by Dan M Worrall
EFDSS, ISBN 085418194146
This is an important study of an important figure in traditional music. As Roger Digby notes in his foreword ‘It is the first time that the music of a traditional musician has undergone such a detailed analysis’, and I think that this must certainly be true as far as England is concerned, at any rate. For what Dan Worrall has attempted to do is to present a full transcription of 28 tunes as played by Kimber, showing not only the notes being played – right and left hand – but which buttons are being pressed for each of those notes.
Back in 1999 Dave Townsend planned to transcribe several of William Kimber’s tunes for the notes accompanying the CD Absolutely Classic, also published by the EFDSS. Dave has a very good ear for this sort of thing, but asked me to look over his first drafts from an anglo-player’s perspective, I have a very bad ear for this sort of thing, but understanding the mechanics of playing the anglo proved to be a valuable asset. We subsequently spent some time working up a transcription of a single tune, Trunkles. This process confirmed my previous opinion that Kimber’s left-hand harmonies consisted largely of two-note chords, and that they often did not conform to accepted modern notions of what was the ‘right’ chord. The experience also demonstrated to me that transcribing Kimber’s playing required a particular combination of musical aptitudes, and the expense of a great deal of time. Consequently I am in awe of Dan Worrall’s achievement in transcribing so many tunes. Even if they turned out not to be 100% accurate, it would still be a considerable achievement. So hats off to him for doing this work, and hats off to EFDSS for publishing the book. It’s exactly the sort of publication they should be sponsoring, but it wouldn’t have happened a few years ago. I can’t imagine it’s going to have the sort of broad commercial appeal to which a book like Classic English Folk Songs might aspire. But it’s a handsomely produced publication nevertheless, as we are increasingly coming to expect from the EFDSS. So congratulations all round.
Roughly 50% of the book’s 96 pages is devoted to the transcriptions of Kimber’s playing. The first half of the book provides:
If we look at William Kimber’s influence on the Neal and Sharp-inspired revival, on the other hand, then his playing and dancing clearly did have a major influence. Kimber was an indispensable aid and supporter to Cecil Sharp, and became an iconic figure for the EFDSS and Morris Ring. Although … having written this, I wonder just how many musicians for the Travelling Morrice and other early revival sides actually followed Kimber’s example and played the anglo-concertina? My impression is that violin, accordion or English concertina would have been more common - but I’m willing to be corrected on this. Certainly when I was first exposed to morris music in the late 1970’s, through LPs such as Plain Capers and Son of Morris On the anglo seemed to be an essential component, and Kimber would appear to have been a major influence on players such as John Kirkpatrick, John Watcham and John Rodd, even if they had developed their own rather different styles. Out in the real world, the morris side you saw at your local pub were more likely to be dancing to a melodeon or piano accordion – in other words, accordions of one sort or another had almost completely taken over, and still hold sway today.
Worrall points out that the situation was very different in Kimber’s day. If we know of only four concertina-playing traditional morris musicians, there are records of only two morris melodeon-players. Most modern anglo-players either came to the instrument from the melodeon, or are heavily influenced in their playing style by the dominance of melodeons in morris and country dance music. In particular anglo-players today usually favour the melodeon’s oompah approach – single bass note, followed by higher triad. Kimber, it seems fair to say, was not heavily influenced by any kind of accordion, and emphatically did not adopt the oompah style. Instead, Kimber played staccato chords which emphasised the beat, and his choice of chords tended to be dictated by where the melody fell on the right hand of the instrument. Worrall’s transcriptions demonstrate both of these points: short notes on the left hand, followed by a rest, are far more common than held notes; and although you might get a fistful of notes at the start or end of a phrase, Kimber’s chords are typically made up of just two notes on the left hand.
Moreover, Worrall is convinced that, although he played a 3-row instrument from 1909 onwards, Kimber continued to use only the 20 keys available to him on the 2-row anglo it had replaced.2 Kimber had learned on a 2-row instrument, and had been playing such an instrument for over twenty years when presented with the new, superior model. It would appear that he found little incentive to change his playing style to take advantage of the third row of buttons – on only one tune, the Mayblossom Waltz, does he use a note from the third row, when a Bb features in the melody, and is duplicated in Kimber’s left-hand accompaniment.
This adherence to the style he had grown used to could be given as an example of Kimber’s oft-cited musical conservatism. Worrall spends some time considering the issue, and concludes that, as far as the melodies were concerned Kimber did indeed follow his father’s injunction that “these are the notes you play, William, and you don’t play any others”. There is little variation in how he played one melody through the length of a morris dance, nor between recordings of him playing the same tune at different periods of his life. His left-hand accompaniment, however, was another matter entirely. Here Worrall finds constant changes and improvisation.
This poses some problems, of course, when Worrall comes to transcribe Kimber’s playing. He has not attempted to transcribe an entire performance, showing all the variations played throughout. Instead we typically get the first full time through the tune; while in some cases Worrall has ‘pieced together a single version that best characterizes his playing of each part’. Some might criticise this approach, but this is not a PhD thesis, after all, and perhaps shows that the author has preserved some sense of proportion!3 In fact, Dan Worrall makes it plain that he hasn’t produced this as an academic treatise – he’d like anglo players to use the book to learn Kimber’s arrangements.
For my own part, I’m reasonably competent at reading a single line of music, and quite a bit of my repertoire comes from printed sources, but I have never learned the skill of reading two staves simultaneously (indeed, if I see music written out on two staves, I routinely ignore the lower staff!). So my review of Dan Worrall’s transcriptions is going to be rather perfunctory, and is liable to highlight my own shortcomings, rather than any which the book might possess. I guess that anyone who – unlike me – can read piano music, will have little trouble in making sense of these transcriptions.4 I’ve actually seen enthusiastic comments on an Internet discussion forum from someone who had pre-publication access to Worrall’s transcripts and now claims to be able to play the tunes exactly like William Kimber. Well, if we must have an army of concertina-playing clones, there would be worse models than Kimber …
But to be fair to Worrall, that’s not what he’s trying to achieve – ‘it seems pointless to try to precisely remember [Kimber’s] many improvisations of the chording. After you become proficient with the basic tune and accompaniment, Kimber’s subtle improvisations (or others of your own choosing) should come somewhat naturally to you’. And he is clear that the transcriptions in the book are meant to complement, not replace, repeated listening to recordings of Kimber. A sentiment which I’d heartily endorse. Again, if you want a review of this book as a concertina tutor, look elsewhere – I didn’t learn from a tutor, and have always had a bit of a mental block when it comes to understanding how people are supposed to learn from such books.
Even with my limitations, however, there are some comments I can make about this section of the book. First, the transcriptions demonstrate the extent to which Kimber liked to keep the melody on the right hand – there are very few places where the melody drops down onto the left hand, and Kimber would often play individual notes up an octave rather than go down onto the left hand (for instance, in Jockey to the Fair). It is also clear that Kimber frequently played more than one note on the right hand – sometimes doubling up the octave (e.g. at the start and end of most sections in Country Gardens), sometimes adding brief snatches of harmony (e.g. The Willow Tree). And, the transcriptions confirm what I have long suspected, that Kimber regularly changed rows, moving onto the G row in the top octave – although he always seems to have gone back to the C row to play the key note on the push at the end of sections (whereas with several of these tunes I personally would find it easier to stay on the G row and play the final note on the pull).
Kimber also swapped rows when playing in G (e.g. on Over the Hills to Glory and Haste to the Wedding) where some of the lower-pitched sections would normally place the melody on the left hand, making it difficult to fit in very much in the way of chordal accompaniment. By swapping to the C row on the pull, Kimber is able more easily to play both melody and chords. I would have expected Worrall to have drawn attention to these specific examples, since playing 'inside-out' in this way is not something which comes naturally to a lot of players. Over the Hills to Glory incidentally is a schottische, so I would not have written it out in 6/8 as Worrall does. Still, it’s good to see some of Kimber’s country dance tunes included in the book alongside the more familiar morris repertoire.
Finally, I did spot a couple of errors in the text. On page 9, Worrall writes that Kimber’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all danced the morris, taking the family involvement 'at least as far back as the early eighteenth century', whereas I think he means the early 1800s. And on p.10 the American author gets a bit confused with English geography: talking about the two locations where a melodeon is known to have accompanied the morris, he states that Winchcombe and Abingdon are both in Gloucestershire. Well Winchcombe is, and a goodly distance from Kimber’s Headington Quarry; but Abingdon was at the time the county town of Berkshire, has actually been part of Oxfordshire since 1974, and can’t be more than 10 miles from Headington.
The book is available from the English Folk Dance and Song Society at www.efdss.org The official price is £15.99 but if you place an order before 31/12/05 you can take advantage of the lower introductory price of £11.50.
Andy Turner - 2.10.06
Worrall has clearly read Chandler’s work carefully, and makes thoughtful use of his research in this book.
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