Musician Paul Baldwin on folk tunes, caged birds and Kitty Bridges

By January 13, 2015 Uncategorized No Comments
In the Spring of 2014 we were looking for some tunes to record with Over The Yardarm. There are thousands of folk tunes out there, some good, some great, some not so good and some downright awful. In order to narrow the choice a little I thought if I could find an established collection of tunes we could perhaps record them. I researched lots of different collections via the Vaughan  Williams Memorial Library – and more specifically The Full English Digital Archive“The world’s biggest free digital archive of English traditional folk music and dance tunes” – it really is a treasure trove of archive material for folklorists, singers and musicians. Many of the collections consist of dozens, if not hundreds, of tunes, far too many for what I had in mind. Then I discovered Kitty Bridge’s Pocket Book – A Select Collection of Country Dances – twenty one handwritten tunes and dances to go with each of them. The tunes are a few standards of the day, a lot that were completely new to me, and one or two that are quirky and different. I thought this would be a good project to develop.

We know nothing about Kitty other than she may have lived near Windsor. We know her name because each letter of her name starts each line of the poem at the front of the book and Windsor is also mentioned. It is dated 1745, is 11cm by 9 cm and was found in the back of a drawer in Hove in the 1970s. It can now be found in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at Cecil Sharp House in London.

At first I thought Over The Yardarm might take the tunes into schools or communities along with our assorted instruments and do a short programme explaining our different instruments and the tunes. It struck me that this would work better with some sort of narrative, and following on from this, as the tunes were all dance tunes, have dancing involved in the performance in some way.

Over The Yardarm are a folk tune band. We don’t play any songs. We certainly aren’t playwrights or storytellers, so we needed some input from someone who knew what they were doing in order to develop the project. After speaking toAlex Flanagan-Wright at a gig in York, and trying to explain what I wanted to do, he put me in touch with Hannah Davies. She came along with Director Tom Cornford to see us play at a small festival in York and we discussed the possibility of working with their theatre company Common Ground. In the late autumn of 2014 things began to progress with research and development days, and rehearsals. The production began to take shape.

We have not been able to use all 21 tunes from the book – it would take nearly an hour to play them all and some just weren’t suitable for what we had in mind. We have, however, added some other tunes to suit the story – all from the 18th century and they would have been tunes familiar to our Kitty.  Similarly the dances that we will be using are all dances from her book, and are ones that Kitty would have danced. There is also a tune from The Bird Fancyer’s Delight – a music book from 1717 which was used to try and teach all manner of caged wild birds to sing specific tunes.

bird fancyer

It is quite different for us to be involved in providing music for a play. Quite challenging. Normally we get on stage and bash out the tunes with an odd tale or two about the music in between – this thespian stagecraft thing takes a lot more finesse. It has been an incredible experience so far. I have learned such a lot – and there are still a few weeks to go before our first live performance. One slight negative note is that Steve Collington who normally thrums his guitar, plays double bass and creates awful puns with Over the Yardarm was unable to commit to the huge amount of time needed for pre-production and rehearsals. We would have dearly loved to have him alongside us on the stage, but unfortunately, because he has “a proper job”, it couldn’t be. Despite this, Moira and myself are very excited about the production and taking our music in a new direction. We hope to see you at one of the performances!

Paul Baldwin

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