MATTHEW CRAMPTON – Human Cargo

Muddler Books – ISBN 978-0-9561361-2-1 – Softback 164 pp

Human CargoHuman trafficking is never far from the news these days, whether it’s young women from eastern Europe being brought to the west and forced into prostitution; immigrants fleeced by people smugglers before being trapped by gang-masters or refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean and dying in the attempt. Behind all the stories is the profit motive but I for one have never linked today’s news to the slave trade, the press gangs and forced emigration of the past. Matthew Crampton’s book makes that link.

The book is divided into two parts. Firstly, Matthew examines slavery, kidnapping into indentured servitude, military recruitment by whatever means and transportation and secondly, he discusses the stories of those emigrants who volunteered to go, often lured by false promises and whose fates were frequently no better than those of the slaves who preceded them.

Initially, I found Matthew’s short punchy chapters and rapidly changing time-frames a little irritating but once I’d got into the pattern and the rhythm of Human Cargo everything fell into place. Although most of the book is taken up with historical accounts, old illustrations and folk song texts, its focus is very much in the present and the modern reports which parallel the historical text show that very little has changed since the 17th century. Modern villains may not be the rich traders in Liverpool or Bristol nor the greedy landowners clearing the Scottish highlands and the west of Ireland for their own purposes; nor yet governments (as far as we know) but the stories are the same.

Human Cargo is well laid out with facsimile broadsides and posters tempting the unwary and is an easy read. It is a primer rather than an academic treatise but the sources of the various narratives are properly documented as are the song texts and Matthew doesn’t restrict himself to English sources which is refreshing. It will prick your conscience and raise your awareness and then point you in the direction of further reading and for that it achieves its purpose admirably.

Dai Jeffries

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Author’s website: www.matthewcrampton.com

To give you a flavour of the book, you can have a listen to a previous live concert performance by the “The London Lubbers” which used excerpts from “Human Cargo” via the soundcloud link below:

Scottish Music Exam Harp Grades 1 to 5 book (Publisher: Taigh na Teud)

Scottish Music Exam Harp Grades 1 to 5 bookWhen we in Wales look at the flourishing traditional music scene in Scotland, we ask ourselves how we could possibly emulate the musical strength and confidence of our Celtic cousins. One of the answers is in education, and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is to be applauded for its programme which promotes traditional Scottish performance skills and the best of traditional and contemporary repertoire. They have established a specialist performance-based series of assessments which aim to be true to the artistic integrity of Scotland’s musical heritage.

These five volumes are graded 1 – 5, although there is an intention to take these grades up to 8 eventually. Each volume follows a similar format, being divided into three sections – airs, dance tunes, and recent compositions. In each section there are between six and eleven different tunes to choose from. (There are similar volumes for fiddle and accordion).

All the tunes are arranged or composed by a stellar cast of Scotland’s top traditional harpists, including Rachel Hair, Corrina Hewat, Alison Kinnaird, Catriona McKay, Isobel Mieras, Ailie Robertson, Patsy Seddon, Savourna Stevenson and Wendy Stewart. In other words – harping heaven! Each arranger and composer brings their own individual slant on interpreting the tradition. Players will no doubt pick their favourites, but suffice it to say that there is a mouth-watering choice of music to choose from.

There is much discussion among lever harp players about what key to tune the instrument in. If you play traditional music, I don’t really see the point of tuning it in E flat, as not many fiddle players would relish playing a jig in that key. However in this book there is a good sprinkling of tunes in E flat, although I would say that the majority are suited to those who tune their instruments in C, therefore avoiding the necessity of using too many levers. But again, there is plenty of choice to suit all tastes.

Each piece has a helpful metronome mark. I am sure some players would also have liked some guidance as to fingering, although having said that, fingering is often down to personal preference. Likewise there are no dynamic marks. This is after all traditional music and it is up to each performer to give their own interpretation.

Although these books are designed to fit in with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s traditional music assessment programme, they are a treasure house of music which should delight many harp players.

Delyth Jenkins

More information can be found at: www.scotlandsmusic.com
or www.rcs.ac.uk

Scottish Music Exam Accordion Grades 1 to 5 book (Publisher: Taigh na Teud)

Scottish Music Exam Accordion Grades 1 to 5 bookAs an English accordionist I have to admit to a certain amount of envy that Scotland possesses an examination body, The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, that treats folk music more seriously. For the most part I am impressed with the content and layout of these five books.

At every grade there are three sections: Airs. Dance Tunes and Recent Compositions and students are required to select at least one tune from a choice of between five and twelve in each section. The melodies are clearly written with chords and tempi though there is no guidance to articulation or dynamics (something which is often neglected by box players). Each exam requires scales and arpeggios and they are listed at the back of each syllabus. The repertoire is, as expected, either traditional or in the case of the section Recent Compositions, written in the Scottish traditional idiom. I was pleased to see that from Grade Two onwards, articulation is tested on all the scales and arpeggios.

On the negative side, I wondered if students might have enjoyed the challenge of tunes in other commonly used time signatures such as 9/8 and 3/2, otherwise they are all in 2/4, 3/4, 4/4 and 6/8. I didn’t feel there was enough differentiation of the levels between the music from Grade 1 to 3 with regard to either the melodies or the harmonies. For example in Grade 1 there are pieces with E minors, 7ths with counterbasses and jumps from Em to G major (on the left hand) which I felt Grade 1 students might struggle with.

But my main criticism is to do with the choice of tunes in the three sections at every grade. There isn’t sufficient equality of complexity and so I was able to find soft options at every level and section and this should be addressed by cutting these choices to achieve the same standard of difficulty.

More attention should be paid to the scales and arpeggios so that they are reflected in the exam pieces to make them relevant. For example in Grade 3 the E minor scale and arpeggio are required yet no tunes were included in that key and the same applies in Grade 4 with G minor, F# minor, Eb and Bb major.

I hope that one of our musical institutions in England might follow this example and create a similar folk accordion syllabus. There is an accordion revival south of the Border and we are ready for the challenge!

Paul Hutchinson

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland website: rsc

J.P.BEAN – Singing From The Floor: A History of British Folk Clubs

SFTFFaber & Faber
ISBN 978-0-571-30545-2

Musical scenes are rich tapestries that many of us have added our own stitches to as well as sitting back to admire the work of all the people involved. As the folk boom of the 1960s is now a distant memory or even something that you missed out on, it’s good news that some writers are keen to get the stories of that scene down in writing before the memories fade away. You may have caught my earlier review of Dave Hadfield’s All The Wrong Notes which captures the folk scene in the North West of England through the eyes and ears of its folk loving author.

Here, J.P. Bean’s inspiration for ‘Singing From The Floor’ takes a less subjective view in its examination of the folk club and its growth through the sixties. Taking its source material from a vast array of interviews carried out by Bean, the book follows a timeline from the mid-1950s through the decades that follow. The interviewees are copious in number and offer a real depth to the writing including folk club organisers and musicians from Martin Carthy to Jon Boden. In doing so, it’s an extremely revealing read even for those who would consider themselves knowledgeable of the folk scene. You can see the progression of the musical flame as it moves from one generation to another. However, its main focus is on the folk club itself and nostalgia for a day that will never quite be the same is always close to the surface. Not that this is any kind of problem. Indeed, any folkie worth his/her salt will find this required reading. Those speculating on gifts, perhaps for Christmas, should look no further.

Steve Henderson

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Author’s website: http://www.jpbean.co.uk/

TOM BROWN – A Sailor’s Life

John ShortS&A Projects
ISBN: 978-0-9930468-0-3
Softback – 165 pages

The life of John Short of Watchet is, in many ways, an ordinary life. We was born in 1839, married and fathered three children and died at the grand old age of 94. He also sailed around the world and became something of a local hero as ‘Yankee Jack’ the shantyman – not quite so ordinary, then.

John did not keep a diary nor did he write many letters but because of the detailed record keeping of the merchant marine in the 19th century, Tom Brown has been able to piece together the details of his voyages. He first went to sea with his father at the age of nine – not full time – working the coastal trade between Somerset and South Wales. We know that he had some education and could read and write but he began work full-time at the age of fourteen. His first deep-sea voyage was probably to Quebec in 1857 aboard the Promise where he learned his first two shanties. He was one of the earliest shantymen and his versions are consequently among the least developed. In his twentieth year he doubled round the horn on the Hugh Block to Valparaiso and followed that with a voyage to India aboard Earl Balcarres. It by referring to Lloyd’s List and Short’s own discharge papers which he kept after each trip that Tom’s researches have managed to detail these voyages.

John’s story is also the story of the merchant navy in the second half of the century and to the point when he left the sea in 1901. There had been many changes, not least the giving way of sail to steam and John hated steam ships. The book is packed with fascinating details of maritime law and the fluctuations of world trade that he would have seen.

The reason that we are now interested in John Short is that Cecil Sharp collected his entire repertoire – some fifty-seven songs – in 1914 and published many of them in English Folk Chanteys that same year. All his shanties have been recorded by an international cast (of which Tom is a member) on three CDs under the title Short Sharp Shanties and the texts and notations are also included here. Without Sharp, Short’s contribution to the world would have been as ephemeral as anyone else’s and it is fitting that his life story, even pieced together from official documents, should be recounted.

Dai Jeffries

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Author’s website: www.umbermusic.co.uk

DAVE HADFIELD – ‘All The Wrong Notes’ (Scratching Shed Publishing ISBN 9780957559363)

DAVE HADFIELD All The Wrong NotesSub-titled Adventures In Unpopular Music, Dave Hadfield’s book gives us the nod that he’s really rather pleased that folk music doesn’t get the stadium touring, publicity machine driven media overdrive of mega-star musicians. So am I. You too, I guess. Described by Bernard Wrigley on the sleeve as ‘an entertaining ramble for those who know their gimbri from their mandolin’, this book is far more. What’s a gimbri, by the way? Tell me later.

Based around Bolton, Dave’s life in folk music will have many North West locals reminiscing about different folk clubs that he mentions. He starts us off by explaining how he came to find himself frequenting folk clubs whilst also having wider tastes such as The Who – the latter recently joined by Andy Cutting on stage which shows how strange life for the pigeon holing music fan can be. Just given Dave’s penchant for more than just folk, the book won me over straight away and offered up quite a few “laugh out loud” moments on the way.

However, die hard folk fans needn’t worry. The chapters are themed around key figures or musical styles that have made up the folk circuit over the last 40 or so years. His tale about a late night curry with Ewan MacColl and the drunken excess of his youthful self is a treasure and no doubt one of his favourite memories. Other chapter themes include Bert Jansch, folk rock, Morris dancing, Richard Thompson. All of them delivered with the passion of a true fan and a style that makes Dave feel like an old mate. Indeed, Dave, if you spot me out and about, we should swap tales. Mine about standing next to Richard Thompson in a latrine parallels yours outside the estate agent’s window. Meanwhile, all folk club fans should give this a read. It’s friskier than a bag of ferrets released down your trousers and far less risky.

Steve Henderson

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