Double CD and Companion Call Book
Bush Dance & Music Club of Bendigo and District
First Set (of quadrilles)
San Toys Quadrille
Robbie Burns or Bonnie Doone Quadrille
plus three archival tracks:
Royal Irish (Fig.6)
Wedderburn Oldtimers Orchestra, Dancing Pennies, Gay Charmers, Emu Creek Bush Band, Harry McQueen's Band
Dave Hunt reviewed the first volume in this series in February of this year, accompanied by an essay on The English Country Dance. I understand there are further volumes to come, featuring more quadrilles, the couple and country dances. About eight years ago, an attempt was made to video all the old handed-down dances, both the Sets and the Couple Dance form. There were a number of problems and it really needed to be started again from the beginning. It was then that the late Trevor Holt's suggestions of recording the music of the Quadrilles lead to the decision to record the music on CD, so then the videos could be filmed to the CD music. With accompanying instructions, this would complete the original aims of The Club, as well as honouring Lindsay and Trevor Holt's concept of archiving the old set tunes. Sadly, Trevor was too ill to play on the recordings.
Australian quotes (in italic bold) are from The Companion Call Book (CC), Peter Ellis (PE) and John Meredith (JM): the English ones (in italic) are from Ethnic and Reg Hall (RH).
It is the aim of the Bush Dance and Music Club of Bendigo and District to revive the quadrilles so that, in a lively but sensible and well danced fashion they can be enjoyed. They really are very sociable, bringing together people of all backgrounds in sets and were very much a part of our Australian Heritage. No repetition, then of the banning by the 1950s in some Australian cities of the Lancers and First Set owing to the wild manner of performing the basket figures with ladies being let go and flying under seats as recorded in The Companion Call Book, which also contains, along with band information and photographs, a section on Musicians, Bands & Quadrille Bands exploring the wide range of musicians and instruments employed in past bands in Australia.
The historical side… is very important, entailing recording and documenting descriptions of the dances…and the part played by individual dancers and musicians, callers and masters of ceremony… (PE)
So this double CD is a just part of a thriving communal activity. The Club's monthly programme consists of at least fifteen dances, including at least six sets … children's dances followed by a lolly scramble cater for family groups…workshops and learn-to-dance classes as and when, all culminating in the big event of the year, the traditional Old Time Dinki Di Ball. (Dinki Di means, you know, ridgy didge - in England, what we would have called in the nineteenth century ridgie didgie).
As such, it is not a CD to entertain, although it does; it is not a CD where discussion of the tunes is appropriate, although I will. It is not a CD that, based on sales in this country of the first volume, you will acquire. Because only I did. And with it came the free invitation from Peter Ellis, the Club President, to review this volume. In fact, the Quadrille Mania Project is only a part of a whole series of recordings, books and videos produced in Australia over the years and, of necessity, I have made reference to some of these.
Over the years there have only been a few articles in Traditional Music and now Musical Traditions that have had the effect on me that Peter Ellis's two pieces, Australian Social Dance and The Wedderburn Oldtimers have had. One was about the concertina player Fred Kilroy, because my parents came from his part of Lancashire. In fact, my mother identified a player in one of the group photographs as Sylvester Mayall who lived in the next street when she was a girl. Mrs Mayall had a black pudding business with a workforce of one. Mr.Mayall. He spent his days in the back yard playing his concertina and making the puddings and then hawked them round the pubs of a night. People, apparently, thought him a bit simple. I'm not so sure. Still, it is a comforting thought that, if my parents had emigrated to Australia instead of Surrey, it appears I would have found musicians playing the same tunes for the same dances on the same instruments as the musicians from this country, through whom I propose to review this volume. Figures who, in fact, have come to represent English Country Music. The only difference is that Australia seems to have approached community musicians from a different direction. From that of the function of the music. But, then, perhaps they were in a better position to do so.
To quote the second volume of the book Folk Songs of Australia, on the subject of musicians seeking their heritage:
…sadly, these for the most part, turned their backs on the music they think they are keeping alive… ignored are the dances enjoyed by our forebears - the varsovianna, the schottische, the waltz and various polkas, not to mention the sets such as the Lancers, Quadrilles or Alberts. (JM)
I am amazed that good musicians don't seem to connect polkas with The Polka. (PE)
Most importantly of all the sets evolved with numerous variations and became the folk dances of the Bush. It was more in small rural districts rather than in the towns where they lasted the longest and developed. (PE)
Thus Reg Hall's opening statement in an article called Thoughts on Social Aspects of Traditional Dance, which appeared in the very first issue of Ethnic, a publication produced by Reg Hall, Mervyn Plunkett and Peter Grant in the late 50's. My thanks to Michael Plunkett for rooting out the relevant copy for me. I had read the article in the late1960s and the following quote had stuck in my mind:
What really should be the yardstick is not how old a dance is thought to be, but whether it has acceptance and whether the manner of performance is in keeping with the traditional style. The Veleta when danced to the composed tune played by an "Olde Tyme" orchestra is as dead as mutton, but when danced to a traditional fiddle and melodeon is quite another matter. (RH)
In the early 1970s I attended almost every Saturday night dance at Spring Gully Hall, Bendigo. It was on one such night that (Harry) McQueen's Old Time Band was playing and I was fascinated with the very different old fashioned, but lively, music. (PE)
During the last century many composed and town dances were brought into the countryside…. Later there was an influx of Edwardian dances. While much of the older material has been collected…the more modern dances, especially the couple dances have been ignored. How the collectors have selected, I just cannot imagine, but it is certain that country people have not selected in the same way. (RH)
Especially as accepted dances such as La Russe are based on the self same quadrille figures as The Lancers are. In fact, community musicians such as Scan Tester went One Step further and beyond, even when, given the choice, they would have preferred to be playing for Round and Set Dancing.
FIGURE 1: The Testers
In the sleeve notes to the Topic LP Boscastle Breakdown, Reg Hall wrote rather obscurely of Scan Tester of Sussex: "Many budding musicians captured his attention for advice, but few seemed able to grasp the most obvious lessons he had to teach them."
Of course, I would have thought of myself among that "few". I was dead keen to learn concertina and the first lessons I learnt were: wear a bow tie, learn tunes off fairground organs, 78s and the wireless and hand-make your own cigarettes. He became what you might call my roll model. Of course, any dance that was mentioned, I asked for the tune(s) he had played for it. But, apart from one attempt to demonstrate the schottische, there were no dancing lessons. Scan wasn't playing for dances any more: his local community function was down to playing out at The Stone Quarry pub on Saturday nights. Here I learnt the big lesson that your audience comes first, and that meant he wasn't going to change the repertoire of popular songs his people expected, to accommodate me. That was fine. I didn't want him to change a thing.
"We have been lucky, I guess, in Aust(ralia) that at least some (sets) survived and are still being danced in country areas, even If only rare and localised now. I was lucky they were strong in my area, so it has been easy to reconstruct, as there are a number of MC's and dancers still alive who could help us. It was fortunate that four of the sets were still being locally twenty-five years ago when I first went to these dances." (PE)
One lesson I had not learnt yet was that the tunes were not the point. It's the dance that's the communal function. The tunes only make that possible. Those on the Quadrille Mania volume are for the most part familiar pieces, almost straight from the Community Songbook, yet are so right for the dances. They're tunes you've known all your life, or so it seems, and not always in their original time signature. However, this is quite in the spirit of Victorian and later music publications where current songs were adapted to suit all needs. I have a copy of the Not For Joseph Quadrille which promotes, on the back cover, Not for Joseph as a song / polka / galop / & waltz and also the Ladies Version, "Not for Flo". The bands on these CDs use few collected untitled pieces, yet somehow sound the better for it.
One of the features of the music used was they were all nursery rhymes and extremely popular. (Dance at Ballarat) A good tune is always a good tune. (PE)
Listen to the way someone like Harry McQueen adapts a song to fit a dance.
Not that Scan didn't talk about the dances he'd played for:
Set Dancing? They didn't dance the Lancers round here like they did in other places, you know. Sheffield Park was the place for that - they were nearly all set dancers up there…and George Stetsford. He was the M.C… taught the dances. When we played, we followed him - 'cos he danced as well. Did they dance in the pubs? Not very often - they might occasionally get a set up or something like that … at a dance you had to be careful, you know, if there was round dancers and set dancers you had to be careful not to play too many of one sort of dance, or the others wouldn't like it… we're playing these schottisches faster than you should for dancing to…you can't play a waltz too slowly, Reg…"The Man In The Moon"? They used to like to sing that as they danced…"Over the Waves"? I learned that off of a fairground organ. They used to dance that waltzing round level. What they call schottisching it round…we used to play some tunes (Scotland the Brave) and instead of changing tune, we'd change key - start of in C then to G and back again - look I'll show you.
Harry McQueen of Castlemaine reminds me so much of Scan Tester. Where and how they learnt certain tunes, the places they played at. All communicated in stories told countless times that have become part of their legend. I was reminded of Scan, when listening to an "unknown" tune on the Harry McQueen cassette. Scan used it for a second part to How You Gonna Keep 'em Down On the Farm and he didn't know what it was called either. And if you had told him it was part of Old Comrades March, he would appear to have not the slightest interest. "I shall forget that before I start the next tune!"
It is difficult to say if Scan Tester liked any kind of music outside that of his own activities. He liked fairground organs and his concertina style is, I think, related. He was only waiting for a win on the football pools to have one installed on the Green in front of the house. Gramophone records, acquired through his sister in Brighton, seem to be of no interested other than as a source of necessary up-to-date tunes, being sold off at half price as soon as they were leant. The only songs I remember him commenting on as having nice tunes were "Under the Bridges of Paris" and "Play To Me Gypsy" - the only singer he mentioned as liking was Judith Durham who, at that time, with the Seekers, was a regular on the television - he learnt most of their songs. When they weren't out playing at a dance, four nights a week, they would practice (and used to find dancers outside the house having an impromptu practice of their own on the Green). Perhaps there's a lesson to be learnt there, too.
FIGURE 2: The Bulwers
Visiting Walter and Daisy Bulwer in Shipdham was part of a Norfolk Tour with Steve Pennells to include Harry Cox at Catfield. "Where Have All The Flowers Gone? What do that mean? I don't understand it…"
Walter wasn't short of a story or two. He had one about this chap in the village who played the auto-harp. After a miserable evening struggling to get it in tune, let alone play a tune, his family left him to it and went to bed. During the night his playing awakened them. Playing better than they'd heard him play for years. The next morning, they found he'd died during the night. "What do think of that, then?" asked Walter "What do they call that? … swan-song, or something like that?"
John Chandler from Ipswich went up to take lessons from Walter. It was back to basics for him, scales and all that. Walter taught a local lad the trumpet so he could take up a musical career in the RAF. I can remember Walter describing these lessons. From a tutor. On how to play a second part. Making sure his pupil understood the relationship between the notes of the melody and the part. The Bluebells of Scotland - that was the piece. Walter was one of the "squeezeboxes are little more than toys" school of thought and would, I suspect have sided with the more educated performers views on that subject described in the CDs Call Book. Still he did concede that Scan could "rattle that thing", perhaps not the best choice of phrase in the circumstances.
The Wedderburn Oldtimers notched up several platinum and gold record sales. I don't know the sales figures of the English Country Music LP (Record No1) with Walter and Daisy Bulwer and Billy Cooper on dulcimer, but, even with the re-re-release on CD, I can't imagine even a accumulative figure would match that. In fact, it seems unimaginable in this country that a band like the Oldtimers, could achieve that sort of repeated success. It must be different in Australia, and Ipswich, of course.
On one visit to Shipdham I was invited to play Walter's banjo. "Do you use a plectrum?" he asked. The Wild Colonial Boy. "That was on that record, wasn't it?" he said. He had a rather nice zither-banjo, with f-holes. In the rim, actually. (Although I'm told by the banjo firm of John Alvey Turner that there were banjos made with f-holes in the vellum). A stranger had come into Walter's barbershop one night many years before with this self same banjo, had a haircut and a tune with Walter, Over the Waves, sold Walter the banjo and left. Walter got out his violin. We played Waiting For The Robert E Lee.
In honour of a visit from Bob Davenport, who was co-publisher of the original English Country Music LP, Walter asked if we would like to hear him play, got up from his tailors' board by the window and went through to the parlour where he and Daisy, of the "I'll never play again" arthritic fingers, entertained us with what amounted to an hour long medley. Daisy alternated stints on the piano with tea making, popping her head round the door to sing out suggestions. Hello, Hello who's your Lady Friend? if she felt Walter was flagging. It was all bit of an ear-opener. And he knew it. I'll never forget the way he grinned at me over the table. His bowing, working his way up and down it, was a revelation. No wonder he used to moan about having to wash bows used by certain visitors who clutched it a third of the way up with their greasy fingers. He died about a week later. I thought of his story of the autoharp player.
FIGURE 3: The Oscars
This is quite a short figure, as Oscar Woods of Suffolk wasn't really a dance musician as the other figures were. But I could have listened to his accordeon playing all night, and then some more. Unfortunately, he had the same idea, and would, after giving me a "start" of a couple of tunes, leave me to it. Not quite what I had in mind. It was Oscar, unbeknown to me, who was instrumental in drawing Keith Summer's attention to someone called Eely Whent of Woodbridge. "Eely Goes, Eely Whent." Wickets Richardson used to say to nobody in particular at Blaxhall Ship. I didn't know what he was on about, but, although I didn't realise it, I already knew where Eely went.
FIGURE 4: The Mothballs
Meanwhile, at Bramford just outside Ipswich, Alf Keeble led a little band as he had done since before the War. With his old mate Fred Whent, "Fiddler" they called him, on violin and Ted Alexander on drums. I was to learn some years later that the Eely Whent of Woodbrdge, featured on the Topic Record "Sing, Say or Pay", was the same person. Fred arrived each week on his moped, with his fiddle in its aluminium painted case, strapped on his back. It was a Stradivarius. "If you don't believe me, read the label," he'd say to disbelievers. We played everything in C, apart, unfortunately, the piano. This was Scan' key at the "Stone Quarry" which was handy. Except Sweet Georgia Brown, which came out in F, the result, I suspect of Alf ironing out the accidentals and ending up there.
They played in what, by process of elimination, I suppose must have been the Saloon Bar, a small room that during their residency had been enlarged when a low divide that formed a passage along one side, allowing entrance from the Public Bar, was removed. The band used to play on the other side of this, and, from behind it's relative safety, I was told well wishers from the Public Bar used to treat Fred to a pint, delivering it down the horn of his phono-fiddle. That was the pub with the haunted barrel organ that started playing by itself once at the dead of night. The same night the landlady's pet toad disappeared. Spooky. No, that wasn't the name of the toad: whatever his name was, they found him later in the barrel organ. Alf wondered, with great sarcasm, if he was the only one who thought the two events might somehow be connected? "Right, Ted - The Dance of the Mothballs." A few bars introduction, which gave no clue as to what was coming, and was only really to set the rhythm, and we were off. All our selection tltles were written out on numbered cards. There was not much room for dancing, but an old boy just known as "Shep" who walked down from the next village of Barham, requested the Heel and Toe Polka. I obliged. Every week. He must have been quite a dancer in his day. If he couldn't find a partner, I've seen him dance with a carrier bag. He told me he'd never been to Ipswich.
They called Alf "Pong" after a comic book character, Pongo the Monkey: during the War the Americans called him Blondie. Alf called himself for a pint of beer. In his youth he'd played the accordeon (melodeon) but, on the advice of his music teacher, had decided to concentrate on the piano, and his style showed it. He'd had a Big Band that played for dances at the Victory Hall in Bramford. "Blondie and his Bluetits". If you asked him, he'd tell you his Big Band was when he played with both hands. Fred, out of earshot, reckoned he hadn't much of a left hand Full Stop. But Fred, remember, had had a letter of introduction from Lady Balfour to audition for Henry Hall's Orchestra, a career move blocked by his step-father and took great delight in playing things like the third trombone part on Colonel Bogey. We all had a party piece to be trotted out each week. Mine was Whistling Rufus and it didn't take Fred long to find a tin whistle and turn it into a duet. Some weeks he played the mandolin instead of his fiddle.
In the past, they'd been On Tour, taking a coach load to visit each of the pubs down the River Orwell in turn. The remnants of other bands dropped in at The Cock. A pianist and his drummer. There was talk of a tenor sax player called Dixie. A plectrum banjo player came in occasionally, when his wife was away visiting her sister. I played with them for years: Saturday nights and Bank Holidays. Start at nine o'clock, finish at eleven. None stop. Then home. We went out to other pubs usually a nightmare because of the piano tuning - or to play for dancing - the Women's Institute at Kesgrave was a favourite, where the ladies put on a terrific show during the interval. I remember one year when they all dressed up as Charlie Chaplins. That was the same year Fred played Around the World on his Flexophone.
When Fred died, he was buried in Bramford Churchyard. I don't know how he wangled that, but not many turned up to his funeral. By way of his epitaph, Alf, who lived just over along the road said, reporting the following Saturday, and said, referring to the poor turn-out, "If he'd had been there, he'd have laughed his bloody head off.
FIGURE 5: Resume
So, then, why is it I will never be inviting Peter Ellis to review a Quadrille Mania type CD originating from traditional musicians in this country? It would seem that, in Australia, the dances, musicians and sources of instruction survived in an accessible form longer that they did over here. Can it be that simple? I'm told that in the north the Sets still flourish. In the south, Walter Bulwer and Scan Tester in their respective communities played for the same dances. That, it would seem, is all we know. And perhaps that is all we need to know as we let our own dance variations develop whilst dancing to our own tunes. Defining our community would be a start.
Watching one of the videos, I think the Bellbrook Lances sums it all up very nicely with its modified figures from some sections of the Lancers, (not to mention the modified name of the dance - Scan Tester referred to pokers), a real sense of community in the dancing. Dancing to tunes you know.
And a certain young lady, way past her bedtime, representing the future. I hope she's dancing still. Quadrille Mania - we need to ensure it survives and flourishes. (PE)
I would like to thank Peter Ellis for the opportunity to review this CD and to everyone else, who have shipped over my orders for videos, CDs and books. And especially Betty Davis who, while over here on holiday, delivered a Harry McQueen cassette to my door.
David Nuttall - 26.10.00
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