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Gavin Atkin of EDS (EFDSS)

reviews Hampshire Dance Tunes CD by Hampshire Dance Musicians

Richard Pyle kept a particularly fine notebook of tunes, and we're really very lucky that his book has survived into the twenty-first century in a museum in Winchester. So many similar books have been lost, destroyed or simply mouldered away, even in recent years. And it really is great news that it is now in print and available, thanks to Bob Shatwell who transcribed the tunes, and Hobgoblin, which has published the resulting tune-book.


It's a great pleasure to see a book of really good tunes coming out in book form, as so often these days we find new tunes through collections available via the rather soulless medium of the internet. What's more, many of the tunes have simultaneously been made available on a WildGoose CD played by some of the traditional music scene's most influential musicians.


Although we can't say much about what instrument he played, or for what occasions, his book is a delight, not least because, if you're a dance tune player, so many of the tunes jump straight off the page. When I opened the book in just the first few pages of the 2/4 and 4/4 section, I immediately spotted half a dozen I wanted to play straight away, all of which seemed new to me: the 'The Barber of Seville', 'The Chainess Dance', the 'Cinderella Country Dance', 'The Earl of Rosslen', the 'Isle of France (or Waterloo)' and 'The Village Maid'.


The other sections including 6/8, 9/8, 3/4 and 6/4 tunes are just as fresh and musical. There's an interesting jig by the oddly familiar name of 'Astley's Ride'; the simple but singing jig 'The Clermont' sounds very much like the kind of tune that the Old Swan Band plays with buckets of verve and swing; and the 'Oxford University Volunteers Quick Step' is arguably the perfect session tune: strong and distinctive, yet simple enough for a stranger to pick up in a minute; and there are also three nice waltzes, which seem like a bonus in a world that's often short of waltzes that don't sound like so many others.


On the companion CD from WildGoose, Matt Green and Andy Turner, Dan Quinn and Will Duke, Tim Laycock and Colin Thompson, and the Bursledon Village Band with Roger Watson and Bob Shatwell turn in very English-sounding performances that clearly show what good tunes these are, while Saul Rose and Paul Sartin represent the younger generation's playing style, with its more European feel and carefully-turned moving melodeon bass-lines. The playing has all the character and style you'd expect from these musicians. On listening many times over, I have at times felt that, in a few places, this disk somehow doesn't quite catch fire in the way I'd expect with such great tunes perhaps some of the people involved didn't quite manage to 'play-in' the new tunes before making the recording. As many of them are among the best new tunes I've heard for ages, I'm prepared to bet they're well played?in by now... But I don't mean to sound too picky. This is a very nice CD, and it's difficult to pick out just a few high-spots. Paul Sartin's neatly ornamented fiddle playing works beautifully on the 'Salamanca Waltz' and the 'Seville Waltz', and Saul Rose's melodeon work on 'Granos Jig' and 'The Legacy' is masterful.


Colin and Tim play robustly, as these tunes demand, but that doesn't mean that they don't benefit from nicelyphrased fiddle and judicious arrangement of the kind that a really good duet concertina player can deliver, as is shown on the 'Cinderella Country Dance'. Will and Dan's 'Belvidere Waltz' demonstrates how a highly developed and tightly punctuated delivery complements a really good waltz.


Matt and Andy play tightly and sweetly together and with a huge amount of lift in each of their tracks, but I particularly liked the lilting slip jigs, 'A New Gig' and 'Ride a Mile', which I think show that these two of the best known players of the music of the Cotswolds have also absorbed some of the best of Northumberland and somehow brought a north-eastern lilt to tunes written out by a young Hampshire boy nearly two hundred years ago.


As if it were needed, the rumpty-pumpty Bursledon Band gives a splendid taste of what these tunes can work when played for a dance, or in the kind of session where everyone knows the tune, listens to the rest of the room and plays really well as a result. I particularly liked 'L'ete (2)' and the 'Isle of France'. In the end, though, I think the 'Oxford University Volunteers Quick Step' played here by Saul and Paul might well turn out to be the tune the playing community picks up most readily from this collection.
It would not be fair to recommend Pyle's tune-book as a good first book for someone playing English tunes - it doesn't include many of the popular warhorses you'll hear around the sessions. But that's also what's great about this collection: it would certainly be a great buy for anyone making their way to the next level and looking for some really good new tunes to take to their local dance or session. And things can change: now that they're in print and on CD, I'm confident we'll all be hearing and playing Pyle's tunes much more often.