Reviews of VT150CD 'Heel & Toe'


 

Veteran VT150CD These twenty tracks recorded by Fenland schoolteacher Sam Steele reflect his admirable appreciation of amateur performers' styles and repertoire. Here from three counties are traditional and music hall songs from Reg Bacon, Hockey Feltwell, Billy Rash, Charlie Giddings and Alan Pate, and tunes from Billy Cooper (dulcimer), Walter and Daisy Bulwer (fiddle and piano), Edna Wortley (banjo), George Green (melodeon) and Percy Brown (melodeon) who plays for Dick Hewitt's stepdancing (which can be seen on an EFDSS video).
 

Although it does not have the infectious rowdy atmosphere of Good Order (VT140CD) or Pass the Jug Round (VT142CD) this is still an interesting and charming CD. Hockey Feltwell's The Outlandish Knight' appears to the tune of Harry Cox's 'Bold Fisherman', and Billy Rash's 'Banks of the Clyde' tune is reminiscent of The Road and the Miles to Dundee'. Three 'must learns' are the 'Unidentified (and somewhat unfathomable) Jig' from Walter Bulwer, 'Dulcie Bell' from Billy Cooper, probably written by his father and played on dulcimer with his fingernails, and the comic chorus song 'Nothing to do with me' sung by Reg Brown.
 

According to the sleeve notes -generous and fascinating as usual from this publisher - a good deal of cleaning up has been done, and, aside from one or two fluctuations in volume and a few coughing fits the quality is pretty good overall. It is not ideal that the audience's appreciation, clearly building toward the end of many tracks, is cut off (often with the last note) by Mr Steele, possibly in a bid to save tape, but these are quirks of this CD that add to its interest I think; it retains the air of a personal collection and is all the more precious a gem for it.

English Dance & Song

 

This album of folk songs, music hall songs, and tunes from Norfolk. Cambridgeshire and Essex is from the collection of Sam Steele. The songs were mostly collected by him on field trips in East Anglia during the late fifties and were recorded on 3.5 inch spools using eel to reel tape recorder. The accompanying notes are of a very high standard and give useful graphical and musical details of the artists. The better known are Reg Bacon (song), Walter and Daisy Bulwer (fiddle and piano), Percy Brown (melodeon), and Billy Cooper (dulcimer).
 

Although this is very much an album for those interested in archive material, there are some surprisingly well recorded versions of many tunes and songs, particularly 'Heel and Toe Polka' (Percy Brown), a set of Yarmouth hornpipes by the Bulwers, Billy Cooper and Edna Wortley (banjo), a great version of 'Whistling Rufus' by the same line up, and 'Banks of the Sweet Dundee' from Reg Bacon. For an archive album this is surprisingly accessible, and a most welcome addition to the publicly available albums of post war English music.

Shire Folk

 

(reviewed with VT152CD The Barford Angel)

 

Here are a couple of delightful offerings of the traditional music and song from East Anglia; the first doubly so because it is so unexpected.
 

Sam Steele does not enjoy a wide reputation as a recording collector of traditional song and music, but this album shows that in the years around 1960 in Cambridgeshire and the surrounding area, sometimes in the com­pany of Russell Wortley, he was tapping into a very rich vein. Some of the dance tunes with Walter & Daisy Bulwer and the hammer dulcimer of Billy Cooper have the same feeling as the musicians gathered on the classic English Country Music album and were recorded during the same years. There is also some fine melodeon playing, particularly from Percy Brown's wonderfully swinging approach. Any­one seeking to find out about style and reper­toire of English dance music would learn a lot from these recordings. The dance music is all well worth a listen but overall, it is the singing that provides the greatest delights; Hockey Feltwell's Lamkin and Reg Bacon's The Banks Of The Sweet Dundee compare with the best of the much better known English song recordings made on behalf of the BBC during roughly the same years. As part of the excellent 24-page booklet, there is regret expressed about the quality of these recordings, but anyone who is used to listening to field recordings will have no problem with the standard of these sounds and indeed there is much to delight in. One thing that we don't learn is just how extensive the Steele recordings are. If this sample is in any way typical, then they deserve to be widely heard.
 

More East Anglian delights with the hammer dulcimer playing of Billy Bennington. Billy's nimble playing has been heard on other releases over the years, but this selec­tion of recordings from a variety of sources show why he is regarded as a master. His play­ing has a fine sense of dynamic and syncopat­ed swing that is not always there with East Anglian dulcimer players and he varies the tone by plucking chords by hand as well as hammering. The repertoire is what you might expect, with a selection of tunes for stepping and social dancing interspersed with adapted pop songs and other pieces that sound as though they may have come from militia marching bands. An album made up exclu­sively of solo dulcimer could have palled after a while so it is good to have the tunes broken up by Billy's delightful Norfolk burr and the stories of some of the humorous happenings during his long, playing years. The Barford Angel? No, not a pub name, nor yet a statue at a pub. It was the sight of Billy himself, cycling with his hammer dulcimer in its case strapped to his back.

fRoots

 

The recordings on this CD from Veteran were made in the period 1959 to 1962 by Sam Steele, a teacher at Mepal School in Cambridgeshire. Sam came from Crewe in Cheshire where his father was a champion clog dancer and taught Sam the traditional steps. When Sam moved to Cambridgeshire to teach he started collecting songs and tunes from the Fenland area and also from Norfolk and Essex. In Norfolk he naturally showed an interest in the local step-dancing tradition and recorded the sounds of several step-dancers, including the well-known Dick Hewitt. During this period Russell Wortley was also collecting and recording in East Anglia and the two men became friends, often working together on field trips and sharing information and recordings.
 

The 20 tracks in this selection from the Sam Steele archives comprise 10 songs, 8 sets of tunes and a couple of step-dance performances from a dozen different people. Some, such as Billy Cooper (Hammered Dulcimer) and Walter and Daisy Bulwer (fiddle and piano) are relatively well known from other archive recordings issued by Veteran or Topic, but others are unique to the Sam Steele archive. The whole CD is a very good example of the sort of home­made entertainment to be found in country pubs and village dance halls in East Anglia in the early to mid 20th Century.
 

Due to the age of the original reels and the recording environment (often a noisy pub) the tapes had to be processed by the sound restoration expert Charlie Crump who has done an admirable job of reducing noise and hum without losing the essential atmosphere of the recording.
 

As usual, Veteran have done a Stirling job on the accompanying notes - a 24 page booklet of biographies of the performers, photos of most of them and detailed information on the songs and tunes. The words of all the songs can be found on the Veteran Website www.veteran.co.uk where you can also order a copy of this excellent CD.

Puddlestone


East Anglia has proved a rewarding area for song collectors for many years, and Sam Steele, a Fenland school teacher (and clog dancer), realised the importance of the surviving tradition and between 1959 -1962 he recorded traditional singers, musicians, step dancers and storytellers in remote villages and towns of Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex.

As with all field recordings the singers are not professional performers, but are working men and women who have maintained their own local culture. Those familiar with East Anglian music will recognise some of the musicians - Billy Cooper (dulcimer) Walter Bulwer (fiddle) and Daisy Bulwer (piano) with Edna Worley (banjo) - who, in their inimitable bouncy style, play together on three tracks, (including a jig which I would love to learn but can't yet work out the structure!) whilst the wonderful Percy Brown (melodeon) features three times - once with Dick Hewitt step dancing.

The other performers are less well known but well worth listening to. There are a couple of Music Hall songs from Charlie Giddings, four good songs from Reg Bacon, including his splendid version of The Barley Mow which takes the story to its logical conclusion and he ends up drinking the ocean! Hockey Feltwell sings two excellent ballads, the well known Outlandish Knight and Lamkin - a ballad very rarely collected in England. There is an interesting version of Banks of the Clyde from Billy Rash where the first part of the tune is very reminiscent of 'The Road to Dundee' and a couple of melodeon tracks from George Green (for a long time musician for the Little Downham Molly Dancers).

As usual with releases from John Howson of Veteran, the sleeve booklet is highly informative about the background of the performers and has good notes on the material. The original recordings had deteriorated with age and have been 'cleaned-up' by the expert hand of Charlie Crump, who has managed to maintain the original quality of the performances.

I have to say that this is my sort of CD - I am very fond of field recordings of old singers and musicians There is that splendid feeling of the continuity of the material, sometimes of fairly recent vintage, but often going back for centuries, as is the case with The Outlandish Knight which can be traced back to a German broadside of c.1550 although it was known as a tale well before that date!

A well recommended CD for lovers of traditional song and music.

The Folk Mag
www.btinternet.com/~radical/thefolkmag

 

Steele, the son of a champion Lancashire clog dancer, moved to Cambridgeshire to teach at Mepal in the 1950s. He was a friend of Russell
Wortley and they collected from East Anglian singers both together and separately. The recordings on this CD were made by Steele in Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex between 1959 and 1962 using a domestic reel to reel tape recorder. Given the nature of the equipment studio quality cannot be expected and the tapes had deteriorated over time but have been superbly restored by Charlie Crump.

 

The CD contains a mixture of instrumentals and traditional and music hall songs from ten different performers. It opens with Percy Brown from Norfolk playing Heel and Toe Polka on melodeon. Like most of the tracks there are no votes available about where it was recorded but judging by the background noise it must have been in a public house. Percy can also be heard playing for an anonymous step dancer and for Dick Hewitt.

 

With 20 tracks on the CD I am sure that Sheila won't give me space to discuss them individually but among the vocals special mention must go to Hockey Feltwell singing his own versions of a couple of the big ballads in the Nag's Head in Southery. There is a lot of background chatter for The Outlandish night but "good order" for Lamkin. You have heard Simon Ritchie singing Banks of Sweet Dundee the recording Reg Bacon from Radwinter in Essex will sound very familiar. I am sure that Simon will be delighted if he is still in such good voice at the age of 68.

 

Among the instrumentals we have Billy Cooper and Walter and Daisy Bulwer playing together and separately. The limitations of the recording show up in the lack of balance here. On one set of hornpipes I thought it was a dulcimer solo until I checked the sleeve notes. As is normal with Veteran recordings there is a substantial booklet included with biographical notes on the performers and on Steele himself.

Folk London

 

No point beating about the bush -Veteran's sleeve notes are so good, I'll start with a direct quote: -
 

"East Anglia has been a hunting ground for folk music collectors for many years and Sam Steele, a Fenland school teacher, had a nose for the real thing. Between 1959 and 1962 he recorded traditional singers, musicians, stepdancers and storytellers in remote villages and towns in Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex.
 

These are not professional performers but farmers, horsemen, cowmen, grave diggers, a bird catcher, a chimney sweep, a lorry driver and even a tailor, who have had their own local culture handed down to them, over the years, from their families and communities. These recordings give a remarkable snap-shot of times gone by."
 

The CD features Walter and Daisy Bulwer, Billy Cooper, Percy Brown, George Green and a host of other icons you've never heard of. Songs and tunes on fiddle, melodeon, dulcimer, banjo and piano recorded by an amateur enthusiast on non-professional equipment. Be prepared for lots of background noise and some nasty bouts of coughing. We traddies call it atmosphere and I'm sure I caught more than a whiff of Woodbine smoke emanating from the stereo! OK, so the Rusbys and Carthys of this world may be more pleasing ear candy to the Average Joe but this is the real thing, this is Folk Music and the professionals have already been here, checked it out and absorbed it into their repertoire. I suggest you do the same. The words of all the songs are on the Veteran website. Use it or lose it as my old granny used to say!

Shreds & Patches

 

I used to think folk music exotic. All those croaky old farm labourers whose songs were recorded for posterity from an alien world. They are catching up with me now. The source singers are now from the 1950s and 1960s, and their stories are starting to sound like scenes from my boyhood.

Veteran's latest offering of songs and tunes from East Anglia, tells the story of Reg Bacon, who went to the pub to sing songs he'd learned from gramophone records at home. Not so different from my uncle who also lived in Saffron Walden and drove farmers lorries. He would often upset our suburban neighbours by turning up to visit my gran with a lorry load of squealing pigs who would slide to one end of the lorry as he drove away round the corner. He was a singer and dancer, all to popular song, at the raucous family dos on that side of the family. Only now I realise he was a folkie, though he didn't know it. These singers, musicians and dancers are just normal - the life and soul of the party.

 

Some of the most famous are represented on this selection lifted from the recordings made by teacher Sam Steele in the late 50s. There's the great fiddler, Walter Bulwer, and his pianist wife, Daisy, plus the clattering dulcimer playing of Billy Cooper, and at times they play together as well. Songs include a mouth-watering 'Outlandish Knight' from Hockey Feltwell, who also presents a dramatic version of 'Lamkin'. Reg Bacon sings, 'John Barleycorn', and, The Barley Mow', and there's some lighter material in a music hall style, such as, Alan Pate's knockabout, 'Remember me to', and the, 'Bank of England', by Charlie Giddings.

 

Included is a nice little booklet that introduces the artists and supplies information on the songs as well. Your own party already bottled.

The Living Tradition

 

Sometimes it's easy to get carried away with the idea that the repertoires of traditional singers and musicians were purely made up of ancient airs and ballads. Certainly if you look at what was noted down by the likes of Sharp, Vaughan Williams, Grainger etc you would get that impression. Now as the collectors were looking for specifics, they were naturally selective. In their notes, they mention time and again how a singer had many songs in their repertoire, sometimes they even listed the whole of a singer's repertoire, but as most were modem or music hall, they had decided not to note them down. (This is not intended as a criticism, by the way, I am wholeheartedly indebted to those who took (he time and trouble to preserve the indigenous art of our country.) But because of their selectivity, we have a rarefied picture of what was actually going on. Most singers had a mixture. Some old, some new. People like Henry Burstow and Mrs Venal were exceptional in their knowledge of more ancient ballads and songs, but even they had more modern songs.

 

This new CD from Veteran perfectly illustrates the breadth of your "traditional" performer's repertoire. These are songs and tunes from Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex. They were recorded by a Fenland school teacher, Sam Steele between 1959 and 1962. There are some lovely "traditional" tunes; Heel and Toe Polka, Four Hand Reel and the finishing Step Dance medley. This is functional music that had been handed down for people to dance to and ideally suited to the purpose, full of style and rhythm. These are alongside more modern tunes (for the time) e.g. The Bluebell Polka, a Jimmy Shand composition which was hugely popular on the wireless (radio for our younger readers) for years, and Whistling Rufus, a Minstrel band tune. There are also ancient ballads, Outlandish Knight, Lamkin, Banks of Sweet Dundee, with some nice variants of the normal tunes, illustrating how one particular version that might be written in a book isn't necessarily "how it goes". And then there are what, obviously, are music-hall songs: So Was I, Remember me to... and the delightful It's nothing to do with me. All the performers on the recordings, though perhaps known as such locally, were ordinary working folk; cowmen, a grave digger, a lorry driver, a tailor. This is what they got up to on a Saturday night up the pub.

 

It's true that songs like Banks of the Clyde are a little mawkish for modern tastes, and perhaps hasn't stood the test of time as well as the comic songs. But they fulfilled a necessary social function at a time when overseas war service and its perils had been part of every day life for ordinary people for successive generations.

 

As it says in the back of the CD, "a remarkable snap-shot of times gone by" These are field recordings with all the attendant "extras", folks chatting in the background, variations in sound quality, and the odd stumbled phrase. But for my money (and yes I did buy a copy) it's a delight The instruments may be a bit ropey, especially Daisy Bulwer's piano, (one of the true pub pianos of old England), but the exuberance of the dance music, the love that the ballad singers have for their songs and the obvious enjoyment with which the comic numbers are delivered show how, though a precious thing this traditional music, it's all there to be played with and enjoyed. It's robust stuff and I love it.

What's Afoot

 

'Heel And Toe' consists of recordings made by collector Sam Steele in East Anglia between 1959 and 1962. This was, of course, a rich region for traditional songs and music, and although many of the names are unfamiliar, the quality and repertoire is truly exciting. Reg Bacon and Hockey Feltwell are not only fine singers by any standards, but have particularly good and unusual variants in their repertoires. Bacon’s John Barleycorn and Barley Mow are refreshingly different to my ears from the familiar versions, and Feltwell shows that it’s not only middle-class misfits of the folk revival who delight in the gore of the Child Ballad collection, entertaining his audience with some spectacular bloodletting in a rare English version of Lamkin. The tunes, too, are most enjoyable, with Percy Brown showing possibly even greater skill and subtlety on the melodeon than on his later Topic recordings, while Walter and Daisy Bulwer on fiddle and piano provide the archetype of joyful, tub-thumping English country music. When joined by Billy Cooper on hammered dulcimer they kick up the proverbial storm. With several tracks recorded in a pub setting, the overall effect is of having wandered into the kind of English song and music session one could hardly dare dream about.

Stirrings

 

The Sam Steele collection consists of songs, tunes and dances he recorded in Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Essex in the 1950s and 60s. The 20 tracks here have a distinct 'tip of the iceberg' feel about them, but Veteran have engendered enough brand loyalty from me to trust that they have picked the cream of the crop. The songs come from Reg Bacon, Charlie Giddings, Hockey Fetwell, Billy Rash and Alan Pate, while the tunes are played by Percy Brown, Billy Cooper, Walter and Daisy Bulwer, Edna Wortley, Percy Brown and George Green. Of the two stepdancers, one is Dick Hewitt, while the other is unknown. The whole thing holds together really well, sounding just as if you're sat in an old South of England pub as a mighty session unfolds before you. Big ballads ('The Outlandish Knight', 'Banks Of The Clyde'), comic masterpieces ('So Was I, 'Nothing To Do With Me') rub along with various fiddle and melodeon dance sets, and a grand time is had by all. The photos, biographies and song notes are, well, Veteran, so no further praise is necessary.

 

Apart from enjoying this CD immensely, it has fulfilled another, incidental purpose. For many years now, I have been bowled over at Whitby Folk Week by the performances of Will Duke and Dan Quinn. I always suspected that they delivered the real deal, and listening to 'Heel & Toe' I can smugly report that my suspicions were correct!

Tykes News

 

Traditional folk songs, music hall songs and tunes from Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex, collected by Sam Steele 1959-62. Recorded on 3" spools, using an early reel to reel recorder. Sound restoration expert Charlie Crump has done a fine job 'cleaning the tapes up' and reducing background noise. Conditions are not always ideal. Songs include 'Banks of the Sweet Dundee', 'Outlandish Knight', 'John Barleycorn', 'Bank of England' and lankin'. Tunes 'Yarmouth/Sailors Hornpipe', 'College Hornpipe', Bluebell Polka', Dulcie Bell' and Step Dance Medley. Trad folkies will know the singers/musicians - Percy Brown, Charlie Giddings, Billy Rash, Walter and Daisy Bulwer and Reg Bacon. Melodeons, fiddles, banjo, piano and dulcimer abound. The booklet shows many fine photos and info about the singers, song background and Sam Steele. Lyrics on the Veteran website.

Folk Around Kent

 

(reviewed with VTC6CD It was on a Market Day - One)

 

These two releases from Veteran are very similar in concept, recordings of traditional singers and musicians either from archival material or from modern recordings of the singers.

Heel & Toe falls into the former category with twenty tracks (therefore good value!) Compiled from the extensive Veteran record library. Considering the original recordings were amateur, on what can now only be described as Substandard equipment and in circumstances that were hardly ˇdeal, the tracks on this CD are remarkably clear. Well done sound restoration engineer Charlie Crump! On a few of their vocal tracks the words aren’t always crystal clear due to the challenging recording conditions but they can be found ˇn full on the Veteran website.


This CD is as much a comment on social history as folk music and song. We are immediately transported to a ‘local’ complete with chatting, laughter, the clinking of glasses and coughing - you can almost smell the smoky atmosphere (well, perhaps that was the only downside!) - and the sounds of melodeon, hammer dulcimer or someone bursting into song. All the recordings are from venues in Norfolk, Cambridgeshire or Essex and are a lively mix of tunes, folk songs and music hall songs.
Many of the tunes are familiar (though sometimes wayward with the tuningsl) including Sailor’s Hornpipe, Four Hand Reel and the Bluebell Polka. There are also some interesting versions of well known songs such as John Barleycorn, The Outlandish Knight, Lamkin and a very amusing version of The Barley Mow. Charlie Gittings’ music hall song So Was I and Reg Bacon’s Nothing To Do With Me brought a broad smile to my face. This album is unpretentious unsophisticated, pure old- fashioned entertainment and thoroughly enjoyable.
 

It Was On A Market Day One is equally enjoyable with a compilation of songs from a Wide range of singers from many parts of England. Among my favourites are lovely voiced Bob Lewis (Sussex) who performs a cracking version of Lovely Joan, and my old friend Jeff Wesley (Northamptonshire) who sings so fluently that I’m at a loss to
know when he takes breath! His version of Green Grows The Laurel is a classic. Also, nearer to home, we hear the rich tones of Will Noble (Yorkshire) who takes the prize for the shortest of the 28 tracks with the amusing At the Cross (in 17 seconds!). He takes longer over a lovely version of Madge. George Fradley (Derbyshire) also features prominently with an interesting version of Jones’s Ale, as well as other good songs. By the way, the suffix One” in the CDs title hints towards the fact that
there ˇs indeed a second volume available.
 

As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews of Veteran recordings, you can expect each CD to be accompanied by extensive, erudite notes on both singers and their material and these twO albums are no different in that respect. In my opinion the professionalism of Veteran’s presentation leaves many other more ‘prestigious’ labels standing.

 

Lancashire Wakes
 


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