Some years ago when an active committee member of the English Folk Dance and Song Society both locally and nationally, a then executive publicly proclaimed that what 'we' had was unique - we were effectively the custodians without which, one assumes, 'it' might fade into obscurity. To my perverse delight, within the next couple of weeks, I attended two events, one in nearby Southampton and the other in my own village, where by current definition several 'folk' dances led by an MC materialised, all without any visible aid or influence and in ignorance of any body for the preservation or development of such pursuits. Later at a Golden or similar family wedding party in Portsmouth it happened again, where like the others, the band were a trio or quartet with 'modern' instrumentation of piano or keyboard, saxophones, guitar or bass and drums and similar 'popular' inclination of repertoire. From among the Jives, Twists, Veletas, Quicksteps, Waltzes and Hokey Cokeys to be expected at such events emerged such rogues as The Virginia Reel, Russian Ballet and others of equal eccentricity.
Of course, the definition of 'folk' and/or 'traditional' will always be the subject of endless and heated debate, and the danger amongst such societies and their acolytes is that natural progression or 'moving on' is rarely recognised. Consequently older musicians deemed to be 'folk' or 'traditional' are, when viewed by specialists, likely to be either accepted or rejected by their material or instrumentation rather than by the style, social context or circumstances in which it is or was played. My own understanding of both is much the same as Webster's dictionary in that essentially 'folk' and 'traditional' become so for whatever reason, unconsciously assimilated by those they are exposed to, but believe they are also inseparable, in that 'folk' does not become so unless by traditional acceptance!
Not counting items from 'family' repertoires, in this sense possibly the 'popular' and/or convivial, are more likely and proven candidates for this 'tradition' than the obscure, being more widely accepted, remembered and used by a general public with little or any need for documented or otherwise recorded preservation. Examples such as Daisy Belle, Crystal Chandeliers and The Wild Rover no matter how arguably 'naff' or 'wrong' they might be thought, sit quite reasonably and comfortably in the repertoires of English traditional musicians, beside The Faithful Sailor Boy and The Sultan's Polka.
It still perplexes me though, that in the dance repertoire, unlike songs and music, such old favorites and equally potential candidates for a social dance tradition as The Palais Glide, Lambeth Walk or the more recent March of the Mods and others, often require considerable memory recall and practice by old dancers, or instruction by a caller/MC as with 'folk' dances to make them happen again today.
Several villages had 'proper' dance halls with polished and sometimes sprung maple floors - my own village of Marchwood had one such, built of corrugated iron and known affectionately, although at one stage painted green, as the Red Barn. This had over the years its own resident bands, including that led by the owner Teddy Eldridge who sprinkled the floor with soap powder before each evening. Another was Mrs Lowe's trio, including the late Mrs Lowe on violin, my near neighbour Miss Kate Parker on piano accordion, and a now local publican Ron Longman on drums, which played regularly for the popular dances of the time to the ruination, as my Dad laments to this day, of the 'best dance floor in the area' by the boots of soldiers based at the nearby camp dancing the Palais Glide! It is now a store for building materials pending demolition on the completion of a new housing estate - the floor bought by a local dancing school proprietor who was the last lessee or owner.
Other such venues included the Minstead Village Hall, still used for Old Time and sequence dancing today, the Labour Hall in Totton, where the band and trio of the Lewis and Proctor families held sway, the Maurant Hall in Brockenhurst, which lived well into the rocking sixties, and the Angel Hotel in Lymington where only those with special dancing shoes were allowed to dance!
There were of course many other village halls, some attached to pubs without such special floors, and it was at these that the likes of the late Fred Todd, Stan Seaman and countless other local country musicians learnt, developed and played their music in various combinations, often joined by casual visitors like the late lamented step dancer and bones player Ted Duckett.
That Stan Seaman, in playing for many such dances, chose or preferred the then fashionable repertoire and instruments over the years, could be seen by some as not necessarily 'playing to the rules' of the traditional musician, is the reason for this grouping of articles. I now realise that at one time I was sufficiently stupid or ill-informed as to be among such sceptics, but am now thankfully older and wiser, and have no doubts as to his rightful place!
His recent 'surfacing' has proved interesting although perhaps not unique, as like other country musicians, after learning to play the simple accordeon or 'melodeon' when a boy, in his own words he 'moved on' to the piano accordeon and later organ or keyboard, all the while keeping pace with the popular music and dance idiom of the time. Much of this can arguably be seen to form a part of a 'folk' tradition, and the process by which it has in the past, and continues to evolve.
My first contact with him followed a call from Jim, the owner of a local music shop who when he asked if I knew Stan was surprised when I didn't, as he was 'the sort of thing I had always been interested in' - the above thoughts probably provide the explanation!
The reason for his question was that Stan had been asked by the Countryside Education Trust to recreate a typical Buckler's Hard 'village hop' as he remembered it, and for which he needed a single row accordeon - knowing that I played one, Jim thought I'd be able help. I had a spare box which I could let him have and my visit proved an exciting one - he hadn't played such an accordeon for many years, but the dynamic and rhythmic style and repertoire which followed were everything that someone wanting to hear a Southern English country melodeon player could ask for.
Below is a typical programme of dances for village 'hops' as played for by Stan over the years, reflecting the influence of the popular songs of those between say 1925 when he started, and 1950, and which he has carefully documented for the various periods of his life at which they were played, and demonstrates the application of such songs. For comparison, I also detail dances and tunes as appropriate to two such periods, one at the beginning, and the other at the end of his active band life. Many of these could be thought beyond the scope of a one row accordeon, but as he and others like him demonstrate, are not so.
In addition to these tunes and many more of similar idiom, Stan has others of earlier times, learned from his family, neighbours and others, which predate those imposed by mass communication and commercial trends, and which all amateur or professional public performers have been, are expected to, and often do comply with.
The 'old ones' he knows by association with the original source and not by name, and these include Jenny Lind, The Derby Ram, The Female Drummer and various 'old polkas', known by him only as such. That these are less publicly well known, do not reflect any popular fashion, and as a result are rarely if ever now played by him is not surprising - that he still remembers and plays them is a bonus for the enthusiast! His cassette Stan Seaman - Village Hops at Buckler's Hard on Forest Tracks features several of these.
His current audience is largely made up of people of his own age and known to him by association of childhood, youth, work, neighbourhood or fellowship through the membership of clubs like the British Legion and CIU. The programme shown, largely from his piano accordion period reflects his understanding of their time as dancers and likely musical preference - like many other community musicians he has been strongly influenced by popular trends or demands and for this reason I believe is often at a loss to understand why anyone should want to hear any more than a snatch or so of 'the old ones'. By choice he now only plays three and four stop single row melodeons, and basically a popular 'old fashioned' repertoire which has proved to be seemingly limitless in scope.
His first instrument, a mandolin banjo given him by his mother, he still has and occasionally plays, but at around about the same time the Buckler's Hard shopkeeper had an accordeon and told Stan that if he could play a tune, he could have it.
This family of instruments seems to have taken precedence and his last ever accordeon or melodeon was a 19 button two row International which like many other players of the time he sent for from Forbes of Glasgow. He gave this away some years ago to Jim Beckett for his collection of old and interesting instruments, and his last piano accordion and keyboard were disposed of at around the same time.
This didn't materialise as due to trading failures among other reasons, not enough developers took advantage of the offers of low cost land, timber and bricks from the nearby New Forest and Beaulieu woods and brickyards and so it did not get beyond the first phase.
Its location and the local timber resources later lent it to becoming an ideal shipbuilding community, and this thrived throughout several generations, producing a great number of unrecorded merchant and private vessels as well as fifty or so documented for the Royal Navy including Nelson's favourite Agamemnon, after which the yacht yard which still exists today is named. It was from the sailors and tradesmen who regularly visited the river and village that Stan learnt many of his tunes and songs, and in the reading room, opened by the then Lord Montagu who had closed the pubs to minimise hooliganism, that he played for his first dance at the age of five - he often says of this that although he could start the tunes he knew, he couldn't stop!
Here he played alongside his uncle Fred Hendy at the regular 'Hops' which formed a part of the social life of the village, a bit like today's ceilidhs with dances, songs and party pieces alternating throughout the evening, and a supper of plain bread and cheese accompanied by jugs of beer serving to top up glasses and reward the singers. Every third dance appears to have been a polka! The band at that time was typically made up of Stan and his uncle on accordeons with Billy Thomas on anglo concertina and an occasional tambourine and of course mouthorgan players - Mr Thomas' concertina is still in the related Drodge family and was produced, together with Stan's old International at a recent revival hop.
As in other parts of the country step dancing was a frequent feature of these events, and Stan well remembers the farm workers dancing on the flagstones with their thumbs in their waistcoats, as well as some of the tunes used - and these can be found on his cassette.
Stan served in the Merchant Navy, took his piano accordion with him and all through the war years accompanied sing-songs only, after the war to return to play for dances at the local 'big houses' and parties with his old friends of the Reading Room days. He also played at many pubs and clubs, often involving 40 mile round trip cycle rides to Southampton and back with the accordion on his back, as well as having a day job. Men were men in those days!
With an old friend Eddie Lowe from the Wanderers on the drums he played regularly for Scottish country dancing - the love of this music still continues, and he is still learning new tunes and includes these in his nightly kitchen practices as well as in performances.
The Wanderers packed up 'some time after the guitars came in', although for a while they did continue to play alongside 'guitar bands', alternating during an evening for half hour sets. These were the last 'band' dances Stan played for, deciding it was not for him, although his friend Alec Rigla did form another group with a couple of guitar players, and in which Alec played the organ. Stan continued to play the piano accordion with Eddie who later gave up, at which time he moved to the organ/keyboard and eventually he himself gave up when around sixty five in 1984.
Stan's working life has ranged from ferry boy and later yacht skipper, to merchant seaman during the last war, before and after which he was employed setting up and reclaiming landing craft and barges on the Beaulieu river where they were moored prior to and following the Invasion.
He later worked as a ropeworker and rigger on ships and yachts in yards from Southampton to Lymington. Although now retired, he is still often called on to do the odd bit of fancy ropework, rig yachts and crew for owners and the occasional celebrity visitor to the river. I learnt quite by chance that he had rigged Francis Chichester's and Clare Francis' round the world voyages - that he is shy of talking about such accomplishments is an example of his natural reserve.
Each year at the Buckler's Hard Village Festival he occupies the shed where he first started work sixty or so years ago and here shows literally hundreds of knots, splices and tools, as well as his wonderful collection of photographs of village people and life and which always provides a great focus of interest to visitors. He has been described by one of his old apprentices as 'the youngest old bloke he has ever known', able to climb rigging like a lad, though now getting a little slow with age and its accompanying aches and pains.
Stan was a guest at the National Festival in 1995, and was perhaps not fully aware of what might be expected of him musically. But he had lots of opportunity to play in concerts and sessions, and his fancy knots (including one for 'raising an insensible man'), tales of flaming footballs and bonfires lit by trails of black powder surplus from punt guns were a delight.
Stan finds in his retirement that he is in increasing demand for talks on his boyhood and life on the Beaulieu river, plays as often as possible and will be at Sidmouth as a part of the 1997 Traditional festival ingredient - an hour or so in his company is worth its weight in gold - keep an eye and ear open for him.
Albert, like the late Fred Todd, is minstrel for his local RAOB Lodge, as well as playing for weekly get togethers of the Ringwood Salvation Army over sixties club.
After having given up when he was eighteen and joined the army for National service, Robin Martin started playing again about twenty or so years ago after seeing some Morris Dancers. His only regret is that he has missed many years during which time his wife had been a champion darts player and he could have accompanied the sing-songs on the team's many outings! He now plays occasionally at The Royal Oak at Fritham on Saturdays and Bank holidays with Mrs Zebedee and her daughter on piano accordions, and at meetings of Cyril's Music Night at the Scout Hut in Caird Avenue, New Milton, which meets on the first Saturday of every month. Stan Seaman regularly plays at this excellent event as do many others including Alec Rigla, and to which all are welcome both as players, listeners or dancers.
POLKAS: Can't you dance the Polka, Slap Dab, Little Brown Jug, Jingle Bells, Golden Slippers, Grandfather's Clock, and many others of unknown name, or popular songs of the time as appropriate. Every third dance was apparently a polka!
OLD TIME WALTZES: Three o'clock in the morning, After the ball, Black eyes, Peggy O'Neill, I'm forever blowing bubbles, The Merry Widow, Two little girls in blue, If those lips could only speak, Nights of gladness, and many other popular songs, of which they had a repertoire of about twenty or so.
QUICKSTEPS: Very few if any were played by the older men, but Stan and younger players later introduced them using such tunes as Golden Slippers, Camptown Races, Tavern in the Town and the Happy Wanderer
SLOW WALTZ: When Irish Eyes are Smiling, The ring your mother wore, Just like the ivy, Wedding Bells, I don't care what used to be, Nobody's darling but mine.
BARN DANCE: Waiting at the church
PAUL JONES: Quickstep, Slow Waltz, Veleta, Polka, with The man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo as the linking 'walk around'.
SCHOTTISCHE: Name unknown
ONE STEP: Own tune - name unknown
HIGHLAND FLING: The cats got the measles and another name unknown.
QUICKSTEPS: If you wore a tulip, Who's sorry now, Yellow rose of Texas, Happy Wanderer, Hello Dolly, I can't give you anything but love, Roll out the barrel, Seventysix trombones etc. - total around 64 tunes including many popular songs of the time, all the while learning 'new ones' as they came out, and sometimes going back to earlier repertoires.
OLD TIME WALTZES: On top of old Smokey, Forever and ever, We will make love, Good old summer time, Que Sera Sera, Let's all sing like the birdies sing, By the Zuider Zee, etc. - total around 40 tunes.
BARN DANCE: Honeysuckle and the bee, I met her in the garden, Waiting at the church, She's my lady love etc.
ST BERNARDS WALTZ: St Bernards (original tune), Under the bridges of Paris, Cruising down the river, Oh, Oh, Antonio, In the shade of the old apple tree, Let's all sing like the birdies sing, Tulips from Amsterdam etc.
ROCK: The Saints, Rock around the clock.
VELETA: Daisy Belle, She was a sweet little dickie bird, Flyaway lovers, Loneliest night of the year, Sweet Rosie O'Grady, Tulips from Amsterdam etc.
FOXTROT: Heart of my heart, Have you ever been lonely, Love letters, Red sails in the sunset, If you were the only girl in the world, Some enchanted evening etc.
TWIST: Lets twist again, The Saints, Camptown races etc.
BOSTON TWO STEP: Come along Jill, Papa Piccolino, Madamoiselle from Armentieres, I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts.
PALAIS GLIDE: Ten pretty girls, All by yourself in the moonlight, Side by side, Lily Marlene, Come to the station, Davy Crockett, The Quartermasters store, Don't fence me in.
GAY GORDONS: Penny balloon, A hundred pipers, The runaway train, Hello, hello, Who's your lady friend, With me shillelagh under my arm, Where the praties grow.
CONGA: Original tune
MARCH OF THE MODS: Original tune
THE SHAKE: Obla di, obla da.
SIMPLE SIMON SAYS: Original tune
HOKEY COKEY: Original tune.
UNDERNEATH THE SPREADING CHESTNUT TREE: Original tune.
PAUL JONES: Quicksteps, Old time waltzes, Polkas , Slow waltzes, Veleta, with The man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo as the linking 'walk around'.
Dave Williams - 15.1.97
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