Farm Ramsey 1 explained to Bruce Jackson that Old Hannah is the sun, and on long, hot summer days it just seems to hang in the sky, and is: ‘goin’ down slow. Everybody about to give out, an’ they’re hopin’ for the sun to go down (so they can finish work in the fields). We so tired, we rather see judgement day than see another day of hard labour like this.’


Dave lead vocal, guitar, Dan banjo, Pete fiddle. Samples of the album can be heard here
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Pete vocal, fiddle (tuned: G# D# G# C), Dave banjo, Dan guitar
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Dan fiddle, Pete fiddle, Dave shruti box, melodeon basses, tambourine, bones
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Dave lead vocal, guitar, Dan banjo, Pete fiddle
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Pete lead vocal, fiddle, Dan banjo, Dave guitar
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Pete fiddle, Dave banjo, washboard, Dan guitar
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Dave lead vocal, guitar, Dan banjo, Pete fiddle
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Dan banjo, Dave guitar, Pete fiddle
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Dave lead vocal, guitar, Pete fiddle, Dan banjo
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Pete vocals, fiddle, Dave banjo, Dan guitar
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Pete fiddle, Dan guitar, Dave banjo
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Dave lead vocal, guitar, Pete viola, Dan banjo
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Dave lead vocal, guitar, Dan banjo, Pete fiddle
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