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Archived News January 2011

My trip to Washington DC for the annual "Christmas Revels" theatre show (a 'community celebration') was brilliant. The Revels groups, which exist in ten US cities and are entirely unrelated to the popular chocolates of the same name made in Slough, adopt a different folk tradition every year. The DC group went French-Canadian, for example, in 2008, so Québecois musicians travelled down from Canada as that year's Tradition Bearers. The theme for Revels 2010 was Thomas Hardy's Wessex, its plot loosely based on "Under the Greenwood Tree", so The Mellstock Band were invited. As a reservist, I joined band leader and concertina god Dave Townsend, serpent-master Phil Humphries and Tim Hill (clarinet and off-duty saxophone) to perform old Dorset dance tunes and West Gallery carols. The show included the church scene (from "A Case of Forgetfulness…') where the band doze off during a sermon, then wake up under the impression that they're still at a party and strike up The Devil Among the Tailors. Slightly out of season, maybe, but even the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance got a look in during the second half.

With a ninety-strong cast of local actors, singers and dancers, we did nine shows in the 1,200-seater Lisner Auditorium and audiences seemed to be suitably uplifted. Personally, I don't believe I've praised the Lord so much since primary school. On the last night I did break a string on the final chord of the Sussex Mummers' Carol, our final song - but how kind of the string to wait until then! Early next morning we were on our way home.

Pete Cooper as Mr Biles the fiddler
with the Puddletown Brass
Pete Cooper as Mr Biles
the Fiddler

Mellstock band
Phil Humphries on serpent, Dave Townsend
on concertina, Tim Hill on clarinet
and Pete Cooper on fiddle

A pretty much unexpected pleasure of the trip was that during our three days off, Tim and I went out to West Virginia. Our generous Washington hosts Riki and Milan drove us the two-and-a-half hours into the eastern Blue Ridge mountains to visit some old friends of mine - Joe and Sam Herrmann of the Critton Hollow String Band. I last saw them there in Paw Paw in 1978, so it was quite a reunion. In their timber house deep in the woods, we played Old Time music till half-past two in the morning, wonderful...

And guess what? It's American Old Time fiddle that I'll be teaching at Strings at Witney on the 5-6 February. If you haven't been to Hands On Music weekends yet, they're great for learning style and repertoire and socialising with the like-minded. My fellow tutors are Sliabh Luachra (Ireland) fiddle maestro Matt Cranitch, Catriona Macdonald from Shetland, Tania Simon teaching Swedish fiddle, Pete Shaw on building harmonies and Dave Townsend blowing the dust off some English fiddlers' manuscripts. It's ninety quid for the weekend, including Saturday night concert. Apparently a few spaces are still available - see Workshops.

Lucy Farr
Lucy Farr (1911-2003),
(photo courtesy of

Among contributors on a variety of topics, I'll be reflecting on "Lucy Farr, Irish Traditional Fiddler" at the London Fiddle Conference, organised by Ed Emery at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) in Russell Square, 18-19 February. Lucy, who was featured on the classic 1968 Topic recording, "Paddy In The Smoke", and later recorded "Heart and Home" (VTS123), was born in Co. Galway in 1911. She lived most of her adult life in London where I got to know her in the 1980s. Modestly describing herself as a "fireside fiddler", she was a unique stylist, definitely not your pan-Irish generic fiddler and with a remarkable ear for a "quare" tune. Documentary historian Doc Rowe filmed a "Fiddling from Scratch" workshop she gave around 1986, and I'll try and show some of his footage when I give my 'paper'. The conference ends on the Saturday evening - see Workshops and Gigs.

Doc's massive folk archive, some of you will be glad to know, has been safely moved from its old home - all twenty odd tons of it - and is now securely housed in Whitby.)

Winquist & Haige
Bob Winquist and Chris Haigh, 2008

Hard on the heels of the conference, in fact the very next day, Sun. 20 February, the London Fiddle Convention (19th annual, no shit) takes place at Cecil Sharp House, with afternoon workshops from Chris Haigh (jazz), Bob Winquist (bluegrass) and yours truly (English tunes).

There's a short afternoon concert and a music session in the bar. If you'd like to enter the Fiddle Contest (five minute spot, any style, under-18 and over-18 categories) just email me or Bob. And definitely make sure to come to the 8.00pm evening concert, which is always spectacular. See website for latest details.

Tom Moore in 2005
Pete Cooper presents Tom Moore, the 2005 London
Fiddle Convention contest winner, with his certificate...

...and now, six years later, check out Tom Moore's music on MySpace, e.g. Moore Moss Rutter's amazing Willy T.'s/ Savage Hornpipe or Tom's solo track The Drummer/ Mount Hill

Rattle on the Stovepipe got off to a flying start this year. Dave Arthur, Dan Stewart and I were up bright and early (well OK, early afternoon) on 2 January for a publicity photo shoot at The Tabernacle, Notting Hill - more of that in a moment... We also had a couple of very enjoyable folk club nights in Dartford on 11 January and Islington on 13 January, with great audience turnout. The début of a plastic Yodelling Pickle I was given in America certainly made a big impression on the sophisticated North London crowd. Thanks for coming out, everybody.

Billy Bill and Rattle
Rattle and Billy at The Tabernacle photos: Helen Petts

Our next London gig is Sunday 3 April when Carnival Village present "Tabernacle Folk 2" at the aforementioned West London venue, with afternoon workshops in kora, banjo and fiddle and a 5.00pm concert. Darragh Morgan, Tunde Jegede and Brian O hUiginn share the bill and my 12-year-old student, Billy Hill, will be joining Rattle on the Stovepipe for several numbers. Helen Petts shot some quality film of the four of us playing tunes in the café-bar. Then we all sampled the Sunday roast.
To see Helen's videos go to YouTube and type petecooperfiddle in the Search box - you'll get the lot, including her atmospheric black-and-white film of just a fiddle and bow in close up (me playing 'Lorna'), in which the background natter of coffee drinkers and Sunday diners definitely adds something to the fiddle-noir ambience - or else is vaguely irritating, I suppose, depending on how you look at it.

cooper & bolton

Although Richard Bolton and I (shown here looking like debt collectors) tend to be a bit pro-passive in our attitude to getting bookings, we're looking forward to playing at Ringwood Folk Club on 15 March and down in Lewes on 7 April, at the Royal Oak.

And finally...

Gabriel & Graham from Hogslop
(Christopher Dadey

As a free-lance fiddle player you definitely get some odd jobs. In September I found myself playing with two Nashville musicians on a catwalk at London Fashion Week. Tennessee designer Jeff Garner had brought Old Time band Hogslop over for the London launch of his Prophetik collection - or so he thought. In fact, the rest of guitarist Gabriel and banjo player Graham's band had been turned back at immigration, so they found me instead.

fiddler on the catwalk
Hogslop playing Reuben's Train at London
Fashion Week; nice dress by Jeff Garner

We had to make our brief (but triumphant, obviously) appearances at top and tail of the show. Waiting backstage in between, Graham and I were chatting about life in London and Nashville, occasionally distracted by the models - shocking really, how they flung their frocks off with such abandon during costume changes. It was Graham's first trip abroad and I told him that this was a typical day for a London folk musician, but I don't think he believed me.

See you later,


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