The Dance at the Phoenix
|The Mellstock Band|
Issued on CD and cassette, The Dance at the Phoenix contains a wealth of songs and tunes from Hardy's Wessex and beyond. To capture the dramatic character of the band's live shows, the album also includes some brief readings of verse from the pens of Thomas Hardy and of the Dorset dialect poet, William Barnes. If this album has a theme, it is the variety and excitement of the traditions of music-making in small ad hoc bands and ensembles found in different parts of rural England, documented by Thomas Hardy in his poems and novels, and surviving in the musicians' own manuscript music books and in a few precious early recordings. Whether for dancing, celebration, or church , the exuberance of this tradition remains one of the main inspirations of The Mellstock Band.
What the critics
'This is a beautiful, haunting disc which will become known as one of the great classics of its genre.'
Hugh Rippon, Dance and Song
'The Dance at the Phoenix is pure
pleasure... from delicately rough dance tunes and authentically harmonised
songs and hymns, to buoyant wedding music, haunting intimations of the
supernatural and tireless fiddling - there are riches here not only for
the ear, but for any imagination that has ever visited this incomparable
domain of social and literary history.'
Times Educational Supplement
'Dave Townsend's Mellstock Band has
carved itself a unique musical niche, where the freewheeling exuberance
of the folk revival meets head-on the composed academia of the classical
consort. As ever, Thomas Hardy supplies the inspiration but, in a new departure,
the delightful Casterbridge tale of the cavalry dance at the Phoenix is
read with musical punctuation provided by sprightly versions of The Soldiers'
Joy and The Fairy Dance, the troops eventually taking leave to a martial
arrangement of Brighton Camp. Other snatches from the writings of Hardy
and the Dorset dialect poet William Barnes are interspersed with a great
variety of songs and tunes. Mellstock and Hardy aficionados will snap this
up with a vengeance, but it should also be recommended to those familiar
with traditional material willing to try the sound of oboe, trombone and
serpent in place of the over-familiar bass, drumkit and keyboard. What
a refreshing change!'
'The band's combination of concertina,
serpent, clarinet, oboe and fiddle is out there on its own and works perfectly...The
notes say Enrico was Hardy's favourite tune and you can see why if what
he knew was anything like the exuberant, raw-edged performance here.'
'A superb variety of musical textures
and lyrics is what makes this album stand out from the rest.'
'This is a grand album! It has colour,
depth and displays some fine musicianship.'
Folk On On Line
'This is great... What they do to add to the sense of history is to intersperse the tunes and songs with readings from various sources. It's all great fun, and informative too. The dance tunes are supremely danceable and made me hop around the flat. So anyone looking for a good way to illustrate a history lesson, or simply to listen to something with a little more meat than the usual CD releases, couldn't do much better than to put this on the player. Congratulations all round.'
Anne Lister, Traditional Music Maker
Here is another jewel from the quartet... Besides being a fine collection
of ripping good tunes and dances of the sort described by Hardy and
performed historically by ad hoc bands in rural England during the 19th
century this is also an excellent demomnstration of serpent playing in its
folk music application. Phil Huphries, certainly one of the finest
serpentists cureently playing, uses his 1840 Thomas Petty military style
instrument both for bumptious bass lines and for soulful pastoral airs...
Arranger and director Dave Townsend's authentic arrangements and the
ensemble's spirited playing infuses the proceedings with delight and good
Paul Schmidt, Historic Brass Society Newsletter (USA) Summer 2000
The instrumentation on most of the tracks is as follows:
Tim Hill - Simple system C clarinet,
no maker's mark, dating from around 1865.
Phil Humphries - English military serpent with three keys, made by Francis Pretty, London, c. 1840.
Charles Spicer - Oboe by Donald S. Gill, 1994, after an instrument by Nicholas Winnen of Paris
(fl. 1788 - 1834).
Dave Townsend - English concertina, tenor-treble aeola by Wheatstone & Co., London, 1912.
Where other instruments are used, or guests appear, the details are noted below.
1. Major Malley's Reel (2.01)
A stirring and slightly mysterious minor-key tune from the Hardy family's manuscript collection of tunes. It is one of the dances mentioned in The Dance at the Phoenix (Track 21), and it is danced by "four old men with walking-sticks" at Greenhill Fair in The Mayor of Casterbridge.
2. Dribbles of Brandy (2.04)
A tune popular all over England under various titles, to which the humorous
Irish song Lannigan's Ball was written, resulting in the tune becoming popular in Ireland as well. This version is from the Hardy collection again, and we are joined by Martin, Pete and Gill to help create the sound of the town band to which the following poem refers.
The Mellstock Band with guests Martin Brinsford (side drum), Pete Cooper
(fiddle) and Gill Redmond (cello).
3. In the Nuptial Chamber (0.48)
An unusually sardonic and modern insight into marriage from the pen of Thomas Hardy.
Spoken by Charles Spicer.
4. Haste to the Wedding (2.04)
The essential tune for wedding celebrations, played all over England. This version comes from the Oxfordshire concertina player William Kimber, whose music was first collected by Cecil Sharp in 1899. The arrangement reflects Kimber's unique harmonic style as well as his sprightly rhythms.
5. The Foggy Dew (2.25)
This haunting tune was collected by Henry Hammond from James Pomery of Bridport in 1906. For this instrumental version, Phil's serpent abandons its usual supporting role to play a soulful lead. Tim
here plays a modern clarinet in B flat, and Charles plays a modern oboe.
6. Bold Nelson's Praise (2.31)
Tom Gardiner of Blackwell, Warwickshire, sang this slightly incoherent but unquestionably patriotic piece to Cecil Sharp on the 9th of September, 1909. The tune is a splendid version of the popular morris dance The Princess Royal. In this setting it is interspersed with excerpts from The College Hornpipe, J. S. Bach's Third Brandenburg Concerto, and Henry Purcell's Rondeau from the incidental Music to "Abdelazer: or, The Moor's Revenge", used by Benjamin Britten for his Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. The Mellstock Band's own Last Night of the Proms?
Dave - vocal; Tim - clarinet in C by Wrede, London, c. 1800. Phil and Charles as usual.
7. The Copenhagen Waltz and The
Hungarian Waltz (3.09)
Two tunes from the Hardy family collection, both highly popular tunes from the beginnings of the waltz craze of the early nineteenth century. Country musicians like the Hardys incorporated fashionable material into their repertoire whenever they had access to it. The Copenhagen Waltz turn up in many village musicians' collections, and the arrangement here is based on a three-part setting in a book compiled by Joshua Gibbons of Market Rasen in the 1830s. The tune remained in traditional use until quite recently, being collected in Yorkshire in the 1950s.
The Mellstock Band with guests Pete Cooper (fiddle) and Gill Redmond (cello).
8. Otford (1.44)
A favourite West Gallery psalm-tune, first published as a setting of Psalm 8. It was used by the Hardy family, in their capacity as the Stinsford church band, as the tune for While Shepherds Watched. Three of the harmony parts are from the Hardy family collection, and the fourth added in from an Oxfordshire edition, the whole being sung by male voices in the close voicing allowed for by the theoretical prefaces to contemporary books of Country Psalmody.
Vocals by Tim, Phil, Charles and Dave.
9. The Christmas Invitation (1.11)
A festive poem in Dorset dialect by William Barnes, spoken by Phil Humphries, the band's only real Dorset man.
10. Enrico (2.20)
Thomas Hardy's favourite tune. According to his biography, when his father played this and other tunes to him on the fiddle, the four-year-old Thomas Hardy would sometimes burst into tears. See what it does for you.
The Mellstock band with Charles on cor anglais and guests Martin Brinsford
(tambourine), Pete Cooper (fiddle) and Gill Redmond (cello).
11. Keepen Up O'Christmas (1.23)
William Barnes describes the party you just missed. Spoken by Phil Humphries.
12. Here's a Health to All Good
This short glee found its way into country tradition, being reported by Alfred Williams in Folk Songs of the Upper Thames, turning up in a fiddlers' manuscript from Bampton-in-the-Bush, Oxfordshire, and recorded by Canon Galpin as being one of the songs sung at the annual supper of the church band of Winterbourne Abbas, Dorset, which was still playing for church services as late as 1895. In America its popularity led to the tune being given religious words, "Here's My Heart, My Loving Jesus".
Vocals by Tim, Phil, Charles and Dave.
13. The Ploughboy (2.40)
Country musicians in England often played song tunes as instrumental pieces, adapting the tune to the style of their instrument. This tune is taken from the fiddle playing of the great Norfolk singer, Harry
Cox, who also played melodeon. The first playing over of the tune in this arrangement reflects the detail and intricacy of Harry Cox's fiddle style.
Tim - modern clarinet in B flat; Charles - Cor Anglais; Dave and Phil on usual instruments; Pete Cooper guests on fiddle.
14. Old Lango Lee, The Mallard and
The Grenadiers (3.13)
Old Lango Lee is a tune Dave encountered at a folk festival years ago, and he has still not run it to earth. It is obviously related to the morris tune The Banks of the Dee. The Mallard was collected in Devon as a song by Sabine Baring-Gould (in between his other occupations of preaching sermons, fathering children, and writing hymns and travel books). The Grenadiers is one of many tunes in 9/8 time found in the Hardy family collection.
15. The Ruined Maid (2.50)
Hardy's cynical poem on the themes of poverty and purity reads almost like a broadside ballad, and fits perfectly to the Dorset tune The Bold Grenadier. The credit for discovering this match belongs to
Caroline Jackson-Houlston of Oxford.
Charles - vocal; Tim - modern clarinet in B flat; Dave and Phil on usual instruments.
16. Rosline Castle (2.38)
This was one of the very few purely instrumental slow tunes popular among English country musicians. It turns up in many fiddlers' manuscript books from all parts of the country, including the Hardy family collection. It also found its way to America, and we here perform a setting by the New England composer Jeremiah Ingalls, who used it as a hymn tune.
Tim - clarinet by Wrede as on track 6, Phil and Charles on usual instruments.
17. The Choirmaster's Burial/ Winterbourne
Hardy's sad and bitter tale of the ending of an old custom. Are the mysterious figures supernatural, or are they the band stealthily having the last word? Winterbourne Tune is not the melody named in the poem but a beautiful setting from the repertoire of the great Dorset composer of Country Psalmody, William Knapp. One of the most important functions of the old church bands was to play for funerals, and there is a huge body of funeral hymns, psalms and anthems which includes some of the most powerful of all the West Gallery repertoire. The words are by Knapp's old friend Henry Price, "The Poet Laureate of Poole", whose father kept the pub just behind the church where Knapp was parish clerk.
Choirmaster's Burial spoken by Charles Spicer. Winterbourne Tune: Tim - clarinet by Wrede as on track 6; Charles and Phil on usual instruments, plus Pete Cooper (fiddle) and Gill Redmond (cello).
Vocals by Tim, Phil, Charles and Dave.
18. Harvest Home and Wait for the
Two tunes which used to be played by William "Jingy" Wells, fiddler for the Bampton Morris Dancers in Oxfordshire. They were not morris tunes, and the present generation of Bampton musicians deny all
knowledge of them. Dave learnt them from Oxford-based melodeonists Dave Parry and John Watmough. Dave - fiddle, with the rest of the band on usual instruments.
19. The Sheep-Stealer (2.37)
In rural society, stealing the free-roaming sheep of the downs was a sign of the most desperate poverty, or the blackest villainy. This song, appearing to sympathise with the criminal, was surprisingly popular in Dorset, being collected several times, usually to variants of the same doom-laden tune.
Dave - vocal and concertina.
20. Peggy Band (3.03)
Another song-tune from a fiddler's collection, in this case that of John Clare, the Northamptonshire poet. The song was popular in country tradition, and there was even a London parody of it entitled Artichokes and Cauliflowers.
21. The Dance at the Phoenix - 1
Hardy was a master of the short story in both prose and verse, as this tale of love, dancing and old age demonstrates.
Spoken by Charles Spicer.
22. The Soldier's Joy and The Fairy
Two well-established favourites among English country musicians. In Far from the Madding Crowd, Hardy says of The Soldier's Joy that "this melody, at the end of three-quarters of an hour of thunderous
footing, still possesses more stimulative properties for the heel and toe than the majority of other dances at their first opening".
Dave - fiddle, with the rest of the band on usual instruments.
23. The Dance at the Phoenix - 2
Spoken by Charles Spicer.
24. The Girl I Left Behind Me (1.10)
Also known as Brighton Camp, a favourite tune of country musicians and invariably the tune to which soldiers marched away from barracks or towns where they had been billeted. This version comes from a manuscript book of band settings compiled by the miller and bandmaster George Matthews of Pitt Mills, Somerset, and was kindly made available to us by Bob and Jackie Patten.
Tim, Phil and Charles on usual instruments, plus: Tim - One-keyed boxwood
flute by Murray, modern copy of a baroque original;
Charles - flute by Tebaldo Monzani, London, c.1827; Phil - trombone; Dave -
bass drum; Martin Brinsford - side drum.
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