English fiddle style


So much has changed in fiddle music since first I listened to those crackly 78s in the Sound Library of Cecil Sharp House, and so it should, for English fiddle like all other folk art is a living tradition.

Each Tuesday Audrey and I would visit 'The House' and she would spend her time in the music library researching songs while I would go upstairs with Clive Wolf, Dave Bland or one of the other librarians, whom I was convinced worked there out of love, and sort out a days listening.

What I was listening for was fiddle style and in particular English fiddle style. What I heard was a wide range of traditional instruments covering the whole of the British Isles.

My real love, which has stayed with me since, is for the Southern Irish style, especially Waterford, and although I have tried to copy this style all my life, I know for sure that I am an English fiddler.
All the time we were semi-pro and pro we spent Tuesdays researching when not on tour and in the evening went for a meal and then on to 'Bunjies' where we were resident for a few years.

Arnold's style was distinctly English and I think I still have that trait that the majority of English fiddle players had, which is to play for the dance.
Arnold's style had little decoration and it was very emphatic of the beat.
Many years ago when I was the sole musician for The Rose and Castle morris side who were a Lancashire iron shod clog side, I too had to play very strongly on beat to be heard above the clatter of the clogs.
As I write this now, I am the fiddler for Old Mother Redcaps women's morris side who dance ostensibly Manx and some English.
Manx has all possible influences and mixtures of styles purely because of the island's location, and many of the tunes I find similar to English style having listened to their fiddlers very carefully. Robin Boyle is a fine exponent. Other styles can be very Irish in flavour.

Playing for dance fits my style and I think English style not only has it's roots there, but has kept them there.

It's been said that English fiddlers used to use hornpipes to 'show off' there skills, and I can well believe that.
From the 15th century, sailing ships would have replaced dead or deserted crew members with any local seafarers they could find, and on the spice runs and slave runs, these would have been seamen from Africa, Asia, The Caribbean, and many other places. They brought with them a different form of music, some of which was laid heavily on the back beat and which crept into sea song and Shanties, and from there into our tunes. Syncopation is nothing new to England.

It isn't so much the style of playing that identifies 'Englishness', it's the tune also.
English tunes seem to have a character of their own and I find them very distinct from Irish and Scottish even though there was a lot of traffic between the countries.