Part 3 Article MT027
(Photo credits can be seen by putting the mouse cursor over the picture for a second or two)
Ernie Seaman's Gang
Those Seamans - Ernie and Charlie and the rest of them - they could play anything you wanted. Old Charlie would play accordeon then set it down and pick up a tin whistle, then his dulcimer - anything. When they lived at Walpole they used to come down the Eel's Foot a fair bit and they'd play until the pub turned out and walk back home over the marshes, and they'd all play as they went along and it sounded lovely in the quiet of the night.
My father Charlie Seaman had four brothers and three sisters and all of them except one sister could play an instrument. Dad played accordeon and dulcimer, Ernie played accordeon, Stanley played a wooden flute, Jack played concertina and accordeon but he died young, and Bertie played dulcimer and a bit on the violin. Yet it's funny, I don't know where they picked it up from. Their father didn't play - he was blinded in the South African War.
Dad's sister Millie Foster, she playd a German accordeon which Uncle Bert brought back from Germany when he was in the navy. She wouldn't play in the pubs but mainly Women's Institutes and parties, that sort of thing. She lived in Huntingfield and one day went strawberry picking there with some girl friends. When it started raining she jumped in an old gypsy caravan and started playing her accordeon. Well, along came old Mr West and said "If you don't get out of there I'll have to turn you out before you kill yourselves". The old caravan was rolling and rocking about - what with all those girls stamping and dancing. My Aunt Lizzie when she was learning to play would sit on Dad's knee, and whenever she went wrong he'd clip her on the ear - she soon got to play pretty good.
When Charlie was a young man, before he got married, he'd take his music down to the Butcher's Arms (Bruisyard) or Yoxford Griffin and spend a week there straight off, playing in the pub. He got his food and beer for nothing and they'd put him up and he reckoned he was better off than at work 'cos he was only getting 12/6d a week at that time. He worked for the same farmer for over 53 years - mainly he drove a thrashing tackle, pulled by horses, but he could do anything on a farm - stack, thrash, binding, clipping sheep, working with cows, horses, the lot. He was 6 foot 2 inches, weighed about 14 stone and was as strong as an ox.
Dad and Uncle Stan married two sisters and lived at Sibton Green a while before moving to Darsham. I remember when we were kids Dad'd come back from the pub and get his dulcimer out and play - we used to have to sit as quiet as mice. Then mother would take us up to bed and take the oil lamp out and leave him playing in the dark - Queen Mary's Waltz, Jack the Lad. He could play with two or four cane sticks at once - three strings on each post.
Of all the lot, I reckon Bertie was the best all-round player, but Ernie was better for a sing-song, and no-one could touch Charlie for a step-dance tune.
Charlie - or "Wag" as they used to call him - he played a lot with Ernie and Oscar Woods for step-dancing in the pubs. It was all the go then and you'd get the old boys with their bowler hats in one hand, doing the Piper's Dance or the Heel and Toe - used to be some rum dos. Father had two uncles - Brushy Wincup from Walpole and Ted Rayner from Halesworth, who knocked about together. Brushy played the concertina and Ted would step-dance, and he was a master - best I've ever seen. Dad and Ernie could both step-dance too if someone else would play.
Whenever Dad was in Yoxford a little chap called Joe Culver, used to be a boxer and very light on his feet, would get up and step-dance on the table in the pub, and George Bailey was as nimble as a kitten. They'd dance while Dad played Turkey in the Straw or Yarmouth Hornpipe or they'd play with a little dancing doll.
At one time Dad and Ernie would be out most nights playing - Darsham Fox, Stradbroke Arms (Darsham), Sibton White Horse, Yoxford, Peasenhall, Halesworth, Badingham Bowling Green - that's another where he'd stay for a week - "Cooper's Dip" (Railway Hotel, Saxmundham) - and they'd get a little band together sometimes, especially in the Fox. George Bailey, from Sibton, would play the banjo, Tom Thurston, from Darsham, played mouthorgan and Charlie Philpott, a boat repairer from Yoxford, played dulcimer. They all used to go by bike - club up before they went.
They played in just about every pub round here - sometimes someone would go round with the hat but Dad wasn't too struck on that - and they'd go miles for a wedding, talent contests (Ernie won a big one on Yarmouth Pier) and to darts matches or steel quoits - Dad played for Darsham - and they regularly played for dances in Darsham Village Hall.
(Charlie was a lot older than Ernie and as time went on did not play so much in the pubs. The other brothers moved out of the district and Ernie, a great roamer, became the most frequent player.)
Dad was born in 1899 in Walpole and he was the youngest of all those brothers. And I guess he heard them all playing music when he was young, so he told me he'd sit in the shed or on the chopping block with an old accordeon and squeeze away till he got it right. The first tune he learnt was Abide With Me and when he was young he'd play in the chapel - he was a regular churchgoer. He'd play hymns and carols and go round at Christmas with the carol singers. Well, when we moved to Darsham I don't supposed there were many pubs he didn't play in for miles round here. He'd always start off with Bluebells of Scotland and then after a while he'd say "Come on bor, give us a little ditty" and that was the signal for a step-dance. Uncle Charlie would do that and another chap was very good - Jack Brown from Middleton - a great big bloke, steam-roller driver. Dad used to have a new accordeon every year off the Bell Accordeon Co. My son Brian's got the last one he had - he can play it a bit.
I'm not like Granddad though, I have to be on my own - I don't want an audience. I used to loved to hear Ernie play - I thought he was better than Charlie. Charlie used to hum and tap his feet when he played, Granddad was more of a showman. The only other instrument I've seen him play was a tiny little mouthorgan on his watch chain - he'd drop it in his mouth and knock a tune out. When Ernie died the landlord at Strad Arms wanted to buy his accordeon to keep in the pub, but we didn't want it to leave the family.
Those Seamans used to come down here to Southwold a lot. They used to record down at the Harbour Inn by the BBC. We often used to hear them on the radio - Wilfred Pickles, that sort of programme. When they had the big flood (1953) I got stranded in that pub. The water was up to the top window and there was me and Ernie and a couple of others. When the water came in we only had time to grab 20 Woodbines and leg it upstairs. that's all we had between us for four days. I used to go round with them quite a lot at one time - all round Halesworth, Yoxford and up to the Buck - Ernie's cousin kept that.
I kept Uggleshall Buck for 27 years - my mother married a Seaman, and Ernie and Charlie were often up here playing. They were living at Threadbare Hall (Walpole) then and they'd have a little band with them - all different instruments - come down and play. We used to hold dances in the big room upstairs every Saturday night. I'd always give them a step just to keep in with them. I learnt that as a boy - that's something that was in the family. We had some good singers as well down there - Frank Bryenton, Snowy Snolam - he'd sing standing on his head. Bob Goodsnide and Ted Quantrill would play accordeon as well. He was from Lowestoft and his wife was in the Salvation Army so he always finished the night with a hymn.
Ernie was a great character. A big happy-go-lucky chap who I never saw in a temper once. I remember one night George Bailey's brother was ill at home, so as everyone else was having a good time, Ernie phoned him up from the Stradbroke and played a couple of tunes for him while George held the phone.
Another time in the Fox, Ernie had been playing all night and he lay on his back on the floor, still playing, and I stood with my legs either side of him, picked him up by his belt and spun him round, and he didn't stop playing once. Often he wouldn't stop playing for a drink - he'd lay back and someone would pour it down his throat.
There was more beer spilt in the Fox than ever was drunk. I kept it for 15 years. Old Seamo was the nicest rogue I ever came across. If I asked him to bring his music down the Fox he'd always say "I will do boy, if I can take some sandwiches home to my Elsie". But you knew he'd fill the pub - the same folk would always follow him around. You were certain of a good night if he showed up, but you knew it would cost you a gallon of beer. Tiger Smith would come and play as well and Eli Durrant from Blaxhall and his wife would come. When they stepped - we had a lovely stone floor - you could hear a pin drop.
Ernie played a lot at the Stradbroke Arms (on the main London to Yarmouth road) when coaches stopped there and women used to make a real fuss of him 'cos he was real broad Suffolk and would amuse people with his talk - that's why they called him "Bor" 'cos he used to say "How you doing, bor?". He wasn't as good an accordeon player as Charlie because Dad had the knack of playing two notes at once - sounded lovely. Ernie, like most of the players round here, only played one note at a time, but he put everything he had into it and people loved to watch him play. I seen him stripped to the waist, in his braces, the sweat pouring off him, waving his accordeon around. He was a brute at that job!
Ernie was a rougher player than Charlie. I lent him an old accordeon of mine once to play in Bramfield Bell and he was playing it on the back of his head and he ripped the blooming thing in two, so I never saw that anymore - but he was great.
That man was an absolute hero during the War. He'd go round all the people where sons or husbands were fighitng and help them out - work for nothing. When the soldiers were stationed round here we held loads of socials and they wouldn't come unless "our 'Arnie' was going to be there". They loved to see him play his accordeon - he'd swing it over his head and behind his back like this. He never knocked the saucepan over though! (Gladys has just knocked the saucepan over during demonstration). And at the end of the night we always asked him what we owed him. "Nothing my dear, as long and I enjoy it and the people enjoy hearing me." He was an absolute hero.
Ernie was a great mate of mine. During the shooting season we'd go out together every week, and he played at my going away party at Saxmundham Bell Tap Rooms. Then there was Blind Dick (Charlie Wilson) from Peasenhall. He could find his way to Bruisyard Butcher's Arms, play all night, then walk home. Another big family of musicians round there were the Fleets from Walpole.
Harry Fleet was my husband's father and he used to go round all the pubs playing an accordeon for dancing, and my husband - Harry as well - would play mouthorgan with him and step-dance. His aunt Alice Fleet used to play a big piano accordion and she danced nicely, and one of my sons played one and a guitar and was known for miles round here as a Country and Western singer. But pubs aren't the same now - telly and juke boxes have changed all the fun we had when the Fleets and the Seamans were the music makers.
(Ernie was looking forward to a happy retirement but sadly died just before reaching retiring age in 1962. Charlie died about three years later at the age of 82, and Bert and Stanley have also passed away within the last few years.. But they are still remembered vividly, often with a wry grin, throughout the area as musicians and extraordinary characters.) (sound clip - Oscar Woods - Ernie Seaman's Polka)
Quotations in this chapter were from the following people:
- Tom Goddard, Eastbridge
- Fred Seaman, Westleton
- George Seaman, Yoxford
- Charlie Kerridge, Yoxford
- Mrs Vera Smith, Darsham/Cambridge
- Brian Smith, Darsham/Cambridge
- Dinks Cooper, Walberswick
- Claud Attmere, Uggershall/Shaddingfield
- Jack Plumb, Darsham/Leiston
- Mrs Gladys Boreham, Darsham
- Alec Bloomfield, Benhall/Nottinghamshire
- Mrs Iris Fleet, Walpole
Recordings of Dinks Cooper and Ted Quantrill
Key: VT=Veteran Tapes
|Heave on the Trawl
|A Lad and Lass/The Wind Across the Wild Moor
Heave on the Trawl
A chance remark by George Seaman when talking about Charlie Philpott the dulcimer player: "His grandson, young Reader, still has one" set me on a search through numerous blind alleys for three years until I found out, again by accident, that not only did young Reader have one, but that Taffy Thomas knew him and had even got him playing at Leiston Folk Club. The following is a history of his grandfather and himself which I learned over a couple of very pleasant evenings with Reg Reader and his mother.
This dulcimer I've got now has been in our family, oh, nearly 100 years I guess. Mr Howard from Halesworth made it and my grandfather told me that this chap Howard claimed to be the world champion dulcimer player. Apparently when the travelling circus came to Haleworth they held a championship and it ended up between Howard and a clown from the circus. Well, no-one could choose between them so Mr Howard ends up by putting a handkerchief over the strings, turning the dulcimer round with the high notes near him and playing a tune. 'Course the clown couldn't do this so he won the contest.
Now, my great-grandfather James Philpott he had a larger one that this then, but he played a lot for parties and so on, so I guess he decided to get a smaller one so it wouldn't be such a job carting it round. So he swapped his one with Mr Howard for this one and a pair of boots. My granddad told me that he first started to learn to play from his father when he was three - he was an only child so I supposed he got a lot of attention, and he was left-handed which maybe helped him to rattle the tunes out because, my God, he did rattle them out.
Dad could get a tune out of a tin can if you asked him. He could play anything - tin whistle, mouthorgan, the lot. He was really self-taught - he never had any proper musical training but he could tell if any of those notes were out of tune and he couldn't bear to hear it. When we were children you weren't allowed to move on the nights he tuned it, and it wasn't worth your life to touch one of those sticks. His favourite tune was the Irish Washerwoman and he loved all those old reels, jigs, marches, and he knew a terrific number of music hall songs. My Uncle Bill Johnson from Halesworth would sing and Father played. Father lived at Halesworth until he was about 50, when we moved to Yoxford, though he was born in Cratfield, and he was a boot and shoe maker all his life - like his father. In the First World War he never went to the front because he would be mending the soldiers' boots. He took his dulcimer though to all the camps he went to. Have you ever seen those old adverts for Phillips stick-on-soles? Well, the chap in them was the image of Father and people would ask him how much he got for modelling for it.
He was very often asked to play at concert parties and servants' balls - both him and his father. He once played at an amateur talent contest in Yoxford but after he played he got fed up so when it was his turn for an encore he was nowhere to be seen. He'd taken his dulcimer down the Griffin. Another time the vicar brought the bishop round our home and he'd heard about Dad playing and asked him "Now, Mr Philpott, could you give us a hymn?" Dad thought for a while and then struck up I've got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts. The vicar nearly choked on his tea, mother looked disgusted and I don't think she ever got over that. Father didn't play a lot round the pubs unless he met up with Ernie Seaman in Yoxford, but sometimes George Bailey and George Carver would come round and they'd play together all night - dulcimer, mandolin, and banjo.
I was very close to Charlie. People say I was more like him than anyone and I used to sit with him a lot when I was about 12 and he'd show me how to play - tunes like Cat among the Tails he called it and that waltz, Charlie's Waltz (sound clip - Charlie Philpott). Well, after that I starting taking piano lessons.
Yes but you used to spend more time on the river bank!
Then when I was 17 (Reg is a very youthful-looking 43) I'd play piano in the pubs in Yoxford with Charlie Kerridge. I'd play a few modern tunes then Charlie would give them one of his step-dance tunes - he was really good at them - Heel and Toe, and Arthur Eagle or George Brown from Middleton would rattle them out. Granddad was a very good step-dancer in his younger day - he was very light on his feet even at 70. One day he'd been watching the telly and he was sitting by the fire talking to grandmother and me and he said "You know those Black and White Minstrels are good - they can do steps I've never seen before" and he started to show me. Well he kicked the fire out and the kettle went across the room - Grandmother went crazy! Ernie Seaman was good on a step-dance too and Milly Seaman, but there isn't another player with the beat like Oscar Woods. (sound clip - Reg Reader - Oscar's Waltz)
Father died in 1965 but he still played that dulcimer until the end you know. He'd been up to Ipswich Hospital one day and the ambulance brought him back. Well, I got the two drivers a beer and told them about Dad's dulcimer and the story about the bishop and suddenly I heard Dad coming down the stairs - after we'd taken him up there. He was 88 then and he played for those two ambulancemen for two hours, and they were singing. The people in the street were ever so worried seeing the ambulance there all that time - if only they'd known.
When Grandfather died, he left the dulcimer to me, but when I was about 20 I moved up to Cambridge for a while and the dulcimer went in the attic, and it never came out again until this year. My uncle brought round a copy of your article on Ernie Seaman where you mentioned Charlie Philpott, so I got it down and had a bash. Well, it was terribly out of tune; I did the best I could and started practising. Well, then one of my daughters she's very keen on folk dancing at school and she happened to mention this old dulcimer to one of her teachers, Philip O'Dwyer. Now he runs Leiston Folk Club and they said bring it along. Then Taffy Thomas and Jeannie Harris came round and Jeannie tuned it up lovely. Now I think we've had it down every night since then and I'm going to teach one of my girls soon. (sound clip- Reg Reader - Old Joe, the Boat is Going Over)
Quotations in this chapter were from the following people:
- Reg Reader, Leiston
- Mrs Reader, Yoxford
Recordings of Charlie Philpott and Reg Reader
Key: VT=Veteran Tapes
|Cat among the Tails/Polka Medley/Waltz medley
In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree/Are We to Part Like
This, Bill/There's a lovely lake in London/Various ensembles
Various ensembles/Ada Philpott's Waltzes
Oscar's Waltz / Oscar Woods Polka / Oh, Joe, the Boat is
Going over / Cat Among the Tails / Lazybones / Ain't Misbehaving /
My Happiness / China Doll / South of the Border / Devil Among
the Tailors / The Palm Trees of Kerry / Two Lovely Black Eyes /
Charlie Philpotts Waltzes
|Charlie Philpott was also recorded privately by Russell Wortly on 28 April 1962, and Dr Wortley had kindly allowed copies to be made for Reg and Mrs Reader. Charlie was then 85 and his great skill is still evident in the recordings.
Identifiable items are: The Girl I left Behind me / The Dark-eyed Sailor / Charlie's
Waltz / Mountains of Mourne / Loch Lomond / Bluebells of Scotland / Oh What a Beautiful Morning / Devil among the Tailors / Redwing / Sailor's Hornpipe / The Irish Washerwoman
The Seaman Family and circle of musicians is now unfortunately little more than a memory - with one huge exception. Oscar Woods of Benhall is not merely continuing this fine tradition, but is also regarded as one of the very finest southern English melodeon players. He is the most active and enthusiastic country musician still playing in East Suffolk.
I was about five when we moved from Friston to Sternfield, just outside Saxmundham. My father had taken up farming by then so as a boy I had to do all manner of jobs on the farm - feeding pigs, chickens, that sort of thing. That was before I went to school in the morning. Just around the corner from us lived an old farm worker called Tiger Smith and in the summer evenings he often played an old wind-up gramophone in his back yard, or else he played a little button melodeon.
The sound of that little thing fascinated me and I used to go and sit beside him and listen. After a while he suggested that I get one and learn to play. Well, eventually my dad came home with an old one with a key missing - I patched it up but couldn't get on too good until I managed to buy Tiger's old two stop. I'd concentrate on Tiger's tunes which were mainly hornpipes and country tunes, but I found it ever so hard to get on with stepdance tunes and jigs. When I was 12 a shop in Saxmundham - Emsdon's - started selling mouthorgans and melodeons - two-stops were 2/-, three-stops were 3/- and so on. I must have bought quite a lot from there because they were always changing stock and it was easy for me to find people to buy the ones I had.
When I was old enough I bought an old Austin T car and I used to take Tiger to old country pubs such as Badingham Bowling Green, Ubbeston Wheatsheaf and Fressingfield Jolly Farmer. But Dennington Bell was favourite of the lot. The peole who ran it had a sister and a daugher (Dolly Curtis) both of whom used to play expertly. I managed to pick up some of their tunes and we've been old friends ever since, and whenever I pass that way it's always a musical session. (sound clip - Cliffe Hornpipe and Primrose Polka)
Other pubs we used were the ones where step-dancers were to be found, 'cos that was our main line - Tommy Thompson used to keep Bramfield Bell and he was a great dancer. So was Brushy Thompson at Rendham White Horse - when he danced his knees nearly touched his chin - and Blaxhall Ship of course. And of course you'd meet up with other musicians and hear their tunes - George Chapman from Farnham was one of the best I heard, but he played piano accordion and did classical music a lot, not hornpipes. I met Walter Read a couple of times when he was on outings and he was damn good. So was "Keeny" - George Keen, a fisherman from Thorpeness.
As time went on I got a coal business running and ther was little spare time for music, but I always kept an accordeon to play as a hobby. Well, sometime after Tiger Smith died I met up with two of the Seamans from Darsham - Ernie and Charlie. Tiger had often talked of them because at one time they used to lived in the same village. I still think that Charlie was the best player I've ever heard although by that time he was nearly 80 and a bit reluctant to have a go. Ernie had spent some time on the trawlers and was a bit wild, but really went to town whenever he played, and it was from them that I learnt a lot of their special tunes. I always looked forward to the time when Ernie retired so that we could get together more but unfortunately he died suddenly just before that time, and I decided then that I'd try and keep their tunes going.
(This is just what Oscar, or "Oc" as he is known, has done. His playing has been heard regularly over the years at the Fresh (Refreshment Rooms, Railway Inn, Saxmundham), Yoxford Blois Arms and more recently at Blaxhall Ship. Like Ernie Seaman, Oscar often takes a crowd with him and can frequently be seen with George Woolnough on accordeon or tambourine, or with some fine young players such as David Nuttall (Ipswich) and Graham Walker (Leiston) - both concertina players who have learned a lot from him and have perfected the precarious art of accompanying Oscar. What I really like about Oscar's playing is the way in which he will come out with what seems to be a great new tune, and it's only when someone starts singing the words that you realise Yes we Have no Bananas or something equally well-known has just been receiving the unique Oscar Woods treatment.
Oscar's music seems to be in good hands as he has taught many of his tunes to his son-in-law (Jen Newson) who is becoming an extremely good player (sound clip - Tiger Smith's Jig). Oscar's record for Topic created an enormous amount of interest locally and he has started playing at a few folk clubs and festivals. It is hoped he will appear at the 1978 Loughborough Festival and in July 1977 he travelled to Cricklade, Wiltshire, to appear at the first festival of English country music, alongside his great favourite, the Dartmoor player Bob Cann; but it was typical of Oscar that on the Sunday evening, after an exhausting weekend of non-stop music, his main concern was whether he would get back in time for a tune-up at Blaxhall Ship!)
Quotations in this chapter were from the following people:
Recordings of Oscar Woods and others
Key: VT=Veteran Tapes, BS=Blaxhall Ship
|Pigeon the Gate/I'll be Your Sweetheart/Oh No Antonio/
For Ever and Ever/Under the Bridges of Paris/
Oh Joe the Boat is Going Over/The Merry Widow/
Play to Me, Gypsy/Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White/
Two Little Girl in Blue/Primrose Polka/Waltz/
The Happy Wanderer
We'll Meet Again Under the Roses
Jig/Step-dance (Sailor's Hornpipe)/Italian Waltz/
Seaman's Polka/The Italian Waltz/Two Untitled Polkas
Oh Joe the Boat is Going Over
Waltzing Over the Water
Soldier's Dream/Golden Slippers/Bristol Hornpipe
Seaman's Polka/Dennington Polka/
Oh Joe the Boat is Going Over
|St Patrick's Day / Polka
Seaman's Polka / Not for Joe / Heel & Toe Polka
|Is it Rain or is it Tears / Tiger Smith's Jig
|Picking a Chicken With Me
She's my Lady Love (Peter Plant stepping)
|Pigeon on the Gate/Song Tune/Hornpipe/Home to Donegal
|The Captain and the Mate
The area around Dennington, Saxtead and Brundish is one particularly rich in traditional singers. Several large families - the Lists, Bloomfields, Whitings and Burrows produced many fine singers and musicians and often intermarried. Pubs such as Dennington Bell and Brundish Crown, although extremely isolated, were and still are popular meeting places for farmworkers from the remote local farms, and invariably an evening's drinking would end with a song and a step. One of the finest musicians still playing the melodeon is Dolly Curtis, a Dennington lass all her life.
I was born in Dennington Bell in 1905. My granddad Walter Kerry kept it and he played the accordeon - all his family did. It was a real old country pub. You used to get the old country boys come up from Badingham or Laxfield with their long lurcher dogs, and they'd catch rabbits all along the way and sell them in the pub for beer money. The pubs were open all day then and if it was wet they'd get in the pub about eight in the morning and drink all day. Sometimes they'd get a bit quarrelsome with each other and start a fight, shake hands, have a wash, and go back for a drink, then a dance and a song, then blow me, another fight again. I'd be upstairs in my bedroom and watch them out the window. When they used to mow the fields they'd stop halfway through the day for a fight, then go back to work. They'd be half-cut by the time they'd finished.
The Bell was in our family for 70 years. First were my grandparents, then my auntie, and then another cousin, Jack. I was five years old when my auntie got me an accordeon - we were living at Laxfield then. I couldn't see over the top of it so you know I wasn't very old. And I played a few hymns and they'd sing, then I got so I could play anything I heard. Well, then we moved to Ubberton Wheatsheaf, then back to the Bell and I got married from there. I used to play with my brother Jack (Upson) - he played accordeon and one of my sons played drums. When I was a kid we used to have some great squeezebox players come in the Bell. Walter Read was the best. I learned some of his tunes - Sailor's Hornpipe, Johnson's Hornpipe. A chap from Hoxne called Juicy Thrower would come, and once or twice Ernie Seaman came up - he was good. They used to say "Get here early tonight, Seamo's coming". Alf Peachey would play sometimes, and Harkie Nesling and Walter Gyford - he was a distant relation to me. I used to play piano behind them. (sound clip - Dennington Polka)
That's all there was that time of day - fiddle and accordeon. You see you didn't get much time to yourself then, so they'd make the most of it. I used to work all week, all day Saturday and on Sundays I'd bike 16 miles, feed three farms, and milk two cows for a shilling. My Uncle Will said that two old boys from Brundish, Jephther and Ollie (Aldeman) Pipe would bring their fiddles down the Bell and play for hours when the pubs were open all day - and they'd step-dance. They've been dead 30 years now. He said that Ollie Pipe would go down Tannington Horseshoes for three or four days and play and not go home. When he did go back he'd have about £2 of coppers in his bag - well that was a lot of money then - farmwork was only about three or four bob a week. they loved playing. Will said that they went to a concert in Laxfield once. Someone would sing, someone else play an accordeon, and when it was their turn they wouldn't stop. Someone had to get up and stop them so another person cold have a go. Another old chap who used to come down was Shirt Burrows. We used to like to see him come with his fiddle in a little green bag. I was only a boy then. I only got in the pub because me granddad kept it.
Frances Woolnough (Shirt Burrows' daughter):
Dad's real name was William - I don't know where he got that nickname but he didn't like it much - he'd tell people off sometimes. We used to live at Badingham - Dad was born there and most nights he'd take his music down the Bell - always walk there and back (about 7 miles). His father's name was Gerry and he played the fiddle as well - that's how Dad learned. Sometimes his mate Billy Westrop would take him on his bike, on the crossbar, as far afield as Halsworth. Billy played fiddle as well with him and sometimes Dad played a little accordeon. Though he got very deaf later on he still played. Dad died about 1960 - he was 84.
I was about eight when I first heard Shirt Burrows at a farmhouse party. He was a good entertainer - he sang songs like My Boy Billy and The Farmer's Boy and would often play at harvest dinners and at Badingham White Horse and Bowling Green. Some Saturday nights or Whit Mondays they'd have a handkerchief dance at the Bowling Green or the Bull. It was four couples who'd dance three basic steps similar to the eightsome reel. Nothing to do with this morris dancing - better than that - you didn't have to dress up. Shirt Burrows would always play for that. One of his best polkas was Jump in the Wagon.
I used to love that handkerchief dance and dancing over a broomstick. My mum used to play for that. One day during the War - 'cos they turned out at eight then - someone pinched a linen prop and a chap called Reggie Stove did that dance, and there was this nail in it - he'd ripped his trousers to shreds before he knew. Me and Jack used to step-dance on the tables in the Bell and my cousin Edna (Bloomfield) - we were full of beans then. During the War when the pubs turned out we used to take the accordeon outside and have a go on the stones for hours. Our mother Kate would play that well then and Oscar Woods ofted used to come up on Saturday nights. We all used to like him. There were some good dancers - Charlie Whiting, Butcher Baldry from Badingham, Danny and Harry Fleet from Walpole and Smithy Plant. (sound clip - Pigeon on the Gate, with Charlie Whiting stepping)
I wond several prizes for step-dancing. At Ubberton Wheatsheaf I took it there and at Badingham on the back of a wagon. I'm the oldest person in Southolt who was born there. I was born in 1905 and started on the farm. Then I had two seasons at Burton Maltings and came back and took over a newsagent's business. I used to sell Harkie his papers. I'd say "Come on, Harkie, give us a little tune", then I'd come on Walter Gyford's and he'd come out with a tin whistle - we'd have a tune then off I'd go again. 'Cos I used to play an old-fashioned accordeon then, till I lost two fingers in an accident. I bought it when I was 14 for 12/6d on the HP. It was 6d a month and I got in a hell of a muddle over the payments - it was a rum job to keep up with them.
Cor, times were hard then. I remember old Brunny used to keep Southolt Plough told me one weekend he only took 2/6d from Saturday to Monday. "You're my best customer, Charlie" he said. Blimey, I'd only spent 4d. Those days we didn't think nothing of biking 30 miles for a good night out - take the accordeon with us. There was generally some music in every pub. One place we liked was Yaxley Bull. A fellow called Albert Rose played concertina there - he was bloody good, and another chap would play trombone with him. But Dennington Bell and Brundish Crown were best - especially if old Shirt was there. He'd sit and play All Around the Old Back Door, All Around the Magic Circle, and all the old girls would polka.
My brother Leonard was a good singer - he'd go in for contests - won a lot too. He learned a lot of his songs in the army. People would come and get him - take him to socials. He won a big prize at Stradbroke Flower Show on the back of a wagon. They got me in that film Akenfield - nine months we filmed that, and a damn good time - and on Bygones. I was in hospital when that came out and I knew I was on it so I asked the nurse if I could see it. She agreed, but later that night another nurse came round with my injection and I went out like a light. The next day the nurse said "Mr Whiting, we saw you twice last night. You were fast asleep in bed and singing on the telly, and it was lovely" - so I never saw that. (sound clip - You Took Off Your Nightie)
My sister used to keep Brundish Crown - that's where I spent all my younger days (Tom was born in Brundish in 1895). Well, when I was a little boy the chap who lived next door - Stoney Osmond - he was about 90 then and lived with his daughter, he'd come to the bottom of his garden and sit in the toilet. Every day after tea. Well, I'd go down there where my rabbits were and listen to him singing. He only sang one song Caroline and a Young Sailor Bold - long old song it was, and that's how I learnt that. I spent a lot of time in the Crown. They used to have a room - "the rough room" they'd call it. Dolly would go there and dance like hell, Shirt and another chap Charlie Jolly would play fiddles, and some nights they'd fight like Heenan and Tom Sayers there - no-one paid much attention. I went in for a singing contest once at Southolt, for a copper kettle, and it was down to me and a chap called Leonard Whiting. Well, he was a local chap and they went on show of hands and he got it - but he was a bloody good singer. There were some good ones there.
One of the best singers I heard was my mother's youngest brother Harry Bloomfield - Missopps they used to call him Well, he was a bit of dunce really - he couldn't learn nothing at school. He coudn't really read or write but my dad said he wouldn't have to hear a song in a pub above twice before he'd got it - he had that gift. My dad, Harry List, he learnt that Light Dragoon and Barbara Allen off him and I learnt them from Dad (sound clip - The Light Dragoon - Harry, then Fred). He was born in 1879 and died when he was 83. George Bloomfield - that Alec's dad - he lived with my mother in the latter part of his time - he used to sing some old songs: Georgie and Stand Up, Stand Up (Sprig of Thyme). But he didn't do a lot of singing in the pubs. Alec did - my cousin - he was always comical.
Fred and I are cousins; his mother was my dad's younger sister. Harry was a stockman. Little chap he was - good company old boy. Well, in the 50s I was scouting for Peter Kennedy for the BBC, and that record you've got of old Harry (The Light Dragoon), we did that one Sunday morning. I was head keeper at Benhall then and I'd often pop round Harry's and bring him a rabbit pie and give him a shave. Another we did was Rap-tap-tap - we both sang on that.
I picked up a lot of my songs from Irish drovers. I once helped to drive a thousand head of cattle from Scole, near Diss, to the Alde marshes, and we sang nearly all the way. I didn't sing a lot in pubs, really, because being a gamekeeper you have to be on the other side of the fence a bit. I preferred doing little party pieces for children - talks on natural history, that sort of thing. Some of those old boys, though, knew some good songs. That Shirt Burrows you spoke about - his brother Bud Burrows, an old soldier, used to sing General Wolfe in Bruisyard Butcher's Arms, and that one She Took Two Loaded Pistols (sound clip), and Barbara Allen; I've heard cousin Fred sing that. An old chap called Potkins - "Bruggins" we called him - used to sing that in Saxstead.
I got most of my songs from my dad. My brother Fred knows a lot too. Once Dad got started you couldn't stop him. He'd do Banks of Sweet Dundee, With me Navvy Boots on, Knife in the Window. I learnt that one Paddy and the Rope from Bob Scarce - I used to see him in Blaxhall Ship when I'd go with Fred, and that one Murder of Maria Marten - I got that from a book, 'cos that really happened somewhere round here.
Old Charlie Hinney, he was another good singer. He had hands as big as pails. He used to live near by me in Brundish. He was 90 when he died (in 1974). He'd sing All that Glitters is not Gold and The String around me old Pyjamas.
Charlie Hinney - "Scuts" we used to call him - he was a real old timer. He was brought up rough - he used to live in a tent, but when he sang All that Glitters it was really pretty - you could hear a pin drop. Before the War they used to have an old machine in the Bell where you put your money in and it played a tune. Well, there was an old didikai lady, she liked one of the pieces on it - it was some old gypsy tune. And every time she had a penny she'd put this on. Cor, it used to craze everybody.
Another good old singer was Raymond Rowe. He was a chimney sweep, and he'd come in the pub, straight from work. You'd have to get a piece of paper for him to sit on. And, well, he stuttered when he talked but he sang all the old songs perfect - There's a Light in the Window, The Woman with the Wooden Leg. He'd make us laugh, standing there singing - all you could see were his eyes. Tom Cushins used to sing. He had a big walking stick and he'd bash it all up and down the doors and walls during the chorus. Harry Boast - he'd sing with his eyes closed. They were good, but some weren't too hot. There was one chap, I won't tell you his name, well he only knew two songs: Red Sails in the Sunset and If I were a Blackbird. I supposed you could have a laughed if you could stand the noise. Well, one day the boys said to him "We've fixed up a microphone but it's in the toilet - go and have a go, boy". So out he trots and they've got this kiddies' telephone fixed to a box and he started singing away into this thing, and the boys creased themselves laughing. They'd look through the keyhole at him and he was on his knees singing away to himself. When he came back they all clapped and bought him a cigar. I don't think he ever knew.
One night he was singing in the Bell and he had this bowler hat on, and someone said "Jolly good boy" and walloped this hat right down over his eyes and wedged it. Well, he didn't stop singing all the time he was struggling to get it off.
Another time, this was a rare place around here for witches. At one time in Brundish I heard my mother and them talk about it. Old Mrs Top Pipe - it wouldn't do to upset her. I heard she used to put the potatoes on for her husband's dinner. He'd always come in at twelve, and at five to the water was cold, but by the time he came in they'd be ready. My Uncle Will told me that when they were boys harvesting they had a wagon stuck in a field - they couldn't get it out. She came over and got a stone and tapped it on the wheels, and five minutes later the horse had pulled it out. If you ever burnt yourself we'd go and see her and she'd utter a few words and you never felt anything and it never scarred. She reckoned if she told you what she did she could never have done it again. She was the daughter of one of those Pipes, the fiddlers.
It's amazing, you know, what some of those old boys could drink too. I was playing in Rishangles Swan once and there was an old boy called Swaler Parrott and nearly every five minutes he'd bang on the bar and shout "I'll have another skep". Five minutes later "I'll have another skep" (pint), and he must have had 18 pints that night, and do you know he walked home as straight as a crow in a rain storn.
Old Cropther Harvey from Redlingfield - nearly all his songs were about beer-drinking, and that's where I learnt that song Poison Beer from (sound clip). My dad used to knock about with him - they were both shepherds and both sang beer songs - "If you want to get rid of yer beer, I've got plenty of room down here".
Quotations in this chapter were from the following people:
- Dolly Curtis, Dennington
- Jack Upson, Dennington
- Frances Woolnough, Laxfield
- Alec Bloomfield, Benhall/Nottinghamshire
- Charlie Whiting, Southolt
- Tom Scuffins, Brundish/Framlingham
- Fred List, Saxstead/Framlingham
- Bill List, Saxstead/Brundish
- Fred Whiting, Kenton
Recordings of Dennington Performers
Key: BS=Blaxhall ship, Ftx = Folktracks, NL=Neil Lanham, OH=Old Hat Records, Trans = Transatlantic, VT= Veteran Tapes, X = unissued
|The Old Couple in the Wood/Stand you up Steady-o/
The Old Molecatcher/Burlington Fair/The Poor Little
Soldier's Boy/General Wolfe/The Highwayman Outwitted/
The Ship That Never Returned/The Knife in the Window
The Old Molecatcher (as above)
The Cunning Cobbler/The Foggy Dew/Young George
Oxbury/Barbara Allen/The Wild Rover
The Foggy Dew
Young George Oxbury/Barbara Allen/The Wild Rover
|Young George Oxbury/Stand You Up/Bold Wolfe
The Poor Little Soldier's Boy
|The Barley Mow
|The Feller that Played the Trombone
The Oak and the Ash
The Rose in No Man's Land
The Herring's Head
The Farmer's Boy
Story / Fella's in Love / The Wooden Leg Family /
Are You All Livery / Is Izzy Azzy Wozz
|Walter Read's Hornpipe/Woodland's Flowers/Hornpipes/
Jig (Larry O'Gaff)/Dennington Bell /On the Waggon
Dennington Polka/Harvest Home/The Entertainer/Stepdance
|The Nutting Girl/Sam the Carter's Lad
Jolly Fine Fellows Who Follow the Plough
Caroline & the Young Sailor Bold/Bonny Labouring Boy
The Convict's Song
Emma Tompkins / Paddy Stole the Rope
Marrow Bones / Rattling Old Grey Mare
|The Murder of Maria Marten/The Lincolnshire Poacher/
Paddy and the Rope
|(Songs): Light Dragoon/Eggs in her Basket/Somerset Fair
(Melod'n): Johnson's Hornpipe/Barndance/Polkas/Waltzes
Pigeon on the Gate/Soldier's Joy
Pigeon on the Gate/Soldier's Joy/Polkas/Johnson's Hornpipe
|The Knife in the Window/Barbara Allen/The Light Dragoon
The Light Dragoon
|Blow Ye Winds/The Irish Family/Jolly Old Uncle Joe/
Proud of Me Old Bald Head/The Poor Old Couple/Diddling/
Johnson's Hornpipe/Soldier's Joy/Goodbye Annie/
Three Jolly Postboys
|Caroline and the Young Sailor Bold
|The Oak and the Ash/The Boston Burglar/
The Knife in the Window
List of published recordings
Full titles of commercially available recordings the numbers of which are given in the above 'Recordings of ... Performers' sections.
|The Bald-headed End of the Broom
|Alec Bloomfield and Edgar Button
|Two Suffolk Singers
|The Knife in the Window
|Old Hat Music
(Cassette & CD)
|Old Hat Concert Party
|Old Hat Dance Band
|Neil Lanham Tapes
|Sam Friend, Alf Peachey
and Jimmy Knights
|The Contented Countryman
(LP) - all now deleted
|Folk Songs of Britain Vol 2
|Songs of Seduction
|English Country Music
|from East Anglia
|The Earl Soham Slog
|Voice of the People Vol 9
|The Larks they Sang Melodious
|Songs Sung in Suffolk Vol 4
|Those Sentimental Songs
|Songs Sung in Suffolk Vol 5
|Songs of Bargemen, Fishermen and Sailors
|Songs Sung in Suffolk Vol 6
|More Comic Songs and Parodies
|Who Owns The Game?
|Traditional music & song from Central Suffolk
|Melodeon Players from E Anglia
|The Pigeon on the Gate
|Dulcimer Players from England
|"I thought I was the only one"
|Stepping it Out!
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