Now here's a rare delight for winter eves. Mellstock, like Christminster,
was one of the names in which Thomas Hardy cloaked his native Dorset places.
The Mellstock Band, a colourful period ensemble of folk enthusiasts led
by the able scholar, fiddler and concertina player Dave Townsend, regularly
trundles its paraphernalia -- fiddles, woodwind, melodion -- along the English
rural rides, bringing mainly l8th and l9th century fare (though often its
roots reach back much further) to set village greens and byways a-singing
So what did Tom Gardiner of Blackwell, near Stratford-on-Avon, sing to
Cecil Sharp? What links the poet John Clare to 'Artichokes and Cauliflowers'?
Ever heard 'The Foggy Foggy Dew' as a solo for serpent? What did the Hardy
family waltz to, and what nasal West Gallery twist did they give to 'While
Shepherds Watched' in rural Stinsford?
Hardy's favourite tune, 'Enrico' [listen -- track
10, 0:00-0:52], is a fiddler's ideal; it used to make the four year
old Hardy cry, though whether from pain or joy I ken not. Peter Cooper's
playing of Norfolk singer Harry Cox's Irish-sounding tune 'The Ploughboy'
is likeways enough to jerk a tear; 'The Ruined Maid' is a neat fitting of
a Hardy poem to a traditional tune, 'The Bold Grenadier'. A plain, wistful
clarinet, later tupped by oboe, produces a lovely wan sound for 'Rosline
Castle', a melting traditional melody in a setting by the ever-reliable
Jeremiah Ingalls, famed for his hymn-writing; while another master, William
Knapp, supplies 'Winterbourne Tune', a tune that surely harks back to Tallis.
Dorsetman Phil Humphries sets aside his sackbut to read William Barnes,
and Charle Spicer adds Hardy's touching tale 'The Dance at the Phoenix'.
'Harvest Home' reflects the positive, gleeful side of country life; the
ballad-like 'The Sheep Stealer' [listen -- track 19,
1:39-2:33], a beautifully touching modal monody sung with lightly chorded
concertina, the down side. The John Clare tune, 'Peggy Band', is profoundly
beautiful. 'The Soldier's Joy' is as vital as Hardy recalled in Far From
the Madding Crowd; The Girl I Left Behind Me' ('Brighton Camp') is the
quickstep by which they marched away en route to battle Boney. It's rough
and ready stuff -- if this isn't authentic I doubt if anything is -- but there's
a curious polish too.
Copyright © 21 March 2001
Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK
CD INFORMATION - BEAUTIFUL JO BEJOCD-28
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