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Anahata of Mardles

reviews Hampshire Dance Tunes CD by Hampshire Dance Musicians

The manuscripts collected by 19th century village musicians are sufficiently rare that the discovery of a new one is bound to cause excitement among players of English dance music. It was with predictable delight and surprise, then, that fiddler Bob Shatwell found a manuscript full of tunes in the Winchester Records Library. Inscribed "R.Pyle" and dated January 19, 1822, it contained, as well as the expected copies and variants of common repertoire, a number of tunes unknown elsewhere. Richard Pyle turned out to be a gentleman farmer of Nether Wallop in Hampshire and this is the only collection of traditional tunes to have been found in that county.

Test Valley Borough Council funded a project to record some of the tunes and to publish all of them in book form. Having heard some of the tracks over a year ago (the CD has been some time in the making) I have been looking forward to its release. Doug Bailey of Wild Goose Records took charge of the recording, with Paul Sartin as musical director. The aim was not just to provide the tunes for musicians to learn, but also to make an album that would be enjoyable to listen to. To this end it features some fine musicians steeped in the traditional style of southern English dance music, including the Bursledon Village Band and several established duos: Andy Turner and Matt Green, Paul Sartin and Saul Rose, Tim Laycock and Colin Turner, Will Duke and Dan Quinn.

The result is an absolute delight. The music itself is of course interesting and valuable for what it is, but there really are some fabulous tunes I've never heard before. The number of performers taking part makes plenty of variety of sound and texture, and the playing is of a consistently high standard. In fact it's a very nice showcase of southern English dance music played as it should be, and it's obvious (even if one didn't know it already) from the joyful way the tunes bounce along that the musicians have all been playing for dancers for years. The tracks from the Bursledon Village band especially sell the tunes as real dance music.

There's a bonus: put the CD into your computer and you'll find a collection of MIDI files of all the tunes from the Pyle book, far more than on the CD, so you can learn them by ear if you don't read music. If you do read music, look out for the Hampshire Dance Tunes book, published by Hobgoblin as part of the same project. I couldn't wait for my copy of that and had to transcribe some of the tunes from the CD and learn them, and I'd still be doing it if Santa hadn't brought me the book for Christmas!

This album is essential for musicians looking for new tunes (and who isn't!) and recommended for others who like listening to good dance music well played.